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Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice [Kindle Edition]

Stephanie Golden
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Why do so many women feel obliged to put other people's needs first, even when they don't want to? The self-sacrificing impulse comes from women's history, not their nature, says Stephanie Golden.

Drawing on interviews with experts and a diverse group of women, as well as extensive scholarship, Golden traces the historical, cultural and mythic factors that gave women the responsibility to sacrifice and suffer for the benefit of our entire society. Slaying the Mermaid (a title inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, the ultimate self-sacrificing woman) illuminates common female experiences: the belief that being a "good mother" means endless self-sacrifice; romance, the surrender of a woman's very being to an ideal embodied in a powerful man; on-the-job "enabling" that makes the boss look good while undermining a woman's own career; the obsession with weight, which makes a virtue of self-denial.

Golden analyzes the psychological effects of the self-sacrifice mandate, then expands this theme beyond individual experience to its broader social meanings.

She ends by telling you how to distinguish self-destructive from positive, constructive forms of sacrifice, so you can reclaim the original meaning of sacrifice as an act that both transforms and empowers.

Product Description

From the Author

How I came to write about women and sacrifice
"Slaying the Mermaid" grew out of personal experience, particularly my volunteer work at a shelter for homeless women. The concept sprang from an episode, described in the book, in which the nuns who ran the shelter were taken over--brainwashed--by a male volunteer who briefly created a mini-cult there.

Eventually I discovered that the weakness he played on to gain influence over them was their training in self-sacrifice. He undermined their self-confidence by accusing them of not being willing to give up absolutely everything for the homeless.

As a volunteer, I too had struggled with the question of how much to give--where I should draw the line. But I realized that, while this question might be particularly compelling and difficult for nuns, it's also one that most women grapple with, because almost all of us have been trained in self-sacrifice.

So I decided to explore the concept of sacrifice in relation to women's experience. Even given my assumption that this was a critical issue for women, I was amazed by what I heard during interviews: that ordinary women had had such astonishing, intense experiences; lived with such wrenching, violent inner images; and held such powerful ideals. I also discovered that the central image of the book, Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid--whose willingness to walk in pain and sacrifice everything for the prince had always haunted me--resonates for many other women as well.

In exploring this issue, I try to demonstrate how feelings and behavior that may seem entirely personal are in reality shaped by external cultural and historical forces. I also hope to show how it's possible to strike a balance between selfhood and sacrifice, so that altruism can be both transformative and empowering.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful discussion of a complex problem 9 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I came across this book while looking for something else, and couldn't put it down. As a woman and a former Catholic, I got a double dose of the self-sacrificing ideal. Although I later rejected the notion of female subservience, I felt that the "masculine" ideal of individualism was equally unsatisfactory: in order to achieve self-realization, did one have to reject the positive aspects of self-sacrifice, such as compassion and concern for the good of the community (or humanity as a whole)?
Golden's discussion is the first I've seen that looks at this very complex issue in depth, both intellectually and emotionally, and comes to a balanced conclusion. Rather than urging women to reject self-sacrifice outright, she carefully considers the origins of the ideal and its pluses and minuses, and helps readers to judge for themselves whether self-sacrifice in a particular situation will enrich or deplete their lives. She doesn't give easy answers, but coping with a disabled parent, or trying to assist a mentally ill person to get help, aren't easy problems. This is a truly outstanding book, and I recommend it highly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Really Awesome Read 21 Jun. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this as reference material for my dissertation and it definitely got me thinking and proved me with a great source.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful discussion of a complex problem 9 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I came across this book while looking for something else, and couldn't put it down. As a woman and a former Catholic, I got a double dose of the self-sacrificing ideal. Although I later rejected the notion of female subservience, I felt that the "masculine" ideal of individualism was equally unsatisfactory: in order to achieve self-realization, did one have to reject the positive aspects of self-sacrifice, such as compassion and concern for the good of the community (or humanity as a whole)?
Golden's discussion is the first I've seen that looks at this very complex issue in depth, both intellectually and emotionally, and comes to a balanced conclusion. Rather than urging women to reject self-sacrifice outright, she carefully considers the origins of the ideal and its pluses and minuses, and helps readers to judge for themselves whether self-sacrifice in a particular situation will enrich or deplete their lives. She doesn't give easy answers, but coping with a disabled parent, or trying to assist a mentally ill person to get help, aren't easy problems. This is a truly outstanding book, and I recommend it highly.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Not To Be One of the "Women Who Love Too Much" 1 Dec. 2002
By "mlajoue" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I assigned Slaying the Mermaid to my college seminar on mermaids and feminism. At first the students were not happy -- "Why must Ariel die?" they wondered. But the view that women need mutual rather than self-sacrificing relationships to be healthy, became convincing to them. Reading the original fairy tale and watching the (altered) Disney movie provided an informative context for appreciating Stephanie Golden's interesting and helpful book. We also read the chapter about The Little Mermaid in the edited book "From Mouse to Mermaid" and I recommend that as well. The current "hot" movement in popular psychology -- 'Positive Psychology' -- is not sensitive to issues of gender and culture, so Golden's book is a worthy contribution.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking the value of self-sacrifice 14 Feb. 2000
By Joan Mazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A review from the author of DREAMING YOUR REAL SELF: A PERSONAL APPROACH TO DREAM INTERPRETATION; WHO'S CRAZY, ANYWAY?; and DREAM BACK YOUR LIFE.
Stephanie Golden examines how women are expected to sacrifice themselves to be feminine and acceptable to others and in the process lose their sense of themselves as they fall into the victim trap. With interesting and moving stories of very different women, she distinguishes between mindless self-sacrifice that diminishes us and a conscious choice to offer our gifts and talents in a way that expands us all. Well-written and intriguing right down to the notes at the end. I recommend it highly.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A close look at how women become victims of sacrifice. 24 Sept. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book evokes a slew of emotions: anger, resentment, and sympathy. Stephanie Golden gives examples of women who have become victims of sacrifice and analyzes their situation. As each woman's story was presented, I , as a female, vowed to not fall into the same predicaments as these women, yet wondered if I was already like them, just blind to my situation. This book makes readers take a good look at the sacrifices they have made in their lives and they price they have paid for them.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Writer 11 Jan. 2013
By Candi Sary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had read Stephanie Golden's previous book, "The Women Outside: Meanings and Myths of Homelessness," and so I went into "Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice" knowing what a powerful writer she is. After reading this book, I can't get the concepts out of my mind. Things happen in my life, and I think about the book, and use its perspectives to direct me. A life of self-sacrifice as a feminine ideal was something I hadn't thought much about-- just something I accepted. Golden's book has opened my mind to the distinction between constructive self-sacrifice, and habitual sacrifice that simply drains a woman. She offers examples from real women throughout the book and it makes her concepts come to life. I was especially enlightened by her discussions on women and pain, and scapegoating and power. I am using her guidance to re-examine sacrifice in my own life, and she has given me insight and courage to make appropriate changes. This book came at the perfect time and I appreciate the gift it has been to me.
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