Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World
In the eternal question of nature versus nurture, author and developmental psychologist Birute Regine leans comfortably towards nature. She embraces “feminine” qualities and calls for women the world over to do the same. While the anecdotes and reflections she chooses to share are indeed compelling and inspirational, the book as a whole can be off-putting if you do not necessarily prescribe to the idea of gendered personality traits.
One major theme running throughout Iron Butterflies is the need to reject and reform what she calls “gladiator culture,” which is defined by its aggressive, macho, and violent nature. This, Regine writes, is the source of many societal ills. The book is then a call to action for women around the globe to effect change through compassion, empathy, and caring—the antidote to gladiator culture. By accepting and uncovering innately feminine qualities, women can improve their own quality of life while also creating social change in their communities and in the larger world.
Though gender biases, discrimination, and violence continue to exist in full force, further emphasis on the “inherent” differences between men and women feels uncomfortable and one-sided. Instead of gendering characteristics, a more inclusive approach would have been to look deeper into how these traits have come into existence and examine the larger society as a whole for ways that everyone can integrate compassion, for instance, into their daily behavioral repertoire.
Regine does recognize this point in a few isolated moments, but looking at a scale with nature on one side and nurture on the other, she falls much closer to nature. With chapters entitled, “Tears: Heal the Hidden Wound,” and “Chrysalis: Shedding Self-Imposed Limitations,” the general tone of the book is New Age-y self help, with the inclusion of various ethnic and cultural metaphors. The core message is one of positive change and growth, but the means of achieving them may not resonate with all readers.