Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Not My Mother's Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Not My Mother's Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism

Article excerpt



Not My Mother's Sister is an important intervention in the oft-cited conflict between second- and third-wave feminists in the United States. Not merely another agenda or manifesto, Astrid Henry's book provides a striking historical and rhetorical analysis of feminist generational talk, past and present. Henry convincingly argues that "the mother-daughter relationship is the central trope in depicting the relationship between the so-called second and third waves of U.S. feminism" and shows that "this metaphor-or matrophor-has far-reaching implications for contemporary feminism" (2). In engaging, clear prose, Henry's book provides incisive analysis of the so-called feminist waves. Henry's goal is to create opportunities for "a more expansive vision of generational dialogue and exchange" (15).

In the book's introduction Henry summarizes her thesis and defends her use of the "often productive" generational metaphor, despite its "reductive" dangers (6). She thinks it is appropriate to use the metaphor precisely because of the cross-generational identifications and disidentifications she locates in feminists of the second and third waves. Rather than judging these identifications as good or bad, Henry considers them "politically emboldening" to both waves-a label that helps her locate the ways in which mother-daughter talk provided an impetus for feminist activity, at least on the daughter side of the equation, in the 1970s and the 1990s.

Chapter 1, "Daughterhood Is Powerful," examines the emergence of the third wave, revisiting the arguments of Katie Roiphe, Rebecca Walker, Rene Denfeld, and Naomi Wolf, among others. Here, as throughout most of the book, it is the "bad daughters," rather than the "betrayed mothers," whose words are given the most attention. For readers knowledgeable about third-wave feminist texts, this chapter may traverse familiar ground, but it is impressive in its comprehensiveness. Henry charts the ideologies, investments, and blind spots of the third wave, situating them against the Thomas-Hill hearings, which she sees as the watershed moment that prompted talk of a new feminist generation.

Chapter 2, "Finding Ourselves in the Past," offers the compelling thesis that the "second wave" (a term coined in 1968) created the monolithic designation "first wave" (1848-1920) in order to have something to honor "as a rich source of knowledge and guidance" (57). At the same time, "the [feminist] past was repudiated and viewed with disdain" (57). Calling this contradiction irreconcilable, Henry shows that it was "vital to the development of second-wave feminism" (57). Looking to the work of Shulamith Firestone, Germaine Greer, and others, Henry investigates how the "death-and-rebirth imagery that proliferated during this period may have been a way for second-wave feminists to imagine that they were giving birth to themselves"; this she calls a "metaphoric parthenogenesis" that "allowed them to evade the more complicated relationship to their mothers' generation of women, women's rights, and feminism" (71).

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine generational feminist issues in more specific contexts. In chapter 3, it is the so-called sex wars that come under scrutiny. Henry demonstrates how many third-wave feminists caricature second-wavers as puritanical and antisex, in order to clear the terrain to see themselves as innovators. Chapter 4 looks at lesbian feminist "foremothers" and queer "daughters" to unearth the surprising ways in which these groups also rely on familial metaphors. Lillian Faderman's work comes in for particular attention, because she likens lesbian feminism to "mama" feeling abandoned, betrayed, and worried sick as her queer "daughters" are "running off with strange young men" (117). Henry gets a great deal of mileage out of this peculiar analogyperhaps too much. …

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