Behind the Mask: Destruction and Creativity in Women’s Aggression

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9780674064850: Behind the Mask: Destruction and Creativity in Women’s Aggression

This boldly original book explores the origins, meanings, and forms of women's aggression. Drawing from in-depth interviews with sixty women of different ages and ethnic and class backgrounds--police officers, attorneys, substance abusers, homemakers, artists--Dana Jack provides a rich account of how women explain (or explain away) their own hidden or actual acts of hurt to others. With sensitivity but without sentimentality, Jack gives readers a range of compelling stories of how women channel, either positively or destructively, their own powerful force and of how they resist and retaliate in the face of others' aggression in a society that expects women to be yielding, empathetic, and supportive.

Arguing that aggression arises from failures in relationships, Jack portrays the many forms that women's aggression can take, from veiled approaches used to resist, control, and take vengeance on others, to aggression that reflects despair, to aggression that may be a hopeful sign of new strength. Throughout the book, Jack shows the positive sides of aggression as women struggle with internal and external demons, reconnect with others, and create the courage to stand their ground. This work broadens our understanding of aggression as an interpersonal phenomenon rooted in societal expectations, and offers exciting new approaches for exploring the variations of this vexing human experience.

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Review:

Drawing from 60 interviews with women from a wide range of social and educational backgrounds, Dana Crowley Jack traces a variety of expressions of aggression, from simple "assertiveness" at work or home to the free pursuit of a woman's own dreams to unprovoked physical violence against others. In her introduction, she explains the "six ways of listening" that she tried to employ while speaking with her subjects and interpreting their responses: "open listening (the body's responses and other nonverbal signals are taken into account as part of reflexivity), focused awareness (meanings are not taken for granted; the speaker is asked to explain key words or phrases), and attending to moral language, to inner dialogues, to the logic of the narrative, and to meta-statements, those places in interviews where people spontaneously reflect on something they just said." These sound like rules for intelligent reading of any text, and Jack goes on to demonstrate the rewards of her receptive attitude in the fascinating disclosures made by her subjects. For example, Jean (age 46, white, potter) recounts a dream in which painful and obstructive "bony structures growing out of [her] jaw" suggest her fears of lashing out verbally, while Gloria (age 34, Latina, unemployed) recalls being beaten to the cement for spreading malicious rumors. "Behind the Mask" is a sensitive and skillfully conducted psychological study with far-reaching social implications.

About the Author:

Dana Crowley Jack teaches at Fairhaven, an interdisciplinary college of Western Washington University.

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Dana Crowley Jack
Published by Harvard University Press (1999)
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