Is Feminism Dead or Is It Fluoride in the Water?

Article excerpt

IS FEMINISM DEAD OR IS IT FLUORIDE IN THE WATER? Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States, by Jo Reger. New York: Oxford University Press 2012, 256 pages, $24.95 Paper. ISBN: 978-0199861989.

Throughout the history of the movement, feminism has regularly been declared dead, or at the very least, no longer necessary. Alongside talk about the demise and irrelevance of feminism, social commentators suggest that we are living in a "postfeminist" generation where fewer people, especially younger women, identify as feminist or are involved in feminist activism. At the same time that some people are writing obituaries for feminism, feminist ideas have permeated the cultural landscape. The extent of the diffusion of feminism into mainstream culture prompted feminist authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards to suggest that feminism has become "like fluoride . . . it's simply in the water" (2000:17). These contrasting public discourses create a characterization of contemporary feminism as simultaneously "everywhere" and "nowhere." Sociologist Jo Reger tackles this paradoxical situation in her book Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States.

In order to explain what accounts for "everywhere-nowhere" feminism, or the idea that feminism is "present and active, yet undetected" (2012:5), Reger examines community-level feminist activism. Although social movement scholars tend to focus on either the micro level of identity construction or the macro level of national and international politics, Reger argues that a community-level analysis can provide new insights into the contemporary feminist movement, as well as help illuminate larger social movement questions and concerns about movement continuity.

Reger's overarching argument is that the cultural and political environment of a community plays a major role in shaping contemporary feminism. She supports her argument by drawing on observational and interview data collected from three U.S. communities: Woodview, Evers, and Green City. Woodview is located in a Midwest county with a large regional university. Reger describes the area as conservative and unwelcoming of feminism. Evers is located in a politically liberal and progressive East Coast town. Participants characterize their community as the "Evers bubble," a phrase which communicates a feeling that feminism is everywhere around them. Finally, Green City is located in a large, Northwest metropolitan area with overlapping and vibrant feminist and queer activist circles. In these three communities, Reger interviewed 40 self-identified feminists, and observed local events (e.g. performances of the Vagina Monologues) and locations (e.g. feminist bookstores).

Chapters 1 and 2 compare feminist identity formation in each community. Reger finds that the significance of a feminist identity for participants depends on the degree of openness and acceptance of feminism within their political and cultural environments. Although the hostile and conservative environment in Woodview creates strong activists for whom feminism is an articulated and highly visible identity, identifying as feminist was simply assumed, and therefore, rarely articulated in the more liberal and progressive communities of Evers and Green City. Because feminism is taken for granted in these communities, it is often submerged in or linked to other forms of activism, making feminism both pervasive and invisible.

In the next chapter, Reger explores generational relations in contemporary feminist communities. Generational discord in the feminist movement has garnered a decent amount of public attention in recent years, with media representations comparing relations between second-wave generation and contemporary feminists to fighting between mothers and daughters. Reger questions the accuracy of this portrayal by examining participant beliefs about second-wave generation feminism. Contrary to media depictions, Woodview feminists express admiration for second-wave generation feminists. …