What is feminism?

What is feminism?

Book Reviews 366 hysterics. The hysterical female, who is no longer able to keep her reason and passions in balance, symbolizes French society, rega...

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Book Reviews


hysterics. The hysterical female, who is no longer able to keep her reason and passions in balance, symbolizes French society, regarded as anarchic and disintegrated by the German spectators. Like most essays of this collection, the article by Elke Haarbusch circles round the ideal concept of the affectionate, pliant spouse emphatically propagated by the 19th century bourgeoisie. Basing her argument ‘on ethnopsychoanalytic evidence, Haarbusch shows in the case of Johann Eduard Erdmann’s ‘Psychologische Briefe’ (1852), how women were conditioned to be passive, asexual, and have no consciousness of their needs. By including references to several other contributions in this book, she offers surprising and convincing cross connections. Thanks to Haarbusch’s essay, the broadly discussed thesis concerning the ‘Polarization of Gender” is not merely confirmed with more evidences, but completed and enriched by new insights. Annette Kuhn, Wilma Wirtz-Weinrich and Ruth Ferrari present teaching materials: ‘Women fight for their rights (1789 and 1793)‘. A choice of sources and commentaries clearly shows that the conflict between ‘male’ market economy gaining more and more ground and ‘female’ family economy encouraged women’s revolutionary activities. In a survey article Claudia Opitz summarizes results of research referring to the participation of women in the French Revolution. This collection is concentrated on the history of ideas, which is partly due to the available source material. But this concentration leads to an overlapping of subjects and contents, which at times makes reading tiresome. Empirical evidences and informations concerning social and economic conditions are rarely offered. As for women’s political demands and actions, the conception and structure of the book does not show the necessary distinction between the Revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Maria-Theresia


Mtinster. F. R. G. NOTES 1. See the leading article by Karin Hausen, ‘Die Polarisierung der Geschlechtscharaktere-eine Spiegelung der Dissoziation von Erwerbsund Familienleben, in: Sozialgeschichte der Familie in der Neuzeit Europas, ed. Werner Conze (Stuttgart, 1977), pp. 367-393. The most recent contribution to the discussion: Ute Frevert, Biirgerliche Meisterdenker und das Geschlechterverhaltnis. Konzepte, Erfahrungen, Visionen an der Wende vom 18. zum 19. Jahrhundert, in: Biirgerinnen und Burger. Geschlechterverhaltnisse im 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Ute Frevert (Gottingen, 1988), pp. 17-48.

What is feminism?, ed. Juliet 252pp., iI25, pbk. E6.95.


and Ann Oakley

(Basil Blackwell,

1986), ix+

This volume consists of twelve essays (plus an introductory chapter by the editors) which explore feminism invarious contexts, most of them Anglo-American. Written from diverse, but mainly left-of-center, ideological perspectives, the papers vary in quality and character and in the breadth of their concerns. However, all attest in one way or another to the fragmented character of feminism, past and present.

Book Reviews Rosalind Delmar’s suggestive but somewhat diffuse title piece argues that whether considered as a social movement, an ideology, or a commitment to specific issues, the history of feminism exhibits no unity, beyond a ‘baseline’ belief that women suffer discrimination due to their sex and that radical change in the social, economic and political order is required to meet women’s needs. Using mainly British evidence, Delmar suggests that over-concentration on the achievements of organised women’s movements has lent a false, progressivist flavor to feminist history. Were greater emphasis accorded feminist thought, she believes, the history of feminism might well assume different contours and more attention be drawn to its disjunctions and ‘dead ends’. In a fine essay focusing on the United States, Nancy F. Cott traces the diversity of feminist ideologies and movements to women’s objective circumstances. Viewing gender identity as inseparable from other facets of individual identity, such as race,age and class, Cott emphasizes that women are at once similar to and different from both other women and men. Women’s interests, she believes, are not normally a unity. Mass feminist movements, she argues, have occurred only exceptionally, when women’s gender grievances have been reinforced by other, instrumental interests. Coalition building, she concludes, is ‘. . . the only realistic political “unity” that women have had or will have.’ (p. 60). Consistent with Cott’s analysis, Jane Lewis’s essay on feminism and welfare in 19th and 20th century Britain indicates that policies aimed at maximizing women’s individual selfinterest may clash with policies aimed at maximizing women’s familial or class interests. Women in different circumstances, she stresses, have different welfare needs and priorities. Similarly, writing of contemporary feminist health activists, Sheryl Ruzek notes that feminists of different political persuasions emphasize different health care issues and that women’s health requirements vary according to class, age, race, and nationality. Several essayists question whether contemporary feminist analyses or movements represent the full range of women’s interests. Examining ‘Feminist Perspectives on Legal Ideology’ Deborah L. Rhode calls attention to limitations of the liberal feminist tradition, arguing that legal liberalism, with its emphasis on individual rights, offers an inadequate basis for achieving the fundamental social transformation required if women are to achieve true parity with men. Identifying feminism with bourgeois interests, Juliet Mitchell suggests that feminists may have served as the unwitting agents of capitalist evolution. Feminism, she speculates (on very thin evidence), may flourish at times of social and economic transition, temporarily promoting greater similarity in gender identity until a new social order stabilizes and a new opposition between the sexes emerges. Judith Stacey criticizes ‘Conservative Pro-family feminism’, finding theoretical weaknesses and reactionary political implications in recent works by Betty Friedan, Jean Bethke Elshtain and Germaine Greer. While urging other feminists to attend to the family-related issues they address, Stacey does not believe feminists can hope to speak for all women: ‘ . . . genuine differences in social values and political interests’ will cause some women and some men to oppose the goal of ‘gender justice’ (p.242). (The autobiographical sketch contributed by Dale Spender bears out Stacey’s charge that Second-Wave feminists have slighted family-related issues. Spender describes a feminist experience which offers no obvious place for children or any but the exceptional man.) Linda Gordon criticizes New Left feminists’ attacks on modern professional, bureaucratic forms of social control, including welfare agencies promoted by earlier generations of feminists. Using case studies from the American Progressive Era, Gordon argues that, while often coercive and culturally biased, expert intervention in familial affairs has sometimes provided protection to vulnerable individuals and has developed partly in response to client demand. Ann Oakley’s discussion of the ‘medicalization of motherhood’ in 20th century Britain exhibits biases remarked by Gordon. Viewing professionals’ incursions into the maternal experience mainly as efforts to control women, Oakley fails to consider possible conflicts of interst between mothers and children.


Book Reviews

The essays which most clearly assert the possibility that some variant of feminism can represent the interests of women generally in effect write off women’s apparent diversity for purposes of analysis. Hoping for an alliance between socialist and working-class feminists which will fuse the feminist and class struggles, Heather Jon Maroney’s essay on ‘Feminism at Work’ in Canada discusses cleavages within the feminist camp but assumes that these reflect others’ failure to perceive that ‘the rootedness of women’s oppression in all social institutions’ demands revolutionary change (p. 102). Hilary Rose (also working from a Marxist model) posits the feasibility of developing a feminist epistemology rooted in women’s labor which emphasizes ‘affectual rationality’, holism, and harmonious relationships with nature. However, as Rose notes, her analysis treats women’s labour in ‘a rather theoretical way’, (p 163) ignoring variations along lines of class, nationality, and so on. The reductionism of these analyses reinforces the doubts raised by other papers in this volume as to whether a unitary feminist movement or outlook is possible in a pluralist society. Joyce Pedersen Odense University, Denmark

Marktwei~r und Amazonen. Frauen in der Franziisischen Revolution. Dokumente, Kommentare, Bilder, Susanne Petersen (Kiiln: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1987), 250 pp., DM 16.80.

Historical research on the French Revolution no longer looks upon women and sansculottes as marginal groups, but nevertheless common women, the femmes sans-culottes, are still widely neglected. Smznne Petersen makes a lirst attempt to close this gap by compiling written and pictorial documents from the classical source editions and relevant contemporary publications. In the main, these refer to the living and working conditions as well as to the political involvement of the women of the Paris popular movement from 1789 to 1794. The documentation is organized chronologically except where it describes particular developments or focusses on specific problems. Each chapter is preceded by an introductory comment giving some historical background information to support the understan~ng of the source material. In the first two chapters, impressive documents-mainly reports from male contemporary observers-illuminate the social and economic situation of women in prerevolutionary and revolutionary France. The third chapter treats the first mass action of women, the Parisian women’s march to Versailles in October 1789. It is followed by a collection of sources illustrating women’s demands for legal equality of rights within marriage, the right to divorce and extended rights over their property. This chapter also includes the Declaration of the Rights of Women by Olympe de Gouges and Condorcet’s pleading in favour of women’s admission to citizenship. A chapter on women and the war gives us unique impressions of what female soldiers thought about their task and what they looked like. Two chapters about Bread Riots, respectively the Paris laundresses and soap shortage, describe spontan~us mass actions by which women tried to supply themselves and their families with the essential means of living. Here the editor is able to present hitherto unpublished records thanks to her thorough knowledge of the sources.’ In a few cases we find parallel evidences in a recent collection ‘Women in Revolutiona~ Paris 1789-179S2, the only comparable documentation, e.g. in the three chapters about