In the preface to her engaging narrative history of feminism, No Turning Back
, Estelle Freedman thanks a woman we should all thank, someone who asked her to recommend one book that best presented feminist scholarship to date. Realizing that her only suggestions would require the woman to read extensively across a range of disciplines, Freedman set out to provide that book herself. The result is an expansive but eminently readable history of feminism, its political roots and objectives, and the case for its centrality to the future of women.
While displaying an in-depth knowledge of her field in discussing women's rights, work, and the more recent history of women's political strategies, Freedman also demonstrates a willingness to engage in critical thinking beyond her own sphere and range; she explores subjects ranging from the development of labor and social roles across centuries and cultures to the ways in which race, class, and other social hierarchies inform and define different "feminisms." Acknowledging that her book does not "tell a single, unified history of revolutionary triumph," Freedman examines issues related to politics, economics, race, relationships, health, sexuality, and violence within the context of feminist history. Though it could have been a dry polemic, No Turning Back is, instead, an enthusiastic look at how and why feminist ideas have remained a part of the political landscape since their emergence. Freedman not only recognizes the complex processes of adaptation and redefinition that feminism has undergone, but proposes that this malleability is what has enabled the movement to withstand the test of time. For an obviously impassioned (but still well-reasoned and solidly supported) presentation of the story thus far, Freedman's answer to this book's instigator should now be an easy one. --S. Ketchum
From Library Journal
Stanford historian Freedman (Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America) offers a comprehensive, accessible synthesis of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship, placing feminism in a global, historical framework. Freedman begins with theories of the emergence and diversification of patriarchy, outlining the ways that urbanization, colonialism, capitalism, and industrialization have intensified gender segregation and gender, race, and class hierarchies. Women's resistance to male oppression also takes many forms specific to national identity, ethnicity, and class. As Freedman points out, feminism appeared after 1800 in Europe and North America, when capitalism and republicanism emerged, creating "both the need for feminism and the means to sustain it." But while feminism was already an international movement by 1900, after 1970 it became pervasive, and Freedman's discussion encompasses not only national and cultural differences but also feminism's expression in the multiplicity of women's activities, ranging from waged work to reproduction to artistic creation. As women's political movements define much of the global agenda for the 21st century, Freedman concludes, "the quest for universal recognition of women's equal worth is not likely to be reversed." Recommended for all libraries. Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC
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