The Power of the Personal: Keeping Consciousness-Raising Alive

By Russo, Stacy | Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

The Power of the Personal: Keeping Consciousness-Raising Alive


Russo, Stacy, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review


Janet L. Freedman, RECLAIMING THE FEMINIST VISION: CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING AND SMALL GROUP PRACTICE. McFarland, 2014. 220p. notes, bibl. index. pap., $45.00, ISBN 978-0786472123.

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Janet L. Freedman's book on feminist consciousness-raising (CR) groups is ultimately about the power of personal storytelling among women in safe and supportive spaces. Both listening to a story and telling one's own are acts of courage that, as CR groups have shown, may lead to personal growth and a richer understanding of and empathy for others. In six information-packed chapters, Freedman celebrates all that the CR experience can be and shares what the groups have meant in her life.

"Consciousness-raising was the gateway to activism," Freedman writes early in the first chapter (p. 16); she continues a bit later, "Involvement in a CR group made it impossible for me NOT to become an activist" (p. 17).

The way Freedman weaves together her own CR experiences with other women's memories of CR is one of the most compelling aspects of this work. It is clear that the material is close to her, and some of her interviewees are members of a group she has belonged to since 1984, but she reaches far beyond her own experiences and those of her network. The book is complemented by an impressive list of sources, including both fiction and non-fiction. This meshing of research and personal enthusiasm gives the book a special magic.

Freedman sets out to trace "the origins, principles, and enormous impact of consciousness-raising," while also calling for a renewal of CR (p. 1). She begins with providing a historical review of CR from the 1960s and 1970s, in Chapter 1 ("Consciousness-Raising: The Mother Lode") and also includes some practical information on length of meetings, how to start a group, and possible topics groups could discuss. Readers interested in starting a group may find additional "starter" discussion questions in other chapters helpful.

Chapter 2 ("Right Livelihood: Working as a Feminist") focuses on working women and economic issues and the collective activism that can be ignited when women talk about struggles in the workplace.

Chapter 3 ("Only Connect: Technology, Consciousness-Raising and Feminist Activism") looks at both the "promises and perils" of the internet and technology as they relate to feminist activism (p. 53). Freedman explores a wide range of topics here, including sexism in online gaming, cyberfeminism, blogging, and the easy access of feminist materials and websites.

Although Freedman gives many examples of the positive impact technology makes on feminism, she writes, "I've answered the question posed at the start of this chapter--can technology offer a new and perhaps even more powerful model for achieving feminist social transformation? …

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