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Conflict and cooperation between generations of radical feminists

Feminist Generations

The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement

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Nancy Whittier

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice, 1995

"No one has explored the sources of diversity and 'generational conflict' within movements with more theoretical insight and empirical rigor than Whittier. Her book breaks significant new ground in this regard and serves, as well, as an important addition to the history of the women's movement during the somewhat neglected period of the Reagan years."
Doug McAdam, University of Arizona

The radical feminist movement has undergone significant transformation over the past four decades—from the direct action of the 1960s and 1970s to the backlash against feminism in the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing on organizational documents and interviews with both veterans of the women's movement and younger feminists in Columbus, Ohio, Nancy Whittier traces the changing definitions of feminism as the movement has evolved. She documents subtle variations in feminist identity and analyzes the striking differences, conflicts, and cooperation between longtime and recent activists.

The collective stories of the women—many of them lesbians and lesbian feminists whom the author shows to be central to the women's movement and radical feminism—illustrate that contemporary radical feminism is very much alive. It is sustained through protests, direct action, feminist bookstores, rape crisis centers, and cultural activities like music festivals and writers workshops, which Whittier argues are integral—and political—aspects of the movement's survival.

Her analysis includes discussions of a variety of both liberal and radical organizations, including the Women's Action Collective, Women Against Rape, Fan the Flames Bookstore, the Ohio ERA Task Force, and NOW. Unlike many studies of feminist organizing, her study also considers the difference between Columbus, a Midwest, medium-sized city, and feminist activities in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, as well as the roles of radical feminists in the development of women's studies departments and other social movements like AIDS education and self-help.

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Reviews

"This book is both an explosion of the myth of 'postfeminism' and a searching look at the reality of transformations that the women's movement has undergone. In her case study of grassroots feminism in a single city, Whittier demonstrates how understanding continuity and change in the women's movement requires attention to both the collective identities that women have forged for themselves and the persistence of organizations they have founded. She integrates the best of contemporary social movement theory and careful ethnography to provide an insightful account of feminist activism over nearly thirty years."
Myra Marx Ferree, University of Connecticut

"At last, a sympathetic account of radical feminism by a scholar/activist from the so-called 'post-feminist' generation. Whittier draws from cutting edge ideas in social movements to illustrate the generational dynamics that have transformed the women's movement. An eminently readable and first-rate book that will change the way we think about the impact of the modern women's movement."
Verta Taylor, Ohio State University

"[Whittier] broadens the analysis of radical feminism beyond simple political organizations to include informal networks, communities, and culture, i.e., auto mechanics groups, lesbian peer support, and women's concerts. ...a refreshing look at feminism across a 30-year period. ...the book is very readable, clearly written, and persuasive. It is one of the few detailed case studies based on the Midwest."
Social Forces

"While the book will interest social and political activists and students of women's studies, feminist readers of many generations can, I think, appreciate the strengths of this work, which include Whittier's clarity of purpose and style, her willingness to listen to and publish the words of those radical women who initiated consciousness-raising groups and organized the first grassroots feminist efforts, and her insightful depiction of the contributions made by lesbian feminists."
Contemporary Women's Issues Database

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Radical Feminism in Columbus, Ohio
2. The Evolution of Radical Feminist Identity
3. Changers and the Changed: Radical Feminists in the Reagan Years
4. Keeping the Faith: Working for Social Change
5. United We Stand: The Impact of the Women's Movement on Other Social Movements
6. Feminists in the "Postfeminist" Age: The Women's Movement in the 1980s
7. The Next Wave
Conclusion: Persistence and Transformation of Social Movements
Appendix: Women's Movement Organizations and Dates, Columbus, Ohio
Notes
Index

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Whittier is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Smith College.

Subject Categories

Women's Studies
Sociology


In the series

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.

No longer active.

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.

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