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No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women par [Freedman, Estelle]
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In the past two centuries, a revolution has transformed women’s lives. Unlike national revolutions, this social upheaval crosses continents, decades, and ideologies. In place of armed struggle it gradually sows seeds of change, infiltrating our consciousness with the simple premise that women are as capable and valuable as men. To measure the breadth of this ongoing upheaval of old patterns, consider the way feminist movements have transformed law and politics, from divorce reforms in Egypt and sexual harassment cases in Japan and the United States to the nomination of equal numbers of male and female candidates by French political parties. Or note the change in leadership: During the 1990s, 90 percent of the world’s nations elected women to national office, and women served as heads of state in more than twenty countries. Just as important, consider the thousands of grassroots organizations such as Women in Law and Development in Africa, the National Black Women’s Health Project in the United States, and the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India. Women’s movements have never been so widespread.

In No Turning Back I explain why and how a feminist revolution has occurred. I argue that two related historical transitions have propelled feminist politics. First, the rise of capitalism disrupted older, reciprocal relations within families in ways that initially enhanced men’s economic opportunities and defined women as their dependents. Second, new political theories of individual rights and representative government that developed alongside capitalism extended privileges to men only. In response, feminist movements named these disparities as unjust, insisting on the value of women’s economic contributions and the justice of political rights for women. In short, the market economies and democratic systems that now dominate the world create both the need for feminism and the means to sustain it.

Feminist politics originated where capitalism, industrial growth, democratic theory, and socialist critiques converged, as they did in Europe and North America after 1800. Women and their male allies began to agitate for equal educational, economic, and political opportunities, a struggle that continues to the present. By 1900 an international women’s movement advanced these goals in urban areas of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. Since 1970 feminism has spread globally, in both industrialized nations and in the developing regions where agriculture remains an economic mainstay.

Given their specific historical origins, the feminist politics initially forged in Europe and North America have not simply expanded throughout the world. Elsewhere, abundant forms of women’s resistance to men’s patriarchal authority predated Western democratic theories; they continue to influence feminist movements today. Socialist responses to capitalism invite quite different women’s politics than where free markets prevail. Both the term feminism and the politics it represents have been continually transformed by the evolving responses of women and men from a variety of cultures. Indeed, women’s politics have developed organically in settings so diverse that the plural feminisms more accurately describes them.

By the year 2000 these growing international movements to improve women’s lives increasingly influenced each other, due in part to the forum provided by the United Nations Decade for Women from 1975 to 1985 and the follow-up conference in Beijing in 1995. While they share the conviction that women deserve full human rights, international feminisms often diverge in their emphases. Only some concentrate solely on women, while others recognize complex links to the politics of race, class, religion, and nationality. Despite these differences, most Western feminists have learned that global economic and political justice are prerequisites to securing women’s rights. Women in the developing world have found that transnational feminist movements can help establish strategic international support for their efforts at home.

None of these feminist movements has proceeded without opposition, including formidable backlash in every era in which women have gained public authority. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the historical conditions that promote feminism can be found in much of the world. Whether through the influence of Western economic and political systems, the refashioning of earlier practices, or both, an impressive array of movements now attempts to empower women. At present, economic globalization, along with international efforts to create stable democratic governments, suggests that new forms of feminism will continue to surface. Because of their flexibility and adaptability, women’s political movements, whether explicitly labeled feminist or not, have set much of the world’s agenda for the twenty-first century.


Since I use feminism to describe movements whose participants do not necessarily apply that label themselves, I want to acknowledge at the outset the specific historical origins of this term. Feminism is a relatively recent word. First coined in France in the 1880s as féminisme, it spread through European countries in the 1890s and to North and South America by 1910. The term combined the French word for woman, femme, and -isme, which referred to a social movement or political ideology. At a time when many other “isms” originated, including socialism and communism, féminisme connoted that women’s issues belonged to the vanguard of change. The term was always controversial, in part because of its association with radicalism and in part because proponents themselves disagreed about the label. Although self-defined socialist feminists appeared in Europe as early as 1900, many socialists who supported women’s emancipation rejected the label feminist. They believed that middle-class demands for suffrage and property rights did not necessarily speak to working women’s needs for a living wage and job security. Middle-class women also hesitated to call themselves feminists, especially when the term implied a claim to universal rights as citizens rather than particular rights as mothers.

In the United States this conflict over the political meaning of feminism split the women’s movement for almost half a century. In the 1800s the usual label for first-wave activism was simply “the woman movement.” Along with educational and property rights, many of its participants linked authority for women to motherhood. After 1910, however, a younger generation consciously rejected the maternal argument in favor of women’s common human identity with men as a basis for equal rights. They claimed a feminist political identity and staged dramatic public protests during the suffrage movement. After U.S. women won the vote in 1920, the feminists single-minded campaign to pass an equal-rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution further cemented the association of feminism, extremism, and a rejection of the concept of female difference. For decades, most women social reformers opposed the amendment and rejected the feminist label.

From its origins through the social upheavals of the 1960s, feminist remained a pejorative term among most progressive reformers, suffragists, and socialists around the world. Even as universal adult suffrage gradually extended to women—in England in 1928, in countries such as France, Japan, Mexico, and China by the late 1940s—few politically engaged women called themselves feminists. Within the international women’s movement, participants debated whether the term humanist rather than feminist best applied to them. Nations ruled by communist parties, such as China and later Cuba, officially pronounced the emancipation of women as workers, but their state-sanctioned women’s organizations rejected the feminist label and their suppression of oppositional political discourse precluded feminist politics.

A critical turning point in the history of feminisms occurred during the politically tumultuous 1960s. Women’s politics revived in the West, at first under the banner of “women’s liberation.” Although the press quickly derided adherents by calling them “women’s libbers,” this second wave proved quite tenacious. By this time, both capitalist and socialist economies had drawn millions of women into the paid labor force, and civil rights and anticolonial movements had revived the politics of democratization. In Europe and the United States, millions of women expected to earn wages as well as raise children. The old feminist calls for economic and political equality, and a new emphasis on control over reproduction, resonated deeply across generations, classes, and races.

Western women’s movements also significantly expanded their agendas after the 1960s. Along with demands for economic and political rights, women’s liberation revived a politics of difference through its critique of interpersonal relations. Women’s liberation championed both women’s equality with men in work and politics and women’s difference from men within the arenas of reproduction and sexuality. In this way the two competing strains of equality and difference began to converge. Within a decade, the older term feminist began to be used to refer to the politics of this new movement, deepening its radical connotation but potentially widening its appeal. At about the same time, the introduction of the term gender, rather than sex, signaled feminists’ growing belief that social practices, and not only biology, have constructed our notions of male and female.

By 1980 an umbrella usage of the term feminism took hold in Western cultures. Anyone who challenged prevailing gender relations might now be called a feminist, whether or not they lived long before the coining of the term feminism, agreed with all the tenets of women’s liberation, or claimed the label. A generation of Western women came of age influenced by feminism to expect equal opportunities. The majority of this generation often proclaimed, “I’m not a feminist, but . . . ,” even as they insisted on equal pay, sexual and reproductive choice, parental leave, and political representation. The children they raised, both male and female, grew up influenced by these feminist expectations but not necessarily comfortable with the term. Outside the West, the term feminism could still evoke a narrow focus on equal rights. Thus a 1991 essay in the influential Indian women’s journal Manushi, titled “Why I Do Not Call Myself a Feminist,” contrasted Western concerns about women’s rights with broader human rights and social justice campaigns that address the needs of both men and women in developing countries.1

The term feminism, in short, has never been widely popular. Yet the political goals of feminism have survived—despite continuing dis- comfort with the term, a hostile political climate, and heated internal criticism—largely because feminism has continually redefined itself.

Over the past twenty-five years, for example, activists have amended the term to make it more compatible with their unique perspectives. Self-naming by black feminists, Asian American feminists, Third World feminists, lesbian feminists, male feminists, ecofeminists, Christian feminists, Jewish feminists, Islamic feminists, and others attests to the malleability of the label and to the seemingly contradictory politics it can embrace. To make the movement more racially inclusive, the African American writer Alice Walker once coined womanist to refer to a “Black feminist or feminist of color.” In the 1990s young women in the United States such as Walker’s daughter promised to go beyond the second wave of feminism by forging a more racially and sexually diverse movement that emphasized female empowerment rather than male oppression. “I’m not post-feminist,” Rebecca Walker explained in 1992, “I’m the Third Wave.”2 Significantly, this generation reclaims rather than rejects the term feminist. Internationally as well, more women’s organizations incorporate the word, such as the Feminist League in Central Asia, the Center for Feminist Legal Research in New Delhi, and the Working Group Toward a Feminist Europe.

By the 1990s the cumulative contributions of working-class women, lesbians, women of color, and activists from the developing world had transformed an initially white, European, middle-class politics into a more diverse and mature feminist movement. Taking into account the range of women’s experiences, feminists have increasingly recognized the validity of arguments that once seemed contradictory. Instead of debating whether women are similar to or different from men, most feminists now recognize that both statements are true. Instead of asking which is more important, gender or race, most feminists now acknowledge the indivisibility and interaction of these social categories. Along with demanding the right to work, feminists have redefined work to include caring as well as earning. Along with calling for women’s independence, feminists have recognized the interdependence of all people, as well as the interconnection of gender equality with broader social justice movements.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“AN ASTONISHING FEAT, a comprehensive synthesis of a sprawling and often contradictory body of thought and activism.”
–San Francisco Examiner

University Professor
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science
New York University

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1517 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 464 pages
  • Editeur : Ballantine Books; Édition : Reprint (18 décembre 2007)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B000XUACX2
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.0 étoiles sur 5 24 commentaires
25 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Good intro to feminism book but not earthshattering 11 juin 2003
Par Un client - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I think this book would be a great present for any independent high school/college-aged woman in your life who is starting to wonder if "feminist" is a dirty word.
If you're unfamiliar with the history of the feminist movement in the U.S., or even what feminism means, this is a great book for you. Professor Freedman is an engaging writer who doesn't get bogged down in academic gibberish, nor does she insult your intelligence. Not surprisingly, Freedman teaches an "Intro to Feminism" course at Stanford, and therefore if you've taken such a class in the past 15 years, much of the material may seem quite familiar.
Her book takes readers on a whirlwind tour of feminism in the United States. She makes an effort to not fall victim to the first wave feminist tendency of assuming that all women in the U.S. are upper middle class, heterosexual, and white, yet touches only briefly on international feminism and the future of women outside of the United States. While this is understandable, as the book would otherwise be 1000 pages long, perhaps a title clarifying that it is focused on the U.S. would be helpful.
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An accessible intro to feminism that ties together the past and the present 3 janvier 2007
Par Remy Nakamura - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Freedman has managed to write a history and a survey of global feminism that is at once accessible, activist and academic.

The compact size and the colorful comic-inspired cover design of the trade paperback edition bely its serious scope. It is truly comprehensive, opening with a powerful argument for feminism (lingering on the term's ever-troubled, never-popular nature), proceeding through the history of various feminisms, marching on through topics as diverse as the impact of globalization on female laborers in the developing world to contrasting feminist opinions on the agency of sex workers. While the focus is primarily on the U.S., the global perspective does comes through. She manages to tone down the usual prominence of European and Euro-American influences while elevating the profile and contributions of feminists throughout the world. For the global sections, examples are drawn as readily from China and West Africa as from the United States. Freedman raises the bar for creating a feminist narrative that is continually mindful of the influences of class, race and culture as well as gender concerns.

I recommend this book for committed feminists, those lamenting the so-called `death of feminism,' and for closet feminists who are bothered by the f-word.
13 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 No Turning Back Is Right. 26 janvier 2007
Par L. A. Vitale - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I initially read this book a few years ago and enjoyed reading it thoroughly! This book is packed with plenty of information about the history of feminism and the future of women living around the world. This book discusses such topics as "gender and power", "gender and violence", "women's rights", "Reproduction: The Politics of Choice", the "economic gender gap", just to name a few of the topics explored and discussed by the author.

I liked reading this book because I felt it was very well written and researched. "No Turning Back" provides the foundational knowledge for further exploration of feminism. I highly recommend reading this book, especially if you want to learn the basics of feminism!
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This is a great book 14 janvier 2006
Par Morning Star - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Estelle Freedman's writing is coherent, concise and interesting. I found everything especially the information about international feminist movements very exciting. I have recommended this book to everyone I know.
3 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Loved it! 19 février 2015
Par ReesesPieces - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
As a woman who swore she would never wear the label "feminist" - I have to say that I am not only willing but proud to call myself a feminist. While this may not be earth shattering or an intellectual history (as another review mentions), this is a great place to start or even expand upon one's understanding of feminism. This book spoke to every aspect of my life and experience as a woman. It helped continue my healing as a survivor of rape and domestic violence while opening new doors and new possibilities.
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