There's no fun in this book. No wit, no rage, no passion -- yet the book's very dullness is what makes it a significant contribution to the written arsenal in the war between the sexes.
In a quiet tone, riddled with facts, "The Sisterhood of Man" describes the beginnings of a global revolution born of the changing roles of women from Sri Lanka to Long Island. What is new here is the book's scope, its brevity and its lack of axe-grinding. Systematically examining all facets of women's life -- law, education, media, politics, family, health and work -- Newland demonstrates the importance of being earnest, offering hope from recent accomplishments without minimizing the obstacles that lie ahead.
The most important changes, she points out, have come about through legislation and litigation. Certainly the revision of outmoded legal codes has opened many doors. (By the end of World War II, only 31 countries allowed women to vote. Now only eight countries, including Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia, bar women from public life. Somalia has even made anti-feminism a crime against the state.) Similar trends can be seen in education, the traditional ticket to power. Although the worldwide women's illiteracy rate is still double that of men, the number of women at university level in India, for example, has jumped from 43,000 in 1951 to 656,000 in 1971. On the political front, the number of women in state governments in the U.S. has more than doubled between 1972 and 1978; and in China, 30 percent of each commune's revolutionary committee must be women.
Where the struggle is grimmest, however, is the workplace. In a perceptive discussion of the working woman, Newland documents worldwide the burden of women's dual role as unpaid housekeepers and low-paid employes. For centuries, women have made up the "fifth world," the neglected universe of housework. It is estimated, for example, that the output of U.S. housewives is equivalent to one-fifth to one-third of the country's Gross National Product.
At the same time, women are expected to enter the formal labor market where occupational segregation is the rule. In the Unites States, Newland points out, women working fulltime earned 59 percent of what men earned in 1977, down from 63 percent in 1956. What's more, women no longer have the option to stay home. The female-headed household is a statistical reality. One quarter of Venezuelan families are headed by women. In parts of Kenya, it is 40 percent. In some Caribbean countries, one out of three households is headed by a woman; in the United States, 14 percent.
From a historical point of view, the entry of married women into the job market is comparable to the migration of agricultural workers to the factories, bringing about the Industrial Revolution. Now, says Newland, another kind of revolution is underway. As a basic primer on women, "The Sisterhold of Man" is recommended for everyone caught in the dilemma of change -- which means all of us.