Gender Issues and Sexuality in Marge Piercy's "Sex Wars" Essay

Gender Issues and Sexuality in Marge Piercy's "Sex Wars" Essay

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Sex Wars; a title provocative enough to garner not only a second look when encountered on an overcrowded bookshelf, but undoubtedly a perfunctory lift from the shelf and a superficial perusal. If you do delve deeper into the novel by Marge Piercy you come to see that Sex alludes to gender and the relationship between men and women; not just the act. War denotes power, agency; a struggle to gain it, fought in our own cities not on some far off shores. It isn't peculiar that Marge Piercy would devote over four hundred pages to such a struggle. A prolific author of poetry, fiction and non; Piercy, a staunch feminist, always "examines women's roles, especially those traditionally relegated to men." in her work. (Unknown) Sex Wars does that as well as illuminates the unique experience of goal-oriented women in a patriarchal society and the hardships that misogyny imposes on women and society as a whole. All of that is done in a historical context and the fact that the novel is so rich in detail, historical and otherwise, and so intricately woven together, if not a historian, you are left wondering what was real and what was fiction.
The novel traces the historical lives of Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anthony Comstock as well as that of the fictional Freydeh Levin, mainly during the years of 1868 to 1874. The action is set in and around New York City. Also prime characters in this epic are the first women's movement and the post civil war re-constructionist gilded age, as they and their social ramifications intertwine with and impact the lives of the human characters.
Stylistically, the book is arranged in rotating chapters. Every fourth chapter is devoted to each individual character and their continuation alo...


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...Piercy badgers the reader with Comstock's view of women (mostly in the descriptions of his dutiful wife and obedient daughter) to illustrate his sexism, however, the belabored point begins to fall flat and instead leaves the character feeling one-dimensional. Likewise, even men initially introduced to the reader as pro-feminist, like Theodore Tilton, meet with a predictable sexist ending. These men were no doubt chosen to embody the patriarchal society of then and today, but the unyielding portrayal began to feel overwhelmingly oppressive (perhaps her intent) and a novel so based in realism, on that point, began to feel contrived, therefore unrealistic. Nevertheless, Piercy compares and contrasts the experiences of the characters', offering them up to the reader, perhaps in hope that similarities can be identified and a feminist dialogue can be started or continued.

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