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Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present

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A classic of its kind, this fascinating cultural history draws on everything from private correspondence to pornography to explore five hundred years of friendship and love between women. Surpassing the Love of Men throws a new light on shifting theories of female sexuality and the changing status of women over the centuries.


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A classic of its kind, this fascinating cultural history draws on everything from private correspondence to pornography to explore five hundred years of friendship and love between women. Surpassing the Love of Men throws a new light on shifting theories of female sexuality and the changing status of women over the centuries.

30 review for Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I found this book wholly fascinating and compelling, yet sad. It tells the story of love between women and how perceptions and prejudices have shaped it across the centuries. As it was first published in 1981, the subtitle is no longer accurate. The lesbian-feminist movement of the 1970s is the last trend described and it is salutary to compare this to the situation today. The book begins with the notion of ‘romantic friendship’, which reached its height of popularity in the 18th century. Faderm I found this book wholly fascinating and compelling, yet sad. It tells the story of love between women and how perceptions and prejudices have shaped it across the centuries. As it was first published in 1981, the subtitle is no longer accurate. The lesbian-feminist movement of the 1970s is the last trend described and it is salutary to compare this to the situation today. The book begins with the notion of ‘romantic friendship’, which reached its height of popularity in the 18th century. Faderman’s examination of romantic friendship demonstrates powerfully how changeable cultural norms are, in an area (love and sex) often blithely treated as immutable. Certainly, you have the trend today of framing so-called masculine and feminine behaviours as biologically fixed, as challenged in the excellent Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. A major theme that I felt ran through the book was how sexuality is currently seen as a matter of desire and attraction, rather than behaviour, whereas this has not always been the case. Romantic friendships were a loving behaviour between women which did not tie them to a particular identity, sexual or otherwise. In the 18th century, though, it was widely assumed that none of these romantic friendships could have a sexual aspect, as a) women were assumed to have little or no libido, and b) the men whose writings on the topic have survived did not know how two women could have sex! There is thus a bittersweet tone to the initial chapters on romantic friendship. Undoubtedly their bonds brought a lot of women much joy, companionship, and deep love, however this was within a deeply oppressive patriarchal society. When it became possible for women to be financially independent from men, romantic friendships became suspect. Thus, the chapters on the 19th century are saddening, as they recount how romantic friendship became pathologised, exoticised, and condemned. Women who had been happily emotionally involved with one another were now treated as sick, in need of psychotherapy, and a threat to family life/the children/society in general. The sexologists, especially Freud, were at the vanguard of this. In short, the patriarchy attempted to ruin the emotional bonds that women had developed in part as a way to survive misogyny. Faderman examines the fictional depictions of women loving women (by then labelled ‘lesbianism’) that promulgated these negative ideas. I was amused by her palpable scorn at the decadent movement’s voyeuristic lesbian stereotyping. For example, ‘The emphasis in most of Verlaine’s other lesbian poems, as in Baudelaire’s, is on sex and sin - but of course the women are always young and lovely and arousing as they shuffle off to hell’. In Faderman’s opinion, only the feminist movement of the 1970s has been able to rehabilitate love between women. I didn’t previously understand what feminists of that decade meant by lesbian, as it seems to differ significantly from the assumed definition today. Lesbian-feminists of the 1970s apparently made a decision to focus their important emotional relationships (which could be sexual but might not be) on other women. Their lesbianism is thus defined by choice and behaviour, whereas today it is assumed that a lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women whether she likes it or not. In a way, this shifting definition powerfully demonstrates that in the 21st century, there is an assumption of compulsory sexuality. Thus, behaviour is presumed to follow attraction. Lesbians are women who are attracted to women and therefore have sex with them. Whereas Faderman is at pains to point out that romantic friendships seems often to have been sensual, maybe even sexual, but that was by no means the most important thing about them. Love today is so defined by sex. All serious non-familial relationships and emotional attachments are assumed to have a sexual component. I seem to recall that Freud even claimed that all platonic friendships have sexual attraction buried at their core. Freud has a lot to answer for, really. Even as his theories have been academically discredited, their influence on Western popular culture continues. ‘Surpassing the Love of Men’ reminded me that as women in Europe and the US have gained more sexual freedom, this has brought new constraints and novel forms of sexism. The idea of sexuality as being innate, something you’re born with, counters homophobia by denying the possibility of medical rehabilitation. On the other hand, it also tends to exclude the freedom to choose your sexual and emotional behaviours and aims to neatly categorise everyone. I can imagine the hostile confusion that would result today if you came out as a lesbian, on the basis of not wanting emotional relationships with men whether or not you are attracted to them. Women’s bodies are still generally presumed to be sexually available to men. Moreover, any attraction is generally assumed to be sexual, despite the asexual community’s efforts at subdivision (sexual/romantic/sensual elements, etc). And as sexual attraction is treated as the most important and irresistible component of love, non-sexual relationships are deemed unimportant. This is why I felt a sense of loss when reading about romantic friendships. I love my close female friends very much, however none of them are my 'girlfriend', so these relationships are trivialised. In the media, there are very few depictions of female friendships that are recognisable to me. Female characters in films and on TV are so often rivals for a man's interest, rather than having emotional attachments to one another. Since the 18th century women's lives have improved immeasurably, but not without some losses. We still live in a misogynistic world, though I'm well aware that as a white, middle class woman I'm insulated from the worst of it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erica Freeman

    I read this in college, and even with my unreasonably long list of "to-reads," I can't wait to read it again. Validating and fascinating. Not just about lesbianism, but about intellectual, "fraternal," and even sensual (not necessarily sexual) love, respect, and affections between women. I read this in college, and even with my unreasonably long list of "to-reads," I can't wait to read it again. Validating and fascinating. Not just about lesbianism, but about intellectual, "fraternal," and even sensual (not necessarily sexual) love, respect, and affections between women.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Terri Strange

    This book is full of much essential lesbian history as well as historical challenges to modern “scientific” theories about what causes women to love one another. Faderman addresses many cases in Western European and American history of different understandings of love between women. Essential for anyone trying to understand the feminist sex wars in a way that provides deep historical context.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Lillian Faderman's book is a summary of society's views toward love between women over the last 400 years. That's a rather ambitious project. She's got a lot of ground to cover and covering that ground takes a while. That can make the book a bit slow at times, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. Much of the history she discussed was totally unknown to me and while dry, it was interesting. It seems likely that her goal for the book was to show that society didn't view love between women with th Lillian Faderman's book is a summary of society's views toward love between women over the last 400 years. That's a rather ambitious project. She's got a lot of ground to cover and covering that ground takes a while. That can make the book a bit slow at times, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. Much of the history she discussed was totally unknown to me and while dry, it was interesting. It seems likely that her goal for the book was to show that society didn't view love between women with through the same lens as many in society do today. To summarize the book in a sentence or two is a disservice but Faderman argues that until the end of the 19th Century, society not only tolerated but encouraged love between women (what was known as "romantic friendship") at least so long as the relationship wasn't perceived as sexual or neither woman was trying to either pass as a man or usurp a male role. Only with the advent of psychiatry and the first studies of human behavior was a friendship between women that went beyond simple friendship seen as disordered. She uses letters and literature of the periods to make her case and also shows how the modern myth of the lesbian as a vampire-like creature had it's origins in 17th Century French literature. Given how little literature dealt with lesbian themes, these early works were often the basis or inspiration for much of what followed, even into 20th Century America. The modern debate about whether same-sex love is genetic or caused by environment is also shown to be a debate that dates back to the early psychiatrists. If you want a book that provides some insight into how society came to be in it's current form, this is a good start down that path.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    Even if you disagree with some of Faderman's 1981 conclusions (especially about more contemporary events — the section on feminism and women 'choosing' to be lesbian as a feminist statement made me do some facepalming), the amount of research that went into this book — PRE-INTERNET, mind you — is staggering. She traces the history of romantic friendship from the 1500s to the 1970s, and gives an excellent overview of lesbian literature while doing so. She has stated in recent times that she regret Even if you disagree with some of Faderman's 1981 conclusions (especially about more contemporary events — the section on feminism and women 'choosing' to be lesbian as a feminist statement made me do some facepalming), the amount of research that went into this book — PRE-INTERNET, mind you — is staggering. She traces the history of romantic friendship from the 1500s to the 1970s, and gives an excellent overview of lesbian literature while doing so. She has stated in recent times that she regrets the Anne Lister diaries not having come to light when she was writing this, but that is one missed example among tens that she did find. I read Diana Victrix by Florence Converse because of this book. I know more about Gertrude Stein; I am looking forward to reading the poetry of Amy Lowell; I'm trying to get my hands on the letters of Geraldine Jewsbury and Jane Carlyle; I'll be reading 'A Description of Millennium Hall,' as well as 'Lesbia Brandon' by Swinburne and 'Ormond' by Charles Brockden Brown. It's been a fantastic experience.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Melvina

    Very interesting. I got impatient with some of the chapters; it seemed repetitive at times. As I read it, it became more clear to me that romantic friendships haven't gone away, they're just called something else. In many of the examples, these women were not "romantically" involved with several friends, these were exclusive relationships. These friendships involved two women who were totally in love with each other, or exclusively attached to one another. The Boston marriages, for instance. By Very interesting. I got impatient with some of the chapters; it seemed repetitive at times. As I read it, it became more clear to me that romantic friendships haven't gone away, they're just called something else. In many of the examples, these women were not "romantically" involved with several friends, these were exclusive relationships. These friendships involved two women who were totally in love with each other, or exclusively attached to one another. The Boston marriages, for instance. By the end of the book, I was convinced there is no such thing as "romantic friendships". They are now just called same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage. Our current culture doesn't have a problem with two women being exclusively attached to each other (well, for the most part; we've come a long way, but it's still not perfect). I love the history in this book and there were so many great examples of real women as well as literary characters. I recommend it for the history AND the scholarship.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Coltyn

    No one read this. For my eyes only. what a fascinating book! This author is alive and kicking and I would be terrified to hear her views today because her contempt for trans people and butch lesbians in the text is pretty intense. The amount of research and history she compiled is overwhelming, and thinking about the lived experience of the individuals written about is heavy, sometimes tragic, sometimes deeply heartwarming. The number of women who lived full lives with immense pain and depressio No one read this. For my eyes only. what a fascinating book! This author is alive and kicking and I would be terrified to hear her views today because her contempt for trans people and butch lesbians in the text is pretty intense. The amount of research and history she compiled is overwhelming, and thinking about the lived experience of the individuals written about is heavy, sometimes tragic, sometimes deeply heartwarming. The number of women who lived full lives with immense pain and depression and devotion is impossible to conceptualize for me, and these lives have to be reduced down to a few paragraphs a hundred times over...it's a lot to deal with emotionally. I guess there's something to be said for seeking representation of modern experiences and feelings in historical texts as a source of validation of the queer experience in the 21st century, but that isn't the whole story with this book. Faderman's view of lesbianism and its relationship to patriarchy is radical and powerful, but it does not hold up in today's world of queer studies and queer living. Her repeated insistence that sexual/romantic attraction to women is secondary to the rejection of male domination and prescribed gender roles simply does not make any sense just 40 years after the writing of this book. The idea that all women can and should choose to become lesbians and that straight women are not as evolved as lesbians is funny but also insane. Out of context, a few of these arguments are outright homophobic by today's standards. Just a weird moment of the book was her claim that wlw and mlm should not be grouped together in terms of experience because they don't experience attraction/gender the same way and THAT is true, but she skips over the shared political marginalization of both groups and is pretty dismissive of non-lesbian queerness as a whole. The way she speaks about gender and what today MIGHT be called trans-ness is especially confusing. The biggest downfall in my opinion is that she insists on defining lesbians and love between women within the terms of patriarchal gender relations rather than critiquing the way gender is perpetuated and reinforced as a means of gaining control and power. Faderman's view of womanhood and her experience and research into the lives of wlw in Western history is rigid and essentialist. The book is valuable for its information and many of the author's insights are moving, but this is not a progressive text by today's standards (which is perfectly ok, but it should be pointed out).

  8. 5 out of 5

    AJ

    Loved it up until the final chapters, where Faderman sympathises with political lesbianism and desexualises lesbianism. A lesbian is just an exclusively same-sex attracted female. Nothing else. A lesbian doesn’t have to even be interested in politics. Lesbianism isn’t about ideological or behaviour purity. A horrible woman can still be a lesbian. It is not a safe haven for straight and bisexual women from patriarchy. I’m all for male-attracted women abstaining from men, but it in no way makes th Loved it up until the final chapters, where Faderman sympathises with political lesbianism and desexualises lesbianism. A lesbian is just an exclusively same-sex attracted female. Nothing else. A lesbian doesn’t have to even be interested in politics. Lesbianism isn’t about ideological or behaviour purity. A horrible woman can still be a lesbian. It is not a safe haven for straight and bisexual women from patriarchy. I’m all for male-attracted women abstaining from men, but it in no way makes them lesbians. Lesbianism is not a lifestyle choice. Furthermore, in agreeing with political lesbianism, Faderman goes as far as to say lesbianism isn’t inherently sexual. Whilst some lesbians have low sex drives for whatever reason, sex is a huge part of lesbianism. Desexualising lesbians and pretending lesbianism is just the “romantic friendships” discussed from the 18th-19th centuries is not helpful. Otherwise, my only criticism is that, at times, it’s hard to get through. I think the lack of commas makes it a bit clunky. Still loved it. Would have given 4/5 without the desexualisation and political lesbianism.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Freyja Vanadis

    This book took me forever to read; not only because it's long, but because it's full of (too much) information. And while Faderman doesn't exactly use a dry style of writing - she's very readable - she does tend to repeat the same thing over and over and over. She had countless examples of female couples through the centuries, who all did the same things and acted the same way. Pretty soon they all blended together and I had a hard time keeping track of who's who. It's like the people were all t This book took me forever to read; not only because it's long, but because it's full of (too much) information. And while Faderman doesn't exactly use a dry style of writing - she's very readable - she does tend to repeat the same thing over and over and over. She had countless examples of female couples through the centuries, who all did the same things and acted the same way. Pretty soon they all blended together and I had a hard time keeping track of who's who. It's like the people were all the same, just the names changed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    catharine

    Weighty, but a fascinating read on the history of relationships between women and, more interestingly, the drastic changes in perception about physical and intense emotional interaction. Within 20 years of 1900, having a close female friend as the center of your emotional life went from completely normal and expected, to being the sign of a diseased mind. Amazing stuff - it totally reframed Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and My Antonio for me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ael

    I'm getting really tired of Lillian Faderman's "all lesbians are nice ladies who hold hands as they walk down the beach" thing, also of the trans-invisibility thing (all inverts were just dykes? really?), but I know she's just coming from a certain generation. That said, she certainly does churn out the easy-reading dyke history tomes. I'm getting really tired of Lillian Faderman's "all lesbians are nice ladies who hold hands as they walk down the beach" thing, also of the trans-invisibility thing (all inverts were just dykes? really?), but I know she's just coming from a certain generation. That said, she certainly does churn out the easy-reading dyke history tomes.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alexa

    THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. THIS IS LITERALLY THE LESBIAN GOSPEL.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book was interesting if a bit long. Faderman has an amazing ability to recreate the pre-Freudian world of the 17th and 18th centuries when the idea of romantic friendships between women were not yet contaminated by the baggage of the “sexual invert”. She highlights how in at a time when women were ignored by men and society in general they found the best company among their own members. While she takes pains to make sure that the reader does not assume that all of these intense friendships This book was interesting if a bit long. Faderman has an amazing ability to recreate the pre-Freudian world of the 17th and 18th centuries when the idea of romantic friendships between women were not yet contaminated by the baggage of the “sexual invert”. She highlights how in at a time when women were ignored by men and society in general they found the best company among their own members. While she takes pains to make sure that the reader does not assume that all of these intense friendships were what we would call today lesbian relationship, she does try to highlight how women who loved women were able to do so more openly at this time. Faderman then continues her story documenting how the rise of feminism and Freud’s sex theories created a backlash against these relationships. They were now suspected of encouraging deviant behavior and actually undermining society (!). Faderman follows this trend through the countless novels that started shifting from depicting the “pure” love of two women to the pathological seductions of murderous lesbians. While I felt that the author goes a bit overboard in trying to follow this change of heart in the literary tastes and its reflection of society as a whole, the book was still an interesting read that illustrates the counterintuitive rise and fall of women’s relationships from when women were thought of as asexual to when they were suspected of being deviants.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    2.5 stars rounded up out of respect for the vastness of Faderman's research, even if I often disagreed with the conclusions she drew from that research. I took a lot of long, angry notes about this book as I was reading it. In the end, it boils down to this: Surpassing is a commendably thorough work about a particular segment of (white, upper- and upper-middle-class, American and Western European) woman-woman relationships during a particular slice of history. However, Faderman's observations and 2.5 stars rounded up out of respect for the vastness of Faderman's research, even if I often disagreed with the conclusions she drew from that research. I took a lot of long, angry notes about this book as I was reading it. In the end, it boils down to this: Surpassing is a commendably thorough work about a particular segment of (white, upper- and upper-middle-class, American and Western European) woman-woman relationships during a particular slice of history. However, Faderman's observations and conclusions are inescapably biased by her second-wave lesbian-separatist 1970s white feminism, with all the "color-blindness," biphobia, and incipient terfism that that entails. Faderman writes in the introduction to the 1998 edition that she decided not to change anything, so that the book would stand not only as a work about history but also as a work of history. But I couldn't help but wish that she'd added some kind of notes, such as Starhawk did in the 10th and 20th anniversary editions of The Spiral Dance , to suggest where her views and conclusions had or hadn't changed. Having the framework of Faderman's "now" (even a now that's now 20 years out of date) might have helped me gel a little more with her framework of "then."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    This rating comes with a huge caveat that this book was published in 1980, and there are a few places where gender is discussed that will feel very antiquated (or downright dodgy) to a modern reader. If you can get past that, then you'll find the most comprehensive study of lesbian relationships ever. I love Faderman's style, with a crystal clear thesis that she adheres to and builds upon as the book progresses. I frequently hate academic writing and find it meanders without aim, but that doesn' This rating comes with a huge caveat that this book was published in 1980, and there are a few places where gender is discussed that will feel very antiquated (or downright dodgy) to a modern reader. If you can get past that, then you'll find the most comprehensive study of lesbian relationships ever. I love Faderman's style, with a crystal clear thesis that she adheres to and builds upon as the book progresses. I frequently hate academic writing and find it meanders without aim, but that doesn't happen here. It's heavy on detail yet maintains a lightness of touch in the writing, with many knowing nods to the expected lesbian reader. Would recommend this as essential reading for anyone with an interest in lesbian history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Meri Elena

    This is an interesting and informative book about the history of intimate relationships between women in Western Europe and (later) the USA from the 1500s to the 1970s. It is definitely a long and a dense read, but well worth the time, I thought. I will say that it is overflowing with the author's opinions. I learned a lot of historical facts, but I had to read everything through a very thick filter of Lillian Faderman's interpretation of everything and everyone. I found her perspective intrigui This is an interesting and informative book about the history of intimate relationships between women in Western Europe and (later) the USA from the 1500s to the 1970s. It is definitely a long and a dense read, but well worth the time, I thought. I will say that it is overflowing with the author's opinions. I learned a lot of historical facts, but I had to read everything through a very thick filter of Lillian Faderman's interpretation of everything and everyone. I found her perspective intriguing, but having her present her thoughts as gospel truth got old fast. Despite that frustration, this was still a good book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emi

    I loved this book because it dispels the notion that lesbianism is just an invention of modern society. Faderman's intention in writing the book was to create a lesbian history outside of medical records accounting for perversion, and she succeeds. While Faderman has faced ample criticism for underplaying sexuality in romantic friendships, I think that regardless, the book is incredibly valuable. I cried when I read it! Through her excerpts of diaries and letters, she does a wonderful job of cre I loved this book because it dispels the notion that lesbianism is just an invention of modern society. Faderman's intention in writing the book was to create a lesbian history outside of medical records accounting for perversion, and she succeeds. While Faderman has faced ample criticism for underplaying sexuality in romantic friendships, I think that regardless, the book is incredibly valuable. I cried when I read it! Through her excerpts of diaries and letters, she does a wonderful job of creating a narrative that for once, lesbians control. For further reading and a more modern approach, I recommend Martha Vicinus's Intimate Friends or Leila J. Rupp's Sapphistries.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    The first two thirds of this book, dealing with "romantic friendship" between women in the 16th-19th centuries, are brilliantly done. A fascinating examination of lesbian history and women's history. The final third, dealing with the 20th century, is weaker in comparison, particularly due to Faderman's advocacy for what are now seen as outdated concepts (e.g. political lesbianism). However, all in all, it's a valuable and enjoyable read. Maybe consider stopping reading once you get to the second The first two thirds of this book, dealing with "romantic friendship" between women in the 16th-19th centuries, are brilliantly done. A fascinating examination of lesbian history and women's history. The final third, dealing with the 20th century, is weaker in comparison, particularly due to Faderman's advocacy for what are now seen as outdated concepts (e.g. political lesbianism). However, all in all, it's a valuable and enjoyable read. Maybe consider stopping reading once you get to the second wave feminist movement.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yj

    The subtitle should be “in white European literature” since the majority of the book discusses lesbians and lesbian stereotypes in books and the authors of said books and entirely from a Caucasian perspective. Overall, an interesting book. Lots of information and very readable. “ Of course, love between women had been encouraged or tolerated for centuries- but now that women had the possibility of economic independence, such love became threatening to the social order.”

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

    I actually stopped 30 pages shy of the end, I just got so bored. This book is fine if you want a thorough overview of the r/ship between romantic friendship and lesbianism etc, it's a good cultural and literary history but it's dry and as many others have commented, extremely dated with regard to gender/identity/sexual desire/normativity. We've come a long way in 33 years! I actually stopped 30 pages shy of the end, I just got so bored. This book is fine if you want a thorough overview of the r/ship between romantic friendship and lesbianism etc, it's a good cultural and literary history but it's dry and as many others have commented, extremely dated with regard to gender/identity/sexual desire/normativity. We've come a long way in 33 years!

  21. 4 out of 5

    sasa

    some of the ideas and wording in the book are very dated to say the least—as per the author's 1998 introduction she decided to keep it as is for research purposes since they accurately reflect those used at the time of writing twenty years prior, which i am glad i knew beforehand since there were a few things i wasn't too keen on whilst reading. that being said it is a very interesting and well researched book, and i learned quite a bit. some of the ideas and wording in the book are very dated to say the least—as per the author's 1998 introduction she decided to keep it as is for research purposes since they accurately reflect those used at the time of writing twenty years prior, which i am glad i knew beforehand since there were a few things i wasn't too keen on whilst reading. that being said it is a very interesting and well researched book, and i learned quite a bit.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Highlyeccentric

    Actually more useful to me than expected (including some citations on opposite-sex friendship!). As a work of scholarship, exactly what I expected: wildly generalising, often flat out wrong about late-early-modern society, deeply lesbian essentialist. Some neat historical case studies, lots of dubious interpretation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Bogart

    A classic! Must read anyone interested in female relationships!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    A good source book for evidence of romantic friendships between middle class women in literature. However, the analysis is weak and narrow, often because of anti-butch and transphobic assumptions.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Haley

    Important artifact but dense and dated.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    This book took me absolutely ages to finish but I'm glad I did because it was rly informative and intresting and good This book took me absolutely ages to finish but I'm glad I did because it was rly informative and intresting and good

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages.

  28. 4 out of 5

    M

    The subject matter is so much worth a look that it carries the book in spite of Faderman's use of it to grind an axe. There is exquisite academic writing to be found, but none of it between these covers. The author has an idea worth exploring, adequately researches it, and presents it in what should have been a timely manner. Unfortunately, in the early twentieth century, women as well as men unquestioningly embraced the ex cathedra rulings of modern psychology. Several generations later, we liv The subject matter is so much worth a look that it carries the book in spite of Faderman's use of it to grind an axe. There is exquisite academic writing to be found, but none of it between these covers. The author has an idea worth exploring, adequately researches it, and presents it in what should have been a timely manner. Unfortunately, in the early twentieth century, women as well as men unquestioningly embraced the ex cathedra rulings of modern psychology. Several generations later, we live in a time of a population fragmented into cliques, where there is little sense of identity beyond the political and sentimental, and in which people with the perspicacity or inclination to question the status quo more than superficially appear to be few. It's strange to consider that, had the male establishment not intuitively identified a weapon insidiously damaging to the advancement of women, at once depriving them of an age-old source of strength and striking at their Achilles' heel, that women should be in love with each other and be physically intimate with each other might seem no more aberrant or unnatural now than it did before psychologists successfully demonized such behavior a century ago.

  29. 5 out of 5

    S.M.

    I certainly took my time in reading this (over a year--oops), so the earlier sections have lost some of their original "oomf." That said, the discussions regarding historical relationships between women, specifically the idea of the romantic friendships, was fascinating and easily the best parts of the entire book. They were informative and well-researched, and full of information and ideas I'd never heard or thought of before. In contrast, the latter parts that discuss second-wave feminism were I certainly took my time in reading this (over a year--oops), so the earlier sections have lost some of their original "oomf." That said, the discussions regarding historical relationships between women, specifically the idea of the romantic friendships, was fascinating and easily the best parts of the entire book. They were informative and well-researched, and full of information and ideas I'd never heard or thought of before. In contrast, the latter parts that discuss second-wave feminism were odd and uncomfortable to read. There's blatant homo-, trans-, and bi-phobia throughout. It was moderately interesting in terms of learning about ideas that were central to second-wave feminism, but Faderman believed (believes?) that to be a true feminist meant one had to choose lesbianism and had to reject any and all male relationships (...though perhaps not familial relationships with the brothers and fathers? It's difficult to tell). Overall, I do recommend "Surpassing the Love of Men." It was interesting and informative and, from what I've gleaned, a seminal part of second-wave feminism. However, I do wish I'd skipped, or perhaps just skimmed, the latter sections.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    So this book has been sitting in the used LGBT studies section probably since I was hired and I was always like "oh, goofy titled book, you sound totally boring." But, wow, I didn't expect to be reading so much dirty sixteenth century porn. Goodness. My favorite quote so far: There were occasional poems during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries which poked fun at lesbian love, such as "Tribades seu Lesbia" by Francois Mainard (1582 - 1646), in which the writer tells "Beautiful Phy So this book has been sitting in the used LGBT studies section probably since I was hired and I was always like "oh, goofy titled book, you sound totally boring." But, wow, I didn't expect to be reading so much dirty sixteenth century porn. Goodness. My favorite quote so far: There were occasional poems during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries which poked fun at lesbian love, such as "Tribades seu Lesbia" by Francois Mainard (1582 - 1646), in which the writer tells "Beautiful Phyllis" that if her finger knew how to urinate along with what else it knows it could pass for something unmentionable." lol. Also, Lillian Faderman has a delightfully understated academic snarkiness that I'm highly enjoying. (more to come)

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