Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict 1880-1917

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict 1880-1917

Article excerpt

TAX, Meredith, THE RISING OF THE WOMEN: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict 1880-1917. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001, 331pp., $18.95 softcover.

The struggle of labor to organize and press for an array of changes in working conditions, wage structure and power in its diverse forms and contexts, has never been easy in North America. Meredith Tax's The Rising of the Women is a reprint of the original 1980 addition with a contemporary forward. Tax's subject, the efforts of feminists to organize for labor, social and political action, both within existing labor organizations, notably the International Workers of the World (IWW), and independently, is timely. Contemporary equal opportunities, whether codified by law or accepted practice, without accompanying attitudinal changes or structural adjustments, fall short of the mark. Worse, as contemporary feminists sometimes find, claims of equality are often a trap and work to exercise their own coercive power over claimants. Motherhood and work come to mind here.

Tax's analysis is in the Historical Materialist tradition, a powerful set of tools for this subject although as she readily admits, dated in tone and language. The eagerness of mainstream social scientists and historians to bury Marx and his troublesome questions has left us poorer in the way of analytical tools. More than the baby and the bath water were discarded in the collapse of the grim parodies of socialist states in Eastern Europe. There are many issues raised by this examination of feminists in the early labor movement that resonate with our times.

Women's efforts to work collaboratively across class and economic boundaries remain difficult, now joined by race as a potential obstacle in collalition building. (See for example, Taylor, Gilligan and Sullivan (1995) Between Voices and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship. As Tax reminds us, the desire for fundamental change expressed by working class women was different than the views held toward general reform or specific amelioration, typically held by their middle class associates. Just as contemporary social activities complain about establishment personalities co-opting or distorting social movements for their own ends, in this earlier period the interests of working class women were short-circuited by the alliances their middle class counterparts made with the male political establishment. …

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