Women & Social Change: Feminist Activism in Canada // Review

Article excerpt

A more direct attempt to bridge the gap between feminist academics and feminist activism can be found in Women and Social Change, edited by Wine and Ristock. This collection's range of case studies of feminist organizing is framed by a useful introductory section that contextualizes the contemporary women's movement within Canada's changing political and social climate, recognizes the diversity of women, and explores the uneasy relationship between feminism and the state.

A key theme throughout is the tension between grassroots and institutionalized feminism or, as Linda Briskin terms it in her essay, the poles of "disengagement" and "mainstreaming" as feminist organizing strategies. While the former "...operates from a critique of the system and a standpoint outside of it" (30), seeking to create alternative, distinctly feminist structures, mainstreaming aims at "...reaching out to the majority of the population with popular and practical feminist solutions to particular issues" (30), and as such requires engagement with (and not just critique of) mainstream institutions. Briskin argues that to choose either of these poles as the basis for feminist practice is akin to choosing between marginalization and "co - optation," obscuring the political dynamic of feminism. Drawing on examples from socialist - feminist politics in labour and pro - choice organizations, she illustrates how the tension between mainstreaming and disengagement is played out, demonstrating that "...the map of feminist practice is not shaped within the same parameters as the map of abstract theoretical principle" (39).

Janice Ristock examines the relationship between feminist ideologies and feminist practice from another perspective -- that of the internal organizational structures of feminist collectives. She examines feminist social service collectives engaged in providing services in response to violence against women as an example of the "mainstreaming - disengagement" tension that Briskin outlines. On the one hand, they are mainstreamed by their financial ties to the state and their relationship with the social service system; on the other hand, they seek to maintain a distinctively feminist organizational structure which is consistent with feminist ideologies of equality, consensus - building and personal empowerment. Ristock's research finds that despite such ideological commitments, power struggles and contradictions are frequent, and new mechanisms for dealing with them are constantly being developed. This suggests not the failure of collectives, but rather the importance of ongoing attempts to develop alternative organizational forms as integral to the feminist process.

Angela Miles reflects on her experience of feminist politics in rural Nova Scotia to illustrate the concept of "integrative feminism" that she has developed in some of her previous, more theoretical work.(f.1) Integrative feminism is, for Miles, a "full politics" which "speaks to the whole of society," not just to the relative position of women in that society. This is a radical vision of transformation, not assimilation, grounded in the specificity of women's social, cultural and political experience. Miles argues that the subordinated values of that experience - integrative values such as nurturance and cooperation -- can provide the basis for a feminization of humanity and thus anchor a politics of liberation that embraces both specificity and equality. She finds integrative feminism in practice in rural women's culture: "Rural and traditional women do not need feminism to tell them that women are strong and that work is important, that men have the power, that women's lives and work and concerns and characteristics and values are different from men's . …