[Who's Afraid of Feminism: Seeing through the Backlash]

By Shields, Sara; Oakley, Ann et al. | Herizons, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview
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[Who's Afraid of Feminism: Seeing through the Backlash]

Shields, Sara, Oakley, Ann, Mitchell, Juliet, Herizons

Once you get past the grammatically-botched, typo-ridden, academic contortions -- who are they behaving for? -- of the introduction to Who's Afraid of Feminism, you're in for a treat of intelligent and groundbreaking essays by European and American feminist intellectuals. The diverse essay subjects -- homophobia in psychoanalysis, post-communist feminism in eastern Europe, working mothers in Italy, child support leglislation in Britain -- are linked, if tenuously, by consideration of backlash against feminism, against women.

Editors Ann Oakley and Juliet Mitchell, in their introduction, seem driven to defend the book, insisting European feminists can learn from American feminists and vice versa. But the book, third in a series published by not-for-profit The New Press, will easily land on women's studies' reading lists. You can take the course at home: reading an essay every day or two made me happy as a student, fed my mind.

"Nostalgia is the fuel driving the backlash," says Temma Kaplan in her foreward, nostalgia for the "happy family that depends on the self-sacrificing mother who keeps her feelings to herself." Several essays consider this nostalgia, and the consequent charge that by destroying the family, women have destroyed society.

The book is more thoughtful and constructive than Susan Faludi's Backlash. "Something pushing forward always encounters something pushing backward, so that feminism never achieves an ultimate goal but rather takes a rest after some success until the backlash spurs it into action again," write Oakley and Mitchell. Carol Gilligan, in her fascinating essay Getting Civilized, on girls' dissociation from themselves and how they give up relationship for relationships "so as not to drown psychologically in patriarchy," draws a parallel between backlash, including conflict within feminism, and how people in psychotherapy retreat and retract just when they reach a point of enormous breakthrough.

With enlightening openness, several essays aknowledge backlash, even misogyny, within feminism. Margaret Walters brilliantly proposes that Camille Paglia and Catherine MacKinnon are not so diametrically opposed: both unhelpfully reduce women's lives to melodrama.

Most exciting, Parminder Bhachu, in "Dangerous Design" contends that since the Western feminist movement has so been a movement of white women, "the present moment of backlash does not relate to the cultural position of many women." She also writes of a victimology mainstream feminists insistently impose on women of colour.

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