Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement

Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement

Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement

Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement

Synopsis

"Tobias objectively surveys the pitfalls & the triumphs along the way." Ms. "Were one teaching a course on American feminism from its origins in the nineteenth century to its contemporary travails, [this] would be the perfect text." San Francisco Review "An especially welcome resource for young women trying to make sense of the women's movement before becoming enmeshed in its battles." New York Times Book Review "An essential work for anyone who wants to learn, or learn more, about women's activism. An excellent, accessible work; highly recommended." Library Journal

Excerpt

There has been much loose talk of late about "postfeminism" in America. Critics of feminism, such as Phyllis Schlafly, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, have asserted that the majority of women--the kind they claim to speak for--find the feminist agenda contrary to their needs and values. Worse yet, young women whose opportunities are the direct result of feminist efforts over the past three decades are generally unwilling--or too uninformed--to acknowledge that debt. And no wonder. There is no longer that thrilling unanimity that once characterized the movement. As one observer comments, "You put a foot into feminism these days and you don't know where you're stepping." Like Marxism in its middle period, there are deviations to the right, deviations to the left, and far too much concern with what is "politically correct."

I believe, to the contrary, that a central core in the second wave of feminism still exists, a core that resides in the penetrating and at the same time immensely unsettling analysis of "sexual politics" that the writer Kate Millett taught us how to do twenty-five years ago. And I believe feminism still can unite around a single goal: the overthrow of the too-easy acceptance of male domination that, because it has been around so long, feels natural. Millett gave male domination a name. "Patriarchy," she called it, to the discomfort of many good men who did not recognize themselves either as exploiters or abusers of women. But patriarchy as she used the term meant much more than the sexist behavior of individuals. Patriarchy is a system by which men who would sincerely have it otherwise are advantaged just by being male. Since patriarchy comes in many guises, feminists have much to learn from earlier stages in the struggle against it. We risk losing the future, in other words, if we discount the past.

I first encountered Millett's thinking when she was invited in November 1968 to do a reading from her book Sexual Politics (still in manuscript) before a gathering of soon-to-become feminists at Cornell University, and I have never stopped drawing sustenance and stimulation from her work. Our group had not gone looking for Kate Millett--no one knew of her work at the time--and she had not gone looking for us.

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