Elevate Difference

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.

Written by: Shana Mattson, July 8th 2010

I appreciate that this review was able to disagree with the author in a respectful and balanced way. The tone was lucid, calm, to the point and unpretentious. Feel as if I know what I'll encounter in Iron Butterflies.

Very insightful! This sounds like an interesting read. I especially appreciate the critical yet fair review.

Thank you for the articulate review Shana. I appreciate a balanced review that's not afraid to point out potential short-comings for readers coming from a different worldview. Nice work!

Well-written and insightful!! More, please!

Shana -- always enjoy your book reviews!

What a thoughtful review! I believe that anyone can appreciate an insightful review that points out the aspects of a book without attempting to persuade a potential reader one way or another.

Great review! You ask why the author describes the "gladiator culture" as inherently male. You excoriate her for suggesting that men adopt more feminine traits in order to coexist peacefully with each other. I agree with your criticism about designating certain traits as male or female -- furthering stereotypes about men and women.

Thank you for your insightful comments!

Shana points out that the characteristics that the author wants women to develop can also be developed by men. It is like the Tao or the way. The real path is feminine in that it takes the path of humility and compassion. Men and women can both develop these traits. Good review!

Thanks for this review. I'm a librarian, and while I love to read reviews, I sometimes find that they tell me more about the reviewer than the book. You've put this book in context for me, and that's very helpful. It's great to discover this site, too - what a nice resource!

Jeanne W.

I like to consider myself a feminist, however I tend to see feminist attitudes as too extreme. After reading your review I am interested in reading this book. Your review shed light on the idea that equality does not have to take away femininity.

Interesting review. I enjoyed the author's comments about how the book could have been strengthened.

Wicked insightful review. And seeing as I seem to agree with you without having read the book, you saved me the trouble. Thanks!

A great review! As a librarian I appreciate a thoughtful review such as this one.

Great review.

One need only look at Sarah Palin or Meg Whitman to see that compassion is not hard-wired into women.

In fact, compassion may not be warranted in some circumstances, such as in a business relationship or when one's opponent in a competitive marketplace is focused solely on himself or herself?