Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered

Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered

Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered

Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered


At a time when some feminist critics are saying that the feminist movement has been too individualistic and too market oriented, Joan Kennedy Taylor contends that feminists should cherish and celebrate their tradition of individualism and equal rights. Reclaiming the Mainstream points out that the most enduring voices in the women's movement--the voices that each successive generation of feminists rediscovers with a shock of recognition--Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, John Stuart Mill, Charlotte Perkins Gilman--have spoken out against government privileges and special protection for women so that their individual differences might flourish. This book argues that modern feminism grew out of the nineteenth-century Woman Movement, which, like much late nineteenth-century thinking, became a battleground between individualist and collectivist ideas. When individualist ideals predominated in this movement--ideals of independence, social mobility, even sexual freedom--it gained wide adherence. But when the movement supported collectivist ideas of social reform, it became more marginal and sectarian. It was a focus on the individual woman's rights and happiness that reinvented feminist movements twice in our history, in the decades from 1910 to the New Deal, and then again in the late 1960s. The book examines this history, gives an overview of the contemporary scene, and analyzes the campaign to pass and ratify an equal rights amendment--and its failure. Reclaiming the Mainstream also discusses contemporary policy issues that affect women: affirmative action and comparable worth; rape, battering, sexual harassment, and incest; the many facets of sexual and reproductive choice; and theattempts to unify feminist and nonfeminist women against pornography or in support of social feminist issues. On all these topics, Taylor offers a new and surprising individualist feminist analysis that asks feminists to make


In October of 1991, an astonishingly large segment of the American television-viewing public was riveted by the hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the allegations by Anita Hill that Judge Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him in the early 1980s. Various feminists were interviewed briefly by television reporters, and sometimes commented on the proceedings.

What did these feminists stand for? If the soundbites were all you knew of feminism, you would conclude that feminists were not only against sexual harassment (after all, nobody was for it) but considered that pornography was its direct cause and one of the worst social evils in our country. Some feminists stressed their allegation that there was a relationship between an interest in pornography and sexual harassment, even sexual crimes, while others who disagreed politely didn't mention the subject. You would have no hint that the issue of banning pornography has been a subject of deep division within the feminist community. You might conclude, from what these feminists said in opposition to the confirmation of Judge Thomas even before these charges, that they had a welfare-state agenda, perhaps leading them to be members of the left-wing of the Democratic Party.

But if you listened more carefully to what was going on, you might find evidence that didn't fit this simplistic picture of the agenda of contemporary feminists. Was Anita Hill a feminist? She had been a supporter of conservative Robert Bork.And what about the women who worked with and testified for Clarence Thomas, many of whom identified themselves as feminists? Did they share the views of the other interviewed feminists that Thomas's views—on affirmative action, for instance—or that his behavior toward Anita Hill were disastrous?

This is the age of feminism—or of post-feminism, depending on which . . .

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