Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s

Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s

Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s

Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s

Synopsis

This readable and informative survey, including both new research and synthesis, provides the first close comparison of race, class and internationalism in the British and American women's movements during this period. Sisterhood Questioned assesses the nature and impact of divisions in the twentieth century American and British women's movements.In this lucidly written study, Christine Bolt sheds new light on these differences, which flourished in an era of political reaction, economic insecurity, polarizing nationalism and resurgent anti-feminism. The author reveals how the conflicts were seized upon and publicised by contemporaries, and how the activists themselves were forced to confront the increasingly complex tensions.Drawing on a wide range of sources, the author demonstrates that women in the twentieth century continued to co-operate despite these divisions, and that feminist movements remained active right up to and beyond the reformist 1960s. It is invaluable reading for all those with an interest in American history, British history or women's studies.

Excerpt

As the previous chapter has shown, while post-war internationalism predominantly involved white American and British women in shared enterprises, the connection also revealed their growing differences of circumstance and outlook. These differences were apparent in the international endeavours affecting women of colour, which are considered in the first part of this chapter. But for most women, the domestic agenda of feminism was more pressing than internationalism, and the political and reform aspects of this agenda in Britain and the United States, together with their racial significance, are the focus of the remainder of the chapter.

Although race was not the key issue for British feminists that it was for their American sisters between the wars, the thinking of activists in both countries was influenced by the well established organisational and social separation between non-whites and whites, which stemmed from contrasting attitudes to race as well as unequal access to power. For women of colour, race and gender problems were seldom separable. For men of colour, women's interests were usually collapsed under the umbrella of race. And for white women, race commonly assumed salience in the context of debates about their responsibilities towards the less fortunate and as preservers of racial peace. Despite the efforts made in the United States and Britain to reformulate feminist ideology after the First World War, it proved impossible to break through these entrenched ways of thinking to a vigorous inter-racialism that could also accommodate gender, to the benefit of non-white and white women alike.

Internationalism and women of colour

For women of colour, coming together as internationalists during the interwar years was more difficult than for the already organised middle-class and working-class white activists discussed in chapters 4 and 6. In the first place, nothing had happened by the end of the First World War to challenge the financial and organisational domination of this branch of feminism by prosperous activists who assumed that they had the right to guide less fortunate women and countries. Equally, nothing had happened to make socialist internationalism an obvious alternative for poorer women, since its exponents, committed to class analysis

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