The movement toward gender equality is a global phenomenon. Struggles over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of women and men are taking place in newly modernizing as well as postindustrial societies. In the past decade, the visibility of gender issues in many different national and cultural contexts has grown enormously, making the global reach of feminism more obvious to everyone. However, contesting gender relations on an international scale is really not something new. Worldwide challenges to the subordination of women took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, as women in many countries mobilized—more or less successfully—to demand basic education, employment, and political rights. Today, as in the past, the struggle for gender equality takes place in a world, and within societies, where some women are the privileged beneficiaries of these hard-won rights while others lack even the most fundamental means of survival.
Although the focus of this book is the movement for women’s rights over the past half-century in the United States, we think it important to place this specific struggle in the context of a longer and wider battle. When we first named this book Controversy and Coalition, it was with the sense that the women’s movement was both divided into competing factions for whom “controversy” was central, and also characterized by common goals around which shifting coalitions were constantly emerging. It was difficult, in fact, to decide whether to use the singular or plural to describe the women’s movement(s) and feminism(s). We decided on the singular, yet have tried throughout the book to keep clear for ourselves and our readers that whatever unity exists in the women’s movement was not now, or ever, and never could