09th January 2013

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"The self-help tradition has attracted critics of its substance as well. Micki McGee, a professor of sociology at Fordham University and author of Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, notes that, since the 1970s, the growth in self-help has paralleled the destabilization of the labor market and of families. “In place of a social safety net, Americans have been offered row upon row of self-help books,” she says. A declining number of people have a lifelong profession or a lifelong marriage, and so “it is no longer sufficient to be married or employed; rather, it is imperative that one remains marriageable and employable.” Self-help books prey on our insecurities—that our bosses don’t consider us highly effective people, or that our spouses wonder where those 15-minute orgasms are. Taking issue with the “empowerment” school, she points out that “the idea that you’re completely in charge of your own destiny has as its inverse that if anything happens to you, you are to blame.” And if things go well? Self-help is steeped in “that painful, self-congratulatory aspect that American success has. It’s not enough to be successful, you get to take full individual credit for it,” as if no one had helped you along the way. “Our indebtedness to each other is erased in this literature,” McGee says."

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self-help Laura Vanderkam

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