Top positive review
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The Best Just Got Better?
on May 28, 2010
Feminist Frontiers has always been, for me at least, the leading anthology for women and gender studies courses. It has a long history (it was one of the earliest widely published textbooks for the subject) and it gives a rich array of readings that represent feminism's political and demographic diversity, as well as living up to its name by putting forward as many contemporary readings as possible. The Eighth Edition, for a few reasons which I will outline, does live up to its promise of giving students a good and detailed overview of the newest horizons in the study of gender.
Perhaps one of the rawest of frontiers in feminism is transgender feminism which is given a characteristically eloquent and robust introduction in a new reading by professor Susan Stryker entitled "Queering the Woman Question." I'm very pleased that the editors of Feminist Frontiers included her work and it stands aside other readings that touch on this issue in a favourable light. Prof. Styker's reading is included in the very beginning where the authors put numerous readings outlining basic theoretical perspectives, which is a positive boon. It's included among other long standing introductory readings like Judith Lorber's Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender, and none too soon. While Prof. Lorber's work is well established she does demonstrate that she doesn't quite get it when it comes to transgender issues (She calls Billy Tipton, a well known trans man and musician, a woman and 'she' for example). This is the only reading explicitly about transsexual women, but other readings do deal with issues of gender identity, performativity, and challenging sex/gender norms such as Learning From Drag Queens by the editors of the text, and Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics by Cathy J. Cohen.
I was also tremendously impressed with the readings on disability issues. There are several to choose from in this edition and compared to other anthologies I've read I would have to say this has the best selection of disability activism readings in an introductory reader. I found the stories to be intelligent, elucidating, and empowering. Readings like The Blind Man's Harley: White Canes and Gender Identity in America by Catherine Kudlick should make for very interesting reading for intro students, as will Feminism and Disability Studies by Rosmarie Garland-Thomson which ably outlines the intersectional issues between the two subjects.
For an introductory text, it also does a fairly good job of covering men and boys as gendered actors in society. Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner return with elucidating readings on the social construction of male heterosexuality and the socialisation of young men, and Raewyn Connell has an excellent reading in here mapping the relation between hegemonic masculinity and imperialism in her "Masculinities and Globalisation."
I could go on, but if I do I might end up plumping every reading in the text. They are all very good and it's hard to pick the most stand-out readings as they're all so enlightening. I believe that such readers should make it clear to students that women's activism is not just about abortion rights or the wage gap, and while those subjects do get discussed, they are dissected and examined from numerous perspectives that you certainly won't get on CNN or your average newspaper. For example a very challenging reading is in this edition entitled Beyond Pro-Choice Versus Pro-Life: Women of Colour and Reproductive Justice by Andrea Smith. In it she problematises the mainstream milieu of feminist pro-choice activism as well as the concept of choice itself, outlining how reproductive freedom for women of colour is not possible when poverty is so rampant, among other important issues. Planned Parenthood comes in for quite a withering attack. Like other Women's Studies/feminist readers there is a lot of internal critiquing of feminism, which can only be a good thing for the study of gender as a whole.
The book's readings are long, so assigning more than one or two per class is definitely going to pose a challenge. But it will be worth it and these readings do indeed engage students. It does its job in providing complex new ways of looking at gender. From re-examining feminist shibboleths, to raising trans voices, to hosting empowered Muslim women who speak for themselves in a discourse that too often had silenced them, this book does a fine job of bringing students to the cutting edge of feminism and gender studies.