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The XX Factor    by Alison Wolf Amazon.com order for
XX Factor
by Alison Wolf
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Anita Lock

Women's roles in society are vastly different now compared to what they were in the last couple of centuries. That is not particularly surprising to me. What threw me for a loop was learning that the greatest evolution of women's roles began only in the last fifty years, which is not that long ago. And, from their inception, the key elements that were pivotal in this change - largely higher educational opportunities and the development of the Pill - have continued to define how women function at home and in the workplace today.

The book begins with Jane Austen, who bravely chose to go where very few women dared to back in the early nineteenth century: she chose to break off her engagement. By today's standards, this type of decision made by women in much of the world is commonplace. But back in Austen's day, breaking off an engagement placed a woman in a very precarious position one that would deny her economic stability and health benefits. Wolf explores the world of women and their role in society during a time when women understood that their place was defined by the men they married, and as caretakers to their children and homes. Though their roles were limited and stifling, there began a sisterhood of women based on their fixed commonalities.

Wolf further explains that even though women were not necessarily denied educational opportunities during Austen's day, they were designed to proliferate the role of care-taking through teaching and volunteerism in charitable organizations. But as the world was changing with Industrialization, so too was education. However, it wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that a growing number of schools, including Ivy League colleges, began admitting woman, and degrees were no longer limited to teaching. Thus began a new trend of professionals, not caretakers. But of utmost importance was the introduction of the Pill. For the first time, women felt that they had control over their bodies as well as the freedom to regulate childbirth, a key element that was taboo in days of old.

Professionalism has catapulted women into positions largely filled by men; and the more the roles have been reversed, the more the gender gap has been closing. One could consider this to be a good change. However, as wonderful as education and job advancement are for women, not all women are created equally. Only a small percentage forms the high-paying professionals (otherwise known as the elite), while many are in the middle-class category. And with educational advancement, one would think that the number of non-higher-educated women would have diminished considerably over the years. Unfortunately, a whole class of single mothers has developed, and it is still growing. These distinctions have not brought women closer together, but instead have greatly fractured sisterhood, as Wolf puts it.

This book's subtitle, 'How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World', succinctly reflects the conclusion drawn by Wolf from her research. My hope is that XX Factor will raise awareness to women of this educational disparity and hopefully resurrect sisterhood with a new and profound commonality: that no matter where we live in the world we all have the potential of becoming women of distinction. Kudos to Wolf, who has created a valuable addition to women's literature! Final pages include an appendix, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

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