Feminism Is Ongoing: A Short History

By Beck, Elzbieta | Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review, Summer-Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Feminism Is Ongoing: A Short History


Beck, Elzbieta, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review


Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, & Astrid Henry, FEMINISM UNFINISHED: A SHORT, SURPRISING HISTORY OF AMERICAN WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS. Liveright Publishing/Norton, 2014. 288p. bibl. index. $25.95, ISBN 9780871406767; pap. (2015), $15.95, ISBN 978-1631490545.

The 2015 Supreme Court victory for gay marriage, the heightened attention toward racial discrimination after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson and others elsewhere, and the emphasis of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign on income inequality have all renewed a focus on the importance of intersectionality in feminist theory and activism. (1) Feminism Unfinished, a compact history of the last century of American feminism, argues that the intersections of gender with race, class, and LGBT issues have been an important part of feminism's focus for much longer than is usually acknowledged in histories of its movements.

Authors Dorothy Sue Cobble (Rutgers), Linda Gordon (New York University), and Astrid Henry (Grinnell) each contribute one of the book's three sections, offering their interpretations of the movement for women's rights during the years between the passage of the 19th Amendment and their 2014 publication date. Their narrative asserts that the 20th century can be seen as a continuous story of women agitating for social and political change, and that by examining the overlooked leaders of its many movements, one can find a long but often neglected intersectional tradition in American feminism.

Cobble begins with the period between the 1920s and 1960s--a time often disregarded in feminism's history as a lull between the efforts of suffragists and the "renewed" consciousness of the Second Wave. Instead, Cobble argues, that period was an era of dedicated "social justice feminists" doing groundbreaking work as they "looked to the largest social movements of their day, the labor and civil rights movements, as the best vehicles to achieve their vision of women's rights in a more inclusive and egalitarian society" (p. 4). By examining the work of women leaders in both labor and civil rights, this section offers a fuller view of how activists considered racial and economic justice issues key to securing better lives for women in the United States.

Gordon picks up the timeline from the 1960s through the 1980s to offer a view of Second Wave feminism, or the "women's liberation movement," as more than a white, middle-class effort. Like Cobble, she offers examples of women leaders with a "diversity of political identities and backgrounds" who, like the social justice feminists before them, used their perspectives to fight for the rights of women across ethnic and class lines and connect these rights to racial and economic realities across the country (p. 75). Gordon also counters the worn stereotype of the liberation movement as the work of "humorless, sexless reformer [s]," revealing the profound humor present alongside the passion for social progress. …

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