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In The Cost of Competence Brett Silverstein and Deborah Perlick argue that rather than simply labelling individual women as, say, anorexic or depressed, it is time to look harder at the widespread prejudices within our society and child-rearing practices that lead thousands of young women to equate thinness with competence and success, and femininity with failure.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780195069860
ISBN-10: 0195069862
Format: Hardback
(241mm x 161mm x 22mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 14-Dec-1995
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » A dull examination of the idea that a certain set of symptoms commonly afflicts ambitious, talented young women growing up in societies that value males over females. Authors Silverstein (Psychology/CCNY; Fed Up, not reviewed) and Perlick (Psychology/Cornell Medical College) assert that they find evidence of this syndrome - which they dub "anxious somatic depression" - in medical writings going back to the fourth century B.C.; in recent writings of anthropologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists; and in the biographies, correspondence, and diaries of some 40 prominent women (e.g., Queen Elizabeth I, Charlotte Bronte, Indira Gandhi). In addition, they distributed questionnaires and psychological tests to some 2,000 young women whose responses confirmed their findings. They cite evidence that women seeking to achieve in areas traditionally reserved for men pay a heavy price: depression, anxiety, disordered eating, headaches, and other somatic and psychological symptoms. These first appear in adolescent girls who chafe under the societal limits placed on them as females and who are ambivalent toward their femininity, especially those growing up in a period of great change in women's roles and those with traditional mothers. In other times, the disorder was recognized as hysteria or neurasthenia, but today, the authors assert, it frequently goes undetected by physicians and therapists. Silverstein and Perlick's aim is to make the syndrome known so that it will be recognized and treated. Preventing it, they note, would require changing society so that women's ambitions are given equal opportunity and their roles equal respect. Although the authors have consigned some of their research data and discussions of methodology to appendixes in an attempt to make their writing accessible to the general reader, the effort largely fails. Professional colleagues may persevere, but the stilted, redundant prose may well discourage those less dedicated. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Brett Silverstein

Brett Silverstein is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, City College of New York, and the author of Fed Up. Deborah Perlick is Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Cornell University Medical College.