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Feminist Theory Reader is an ideal reader for courses in gender and womens studies,
and social theory more generally. The third edition updates the collection of important
classical and contemporary works of feminist theory within a multiracial transnational
framework. This edition includes 16 new essays; the editors have organized the readings into four sections.
Section ITheorizing Feminist Times and SpacesREVISED SECTION
Classical conversations and debates about gender, difference, and womens experiences
are juxtaposed with essays that challenge the prevailing representation of feminism
as waves. It includes both documents-of-the-moment and alternative genealogies of
feminist theory.
Section IITheorizing Intersecting Identities
Readings theorize the intersections of gender with class, race, nation, religion, ethnicity, globalization, and sexuality. It includes readings that investigate social processes of
gender identity formation and first person essays by feminist scholars reflecting on the
complex identities they negotiate in professional and personal lives.
Section IIITheorizing Feminist Knowledge and Agency
Epistemological conversations between standpoint and poststructural theories that
debate the grounds of feminist knowledge-building and gender identity formation in
social experience and discourse.
Section IVImagine OtherwiseNEW SECTION
Readings present new tools for building effective knowledge for social justice in a world
of asymmetrical relational differences. Topics include bodies, emotions, identity, difference, connection, and transnational social justice.
Introductory essays by the editors placed at the beginning of each of the four major
sections lay out the framework that brings the readings together, and provide historical
and intellectual context of the readings.
Carole R. McCann is Director and Professor of Gender and Womens Studies and an
affiliate faculty member of the Language, Literacy, and Culture Graduate Program at the
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Her research expertise includes,
feminist science studies, twentieth century history of birth control, eugenics, and

population, and feminist theory. Her publications include Birth control Politics in the
United States, 19161945 (Cornell University Press, 1994, 1999). She is currently working on a book manuscript about masculinities in mid-century population sciences.
Seung-kyung Kim is Director and Associate Professor and Chair of Womens Studies
at the University of Maryland College Park. Her research expertise includes gender
and labor politics, Ethnography, Feminist Theory, and Women in East Asia and Asian
America. The author of numerous articles and book chapters, her publications include
Class Struggle or Family Struggle? Lives of Women Factory Workers in South Korea
(Cambridge University Press, 1997, 2009); South Korean Feminists Bargain: Progressive
Presidencies and the Womens Movement, 19982007 (forthcoming, Routledge). She is
currently working on a book manuscript, Global Citizens in the Making? Transnational
Migration and Education in Kirogi Families.





Edited by

First published 2013

by Routledge
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Simultaneously published in the UK
by Routledge
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Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
2013 Taylor & Francis
The right of the editors to be identified as the authors of the
editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters,
has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced
or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means,
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or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in
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Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or
registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and
explanation without intent to infringe.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Feminist theory reader : local and global perspectives /
Edited by Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim.Third Edition.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index
1. Feminist Theory. I. McCann Carole R. (Carole Ruth), 1955
II. Kim, Seung-Kyung, 1954
HQ1190.F46346 2013
ISBN: 9780415521017 (hbk)
ISBN: 9780415521024 (pbk)
ISBN: 9780203598313 (ebk)
Typeset in Minion
by Swales & Willis Ltd, Exeter, Devon


Preface to the Third Edition



Introduction: Feminist Theory: Local and Global Perspectives



Feminist Movements


1. Yosano Akiko, The Day the Mountains Move

2. Nancy A. Hewitt, Re-Rooting American Womens Activism: Global
Perspectives on 1848
3. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Introduction,
4. Linda Nicholson, Feminism in Waves: Useful Metaphor or Not?
5. Becky Thompson, Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology
of Second Wave Feminism,
6. Amrita Basu, Globalization of the Local/Localization of the
Global: Mapping Transnational Womens Movements
7. Michelle V. Rowley, The Idea of Ancestry: Of Feminist Genealogies
and Many Other Things


Local Identities and Politics


8. Muriel Rukeyser, The Poem as Mask

9. T. V. Reed, The Poetical is the Political: Feminist Poetry and the
Poetics of Womens Rights
10. Deniz Kandiyoti, Bargaining with Patriarchy
11. Carole Pateman, Introduction: The Theoretical Subversiveness of
12. Elizabeth Martinez, La Chicana
13. The Combahee River Collective, A Black Feminist Statement
14. Shulamith Firestone, The Culture of Romance
15. Charlotte Bunch, Lesbians in Revolt
16. Snia Correa and Rosalind Petchesky, Reproductive and Sexual
Rights: A Feminist Perspective




17. Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose

Time Has Come




Social Processes/Configuring Differences


18. Bonnie Thornton Dill and Ruth Enid Zambrana, Critical Thinking
about Inequality: An Emerging Lens
19. Heidi Hartmann, The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and
Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union
20. Rhacel Salazar Parreas, Servants of Globalization: Women,
Migration, and Domestic Work
21. Lila Abu-Lughod, Orientalism and Middle East Feminist Studies
22. Mrinalini Sinha, Gender and Nation
23. Monique Wittig, One Is Not Born a Woman
24. Raewyn Connell, The Social Organization of Masculinity


Boundaries and Belongings






Donna Kate Rushin, The Bridge Poem

June Jordan, Report from the Bahamas
Gloria Anzalda, The New Mestiza Nation: A Multicultural Movement
Minnie Bruce Pratt, Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart
Audre Lorde, I am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing
across Sexualities
Lionel Cant with Eithne Luibhid and Alexandra Minna Stern,
Well Founded Fear: Political Asylum and the Boundaries of Sexual
Identity in the U.S.Mexico Borderlands
Leila Ahmed, The Veil Debate Again
Obioma Nnaemeka, Forward: Locating Feminisms/Feminists
Andrea Smith, Native American Feminism, Sovereignty, and
Social Change
Mari Matsuda, Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal
Theory Out of Coalition






Standpoint Epistemologies/Situated Knowledges


35. Nancy C. M. Hartsock, The Feminist Standpoint: Toward a

Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism



36. Uma Narayan, The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives

from a Nonwestern Feminist
37. Patricia Hill Collins, Defining Black Feminist Thought
38. Cheshire Calhoun, Separating Lesbian Theory From Feminist Theory
39. Donna Haraway, Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in
Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective



Poststructuralist Epistemologies


40. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One

41. Lata Mani, Multiple Mediations: Feminist Scholarship in the Age
of Multinational Reception
42. Sandra Bartky, Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of
Patriarchal Power
43. Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay
in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory





Bodies and Emotions


44. Alison Jaggar, Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology

45. Kathy Davis, Reclaiming Womens Bodies: Colonialist Trope or Critical
46. Sara Ahmed, Multiculturalism and the Promise of Happiness
47. Lucille Clifton, Lumpectomy Eve


Solidarity Reconsidered


48. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Under Western Eyes Revisited:

Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles
49. Suzanna Danuta Walters, From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism,
Postmodernism, and the Lesbian Menace (Or, Why Cant a Woman
be More Like a Fag?)
50. Paula M. L. Moya, Chicana Feminism and Postmodernist Theory
51. Malika Ndlovu, Out of Now-here

Works Cited





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In the introduction to the first edition of Feminist Theory Reader, we expressed our
hope that it would challenge readers, as we challenged ourselves, to rethink the complex meanings of difference outside of contemporary Western feminist contexts. The
second edition extended that challenge, encouraging readers to rethink the numerous ways in which gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, religion, and nationality
are reconfigured by emerging globallocal configurations of power. The third edition
assembles readings that rethink feminist times and spaces by challenging the prevailing
representation of feminist movements as waves.
In this third edition, Section I has been reorganized to include both historical accounts and documents-of-the-moment that archive the ideas and emotions of
the mid- and late-twentieth-century feminisms. Together these reading enrich our
understanding of the many histories of feminist theory. In addition, a new Section IV,
Imagine Otherwise, draws on recent efforts to move beyond the debates between postmodern and standpoint theories towards frameworks that build on the strengths of
each perspective. These frameworks renew discussion of the grounds for feminist solidarity, and they reassert the social group women, however unstable, as the agent of
feminist politics. In particular, the section includes feminist analyses of emotions, bodies, and affect. The new edition endeavors to continue to expand the diverse voices of
transnational feminist scholars throughout.
Introductory essays by the editors placed at the beginning of each of the four major
sections lay out the framework that brings the readings together, provide historical and
intellectual context for the readings, and, where appropriate, point to critical additional
readings not included here. Five core theoretical conceptsgender, difference, womens experiences, the personal is political, and intersectionalityanchor the anthologys organizational framework. The introductory essay for Section I provides a detailed
discussion of these concepts.
Other than those changes, the Reader retains the same structure as the second
edition. Section II, Theorizing Intersecting Identities, examines macro-level processes that configure intersections of gender, race, class, geographic/national, and/or
sexual differences. Readings alternatively focus attention on the material and discursive
processes connecting capitalism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, Orientalism, and globalization. In addition, it presents personal narratives that reflect on the subjective
experiences of intersecting social processes. The readings delineate the complex politics


of shifting locations and blurred boundaries, and they illuminate the tensions pervading experiences of intersecting identities, and border-crossings.
Section III presents two key feminist theoretical currents: standpoint theories and
poststructuralist theories. Readings make the demanding concepts used in these theories more accessible for students by introducing concepts and frameworks, particularly
the concepts of the disciplined body, Orientalism, the nation, and heteronormativity.
The new edition includes 16 new readings. The editors have provided test questions, which instructors can request from textbooksonline@taylorandfrancis.com.


We were first inspired to compile a feminist theory reader in 1995 through a Ford
Foundations Summer Institute on Women and Gender in an Era of Global Change, a
faculty development seminar offered by the Curriculum Transformation Project at the
University of Maryland, College Park, where we first met. Both of us have taught theories of feminism courses for many years. In many ways, our development as feminist
scholars, teachers, and as editors of this volume has moved as U.S. womens studies has
moved. We belong to the generation who lived through the 1970s womens movements
in Korea and the United States, and who received graduate training in Womens Studies in the U.S. in the 1980s. Through our training and subsequent teaching experiences
in the 1990s, we became convinced that womens studies core curricula that remain
exclusively oriented to U.S. content and Western feminist perspectives no longer meet
the standards of scholarly rigor and political relevance that define our field (McDermott 1998: 88). We each decided to participate in the faculty development seminar as a
way to begin to incorporate into our courses the experiences, voices, and strategies for
change of women around the world (Rosenfelt 1998: 4).
While revising our courses, we often complained about the difficulty we had in
locating a suitable upper-level feminist theory anthology. This difficulty prompted us
to develop our own selection of readings, and our feminist theory courses became the
experimental sites where we tried, revised, and retired various collections of articles.
In addition, the process of our collaborative work shaped the final form of this reader
in a very fundamental way. Over the several years of reading and teaching, we engaged
in an extended dialogue that we found to be incredibly valuable. Through our own
efforts to construct and update a coherent textbook of feminist theory without losing
the particularity of different locations and opportunities for creating feminist theory,
we constructed a strong personal friendship and a professional association that has
greatly enriched our other scholarship and our teaching. Our ongoing collaboration
embodies the kind of dialogue often recommended as a productive way to build effective feminist knowledge and alliances between women of the global north and south in
an era of ever expanding globalization (Taylor 1993). This collaboration has continued
to be very rewarding for both of us as we worked on each subsequent edition.
Many individuals have aided our collaboration through the years. First and foremost, we thank the students in our feminist theory classes. As with the first and second
editions, we tried out several combinations of articles in our classrooms before deciding
on the revisions to the third edition. Through the years, sometimes complaining and



sometimes enjoying the endless readings we required them to do, students have been
very generous in sharing their thoughts. Their insights, critiques, and suggestions have
been invaluable in making this reader more accessible.
We thank Debby Rosenfelt, Director of Curriculum Transformation Project and
Summer Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park, who provided an opportunity for us to meet and work together. Debby has been supportive of our project
throughout the past seventeen years and her continuous words of encouragement have
meant a lot to us. We also thank our colleagues in the Department of Womens Studies
at the University of Maryland College Park and Gender and Womens Studies Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) for the vibrant intellectual communities that sustain our work: Amy Bhatt, Jessica Berman, Elsa Barkley
Brown, Lynn Bolles, Bonnie Dill, Kate Drabinski, Katie King, Jason Loviglio, Viviana
MacManus, Christine Mallinson, Jeffrey McCune, Pat McDermott, Claire Moses, Tara
Rodgers, Michelle Rowley, Catherine Schuler, Orianne Smith, Ashwini Tambe, Elle
Trusz, and Ruth Zambrana.
We are grateful to our editor, Steven Rutter for recognizing the value of this anthology and for his continuing support throughout the long process of preparing the current edition. Steve arranged for several reviewers to provide their assessments of the
Reader. We would like to thank Alejandra Elenes, Arizona State University; Audrey
Bilger, Claremont Mckenna College; Mimi Marinucci, Eastern Washington University; Angela Hubler, Kansas State University; Kimberly Williams, Mount Royal University; Althea L. Tait, Old Dominion University; Janet Lee, Oregon State University;
Angelique Nixon, University of Connecticut; and Emily Noelle Ignacio, University of
Washington for the time and attention they gave to their thoughtful reviews. We have
benefited tremendously from their insightful suggestions and incorporated many into
the current edition. In addition, we thank all the womens studies professors and students at conferences who have offered us their appraisal of the anthologys strengths
and weaknesses. We greatly appreciate this feedback. It is always useful to hear comments and suggestions from those who use the anthology in classrooms because our
goal is to compile a useful pedagogical resource.
We have been very lucky to have the assistance of graduate students to help us the
with manuscript preparation. In particular, we are indebted to Emek Ergun for her
tireless efforts in support of this project. Jeannette Soon and Carissa Liro-Hudson also
provided timely assistance with in the final weeks of revision. Their work has made this
process much easier.
Lastly, we would like to thank our families for their support and assistance: Carole
thanks Mel and Rustin. Seung-kyung thanks John, Anna, and Ellen.



In its most general sense, the word feminism refers to political activism by women on
behalf of women. The term originated in France in the 1880s. It combines the French
word for woman, femme, with the suffix meaning political position, ism, and
was used in that time and place to refer to those who defended the cause of women
(Cott 1986b; Moses 1998a). Widely used in the U.S. womens movements beginning
in the 1970s, it indicated opposition to womens subordinate social positions, spiritual
authority, political rights, and/or economic opportunities. However, beyond that general description, the meaning of feminism has never been historically stable or fixed
(Delmar 1986; Moses 1998a). For all its ambiguity and limitations, the term nonetheless signals an emancipatory politics on behalf of women. It contends that the prevailing unjust conditions under which women live must be changed. Moreover, it assumes
that a group of historical agentswomenwill take action to change them.
Feminist theories, like other political philosophies, provide intellectual tools by
which historical agents can examine the injustices they confront and build arguments
to support their particular demands for change. Feminist theories apply their tools to
building knowledge of womens oppression.1 That knowledge is intended to inform
strategies for resisting subordination and improving womens lives. Feminist theories
ask questions, including: How do structures of gender difference subordinate women
as women? How can we understand the ways in which specific events result from gender oppression, rather than unique individual misfortune? How can we be sure that
we have clear understandings of oppressive situations? How is womens subordination as women connected to related oppressions based on race, ethnicity, nationality,
class, and sexuality? How can women resist subordination? What kinds of changes are
Answers to these kinds of questions make assumptions about who we are, how
and why things got to be the way they are, and what changes may be needed. In other
words, answers to these questions rest on some notion of ontology (theories of being
and reality), epistemology (theories of how knowledge is produced), and politics (relations and practices of power). The last term is, perhaps, the most important purpose
of feminist theory: to inform effective politics. A central principle of feminist theory is
that theory should be accountable to politics. It should make sense of womens situations and point to effective strategies for change.2


This anthology assembles readings that present key aspects of the conversations
and debates3 within multiracial and transnational U.S. feminisms, and places those
local conversations and debates within a global perspective. As Amrita Basu observes in
the article included here, the term global may connote the breadth and universality
that is often associated with Western feminism. On the other hand, as she notes, the
term local can connote the supposed particularism, provincialism and primordialism of the Third World. Instead, she offers a more specific definition, which we
follow. We use the term local to refer to indigenous and regional feminist theories
and movements, in whatever region they arise. We use the term global to refer to
theories and movements that emerge within transnational locations and discourses
(Basu Reading 6). In juxtaposing feminist voices from the United States, Europe, Latin
America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, we highlight the complex relationships of local
and global feminist theories to transnational womens and gender movements. Transnational refers to the literal movement of people, ideas, and resources across national
boundaries. At the same time, when used to refer to persons, it evokes the processes
and experiences of crossing geopolitical borders and identity boundaries. Such crossings have both physical and psychological implications, as migrants live their lives both
here and there, physically separated from but often in frequent contact with kin, community, and culture (Parreas Reading 20). Many of the authors included here are
transnational in both their personal and professional identities.
The global feminisms Basu identifies emerge from the linkages, networks, and alliances between a diverse array of organizations, movements, and issue-based campaigns
that have developed within global civil society. In the context of the four conferences
on women convened by the United Nations since 1975, international political leaders
and non-governmental womens groups from around the world have articulated international law concerning womens rights, have struggled over the terms of international
womens activism, and have developed enduring linkages and alliances. Transnational
feminist organizations, movements, and campaigns are firmly grounded in the rights
articulated in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women.4 But the new space of feminist agency and transnational womens
movements created within global civil society is not one in which all women are suddenly equal nor one in which all women have the same concerns. Global civil society reverberates with historical power relations of race, colonialism, class, and gender.
These shifting sites of power continue to shape the possibilities and limitations for
feminist politics even as new forms of domination emerge with new forms of globalization. Thus, the relationships of local and global, even the meaning and use of these
words, arise in historically specific contexts (Grewal and Kaplan 1994).
In the ten years since the first edition of Feminist Theory Reader, unrelenting globalization has come to frame the local and the global in new and expanding ways.5 Globalization (discussed in greater depth in Section II: Introduction) refers to the social,
economic, cultural, and demographic processes that take place within nations but also
transcend them (Parreas Reading 20). Although globalization began to intensify during the last two decades of the twentieth century, since 2001 we have witnessed evergreater speed and reach of communications, surveillance, and financial technologies.


Economic, political, cultural, technological, and demographic exchanges around the

world deny the possibility of isolated local spaces. Thus, neither the local nor the global
are pure, homogeneous, or mutually exclusive sites for either feminist interventions
or the workings of global capitalism. The realities and practices of globallocal intersections are instead fraught with contradictions and dislocations configured in and
through messy and multidirectional global cultural flows (Appadurai 1996).
The feminist conversations and debates we present here are anchored by five theoretical conceptsgender, difference, womens experiences, the personal is political,
and intersectionalitywhich have been integral to late twentieth and early twentyfirst-century feminisms and to the field of womens and gender studies (Grant 1993).
These five concepts and tracing the tensions between them in feminist dialogues and
debates provide a useful heuristic device for learning feminist theory. However, there is
and can be no one theory of gender subordination or one strategy for change because
women live in so many different social, economic, cultural, and political circumstances. Nor has the development of feminist theory been linear or unidirectional. No
final answers have emerged. Thus, the readings brought together here do not present
a single homogenous story. We do not claim that this collection of essays speaks for
everybody, to everybody, or about everything (Young 1990: 13). There are interruptions, overlaps, disagreements, disjunctures, and contradictions among the essays. The
feminist identities articulated within this anthology also shift and change with these
interruptions, overlaps, disjunctures, and contradictions. As Judith Butler has noted
elsewhere, Gender identities emerge, shift, and vary so that different identifications come into play depending upon the availability of legitimating cultural norms
and opportunities (Butler 1990b: 331).
Yet much useful knowledge is generated through recurring themes and difficult
dialogues6 about what feminism is and can be; about how to do feminist theory; about
which theories adequately explain womens status in different social groups and historical locations; and about which theories offer the best strategies for changing gender
relations. We believe, taken together, the essays effectively represent the multivocal
feminist theory of this historical moment, as well as the multiple and shifting sites of
feminist identities. We hope the resonance and discord among the multiple voices and
perspectives in this collection of essays will push readers to examine their own assumptions, the explanatory power and limits of the theories, and the relationships between
feminist theories and practices. We end the anthology with readings that point to the
new directions of feminist theory that have emerged from previous strands of conversation and debate between postmodern and standpoint theorists, and between queer7
and feminist theorists even as they take up longstanding and recurring themesbodies
and emotionscentral to feminist discourses.
In assembling the readings, our guiding principle has been to make the theoretical
foundations of U.S. womens studies intelligible to contemporary students by including a mixture of old and new material, which represent pivotal moments of intellectual
insight. In particular, we reframe the discussion of feminist theory by balancing the
writings of women of colorrepresenting numerous ethnic identities and postcolonial
locationswith those of Western women and white women. The Reader also does not


focus narrowly on gender. Instead, it examines both systems of gender, and systems
of difference and domination that intersect with gender to shape womens situations
and womens identities (Collins Reading 37). Yet, because even the word feminism
is not used throughout the world, our framing of the feminist conversations risks
(re)imposing Western categories and chronology on transnational womens movements and gender politics.
Realizing how easy it is to slip into a U.S.-centric view of the world, we begin with
readings that both present the conventional periodization of the first and second
waves of feminism and destabilize that rendering of feminist pasts. In addition, we
do not simply add a section about global feminism. Nor do we provide readings that
either exoticize Third World women or portray them as homogeneous victims of global
capitalism and local patriarchal culture. Instead, we incorporate global perspectives
throughout the anthology in order continually to challenge Western hegemonic concepts and categories. In addition, we do not merely incorporate the challenges made
by women of color and women of the global south to themes and agendas defined by
white and Western feminists. We include conversations among women of color about
issues of gender, race, colonialism, and sexuality and conversations within local U.S.
feminism informed by insights generated by women of color and women of the global
south. Appropriate labels for regions of the post-colonial world are always imprecise.
Although the geographic terminology of global north and global south does not adequately convey the political configuration of the world, we use it as the best approximation available. We also include poetic voices to highlight the importance of poetry as a
form of feminist theorizing worldwide. Thus we have tried to incorporate ideas that
have been developed by emergent and post-colonial feminists in a way that centralize
their theoretical perspectives in U.S. classrooms, rather than just using their experience
to illustrate predefined Western feminist theories (McDermott 1998: 90).
In the years since the first edition of the Feminist Theory Reader was published,
transnational and global perspectives on feminist theory has been widely recognized
as a significant and important strand of feminist theory and politics. This recognition
coincided with the dramatic increase in scholarship building on what Chandra Talpade
Mohanty terms comparative feminist analysis (Mohanty Reading 48). Comparative
feminist analysis seeks to break the binary positioning of local/global through comparison of contextualized and historicized investigations of women and gender processes in
different social and geopolitical locations. In so doing, it builds a fuller understanding
of the myriad ways in which gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and nationality are produced under globallocal configurations of power. Throughout the Reader, we hope to
challenge readers, as we challenged ourselves to rethink the complex meanings of difference in contexts outside of Western feminism (Rosenfelt 1998: 6). In so doing,
we hope to move closer to a curriculum that illuminates the multiple levels at work
in globalization and tracks the power of its political logic as it crosses international
boundaries (Mohanty 1996, as cited in McDermott 1998: 95). In addition, even as
the concept of gender grounds feminist theorizing in a number of feminist spaces, the
meanings of sex, gender, and sexuality have been contested and reconfigured through
ongoing dialogues with lesbians, transgender scholars, and queer theorists. Discussions


about how gender difference is related to and different from that based on sexual orientation, sexuality, and gender identity have stimulated much theorizing about how sex,
gender, and sexuality might be connected and/or disconnected in theory and practice.
Strands of these conversations appear throughout all the sections of the Reader.
We also gave a lot of thought to how to locate the voices of feminists that rely on
white, northern, middle-class, and/or heterosexual experiences as the experience of
gender subordination. Some readings, especially early ones, construct and recapitulate
this experience as the experience of women in general, which we seek to destabilize. We disrupt the logic of the hegemonic feminist subject by situating her within
conversations that include many voices inside and outside the U.S., and that analyze
gender in the context of race, nationality, class, and sexuality (Sandoval 1990). We
locate theories based upon white, middle-class, heterosexual northern womens lives
as another variety of local feminist theory and practice, which has dominated feminist
discourse because of unearned privileges of race, nation, class, and sexuality. We think
it is better to retain these historical artifacts and encourage students to re-examine
that privileged, particular, local experience of gender. In so doing, we take the task
of unmasking privilege seriously by trying to locate the places it finds a home, rather
than simply noting that it must be at work. In her cogent analysis of who the we
is in Simone de Beauvoirs The Second Sex, Elizabeth Spelman argues that we honor
her work by asking how such privilege functions in her own thinking (1988: 77; see
also Taylor 1993).
The Feminist Theory Reader has four sections, each of which begins with an introductory essay by the editors that lays out the framework that brings the readings together,
locates the historical context of the readings, and, where appropriate, points to critical
additional readings not included here. The introductory essay for Section I includes an
in depth discussion of the five core concepts used to organize the reader. Those concepts
do not represent the only threads of conversation between the readings. Themes of identity, autonomy, and belonging also resonate across them. In addition, readings provide
students with a solid introduction to concepts and frameworks from other fields that
have been so central to feminist theorizing, particularly the work of Karl Marx, Michel
Foucault, Edward Said, and Antonio Gramsci. We hope that the plethora of themes and
issues within the readings will generate wide-ranging discussion in the classroom.
Section I: Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces takes up and destabilizes the conventional narrative of feminist pasts captured by the wave metaphor. Readings include
both third person scholarly accounts and documents-of-the-moment that archive the
ideas and emotions of the mid- and late-twentieth-century feminisms. The third person
analyses question the value of existing narratives and offer stories that complicate our
understanding of feminist times and spaces. Documents-of-the-moment illuminate difficult conversations about the social causes and consequences of gender subordination
and womens personal experiences as a basis for building feminist knowledge. In particular, they include voices of feminists of color who challenge the narrow focus on sex
difference and argue that any adequate theory of gender oppression must take account
of the intersecting systems of difference and domination in which people live their lives.
These readings illuminate the exclusions constructed by the initial definitions of U.S.


feminist theorys core concepts. They point to the false universalism and essentialism of
those concepts and examine systematic differences among women. The section includes
voices representing feminist poetry, black, Chicana, lesbian, transgender, transnational,
radical, and liberal feminism, and global reproductive rights activism.
Section II: Theorizing Intersecting Identities includes readings that theorize the
ways in which gender is continually reconfigured by complex and multiple global processes. The readings in the first subsection present feminist theoretical efforts to elaborate the structural intersections of gender with multiple dimensions of oppression,
including class, race, ethnicity nationality, religion, and sexuality. Like a kaleidoscope
in which a jumble of objects are refracted through a prism in constantly shifting patterns, the readings offer a shifting prism of difference, through which to examine the
mobile and multiple configurations of domination in womens and mens lives. They
also unsettle the notion that race, nation, class, sexuality, or gender can be treated as
fixed, essential, or separable categories. The second subsection includes first person
accounts of the tensions pervading experiences of intersecting identities. The readings
present self-reflexive narratives about identity, the terms of belonging to community,
and the challenges of boundary-crossing. They delineate the complex politics of location in feminist theory (Mani Reading 41; Kaplan and Grewal 1994; Rich 2001). The
readings offer students of diverse backgrounds models for how to negotiate the conflicts and contests that comprise feminist activism in an era of perpetual war, economic
collapse, and globalization.
Section III: Theorizing Feminist Knowledge and Agency, presents two central
solutions offered by feminist theorists for constructing grounds for feminist politics:
feminist standpoints theory and poststructural analyses of gendered discourse, power,
and performativity. The readings build on insights generated by conversations represented in Section II. Standpoint theories argue that womens social location is a resource
for the construction of a uniquely feminist perspective on social reality, which, in turn,
can ground feminist political struggles for change. Taken together, the included selections lead students to consider that there might be a multiplicity of feminist standpoints. Poststructural feminisms focus on operations of power in any/every articulation of a feminist subjectivity, suggesting that any assertion of a stable gender identity
or stable unity among women involves an exclusion of some kind. The basic concepts
of poststructuralist theory, including the relationship of language and subjectivity, and
of discourse and power, are presented along with selections that raise questions about
the essentializing, disciplining, and normalizing functions of the concepts, woman,
sex, gender, and experience. Through the essays, students will begin to see the
normative functions of discourse and a feminist critique of identity politics.
Section IV Imagine Otherwise draws readings from recent efforts to move beyond
the debates between postmodern and standpoint theories towards frameworks that
build on the strengths of each perspective. These readings point in new directions to
tentative resolutions of how to think/act to change gender relations. In discussions
ranging from intensive economic globalization and the politics of emotion to queer
theory and Chicana feminism, the readings reposition womens lives and everyday
experiences as a central focus of feminist theorizing and they reassert the social group


women, however unstable, as the agent of feminist politics. On one hand, the readings
illustrate how poststructural theories of discourse and power have reshaped feminist
social theory. On the other hand, readings also illustrate the new materialism evident
in poststructural feminist theories, which responds to critiques that it gives too much
attention to texts at the expense of embodiment. In particular, the section includes
feminist analyses of emotions, bodies, and affect.
* * *
As a group, the voices, concepts, and analyses brought together within the Reader provide frameworks for understanding feminist politics across national boundaries and
the social processes that shape relational differences of gender and its intersections with
race, ethnicity, nation, class, and sexuality. They advocate an open and flexible intellectual posture, urging students to question what they know about the past, and to
develop a habit of asking what else is going on here. While conveying a sense of hopefulness, the readings do not offer easy answers. They do offer useful guidance on how to
think about and enact feminist strategies for change in our local situation and within a
transnational world, encouraging all of us to reflect on the shifting identities and asymmetries of power we must negotiate in this time of perpetual war, economic collapse,
and increasing nationalist fervor.
1. For definitions of oppression see Marilyn Frye (1983) who defines oppression as constraints on
and limitations of life options because of ones identity as a member of a subordinated group. See
also Iris Marion Young (1990) who identifies five forms of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.
2. How well this relationship between theory and political practice has developed is itself an issue of
debate by scholars and activists alike.
3. The sense of conversations we intend here is informed by Katie Kings definitions. She distinguishes between conversations and debates; the former involves political contours, the latter
theoretical contents. She also describes conversations not as a single thing in which we all share
but as ongoing, overlapping, and shifting. See King 1994: xi, 56, and 87.
4. More than100 nations have signed the Convention, but the United States is not one of them.
5. As publishing has become more global, we met with problems securing permission to publish
some classic articles worldwide and in electronic form.
6. This phrase is taken from Johnnella Butlers work. See for example, Johnnella Butler and John
Walter 1991.
7. Queer refers to spaces and identities outside of heteronormativity. See Walters Reading 43.

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Throughout the world in the 1960s and 1970s, womens challenges to their subordinate
status seemed to explode in struggles involving issues of equal rights, social conventions
of femininity and heterosexuality, reproductive self-determination, violence, poverty,
anti-racism, and anti-colonialism, among others. While very visible, this period was
not unique. At earlier points in modern history, womens movements in many locations across the world allied with nationalist, anti-colonial liberation movements, and
labor activism to promote changes in womens social status and political rights. In this
section, we assemble a group of readings that encourage readers to question what they
know about past feminist movements. Picking up different strands running in tandem, the readings tell different stories that elaborate the myriad connections and conversations that comprise contemporary feminist theory (Barkley Brown 1992). While
destabilizing the conventional representation of feminist genealogies (first, second,
third waves), we also contextualize the feminist theoretical conversations and debates
through a genealogy of core feminist concepts.
The readings in the Feminist Movements subsection urge readers to rethink feminist times and spaces by challenging the prevailing representation of feminist movements as waves. Certainly, womens movements have varied in intensity throughout
the modern era, as exemplified by the eagerness with which women in different times
and places adopt or reject the label, feminist (Moses 1998a). In the mid-twentieth century, North American feminists used the metaphor of waves to describe patterns of
ebb and flow in feminist activism. They labeled the myriad womens movements
of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the first wave of feminism. They
labeled themselves the second wave.1 As histories often do, this description of the past
validated the present. Arguing that the first wave subsided before the work of womens
liberation was complete, these self-named second wave feminists took up the fight to
end male supremacy (Bunch Reading 15)
While the wave metaphor may have had strategic value in the 1970s, the following readings suggest that it is of limited usefulness as a tool for explaining various
coalescences and fractures in feminist movements. As a framework for telling feminist
histories, the wave metaphor obscures more than it illuminates. As historian Elsa Barkley
Brown has argued, history is everyone talking at once, multiple rhythms being played
simultaneously. Therefore stories of womens lives and social movements are simultaneous, multiple, and connected. However, both formal scholarship and movement
histories, tend to isolate one conversation, often as if it took place against a backdrop
of silence. The trick, she argues, is to contextualize that conversation, making evident its dialogue with so many others (1992: 297). The multiple stories, conversations,


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

debates, and dialogues of feminist times and spaces are complexly related, and, because
they are enmeshed in the hierarchies of differences that organize the world, they are
asymmetrical. The conventional accounts of highs and lows of feminist waves configure
a story that honors the lives and activities of white, middle-class, heterosexual women
in the global north, and overlooks the activities of women situated otherwise. Thus,
for instance, the period described as the low point of feminist activism between 1920
and 1960 saw continuous efforts by working-class union women to secure workplace
justice (Cobble 2005). Moreover, the conventional narratives represent the activities of
women situated otherwise as different from and later than. Such accounts ignore
that, from the outset, relational differences and dialogues configure all knowledge,
including feminist theories. The readings in this section recommend that we develop
the habit of asking what else was/is going on whenever we engage accounts of womens
and social justice movements.
Feminist Movements
To invoke alternative images and metaphors of womens activism, we start this section
with a poem by Yosano Akiko (18781942) who is internationally recognized as one of
the leading poets and writers of early modern Japan. The poem (Reading 1) appeared in
the 1911 inaugural volume of Seito (Bluestockings), the first Japanese feminist literary
journal. In this poem, Yosano compares the creativity and vitality of women to dormant volcanoes. Drawing from the natural landscape of Japan, composed of mountains
that were once blazing volcanoes, Yosano uses this imagery as a metaphor to characterize the situation of women. She suggests that the creative energy of women, like fire of
dormant volcanoes, has not been extinguished. It is gathering momentum to explode
and womens inner genius will shake the entire land.
Following the suggestion by Elsa Barkley Brown to make connections between the
numerous stories and conversations of the past, Nancy Hewitt rethinks the history of
first wave feminism by re-embedding the Seneca Falls Convention in the world of
1848 (Reading 2). In so doing, she situates the emblematic founding moment of first
wave feminism within the wider context of social justice movements around the globe
that year. Her essay demonstrates that the angle from which we access the past shapes
the stories we come to know. By shifting away from the conversations and connections
available from the point of view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the most prominent white
middle-class woman in official histories of the nineteenth-century womens movement, Hewitt illuminates the myriad of other connections between Seneca Falls and the
people and movements surrounding it. She reminds readers that 1848 was an eventful
year. Slavery was abolished in the West Indies, the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war, the Communist Manifesto was published,
and revolutions occurred in France and Germany. She also reminds us that Seneca Falls
was located in what had been the Iroquois nation, and that womens claims for justice
were closely connected to the American abolitionist movement. Finally, she reminds us
that the women and men in attendance at the convention came from and brought with
them a myriad of connections and perspectives on womens condition.



In the mid-twentieth century, Simone de Beauvoir (Reading 3) published her

highly influential treatise, The Second Sex. In it, de Beauvoir articulates key arguments about the condition of women that would be taken up by feminists in the
1970s. Rejecting biological determinism and the eternal feminine, De Beauvoir
starts from the premise that one is not born a woman, but becomes one, and asks
then what is a woman?2 She argues that while men define themselves as the exemplary case of humanity, they define women in terms of their difference from men.
He is the subject she is the other. That definition marks women by what they
lack. Moreover, she argues, she appears to him as a sexual being. For him she is
sexabsolute sex, no less. It is not surprising therefore, that knowledge about
womens nature, often sexualized, justifies their subordination. Thus, de Beauvoir
concludes, women must address for ourselves how the fact of being women will
affect our lives. What opportunities precisely have been given us and what withheld?
What fate awaits our younger sisters, and what directions should they take? (Reading
3) An exhaustive philosophical treatise on the condition of women, feminist scholars
have returned repeatedly to de Beauvoirs work.3
Linda Nicholson (Reading 4) asks if any aspect of the wave metaphor is still useful.
In answering that question, she summarizes the activity around gender that occurred
in the U.S. between the passage of womens suffrage and the emergence of the second
wave as well as elaborating on the commonly used terms, liberal, radical,4 and socialist
feminist. She concludes that while the metaphor had strategic historical value, it should
be discarded because it does not adequately capture the different kinds of activism
around gender in U.S. history. It gives the false impression that a single feminism
lies beneath the peaks and valleys of feminist waves. Furthermore, it cannot usefully
account for the uneven outcomes of feminist activisms, some of which succeeded and
some of which did not. She would reserve use of the metaphor to describe periods, when
feminist claims resonate with the felt needs of ordinary women and men, mobilizing large numbers of people in very public, noisy, and challenging ways (Reading 4).
However, she urges readers not to overlook the quieter work required to institutionalize social change.
Becky Thompson (Reading 5) contests what she calls the hegemonic feminism
that organizes most conventional accounts of second wave feminism. She tells an
alternative history focused on the rise of multiracial feminism. In particular, she contests those scholars who conclude that radical feminism subsided by the early 1970s.
This assessment, she argues, limits our understanding of feminist activism to the narrow conjuncture of the new left and womens liberation movements. It also limits our
understanding of radical to anti-patriarchal activism. One can only read the 1970s
and 1980s as a period of dissipated feminist activism if one discounts the spaces in
which women of color and anti-racist white women struggled to build a movement
to end multiple forms of domination. To the contrary, she argues, the 1970s and
1980s saw the rise of multiracial feminism. It was a period in which issues that had
divided many of the movements constituencies were put on the table (Barbara
Smith cited in Thompson Reading 5). Once on the table, multiracial womens groups
engaged in difficult dialogues required to be accountable across difference. Thompson


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

chronicles the key scholars, organizations, and events in multiracial feminisms, contextualizing the key concepts that multiracial feminist theory generated, such as interlocking
oppressions, the politics of location, and coalition politics.
Amrita Basu (Reading 6) discusses a vitally important strand running in tandem
with, but independent from, U.S. womens movements. Her account focuses on the
women activists who came together around the U.N. Decade for Women to articulate an international womens rights agenda at the four international conferences on
women between 1975 and 1995. Basus analysis illuminates the sites of coalescence
and conflict between women of the global north and global south. Her account of this
history indexes the asymmetries of power and perspective that shaped global feminist
networks from early bitter contestation in the period from 1975 to 1985 to the contemporary coalitions formed in the period from 1985 to 1995. She highlights struggles
over the priorities and terms of international womens activism, noting the women of
the global north tend to favor issues involving personal freedoms while women of the
global south prioritize economic issues of poverty and development. She makes clear
that women of the global south set their own agenda, and were not waiting for U.S.
women to lead them. Basu argues that with all the differences, what women have in
common are political goals, defined in specific historical times and places. She suggests
that greater attention to the geopolitics that shape both contentious issues and common goals will enable feminist networks to flourish in the current climate of intensified
globalization. Although the geographic terminology of global north and global south
does not adequately convey the political configuration of the world, following Basus
example we use it as the best approximation available.
Asking if feminist waves are transatlantic, Michelle Rowley (Reading 7) critiques
the pedagogical reliance on feminist waves from the perspective of transnational feminists teaching in U.S. womens studies classrooms. While the wave metaphor should be
discarded, she argues, genealogies are nonetheless important. Drawing on the poetic
voice of Etheridge Knight, an Afro-Caribbean poet, Rowley reminds us that our relational connections, past, present, and future, make us who we are and who we may
become. She offers Knights evocative phrase, whereabouts unknown, to posit a new
method for composing feminist genealogies, one that recognizes, the importance
of unexpected, diverse, and surprising beginnings. The wave metaphor, she notes,
frames the whereabouts that are already known. In its place, she offers the term,
politics and conditions of emergence, which allows us to place emphasis on the
power dynamics and context that lead to specific feminist issues and responses coming
into full force. In other words, Rowley advocates that we investigate the whereabouts of what is unknown in order to elaborate the there and then of the conditions
spurring feminist action (Reading 7).
Local Identities and Politics
The readings in second subsection provide a number of additional entry points into
feminist debates of the 1970s and 1980s. Some are third person accounts; some are documents-of- the-moment that archive strands of conversation within feminist theory.



The language and the emotions indexed in the readings speak to both universal claims
made in the voice of normative feminist subject as well as the counter claims of those
excluded from it. Together these readings endorse Rowleys recommendation that we
examine the conditions of emergence within the local feminist times and spaces to
which they refer. Likewise, we encourage readers to ask what else was going on, what
else informed these local identities and politics.
The readings represent only a very small number of those that might have been
chosen. We selected them because they offer insight into the five concepts with which,
we believe, students can gain an understanding of contemporary feminist theory.
Those concepts are gender, difference, womens experiences, the personal is political,
and intersectionality. In the remainder of this chapter, we introduce the readings in the
Local Identities and Politics subsection by way of an intellectual genealogy of those core
concepts. Not intended to be definitive or exhaustive, it locates the following readings
in their time and place, situating them in the relational differences, the asymmetrical
connections, and ongoing contentions archived within them.
GENDEREven as women moved into new areas of public life across the globe in
the twentieth century, Western social scientists amassed evidence that they said demonstrated the natural basis of sex differences (Delphy 1993; Stern 2005; Meyerowitz
2002). Anglophone feminists developed the concept of gender to counter the claim that
biology is destiny.5 As case in point, Ann Oakleys, 1972 book, Sex, Gender, and Society,
offers a meticulous critique of data about sex differences, arguing that whatever small
differences exist are exaggerated by the methods used to measure them. Height is a classic example. On average, men are taller than women are. However, the range of difference within each group is greater than the differences between them. The comparison
by average height obscures similarities and exaggerates differences to the benefit of
men. Concurring with de Beauvoir, Oakley notes, womens differences from men are
construed as inferiority. In contrast to natural sex differences, Oakley defines masculinity and femininity as the products of the gendered social process of learning and
internalizing behaviors, roles, and personality traits deemed appropriate to each sex.
She concludes that the resulting gender types overstate the otherwise minimal biological sex differences. Minimal biological sex differences are completely obscured by social
practices (and prejudice). Besides, modern technology and contraception made those
differences irrelevant. She concludes that man-made interpretations of sex differences secure male dominance and womens devaluation, which amounts to injustice.
Oakley bolsters her argument that gender is socially determined with anthropological evidence of cultural variations in the activities and personality characteristics associated with men and women in other cultures.6 Another example of this common
strategy in early feminist theories of gender appears in Gayle Rubins influential 1975
essay, The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex. Like Oakley,
Rubin describes the cultural processes of gender, the sex/gender system, as that which
takes the raw material of human babies/bodies and produces gender-differentiated
beings with complementary skills and personalities. When properly coupled, gendered
beings produce the basic social unitthe family. The sex/gender system subordinates
women by positioning them as the objects exchanged by men to create family and


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

community. Rubins careful explication of the sex/gender system is peppered with

references to exotic7 gender and sexual practices in the global south taken from
anthropology.8 These examples augment her argument that gender is differentiated
everywhere, but not always in the same way.
Multiracial and transnational feminists have critiqued this argumentation strategy,
pointing out that it distorts their heritage as it constructs other women as decorations for the political struggles and theorizing of Western white women (Lorde 1981:
96).9 Such references to other cultures index the diversity of gender and demonstrate
that male domination is universal. The implication is that, even though the details may
differ, all women are subjected to the same underlying patriarchal gender system. To
imply, however, as Audre Lorde notes, that all women suffer the same oppression
simply because they are women, is to lose sight of the many varied tools of patriarchy
(95). Moreover, these appropriative uses of the global south are emblematic of Orientalist discourses, as Edward Said has demonstrated (Said 1978). Following Said, Orientalist discourses constructed by colonial regimes and ordinary travelogues created
an imaginative geographythe East, the Orient and the West, the Occident.
Often in racialized terms, Orientalist discourse sets up the binary opposition of primitive and civilized, through which the West understands itself as superior in all things.
The contrast represents the (white) West as more progressive, more advanced, and thus
world leaders. Transnational feminists have shown that although Said may have overlooked it, inasmuch Orientalist discourse casts other women either as exotic and/or
as sexually victimized in contrast to Western women, gender is central to Orientalism
(Mohanty 1991b; Abu-Lughod Reading 21). Western feminist theories participate in
Orientalist discourses when they pluck examples of womens oppression elsewhere to
support their own arguments, and when they presume to say what the most important
issues for all women. Such Orientalist arguments and postures raise particular dilemmas in organizing around gender and sexuality within transnational communities of
color around the world. Amrita Basu notes that the 1980 U.N. Conference erupted in
controversy over just such issues (Reading 6; see also Rao 1991).
Another important strand of feminist theorizing about gender surfaces in Rubins
essay: She credits the sex/gender system with cultural construction of sexuality as well
gender. This observation points to critiques lesbian feminist would make about the heteronormative assumptions underlying initial feminist theories of gender. For instance,
Shulamith Firestones (Reading 14) discussion of the culture of romance assumes
that desire is heterosexual. What counts as erotic is the coupling of masculine male
bodies with feminine female bodies. Thus, while her argument elaborates de Beauvoirs
observation that men sexualize women, it ignores the specifically heterosexual components of the culture of romance, thus reiterating heterosexist reasoning. So, do lesbians
fit into the category of women, into the category of feminist? Charlotte Bunchs essay
(Reading 15) addresses such questions as she challenges reflexive heterosexism and
homophobia in mid-twentieth-century womens movements. Her argument situates
lesbianism as a political and sexual identity. A woman-identified political separatism,
she asserts, offers the best means of overthrowing patriarchy because lesbianism
threatens male-supremacy at its core. Clearly angered by the exclusion of lesbians from



feminist organizations, Bunchs argument is audacious in a historical period of enormous

stigma attached to lesbianism, and one frequently hurled at feminists as anti-male.
In the 1990s, queer theory contested feminist accounts of gender, suggesting that if
the cultural processes configure gender and compulsory heterosexual couplings, more
is going on here than feminists have accounted for. Dialogue between queer theorists
and feminist theorists has generated feminist theories of heteronormativity and the
cultural configuration of heterosexuality, and it continues to inform accounts of the
relationship between gender, male dominance, and heteronormativity. That is, does
the gender system primarily serve systems of male dominance, resulting in the subordination and devaluation of women? Alternatively, does it primarily serve heteronormativity, resulting in exclusion of queer sexualities, genders, bodies, and identities? Does
gender then serve the ends of heteronormativity?
In addition, critiques by queer and transgender theorists unsettled the feminist
assumption that biological sex is pre-social. They theorize a far more complex and
contingent relationship between bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders, arguing that
culture configures sexed bodies as well as genders (Butler 1990 and Delphy 1992). Leslie Feinbergs essay (Reading 17) is an early example of a feminist/transgender political
treatise that challenges the binary opposition of men and women. Feinberg defines
gender as self-expression, not anatomy. Ze10 challenges the automatic linkage of
body type and gender identity. Instead, ze argues, within the history of gender oppressions, non-normative (queer) configurations of bodies and gender identities have been
subject to severe repression. However, ze notes that transphobia has its own specific
dynamics, which are detailed in the essay.
Recent feminist scholarship has, in response, returned to the relationship between
biology and culture to consider how much of what we call anatomical sex difference
is shaped by culture and to critique the gender binary (the binary opposition of sexes,
sexualities, and genders) that prevails in most social, including feminist, theory.11
As this brief summary suggests, the fundamental feminist concept, gender, ignited
an explosion of scholarship but it does not have a single or uncontested definition.
Sometimes gender refers to characteristics of individuals; the meanings of sex differences ingrained on bodies, minds, and identities. Sometimes it refers to the processes
by which sex difference was struggled over, enacted in cultural practices, and inscribed
in and deployed by social institutions (schools, courts, hospitals, and the media).
Sometimes, gender refers to culturally prescribed performances in everyday activities
and expressive cultural forms. At the same time, feminist theorists of color in the global north and global south challenged universalized views of gender that treated all
women as subject to the same gender oppression and that appropriated their cultural
practices to support universalist claims. Different theories about connections between
anatomical sex, gender, and sexuality shaped dialogues and debates between feminist
theories, lesbian feminist and queer theory. They all concur, however, that power relations shape how gender is defined, constituted, sanctioned, identified with, resisted,
lived, and reproduced. Together, debates about the importance and composition of
differences between women became the generative engine for feminist theory in the
1980s (Sandoval 1991 and McDermott 1994).


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

DIFFERENCE12As the preceding discussion indicates, difference was articulated not only as gender difference that united women as distinct from men but also
as an index of incommensurability among women of different races, classes, ethnicities, and sexualities (Schmitz et al. 1995: 710). As the above quotation from Audre
Lorde shows, women of color objected to a gender-only focus in feminist theory. In
addition, Frances Beal warned in 1972, that womens liberation would quickly become
a white womens movement if it insisted on organizing along the gender lines alone
(Sandoval 1991). Such a focus on women in general presumed that other dimensions of social life were unimportant in understanding womens experience as women.
Moreover, women of color argued, the exclusive focus on gender universalized the particular experience of white, middle-class, heterosexual women residing in the global
north as the normal/normative situation of women in general, and dismissed their
experiences and perspectives (Lorde 1981; Spelman 1988; and Thompson Reading 5).
To illustrate how false universals silence difference, recall the earlier example of
average height. The contrast of men and women treats each group as homogenous.
Differences among women (and among men) vanish, especially differences in privilege
and disadvantage within each group. Hierarchies of difference within each group ensure
that the general case represents the situation, perspective, interests of the dominant
group. bell hooks illuminated the flawed logic of false universals when she famously
asked, Which men do women want to be equal to (hooks 1984: 18)? Because they
are not also subordinated by race, class, (neo)colonialism, or homophobia, white middle-class, heterosexual women of the global north mistook their situation to be a case
of pure sexism. As if privileges of race, class, nation, sexuality did not shape their lives
(Spelman 1988). This reasoning also overlooks the relational processes by which systems of domination confer privileges on some and deprivations on others. As Barkley
Brown reminds us, We need to recognize that middle-class women live the lives
they do precisely because working class women lead the lives they do. White women
and women of color not only live different lives, but white women live the lives they do
in large part because women of color live the ones they do (Barkley Brown 1992: 298).
Intertwining race, class, heterosexual, and imperialist privilege gave (and continue to
give) white, middle-class, heterosexual women of the global north greater means for
articulating their perspectives. This culturally and economically dominant groups
perspectives thus came to define the terms of feminist debate, against which women
located otherwise have had to situate themselves.
The effects of hierarchical differences are evident in the essays by Elizabeth Martinez (Reading 12) Combahee River Collective (Reading 13), and Charlotte Bunch
(Reading 15) who directed their arguments against the hegemonic feminist subject
(Thompson Reading 5). Their arguments reflect the terms of inclusion/exclusion that
women of color and women of the global south confront in feminist theory and politics
narrowly focused on gender. Either they must ignore dimensions of their situations to
locate themselves within women in general or they must mark themselves by their
differences from that group. In contrast, the essays by Carole Pateman (Reading 11)
and Shulamith Firestone (Reading 14) speak about women in general, without specifying which women and where. Nor do they consider how their accounts might change



if they did specify which women and which men they meant. Charlotte Bunch must
counter the heterosexism by which the specific issues confronting heterosexual women
are assumed automatically to be issues for all women, while lesbian issues are not.
However, Elizabeth Martinez notes, the revolutionary Chicana does not identify with
the so-called womens liberation movement (Reading 12). She rejects feminist separatism because it would require her to ignore the grounds of solidarity Chicanas have
with Chicanos in fighting racism and imperialism. In their arguments that an adequate
feminist theory and practice would need to account for all hierarchies of difference,
these readings also clearly convey the anger and disillusionment caused by exclusionary practices. As Barbara Smith, lead author of the Combahee River Collective, argues
Racism is a feminist issue because feminism is the political theory and practice that
struggles to free all women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not
feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement (Hull et al. 1982: 49).
Those excluded from dominant feminist theories turned the concept of difference
to their own ends, opening intellectual space to theorize the ways that womens lives are
shaped by race, nationality, class, and sexuality, as well as by gender. However, specifying differences between women also raised new issues. Initially, questions focused on
how to think about connections between systems of differences. Did the combination
of race and gender oppression produce a kind of double jeopardy, in which the injuries of sexism and racism added up to a double dose of oppression (Beal 1970)? What
would happen if one were also subject to class-based domination, (neo)-colonialism,
or heterosexual domination? Did that constitute a situation of multiple jeopardy in
which subordinations add up to even greater misery (King 1988)? Did each new element of domination in this additive model produce greater suffering and the possibility of greater insight? Was there a hierarchy of oppressions, in which some forms of
domination were more fundamental to social change? Marxist movements traditionally argued that the class system is the basic division of society and that racism, imperialism, and sexism derive from it. Radical feminist theorists sometimes argued that the
oppression of women by men was the original oppression, and served as the model for
all others (Burris 1973; Rich 1979; Bunch Reading 15). Alternatively, some contended,
racism, sexism, and class-domination were produced by separate, interrelated, systems
(Combahee Reading 13; Hartmann Reading 19).13
In the course of often-contentious discussions, the additive model of oppression
gave way to the model of simultaneous oppressions (Lorde 1984; Spelman 1988). In
an early example, the women of the Combahee River Collective argue that the conditions of our lives result from the synthesis of simultaneous and interlocking systems of
domination based on racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression (Reading 13).
By the 1990s, multiracial feminist theorists conceptualized interacting oppressions that
compose our lives as a matrix of domination (Dill and Zinn 1996; Hill Collins 1990). In
this view, specific locations within the matrix consist of specific simultaneous effects of
multiple systems of oppression. These complex locations can include combinations of
both privileges and oppressions. Yet these insights would come later.
The Combahee River Collective and Martinez readings signal a central feature of
feminist politics in the 1980s: fragmentation along lines of identity politics.14 Identity


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

politics are based on the premise that those who experience specific configurations
of oppression are best suited to understand that oppression and develop strategies
for change. As Combahee authors observed the most profound and potentially the
most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to
end somebody elses oppression. Black feminism, they note, grew out of involvement
in the Second Wave of the American womens movement and the movement for
Black liberation, both of which failed to address the unique political struggles of black
women adequately (Reading 13). Organizing groups along lines of identity provided
intellectual and emotional space in which to grapple with specific situations of multiple
Elaboration of the operations of multiple oppressions in womens lives produced
new questions of identity, connection, and belonging. Who are we who are outside
the boundaries of the northern white womens movement and feminist theory? How
might we work, think, and organize together. By what name should we be known?
One answer to that question, the term, women of color, emerged at the 1981
National Womens Studies Association Conference in Storrs, Connecticut. The conference became a watershed event in U.S. womens studies. The conference topic was
Women Respond to Racism and it included breakout sessions structured by identity.
The categories available for white women to select from included specificities of class,
sexuality, and immigrant status. Women who did not identify as white found their
differences collapsed into the single category, women of color. The women of color
involved in organizing the conference offered the category in response to criticism that
the discussions of racism among U.S. feminists often dichotomized race as black and
white. The Combahee River Collective (Reading 13) provides an example of the erasure
of racial differences beneath the hegemony of black/white definitions in the U.S. The
authors position themselves as fighting against the oppressions faced by all women of
color. Yet, the essay theorizes racism from the specific location as African-American
women. At the conference, the term women of color was intended to be more inclusive of the variety of womens racial identities and experiences of racism. However,
conference participants intensely deliberated whether this was an appropriate concept
for thinking through different racisms. They were well aware of what the term threatened to hide including, for example, culture, ethnicity, national associations, religion, skin color, race, language, class, and sexual differences (cited in King 1994: 64).
Despite such trepidations, the term women of color was widely used in multi-racial
feminist dialogues and alliances.
Other possible terms included Third World women. The term, the Third World,
widely used in the 1970s and 1980s, originated in the context of the Cold War. The First
World label designated the industrialized liberal-capitalist nations of Western Europe and
the North America. The Second World referred to the communist and socialist nations.
The Third World referred to those new nations emerging through anti-colonialist
movements and decolonization.15 The term highlighted relational geopolitical location as a factor in gender identity formation. While the label women of color
highlights race as the grounds of common oppression and political solidarity, Third
World women highlights colonialism as the grounds of oppression and solidarity. In



the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, women of color came to designate the multifaceted
nexus of race, nation, colonialism, and globalization. On the other hand, Third World
women continued to denote non-U.S. locations and identities (Mohanty 1991b). Both
can imply the notion of a diasporic identity.
More recently, the term transnational has been used to refer to people and ideas
that travel between locations in the global south and north. It invokes the complex
legal, material, and emotional processes involved in crossing geopolitical borders and
identity boundaries. The term multiracial feminism has been used to convey the conjuncture of anti-racist and anti-patriarchal activisms engaged in by women of color
and anti-racist white women (Thompson Reading 5; Dill and Zinn 1996). The location of such individuals within the political struggles of their originary cultures can be
quite complicated. As Aihwa Ong asks, do Third World feminists who now write in
the Anglophone world enjoy a privileged positionality in representing the authentic
experiences of women from our ancestral cultures or not? As Lydia Liu notes, it is not
clear, exactly how the post-colonial theorist relates to the Third world except that
s/he travels in and out of it and points out its difference from that of the First world.
The term transnational tries to capture the notion that such scholars are, as Ong notes,
multiply inscribed subjects, who engage complicated cultural power relations in
crossing national boundaries (as quoted in Kim and McCann 1998: 117).
Despite the unstable nature of the terms, women of color, Third World women,
transnational feminist, and multiracial feminist, they can denote a political commitment, strategic unity, a community of belonging, from which oppositional consciousness and significant theoretical insights can emerge (Spivak 1990). However, unity
constructed by these terms is necessarily contingent and subject to renegotiation.
The voices of transnational feminists, feminists of color and feminists in the global south have often been relegated to the margins of U.S. feminist theorizing. Nonetheless, dialogues spurred by those counter voices have moved U.S. feminist theory
to develop more nuanced understandings of the multiple power relations that shape
womens situations. One key insight to emerge from the work of multiracial and transnational feminist theories is that it is always necessary to specify the when, where, and
who in feminist theory and politics.
WOMENS EXPERIENCESIn displacing the notion that natural sex differences
made male domination inevitable, the concept of gender created another problem.
Without resorting to the female body/soul/nature as the thing that makes women,
women, what else can account for womens shared identity? On what grounds would
women come together as a group to demand change? What would be the basis of womens political agency? The concept of experience seemed to provide the answer. Many
feminist theorists have asserted that womens identity as a distinct and specific social
group begins with their lived experiences as womenbeings whose lives, rights,
opportunities, pleasures, and responsibilities are often dictated by the value their cultures give to the perceived sex of their bodies as distinct from that of men. Thus, shared
common experiences of oppression define women as a social group who can act in
concert to resist gender oppression and improve their lives. Moreover, critical examination of these lived experiences provides the grounds for building a feminist theory.


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

That is, feminist theorists have argued, the existing knowledge about women justifies
male domination and, therefore, it is untrustworthy.16 Thus, such theorists conclude,
the value and meaning of womens lives must be defined from womens point of view,
from the inside of their experiences rather than from some outside view.
In 1970s feminist activism, consciousness-raising held a privileged place as a source
of critical knowledge that could inform resistance to oppression.17 As T. V. Reed (Reading 9) notes in his essay on the poetics of mid-twentieth-century feminism, consciousness-raising involved structured conversations in which small groups of women shared
experiences on specific topics. By sharing experiences, the common elements would
surface, thus clarify the systematic nature of womens subordination. In turn, through
these conversations women would come to identify with each other, would build solidarity around the most pressing issues confronting them, and would be able to devise
strategies for change. Reeds discussion of poetry as a tool of feminist theorizing illuminates the high regard for the expressive power of language in feminist identity formation. As he notes, new insights demanded new language, and feminist poetics has been
a vital creative tool with which to learn how to speak about what had previously been
unspeakable. Reeds analysis also illuminates the conditions of emergence for the feminist poetry movement, and traces its connections to feminist politics and movements.
Muriel Rukeysers classic poem (Reading 8) expresses the energy and hopefulness of
consciousness-raising, a process that facilitates her decision to renounce masks and
mythologies. The poem ends with hope and anticipation as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery emblematic of consciousness-raising and of the feminist poetry
As noted above, claims that women shared a common experience were vigorously
debated in feminist circles. Those excluded from hegemonic feminism contended that
differences in womens social positions and cultural contexts are so extensive that there
is no common experience of women. Moreover, they argued because consciousnessraising groups often consisted of women with similar backgrounds and situations, hierarchies of power that interacted with gender ensured that the experiences of white,
middle-class, heterosexual women in metropolitan centers dominated the feminist
agenda. Yet even while women of color and lesbians around the world challenged the
notion of a common womens experience they have also embraced the concept in
theorizing their specific, local situations. Black feminism, the Combahee River Collective argued, emerges from the political realization that comes from the seemingly
personal experiences of individual Black womens lives (Reading 13). This linkage of
experience, identity, and knowledge through consciousness-raising formed the basis
for the identity politics articulated by women of color. Claims based in lived experience run through the readings in this section.18
Questions about which experiences, whose experiences, and how experience can
serve to build effective knowledge generated much feminist scholarship. Deniz Kandiyoti (Reading 10) introduces an analytic tool with which to specify the where and
when of specific womens experiences. She proposes the term patriarchal bargain to
describe contextually specific strategies women pursue within a set of concrete constraints that shape womens gendered subjectivity and life options. Kandiyoti illus-



trates this concept using two examples: the autonomy and protest form in sub-Saharan
Africa and the subservience and manipulation of classic patriarchy found in the Middle
East, South Asia, and East Asia. Ultimately, Kandiyoti demonstrates that patriarchal
bargains are not timeless and immutable entities, but are susceptible to historical transformations that open up new areas of struggle and renegotiation (Reading 10). This
analytic tool applied to lived experience can help us understand strategies of compliance and to identify conditions of emergence of resistance in relationship to specific
ideological, material, and political constraints
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICALAn initial answer to the question of which
experiences should inform feminist theory and politics is captured in the phrase, the
personal is political. This phrase started out as a political slogan used by self-named
radical feminists in the United States to convey several related notions. It encapsulates
the theory underlying the practice of consciousness-raising, that experience is the best
grounds for building feminist knowledge and is the best way to define effective feminist
politics. At the same time, it expresses the claim that the system of male domination is
deeply entrenched in intimate relationships between women and men (Hanisch 1970
and Grant 1993). Many of the top issues for feminists in the north involve womens
most personal and intimate experiencesinequality in marriage, male-centered sexuality, reproduction self-determination, and sexual and domestic violence.19 Examination of those experiences through consciousness-raising, it was argued, would reveal
the system of male domination, and would expose the underlying power relations
that bound those personal experiences together. The concept also challenges the conventional view of politics as limited to formal processes of government in the public
sphere, which tend to treat, sexuality, reproduction, and sexual violence as non-political because they are part of private life. Instead, feminists define politics as relations of
power that operate within all human relationships in which one group rules another
(Millet 1970: 111 as cited in Grant 1993: 34). The exercise of power makes these relationships political. This view of politics was articulated against criticisms from the U.S.
left and liberals that the issues that U.S. women sought to address were personal problems, not political issues (Grant 1993).
Shulamith Firestones 1970 book, the Dialectic of Sex, addresses the underlying
power relations to such personal issues. Working at the intersection of radical and
socialist feminist theorizing, Firestone utilized Marxist analytic categories to explicate
the situation of women. The book is best remembered for its call for extra-uterine reproduction. The reading included here (Reading 14) focuses on another central concern
in mid-twentieth-century U.S. feminisms, the sexual objectification of women. Picking up on de Beauvoirs theme that women are defined by what men desire, Firestone
muses on the process by which women come to embody that desire. She argues that as
the biological bases of sex class crumbles male supremacy must shore itself up with
artificial institutions and exaggerations Women are called into conformity with the
standards of conventional feminine beauty through the discourse of romance, which
makes women want to be individually attractive to men. The culture of romance, she
concludes, is a tool of male power to keep women from knowing their conditions.
Mens sexuality is also shaped by this culture, but, she argues, the situation is more


Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

complicated and exploitative for women who must embody the Image of Sex Appeal
(Reading 14). She ends by noting that changing this culture will be difficult precisely
because romance and eroticism are exciting.
The notion of the personal is political is not limited to changes in private relationships, however. It also recognizes the need for change in the public world. Carole
Pateman (Reading 11) offers another angle on feminist genealogies, one that is focused
on the dialogues and conflicts between feminist theory and the Western tradition of
social and political theory, specifically liberalism and socialism. Situating her account
with those who have characterized that tradition as male-stream thought, Pateman
argues that feminist theory challenges traditional philosophical arguments about justice, freedom, and equality. Moreover, she argues, feminism should not be domesticated to fit within traditional arguments. Gender inequality is not just one more
form of injustice that fine-tuning the system can redress. To the contrary, the system
depends on the exclusion of women. Both liberal and socialist theories, she notes, split
the world into public and private domains before the question of freedom and justice
are raised. Women are written out before the articulation of rights and opportunities. Therefore, the individual subject of freedom and justice is a disembodied individual who is implicitly masculine. Sex difference cannot simply be accommodated,
because that leaves intact the sexually particular characterization of the public world,
the individual, and his capacities. By writing out women, the individual of traditional
theory lacks capacities that men dont possessbodies that can give birth. Feminist
theory that starts from embodied individuals thus challenges theory that masquerades
as universalism (Reading 11). Instead of gender-neutral equality, which continues to
deny the embodiment of individuals, Pateman argues that feminists should be more
concerned with autonomy.
The concept of autonomy is central to Snia Correa and Rosalind Petchesky (Reading 16) who discuss feminist theorizing at this intersection of the personal and political:
reproductive health and rights. They show that the feminist claim to reproductive selfdetermination relies on the liberal right of bodily integrity, the right not to be interfered
with by government in matters concerning ones body and its processes. However, this
liberal right is only one of four principles that Correa and Petchesky use to articulate a
flexible feminist framework for reproductive justice. The others are equality, personhood, and diversity. In describing each of these principles, they incorporate the insights
developed by transnational and multiracial feminists. As they make clear, of sexual and
reproductive health matters must always be considered within specific social-historical
locations, taking full account of womens situation.
The essay gives a glimpse into the northsouth collaborations on sexual and
reproductive health and safety that Amrita Basu (Reading 6) identified as among the
strongest global coalitions.20 At the same time, women of the south have questioned the
extent to which feminist theory in the north privileges personal experiences in private
life. For instance, Basu expresses the sentiment that feminists in the north overemphasize individual sexual issues in contrast to questions of poverty and basic needs that
are more likely to be raised by feminists of the south. For feminists in the global south,
economic justice and sustainable development are often the most pressing issues. In



addition, multiracial feminists argued that the concept should be read in reverse as
wellthe political is personal. That is, they argue, feminists must also commit to work
on issues that do not directly affect them. One need not be subject to racism, homophobia, or xenophobia, they argue, to know that it is wrong and to work to end it
(Thompson Reading 5). Therefore, as with other core feminist concepts, the meaning
and importance of the personal is political concept is an ongoing subject of debate
locally and globally.
INTERSECTIONALITYThe various ways of being women, shaped along axes
of domination such as race, class, nation, and sexual orientation that intertwine with
gender, means that the paradox at the heart of feminism is how to weigh the things
women have in common with the differences among us (Spelman 1988: 3). As noted
earlier, in the 1990s the initial additive model of oppression gave way to a more fluid
and flexible understanding of the interactions of systems of domination. The concept
of intersectionality was developed by Kimberl Crenshaw to understand the complex
interactions of racism and sexism that erase the specific experiences of routine violence
experienced by African-American women. It describes the simultaneous, multiple, overlapping, and contradictory systems of power that shape our lives and political options.
She argued that through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge
and ground the differences among us and negotiate the means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group politics (Crenshaw 1993). Intersectional feminist theory locates its analysis within systems of ideological, political, and
economic power as they are shaped by historical patterns of race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, ethnicity, and age. With this concept, scholars have produced a wealth
of interdisciplinary scholarship focusing on how structures of difference combine to
create new and distinct social, cultural, and artistic forms (Dill et al. 2007: 629). In
particular, the concept destabilizes existing power relations grounded in the lived experiences of the marginalized, it allows counterhegemonic narratives to come into focus.
As an analytic strategy, intersectionality also provides guidance on how to move
beyond fragmented identity politics (Dill and Zambrana Reading 18). It suggests that
by specifying differences and commonalities it becomes possible to find the ground
on which to build alliances and principled coalitions (Collins 1990). However, such
moments of coalescence are historically contingent. The meaning of our sisterhood
will change. If societys powers are ever mobile and in flux, as they are, then our oppositional moves must not be ideologically limited to one, single, frozen, correct response
(Sandoval 1990: 66). In the readings that follow, students can trace the strands of oppositional thinking by feminists that in tandem and in dialogue as feminist theory moved
from initial static concepts to the cusp of more flexible intersectional analyses, which
are taken up in Section II.
1. The first usage of this term was apparently in the preface of Kate Milletts book, Sexual Politics,
one of the earliest feminist critiques published by a mainstream press. See also Nicholson Reading 4 and Thompson Reading 6.
2. This question reverberates with those asked in earlier centuries by, for instance, by Mary














Theorizing Feminist Times and Spaces

Wollstonecraft [1792]1975; John Stuart Mill 1883; and Harriet Taylor [1851]1983. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they asked what womens character might be like if curtailed by
what pleased men.
There has been much debate about the quality of the 1953 translation with some arguing that it
essentialized de Beauvoirs argument. A more recent translation by French feminist scholars was
published in 2010. We decided to stay with the version read by English speakers at the time. See
de Beauvoir 2010.
Radical feminists took the name radical from the new left politics of the moment that positioned itself as radical in contrast to both liberalism and the old left of the 1950s. See Grant 1993:
This famous statement is attributed to Sigmund Freud, whose theorized sex differences at the
intersections of biological and psychological sciences. Morgan 2006 notes that the concept of
gender has not been as earth shattering for speakers of other languages because it does not translate well.
Two early collections are Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Woman, Culture, and
Society (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1974) and Rayna Reiter, ed., Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975).
As it was first used in 1599, the term, exotic, simply meant alien, introduced from abroad,
not indigenous. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the term had come to connote something, exciting, stimulating, and slightly dangerous with which to spice up the more
mundane domestic world (Ashcroft et al. 1998: 94).
See for example Rubin 1975: 166, 168, 172, 1745, 181. We do not intend to single Rubin and
Oakley out for criticism. Rather, we highlighted their work because they exemplify the conversations and debates of their timein their strengths and their weaknesses.
Audre Lorde offers an exemplary critique of this practice in her classic essay, An Open Letter to
Mary Daly, in Moraga and Anzalda 1981. See also Mary Daly 1978; Chandra Talpade Mohanty
1991b; and bell hooks 1984. For feminist definitions of patriarchy, see Hartmann Reading 18;
Gayle Rubin 1975; Zillah Eisenstein 1978; and Maria Mies 1986.
In widely cited published interviews, Feinberg expresses a preference for the gender-neutral
pronouns ze and hir, which we follow.
For instance, Suzanne Kessler (2000) examines the practice of surgical alteration of the ambiguous genitalia of intersexed persons to fit medical categories of sexually dimorphic bodies.
Although feminist theorists, including Kessler, argued for socially constructed genders, they,
nonetheless, easily fell into step with the medical logic of two distinct sexes and two distinct
genders, both marked by distinct body types. See also Ann Fausto-Sterling (2000), which examines how biological knowledge of sex, gender, and sexuality shapes and is shaped by politics and
culture and how both are literally embodied in our physiology.
A vast literature on significance of differences between women and men was produced in the
1980s, including debates about gender differences in moral reasoning (Carol Gilligan 1982), in
knowledge production (Mary Belenky et al. 1986 and Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine 1980),
in relationality (Nancy Chodorow 1978 and Sara Ruddick 1989), and in sexuality (Catharine
MacKinnon 1987). Because of space limitations, this strand of feminist theory is not well represented in this anthology.
See also Omi and Winant (1994) whose concept of racial formation argues that race is independent but connected to capitalism and imperialism. Similarly, post-colonial theorists argue that
colonialism has generated relations of power that are related to but independent of capitalism.
See Bhabha 1990 and 1998.
Section III discusses some of the problematic implications of identity politics for feminist theories of subjectivity and agency.
The term, Third World is generally attributed to French demographer, Alfred Sauvy. The term
rapidly developed pejorative and racialized connotations in Western usage. On use of the term
by U.S. feminists of color, see Burris 1971; Anzalda Reading 25; and Sandoval 1990.
Section III includes readings that question the trustworthiness of experience as a basis for knowledge building.



17. Feminist consciousness-raising owes much to the theories of oppression developed by W. E. B.

Du Bois (1969) and Paulo Freire (1970).
18. The continuing importance of experiential narratives for women of the south and women of
color can be seen in Shari Stone-Mediatore 2000 and The Latina Feminist Group 2001. See also
Grant 1993: 27.
19. Published guidelines for consciousness-raising groups helped set up this process of defining the
most pressing issues by providing lists of suggested topics. See Consciousness Raising (1970).
This piece defines the appropriate composition and process for consciousness-raising groups
and lists the topics of family, childhood and adolescence, men, marital status, motherhood, sex,
women, behavior, ambitions, and movement activity.
20. This essay is from a collection that sought to extend the influence of feminist reproductive and
sexual health networks on the 1994 Cairo conference on Development and Population. Rosalind
Petchesky is feminist political scientist and activist based in the U.S., and Snia Correa, based
in Brazil, coordinates research on sexual and reproductive health for Development Alternatives
with Women for a New Era (DAWN).

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Yosano Akiko
The day the mountains move has come.
I speak, but no one believes me.
For a time the mountains have been asleep,
But long ago they danced with fire.
It doesnt matter if you believe this,
My friends, as long as you believe:
All the sleeping women
Are now awake and moving.

ON 1848
Nancy A. Hewitt
For many American womens historians trained in the 1960s and 1970s, interest in the
field was inspired by their engagement with womens liberation. They were compelled
by their politics to recover the roots of modern feminism. Many radical feminists initially found foremothers in the likes of Louise Michel, Emma Goldman, Crystal Eastman, and other turn-of-the-century socialist and anarchist women. Though womens
historians of this generation were driven by competing visions of feminism and thus
embraced different foremothers, many sought to understand the present through a
genealogical excavation of the past. This was particularly true for those studying womens political activism, who moved from contemporary debates about sex equity back
through suffrage (socialism too quickly fell by the wayside in the US) and then Seneca
Falls. This chapter explores the implications of reaching Seneca Falls through this
reverse chronological trajectory, and then suggests how we might rethink the history of
womens activism by re-embedding Seneca Falls in the world of 1848.
What a world it wasrevolutions erupted across Europe; Irish peasants and later
defeated German revolutionaries migrated to the United States en masse; the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War, adding new territories and peoples to the United States; the Communist Manifesto was published; the Seneca Nation
embraced a written constitution for the first time; John Humphrey Noyes established
a utopian community at Onedia, New York; New York State granted property rights to
married women; slavery was abolished in the French West Indies; US slaves fled North
to find freedom; the first Chinese immigrants to North America arrived in San Francisco; the Gold Rush began; the Free Soil Party and spiritualism were founded and both
attracted thousands of devotees. This remarkable array of events shaped the meaning of
Seneca Falls and the trajectories of womens activism in the mid-nineteenth-century US.
Yet rarely is the 1848 womens rights convention conceived as part of these revolutionary developments. Instead, it is most often defined as foremother to the federal suffrage amendment passed in the US in 1920. Disentangling Seneca Falls from suffrage is
no easy task. These two events were identified as the touchstones of American womens
history long before the field was created. Until quite recently, Betsy Ross stitching the
American flag and the Salem Witch Trials were the only other widely-known womens


Nancy A. Hewitt

events in American history. In 1959, Eleanor Flexners Century of Struggle reinvigorated the narrative that carried womens activism from Seneca Falls to suffrage, but the
original story line was crafted by pioneer feminists themselves. In their six-volume History of Womans Suffrage, published between 1881 and 1922, editors Susan B. Anthony,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage claimed Seneca Falls as the birthplace
of the womens movement and the Nineteenth Amendment mandating womens suffrage as that movements greatest achievement.1
In recent years, scholars studying African American, immigrant and working-class
women have challenged certain aspects of the story.2 Focusing on the post-Civil War
suffrage campaign rather than its antebellum antecedents, historians have detailed the
racist, nativist and elitist tendencies of many white women activists and highlighted
the exclusion of poor, black and immigrant women from the political organizations
and agendas of more well-to-do white suffragists. These challenges have tarnished the
image of several pioneer figures and added a few women of colour and working women
to the pantheon of feminist foremothers, but the dominant story of womens political
activism as the struggle for enfranchisement has been left largely intact.3
By focusing the analysis synchronicallythat is, on events occurring concurrently
with the emergence of womens rights in 1848we leave aside the question of how
women moved from Seneca Falls to suffrage. We can then ask, instead, how women
of various racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds and of diverse religious, regional
and ideological perspectives defined womens rights in the 1840s? How were these
views shaped by the Mexican-American War, mass immigration, European revolutions, debates over slavery, race and Native American rights? And to what extent did
the agenda crafted at Seneca Falls and later womens rights conventions speak to the
concerns expressed by female radicals in Europe and by other communities of women
in the US? The answers offered here are speculative, the intention being merely to open
up the landscape of 1848, to relocate Seneca Falls within a more panoramic frame, and
to suggest how this might help us write new histories of American womens activism by
reclaiming alternative narratives of womens rights.
First, the legend of the Seneca Falls Womans Rights Conventiona legend wellentrenched in historical texts and popular memorymust be challenged. The classic
version of the story was penned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her 1898 autobiography.4
In 1840, Stanton found herself, 26 years old and newly married, seated behind a curtain at the Worlds Anti-Slavery Convention in London in company with the forty-two
year old Lucretia Mott (a well-known Quaker abolitionist). The unwillingness of the
convention to seat women delegates led the two to an animated discussion about the
discrimination they were experiencing and to the decision to call a womens rights
convention on their return to the States.
Eight years and several children later, Stanton, restless and yearning for intellectual
stimulation in the isolated town of Seneca Falls, New York, met Mott again. Joined
by three friends of Mott, they drew up a Declaration of Sentiments, modelled on the
Declaration of Independence, listing womens grievances. They then sent out a call
inviting interested men and women to discuss the subject of womens rights at the
local Wesleyan Chapel. Much to the organizers surprise, some three hundred women

Re-Rooting American Womens Activism: Global Perspectives on 1848


and men showed up. The result of the Seneca Falls convention was a surge of interest
in the woman question and the launching of a vigorous debate that was destined to
increase in scope and volume through the next seventy-two years, culminating in the
achievement of women suffrage.
Most current accounts of this event accept Stantons narrative and focus on her
leadership and the demand for political equality. The history is thus written as one
womans struggle to craft a public role for herself and to inspire a political movement
in support of suffrage. The main actors are nearly all native-born white women, assisted
by a few good mensuch as Lucretia Motts husband James, who chaired the Seneca
Falls convention, and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, the lone African American participant, who argued vigorously for womens right to vote.
Many other versions of this story could be told, however, highlighting other organizers, other participants and other agendas. Judith Wellman, for instance, has traced
three distinct political networksFree Soilers, legal reformers, and Quaker abolitionistswho converged at the 1848 convention. Nancy Isenberg has just completed a book
that places Seneca Falls in the context of contemporary struggles over church politics,
property rights, and moral reform. More than a decade ago, I too tried to recast the
history of womans rights, by placing radical Quakers at centre stage.5 Led by Lucretia
Mott, these feminist Friends dominated the Seneca Falls organizing committee (Stanton was the sole non-Quaker) and provided somewhere between a quarter and a third
of the 100 individuals who signed the conventions Declaration of Sentiments. A more
complete challenge must also examine the links between women activists in the US and
their counterparts in Europe as well as between the agendas of Anglo-American womens rights advocates and the concerns of African American, Native American, Mexican
American, immigrant and working-class women.
A new history of womens rights might begin by replacing Elizabeth Cady Stanton
with Lucretia Mott as the central figure at the Seneca Falls Convention. Mott was, after
all, the magnet that attracted such a large Quaker contingent to the meeting.
The path that Mott took to Seneca Falls was traversed by many women who
shared the faith and politics of these radical Quakers; it is a path that links womens
rights to decidedly different historical connections and contexts than those claimed by
Stanton. Like her Quaker co-workers, she was immersed in efforts to end slavery,
advance the rights of free blacks and Indians, protest the US war with Mexico, and
secure property reform.
Events in Europe were widely covered that summer in the antislavery as well as
the mainstream press.6 Several American women who later embraced womens rights
had forged bonds with their abolitionist sisters in England during the 1830s and 1840s.
Now they reached out to like-minded women in France, Germany and other parts of
Europe, creating a set of international alliances among pioneer feminists.7 Evidence
of these connections appears in the reports of the early womens rights conventions.
In the Syracuse proceedings a letter appeared from French revolutionaries
Pauline Roland and Jeanne Deroin, sent to the Convention of American Women
from their Parisian prison cell in June 1851. In it, they applauded the courage of the
American women and reminded them that the chains of the throne and the scaffold,


Nancy A. Hewitt

the church and the patriarch, the slave, the worker and the woman must all be broken
simultaneously if the kingdom of Equality and Justice shall be realized on Earth.8
Deroin was a seamstress, a committed Saint Simonian socialist, and a revolutionary.
In June 1848, she demanded that her male counterparts recognize womens political and
social rights. She claimed the right to vote, ran for the legislative assembly, organized
workers, and wrote for La Voix des Femmes, an early French feminist newspaper.9 The
events that enveloped Deroin were closely followed by abolitionists and womens rights
advocates in the US. The abolition of slavery in the French West Indies, for instance, was
applauded by Lucretia Mott, who urged her American compatriots to take courage from
such advances abroad. We cannot separate our own freedom from that of the slave; they
are inseparably connected in France, she noted, and are beginning to be so in other
countries.10 In Rochester, emancipation in the French West Indies was marked by a citywide celebration on 1 August, just one day before womens rights advocates gathered at
the citys Unitarian church to complete the deliberations begun at Seneca Falls.11
After a July visit to the Seneca (Indian) Nation, Mott claimed that Native Americans,
too, were learning from the political agitations abroad imitating the movements of
France and all Europe and seeking a larger liberty .12 This concept of a larger liberty
was central to important segments of revolutionary movements in France and Germany and of radical abolition and womens rights movements in England and the US.
These segments comprised largely women and men who emerged from utopian socialist societies and radical separatist congregationsfollowers of Charles Fourier, French
Saint Simonians, German religious dissidents, and Quakers who rejected the Society
of Friends restrictions on worldly activity and complete sexual and racial equality.13
These were revolutionaries who believed that to truly transform society meant rooting out oppression in all its formsin the family, the church, the community, the
economy, the politysimultaneously. To them, emancipation of any groupslaves,
for instancewas inextricably intertwined with emancipation for all groupsworkers, women, prisoners and other subjugated peoples. Ultimately, a cooperative commonwealth based on shared labour and shared resources must replace older forms of
rulemonarchies, autocracies, even bourgeois democracies. These radical activists
advocated individual rights, but only in so far as they complemented rather than competed with communitarian ideals.
Thus revolutionaries like Deroin and womens rights advocates like Mott supported voting rights for those currently excluded from the body politic, viewing suffrage as a necessary but not a sufficient means for achieving change. The question was
complicated in the US by Quaker womens and mens refusal to participate in a government that tolerated violence against slaves and employed military might in the conquest
of Mexico. Members of the Friends of Human Progress, a radical Quaker association
founded in summer 1848, argued that women should have the same right to refuse to
vote as men, but suffrage was not high on their political agenda. Instead, for them, the
womens rights movement provided one more building block in a multifaceted campaign to achieve racial, economic and gender justice in America.14
Radical Quaker analyses of European revolutionaries turned on the inclusiveness
of their vision. They applauded Jeanne Deroin and Pauline Roland in this regard, but

Re-Rooting American Womens Activism: Global Perspectives on 1848


their enthusiasm for Hungarian freedom fighter Louis Kossuth waned during his visit
to the US in the early 1850s, when he failed to speak out against slavery.15 For Mott
and like-minded co-workers, rights for women remained tied to rights for slaves, free
blacks, landless labourers, industrial workers, Native Americans and Mexicans. When
radical Quakers organized the second US womens rights convention in Rochester two
weeks after the Seneca Falls meeting, a woman presided, two local seamstresses were
invited to discuss womens economic oppression, and two black abolitionist leaders
fresh from the Emancipation Day celebrationFrederick Douglass and William C.
Nellwere listed as featured speakers. The convention participants called for equal
property rights, pay, access to education and occupations, authority in the church
and home, and voting rights, for all women regardless of complexion, that is race.
A month later, a gathering of the Friends of Human Progress added to this list land
reform, Native American rights, and the abolition of capital punishment.16
Two weeks after the Rochester convention, Frederick Douglass carried the womens rights message into a new arenathe National Convention of Colored Freemen,
held in Cleveland, Ohio. He introduced a resolution providing for the full and equal
participation of women and men.17 William Nell, who three years earlier had successfully advocated womens rights in the militant New England Freedom Association (a
group that aided fugitive slaves), spoke on behalf of the resolution. By the mid-1850s,
nearly every major free black organization in the North granted voting rights to women
and a few included women among their officers.
Though the record among predominantly white antislavery organizations was more
uneven, those societies that counted a large number of Quakers and some number of
free blacks in their membershipsuch as the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society
and the Western New York Anti-Slavery Societywere in the vanguard. They consistently sought and recognized the support of their African American colleagues; and, as a
result, a small circle of black women and men regularly joined womens rights conventions as speakers, delegates and officers.
Free blacks recognized the potential power of these interracial alliances for achieving
their primary goalsaccess to education and jobs, abolition and aid to fugitive slaves.
During 1848, free black women in several cities also demonstrated their own brand of
womens rights, one inextricably entwined with racial justice. Charlotte Forten, a member of an affluent free black family of Philadelphia, pursued her work for education,
fugitive slaves, abolition and womens rights quietly and with the support of Lucretia
Mott and the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Her counterparts across the
Northmany from less wealthy backgroundsorganized fundraising fairs, challenged
school segregation, and refused to consume slave-produced goods. Some embraced more
dramatic strategies. In Cincinnati, for instance, in the summer of 1848, freedwomen used
washboards and shovels to fend off slavecatchers harassing blacks in the city.18 Other free
women armed themselves with even more deadly weapons to protect fugitive slaves.
In the South, more drastic measures were required if black women were going to
participate in these larger freedom struggles. One particularly daring escape was planned
in fall 1848 by Ellen Craft, a slave woman from Macon, Georgia. Married to William
Craft, a free black cabinetmaker, the light-skinned Ellen dressed herself as a young


Nancy A. Hewitt

gentleman, swathed her jaw in bandages to make it appear she was ill, and boarded
a train and then a steamer to Philadelphia, with William posing as her/his manservant. They arrived safely in port on Christmas morning, and became noted abolitionist speakers in the US and England.19 Ellen literally embodied the meaning of womens rights for slavesthe right to control over ones person and ones family. These
were property rights, but of a different sort than those envisioned by most white
As early as 1848, the rejection of feminine fashion and the embrace of more liberated, and more masculine, dress had become one sign of revolutionary commitment
for women radicals in Europe and the US. Believing that clothes made the man while
corsets confined the woman, a number of radical women sought to free themselves and
their sisters from restrictive clothing. Replacing bone stays, cinch waists, and long skirts
with turkish trousers, loose blouses and knee-length jackets, dress reformers assumed
that ease of movement would aid in womens public as well as private labours. In her bid
for freedom, Ellen Craft readily exchanged womens skirts for mens pants. In the case of
slaves, however, and others who regularly performed extensive manual labourNative
American farmers, Mexican artisans, and Irish factory workerswomen already wore
less restrictive clothing than their white middle-class counterparts. Yet the freer clothing donned by these women was not usually linked to emancipation. Rather, the failure
of poor and working women or any woman from another culture to wear middle-class
white American fashions was viewed by those with wealth and power as a reflection of
loose morals and a cry for patriarchal control.
Between 1846 and 1848, the issues of womens dress and mens control intersected
with the path of western conquest as the Mexican-American War brought vast new territories under US authority.
Under Spanish law and, after 1821, Mexican law, women retained rights to property
after marriage; they could inherit, loan, convey or pawn property whether single or married; they shared custody of children; and they could sue in court without a male relatives
approval.20 These rights were almost uniformly denied under Anglo-American law. In
the areas that came under US control, womens rights had been expanded further during the 1830s and 1840s by residents distance from the district courts of Mexico. They
may also have been influenced by their proximity to Pueblo villages, in which women
had traditionally held rights to property and a public voice though such rights had been
severely curtailed after the Spanish conquest. In Mexican communities, extended kin
groups, communal farming patterns, and collective decision-making as well as more
egalitarian legal codes defined notions of womens rights and responsibilities.
Northern Mexico was no feminist utopia, however, as the number and range of
court cases against abusive husbands, adultery, assault, property disputes and debts
make clear. Nonetheless, conditions worsened with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. As the region came under US control, government officials, Protestant
missionaries, and white settlers used portrayals of local women as sexually promiscuous
and culturally inferior to justify the imposition of Anglo-American authority. At the
very same time, then, as participants at the Seneca Falls Convention were demanding
rights to property, inheritance, and custody, New Mexican women were losing pre-

Re-Rooting American Womens Activism: Global Perspectives on 1848


cisely those rights as they came under US jurisdiction. Mexican women were losing not
only rights, but also claims to respectability by virtue of their dark skin and now foreign
ways. All but the most affluent were compared, as were their Native American counterparts in the Southwest and California, to southern slaves. Indeed, any group of women
in the US considered non-white might be defined as morally and socially inferior.
In the northeastern US non-white women had long been affected by the influx of
Euro-Americans. Prior to and for more than a century after contact with Europeans, the
Senecalike other Iroquois groups and like the Pueblopassed names and property
through the mothers line, husbands moved into their wives households upon marriage,
and women controlled agricultural production. Seneca women also held positions of religious and political authority, though chiefs and sachems were almost always men. Over
the course of two centuries of trade, warfare, disease, missionary efforts and governmental
pressure, however, the Seneca had lost most of their tribal lands, moved to reservations,
and converted to patrilineal descent and mens control of agriculture. In July 1848, they
also adopted a new republican form of government and a written constitution. Women,
who once held veto power over a range of decisionsfrom the appointment of chiefs to
the signing of treatieswere divested of some of their authority, but retained the right
to vote. And though Seneca men and women would now elect judges and legislators by
majority vote, 3/4 of all voters and 3/4 of all mothers had to ratify legislative decisions.21
Several Quaker womens rights advocates were in correspondence with Seneca residents on the Cattaragus reservation, and Quaker missionary women described in detail
the specific voting privileges accorded women, and mothers, there.22 Lucretia Mott visited the reservation just before travelling to Seneca Falls; and just after the Declaration
of Sentiments was published, the Seneca women produced a remarkably similar document. For the next 70 years, white suffragists would point, with some ambivalence,
to the Iroquois as emblems of politically empowered women, recognizing the ways
that communal ownership of property, matrilineal descent, and shared political and
religious authority established foundations for female equality.23 Yet Iroquois women
themselves, like their Mexican and Pueblo counterparts, would slowly lose both rights
and respectability as they were forced to embrace Anglo-American laws and customs.
And in the post-Civil War period, most womens rights advocates, having accepted the
individual right of suffrage as their primary goal, no longer embraced the communitarian vision of equality and justice that allowed their antebellum foremothers to see the
Seneca as a model rather than a problem.
There are other threads to follow as we contextualize womens rights and womens
activism in the 1840s: exiled revolutionaries (whose radical politics led to the support
of womens and workers rights in the German-language press); Irish immigrants (812
of whom arrived in New York harbour while the Seneca Falls convention was in session); the Gold Rush and western migration (which pulled apart but also extended the
radical Quaker network with new circles of activity forming in Michigan, Indiana, and
California). Yet the examples above are sufficient to suggest the potential richness of a
synchronic analysis.
In rethinking Seneca Falls, it is important to remember that the movement
Elizabeth Cady Stanton championeda movement based on liberal conceptions of


Nancy A. Hewitt

self-ownership, individual rights and suffragewas born there. But it was not alone, nor
was it yet triumphant. Rather, the vision held by the largest and most active contingent
of feminist foremothers was rooted in communitarian values and organic conceptions
of both oppression and liberation. Linked to agendas promoted by utopian socialists
and religious radicals in Europes revolutionary circles, the ideas advanced by feminist
Friends also echoedif sometimes unintentionallythe experiences of women in those
African American, Mexican and Native American communities founded on extended
kinship networks, communal labour and collective rights. Self-consciously engaged
in campaigns against slavery, war and western conquest, and for religious freedom,
economic justice and political equality, radical Quakers connected the womens rights
agenda to a broader programme of social transformation and more diverse networks
of activists. Even with all the limitations and shortcomings of such utopian endeavours
and knowing that a more liberal, rights-based vision would ultimately dominate, the
legacy of womens rights radicals is worth reclaiming. For it provides an alternative
foundation for modern feminism, one that incorporates race and class issues, critiques
of colonialism, socialist foremothers, and an internationalist perspective.
1. E. Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Womens Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge,
Mass: Belknap Press, 1959); E. C. Stanton, S. B. Anthony, and M. j. Gage (eds), History of Women
Suffrage, 6 volumes.
2. Some of those most important works in this area are R. Terborg-Penn, African American Women
in the Struggle for the Vote, 18501920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998) and R.
Terborg-Penn, Discrimination Against Afro-American Women in the Womans Movement,
18301920 in R. Terborg-Penn and S. Harley (eds), The Afro-American Woman: Struggles
and Images (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1978) pp. 1727; P. Giddings, When and
Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: William
Morrow, 1984); Y. Azize, Puerto Rican Women and the Vote, reprinted in E. DuBois and V.
Ruiz (eds), Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural History of Women in the United States (New York:
Routledge, 1994) pp. 2607; J. Jensen, Disfranchisement is a Disgrace: Women and Politics in
New Mexico, 19001940 in J. M. Jensen and D. Miller (eds), New Mexico Women: Intercultural
Perspectives (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990) pp. 30131; E. C. DuBois,
Working Women, Class Relations, and Suffrage Militance: Harriet Stanton Blatch and the New
York Woman Suffrage Movement, 18941909, Journal of American History, 74 (June 1987) pp.
3. See, for instance, the treatment of womans rights and suffrage in S. Evans, Born for Liberty: A
History of Women in America (New York: The Free Press, 1989)
4. E. C. Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 18151897 (New York: T. Fisher Unwin,
1898). The version sketched below, based on Stantons autobiography, comes from A. F. Scott,
Natural Allies: Womens Association in American History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1992), pp. 545. This version parallels that found in most womens history and American history texts. For two articles that suggest a more complex origin for the Seneca Falls Convention,
and womens rights more generally, see J. Wellman, The Seneca Falls Womans Rights Convention: A Study of Social Networks, Journal of Womens History, 3 (Spring 1991) pp. 937; and
Nancy A. Hewitt, Feminist Friends: Agrarian Quakers and the Emergence of Womans Rights in
America, Feminist Studies, 12 (Spring 1986) pp. 2749.
5. Wellman, The Seneca Falls Womans Rights Convention; N. Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in
Antebellum America (New York: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); and Hewitt, Feminist Friends.

Re-Rooting American Womens Activism: Global Perspectives on 1848


6. See especially Frederick Douglass North Star, which had just begun publication in early 1848 and
covered events in Europe extensively during that spring and summer.
7. See B. Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Womens Movement, 18301860 (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2000) for a pathbreaking analysis of these early international
8. Proceedings of the Womans Rights Convention, quote p. 35; letter pp. 325.
9. On the life of Jeanne Deroin, see C. Goldberg Moses, French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984); and Moses and L. Wahl Rabine (eds), The
Word and the Act: French Feminism in the Age of Romanticism (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1992).
10. Lucretia Mott, Law of Progress, in D. Greene (ed.), Lucretia Matt: Her Complete Speeches and
Sermons (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1980) p. 75. Thanks to Bonnie Anderson for bringing
this speech to my attention.
11. The North Star provided lengthy coverage of the upcoming Emancipation Day celebration in
its July 14, 1848 issue, the same issue in which the announcement of the Seneca Falls Womans
Rights Convention appeared.
12. Mott to Quincy, The Liberator, 6 October 1848.
13. See Moses, French Feminism; C. M. Prelinger, Religious Dissent, Womens Rights, and the Hamburger Hochshule fuer das Weibliche Geschlecht in Mid-Nineteenth-century Germany, Church
History, 45 (1976) pp. 4255; and Hewitt, Feminist Friends.
14. On the political vision of the Friends of Human Progress (also known as the Congregational
Friends and the Progressive Friends), see Proceedings of the Yearly Meeting of Congregational
Friends, Held at Waterloo, NY, from the Fourth to the Sixth of the Sixth Month, Inclusive, with
an Appendix, 1849 (Auburn, NY: Oliphants Press, 1849); and Yearly Meeting of Congregational
Friends, Proceedings of the Womans Rights Convention (Auburn, NY: Henry Oliphant, 1850).
15. See, for instance, Mary Robbins Post to Dear All [Isaac and Amy Post], 5 May, 185[1], Post
Family Papers.
16. On Rochester Convention, see Report, Rochester Womans Rights Convention, 2 August 1848,
Phoebe Post Willis Papers, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York; and Hewitt, Feminist
17. Material in this paragraph is taken from Terborg-Penn, Afro-Americans in the Struggle for
Womans Suffrage, Chapter 1; and Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass and the Womans
Rights Movement, History 2000 Occasional Papers Series, No. 11993 (Baltimore, Md: Morgan
State University Foundation, 1993).
18. On black womens antislavery activity, see D. Sterling (ed.), We Are Your Sisters: Black Women
in the Nineteenth Century (New York: WW Norton, 1984) Part II; and J. Roy Jeffrey, The Great
Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement (Chapel Hill: UNC
Press, 1998) Chapter 4.
19. Described in Sterling, We Are Your Sisters, pp. 624.
20. Magoffin quoted in J. Lecompte, The Independent Women of Hispanic New Mexico, Western
Historical Quarterly, 22, 1 (1981) pp. 1735.
21. For an overview of Seneca womens status, see J. M. Jensen, Native American Women and Agriculture in K. K. Sklar and T. Dublin (eds), Women and Power in American History, volume 1
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991) pp. 823. See also, S. R. Wagner, The Untold Story of
the Iroquois Influence on Early Feminists (Aberdeen, South Dakota: Sky Carrier Press, 1996); and
H. S. C. Caswell, Our Life Among the Iroquois Indians (Boston and Chicago: Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society, 1892) and Mott to Quincy, The Liberator, 6 October 1848.
22. For a detailed account by a Quaker missionary of Seneca Indian life, see Caswell, Our Life Among
the Iroquois Indians especially pp. 7980 on the new 1848 constitution.
23. For a discussion of this interest and ambivalence about Indian women in the womens movement, see D. Janiewski, Giving Women a Future: Alice Fletcher, the Woman Question and
Indian Reform in N. A. Hewitt and S. Lebsock (eds), Visible Women: New Essays on American
Activism, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993) pp. 32544.

Simone de Beauvoir
For a long time I have hesitated to write a book on woman. The subject is irritating,
especially to women; and it is not new. Enough ink has been spilled in the quarreling
over feminism, now practically over, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is
still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem. After all, is there a problem?
And if so, what is it? Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal
feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: Even in Russia women
still are women; and other erudite persons-sometimes the very same-say with a sigh:
Woman is losing her way, woman is lost. One wonders if women still exist, if they
will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy
in this world, what their place should be. What has become of women? was asked
recently in an ephemeral magazine.1
But first we must ask: what is a woman? Total mulier in utero, says one, woman
is a womb. But in speaking of certain women, connoisseurs declare that they are not
women, although they are equipped with a uterus like the rest. All agree in recognizing
the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one
half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to
be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female
human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so consider she must share in that mysterious and threatened realm known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted
by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is
a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women try zealously to incarnate this essence, it is hardly patentable. It is frequently described in vague
and dazzling terms that seem have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers, and
indeed in the times of St. Thomas it was considered an essence as certainly defined as
the somniferous virtue of the poppy.
If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to
explain her through the eternal feminine, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally,
that women do exist, then we must face the question: what is a woman?
To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact
that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book
on the peculiar situation of the human male.2 But if I wish to define myself, I must first
of all say: I am a woman; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man

The Second Sex: Introduction


never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a
matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite
like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as
is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas
woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.
In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: You think thus
and so because you are a woman; but I know that my only defense is to reply: I think
thus and so because it is true, thereby removing my subjective self from the argument.
It would be out of the question to reply: And you think the contrary because you are
a man, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity. A man is in
the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong. It amounts to this: just
as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique
was defined, so there is an absolute human type, the masculine. Woman has ovaries, a
uterus; these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the
limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man superbly
ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that
they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with
the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body
of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it. The
female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, said Aristotle; we should
regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness. And St. Thomas for
his part pronounced woman to be an imperfect man, an incidental being. This
is symbolized in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called a
supernumerary bone of Adam.
Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to
him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: Woman, the relative being : And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d Uriel: The body of man
makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting
in significance by itself. Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think
of herself without man. And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called the
sex, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For
him she is sexabsolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to
man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to
the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absoluteshe is the Other.3
Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the
Other against itself. If three travelers chance to occupy the same compartment, that is
enough to make vaguely hostile others out of all the rest of the passengers on the train.
In small-town eyes all persons not belonging to the village are strangers and suspect;
to the native of a country all who inhabit other countries are foreigners; Jews are different for the anti-Semite, Negroes are inferior for American Racists, aborigines are
natives for colonists, proletarians are the lower class for the privileged.
The parallel drawn by Bebel between women and the proletariat is valid in that
neither ever formed a minority or a separate collective unit of mankind. And instead of


Simone de Beauvoir

a single historical event it is in both cases a historical development that explains their
status as a class and accounts for the membership of particular individuals in that class.
But proletarians have not always existed, whereas there have always been women. They
are women in virtue of their anatomy and physiology. Throughout history they have
always been subordinated to men, and hence their dependency is not the result of a
historical event or a social changeit was not something that occurred. The reason why
otherness in this case seems to be an absolute is in part that it lacks the contingent or
incidental nature of historical facts. A condition brought about at a certain time can
be abolished at some other time, as the Negroes of Haiti and others have proved; but
it might seem that a natural condition is beyond the possibility of change. In truth,
however, the nature of things is no more immutably given, once for all, than is historical reality. If woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it
is because she herself fails to bring about this change. Proletarians say We; Negroes
also. Regarding themselves as subjects, they transform the bourgeois, the whites, into
others. But women do not say We, except at some congress of feminists or similar
formal demonstration; men say women, and women use the same word in referring
to themselves. They do not authentically assume a subjective attitude. The proletarians
have accomplished the revolution in Russia, the Negroes in Haiti, the Indo-Chinese
are battling for it in Indo-China; but the womens effort has never been anything more
than a symbolic agitation. They have gained only what men have been willing to grant;
they have taken nothing, they have only received.4
The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves
into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no
history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the
way that creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the
workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed among the
males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain menfathers or husbandsmore firmly than they are to other women.
If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with
proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro
women. The proletariat can propose to massacre the ruling class, and a sufficiently
fanatical Jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and
making humanity wholly Jewish or black; but woman cannot even dream of exterminating the males. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any
other. The division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male
and female stand opposed within a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male
and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it.
The couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible. Here is to be found the basic trait of
woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one
Master and slave, also, are united by a reciprocal need, in this case economic, which
does not liberate the slave. In the relation of master to slave the master does not make

The Second Sex: Introduction


a point of the need that he has for the other; he has in his grasp the power of satisfying
their need through his own action; whereas the slave, in his dependent condition, his
hope and fear, is quite conscious of the need he has for his master. Even if the need is
at bottom equally urgent for both, it always works in favor of the oppressor and against
the oppressed. That is why the liberation for the working class, for example, has been
Now, woman has always been mans dependent, if not his slave; the two sexes have
never shared the world in equality. And even today woman is heavily handicapped,
though her situation is beginning to change. Almost nowhere is her legal status the
same as mans, and frequently it is much to her disadvantage. Even when her rights are
legally recognized in the abstract, long-standing custom prevents their full expression
in the mores. In the economic sphere men and women can almost be said to make up
two castes; other things being equal, the former hold the better jobs, get higher wages,
and have more opportunity for success than their new competitors. In industry and
politics men have a great many more positions and they monopolize the most important posts. In addition to all this, they enjoy a traditional prestige that the education of
children tends in every way to support, for the present enshrines the pastand in the
past all history has been made by men. At the present time, when women are beginning to take part in the affairs of the world, it is still a world that belongs to menthey
have no doubt of it at all and women have scarcely any. To decline to be the Other, to
refuse to be a party to the dealthis would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior caste. Man-the-sovereign
will provide woman-the-liege with material protection and will undertake the moral
justification of her existence; thus she can evade at once both economic risk and the
metaphysical risk of a liberty in which ends and aims must be contrived without assistance. Indeed, along with the ethical urge of each individual to affirm his subjective
existence, there is also the temptation to forgo liberty and become a thing. This is an
inauspicious road, for he who takes itpassive, lost, ruinedbecomes henceforth the
creature of anothers will, frustrated in his transcendence and deprived of every value:
But it is an easy road; on it one avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic
existence. When man makes of woman the Other, he may, then, expect her to manifest
deep-seated tendencies toward complicity. Thus, woman may fail to lay claim to the
status of subject because she lacks definite resources, because she feels the necessary
bond that ties her to man regardless of reciprocity, and because she is often very well
pleased with her role as the Other.
But it will be asked at once: how did all of this begin? It is easy to see that the duality
of the sexes, like any duality, gives rise to conflict. And doubtless the winner will assume
the status of absolute. But why should man have won from the start? It seems possible
that women could have won the victory; or that the outcome of the conflict might never
have been decided. How is it that this world has always belonged to the men and that
things have begun to change only recently? Is this change a good thing? Will it bring
about an equal sharing of the world between men and women?
It was only later, in the eighteenth century, that genuinely democratic men began to
view the matter objectively. Diderot, among others, strove to show that woman is, like


Simone de Beauvoir

man, a human being. Later John Stuart Mill came fervently to her defense. But these
philosophers displayed unusual impartiality. In the nineteenth century the feminist
quarrel became again a quarrel of partisans. One of the consequences of the industrial
revolution was the entrance of women in to productive labor, and it was just here that
the claims of the feminist emerged from the realm of theory and acquired an economic
basis, while their opponents became the more aggressive. Although landed property lost
power to some extent, the bourgeoisie clung to the old morality that found the guarantee of private property in the solidity of the family. Woman was ordered back into
the home the more harshly as her emancipation became a real menace. Even within the
working class the men endeavored to restrain womans liberation, because they began
to see the women as dangerous competitorsthe more so because they were accustomed to work for lower wages.5
In proving womans inferiority, the antifeminists then began to draw not only
upon religion, philosophy, and theology, as before, but also upon sciencebiology,
experimental psychology, etc. At most they were willing to grant equality in difference to the other sex. That profitable formula is most significant; it is precisely like
the equal but separate formula of the Jim Crow laws aimed at the North American
Negroes. As is well known, this so-called equalitarian segregation has resulted only in
the most extreme discrimination. The similarity just noted is in no way due to chance,
for whether it is a race, a caste, a class, or a sex that is reduced to a position of inferiority,
the methods of justification are the same. The eternal feminine corresponds to the
black soul and to the Jewish character. True, the Jewish problem is on the whole very
different from the other twoto the anti-Semite the Jew is not so much an inferior as
he is an enemy for whom there is to be granted no place on earth, for whom annihilation is the fate desired. But there are deep similarities between the situation of woman
and that of the Negro. Both are being emancipated today from a like paternalism, and
the former master class wishes to keep them in their placethat is, the place chosen
for them. In both cases the former masters lavish more or less sincere eulogies, either on
the virtues of the good Negro with his dormant, childish, merry soulthe submissive Negroor on the merits of the woman who is truly femininethat is, frivolous,
infantile, irresponsiblethe submissive woman. In both cases the dominant class bases
its argument on a state of affairs that it has itself created. As George Bernard Shaw
puts it, in substance, the American white relegates the black to the rank of shoeshine
boy; and he concludes from this that the black is good for nothing but shining shoes.
This vicious circle is met with in all analogous circumstances; when an individual (or
a group of individuals) is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he is inferior.
But the significance of the verb to be must be rightly understood here; it is in bad faith to
give it a static value when it really has the dynamic Hegelian sense of to have become.
Yes, women on the whole are today inferior to men; that is, their situation affords them
fewer possibilities. The question is: should that state of affairs continue?
But men profit in many more subtle ways from the otherness, the alterity of
woman. Here is miraculous balm for those afflicted with an inferiority complex, and
indeed no one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the
man who is anxious about his virility. Those who are not fear-ridden in the presence

The Second Sex: Introduction


of their fellow men are much more disposed to recognize a fellow creature in woman;
but even to these the myth of woman, the Other, is precious for many reasons.6 They
cannot be blamed for not cheerfully relinquishing all the benefits they derive from the
myth, for they realize what they would lose in relinquishing woman as they fancy her
to be, while they fail to realize what they have to gain from the woman of tomorrow.
Refusal to pose oneself as the Subject, unique and absolute, requires great self-denial.
Furthermore, the vast majority of men make no such claim explicitly. They do not
postulate woman as inferior, for today they are too thoroughly imbued with the ideal of
democracy not to recognize all human beings as equals.
In the bosom of the family, woman seems in the eyes of childhood and youth to be
clothed in the same social dignity as the adult males. Later on, the young man, desiring
and loving, experiences the resistance, the independence of the woman desired and
loved; in marriage, he respects woman as wife and mother, and in the concrete events
of conjugal life she stands there before him as a free being. He can therefore feel that
social subordination as between the sexes no longer exists and that on the whole, in
spite of differences, woman is an equal. As, however, he observes some points of inferioritythe most important being unfitness for the professionshe attributes these to
natural causes. When he is in a co-operative and benevolent relation with woman, his
theme is the principle of abstract equality, and he does not base his attitude upon such
inequality as may exist. But when he is in conflict with her, the situation is reversed: his
theme will be the existing inequality, and he will even take it as justification for denying
abstract equality.7
So it is that many men will affirm as if in good faith that women are the equals
of man and that they have nothing to clamor for, while at the same time they will say
that women can never be the equals of man and that their demands are in vain. It is,
in point of fact, a difficult matter for man to realize the extreme importance of social
discriminations which seem outwardly insignificant but which produce in woman
moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to spring from her original nature.8 The most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend womans concrete
situation. And there is no reason to put much trust in the men when they rush to the
defense of privileges whose full extent they can hardly measure. We shall not, then,
permit ourselves to be intimidated by the number and violence of the attacks launched
against women, nor to be entrapped by the self-seeking eulogies bestowed on the true
woman, nor to profit by the enthusiasm for womans destiny manifested by men who
would not for the world have any part of it.
We should consider the arguments of the feminists with no less suspicion, however,
for very often their controversial aim deprives them of all real value. If the woman
question seems trivial, it is because masculine arrogance has made of it a quarrel;
and when quarreling, one no longer reasons well. People have tirelessly sought to prove
that woman is superior, inferior, or equal to man. Some say that, having been created
after Adam, she is evidently a secondary being; others say on the contrary that Adam
was only a rough draft and that God succeeded in producing the human being in perfection when He created Eve. Womans brain is smaller; yes, but it is relatively larger.
Christ was made a man; yes, but perhaps for his greater humility. Each argument at


Simone de Beauvoir

once suggests its opposite, and both are often fallacious. If we are to gain understanding we must get out of these ruts; we must discard the vague notions of superiority,
inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion of the subject and
start afresh.
Very well, but just how shall we pose the question? And, to begin with, who are we
to propound it at all? Man is at once judge and party to the case; but so is woman. What
we need is an angelneither man nor womanbut where shall we find one? Still, the
angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts
involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the
situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole
man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither. It looks to
me as if there are, after all, certain women who are best qualified to elucidate the situation of woman. Let us not be misled by the sophism that because Epimenides was a
Cretan he was necessarily a liar; it is not a mysterious essence that compels men and
women to act in good or in bad faith, it is their situation that inclines them more or
less toward the search for truth. Many of todays women, fortunate in the restoration
of all the privileges pertaining to the estate of the human being, can afford the luxury
of impartialitywe even recognize its necessity. We are no longer like our partisan
elders; by and large we have won the game. In recent debates on the status of women
the United Nations has persistently maintained that the equality of the sexes is now
becoming a reality, and already some of us have never had to sense in our femininity
an inconvenience or an obstacle. Many problems appear to us to be more pressing than
those which concern us in particular, and this detachment even allows us to hope that
our attitude will be objective. Still, we know the feminine world more intimately than
do the men because we have our roots in it, we grasp more immediately than do men
what it means to a human being to be feminine; and we are more concerned with such
knowledge. I have said that there are more pressing problems, but this does not prevent
us from seeing some importance in asking how the fact of being women will affect
our lives. What opportunities precisely have been given us and what withheld? What
fate awaits our younger sisters, and what directions should they take? It is significant
that books by women on women are in general animated in our day less by a wish to
demand our rights than by an effort toward clarity and understanding. As we emerge
from an era of excessive controversy, this book is offered as one attempt among others
to confirm that statement.
But it is doubtless impossible to approach any human problem with a mind free
from bias. The way in which questions are put, the points of view assumed, presuppose
a relativity of interest; all characteristics imply values, and every objective description,
so called, implies an ethical background. Rather than attempt to conceal principles
more or less definitely implied, it is better to state them openly at the beginning. This
will make it unnecessary to specify on every page in just what sense one uses such words
as superior, inferior, better, worse, progress, reaction, and the like. If we survey some of
the works on woman, we note that one of the points of view most frequently adopted
is that of the public good, the general interest; and one always means by this the benefit
of society as one wishes it to be maintained or established. For our part, we hold that

The Second Sex: Introduction


the only public good is that which assures the private good of the citizens; we shall pass
judgment on institutions according to their effectiveness in giving concrete opportunities to individuals. But we do not confuse the idea of private interest with that of happiness, although that is another common point of view. Are not women of the harem
more happy than women voters? Is not the housekeeper happier than the workingwoman? It is not too clear just what the word happy really means and still less what true
values it may mask. There is no possibility of measuring the happiness of others, and it
is always easy to describe as happy the situation in which one wishes to place them.
In particular those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy
on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest. This notion we reject, for our
perspective is that of existentialist ethics. Every subject plays his part as such specifically
through exploits or projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty
only through a continual reaching out toward other liberties. There is no justification
for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. Every
time transcendence falls back into immanence, stagnation, there is a degradation of
existence into the en-soithe brutish life of subjection to given conditionsand of
liberty into constraint and contingence. This downfall represents a moral fault if the
subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In
both cases it is an absolute evil. Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels
that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely
chosen projects.
Now, what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that shea free and
autonomous being like all human creaturesnevertheless finds herself living in a world
where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her
as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed
and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign.
The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every
subject (ego)who always regards the self as the essentialand the compulsions of a
situation in which she is the inessential. How can a human being in womans situation
attain fulfillment? What roads are open to her? Which are blocked? How can independence be recovered in a state of dependency? What circumstances limit womans liberty
and how can they be overcome? These are the fundamental questions on which I would
fain throw some light. This means that I am interested in the fortunes of the individual
as defined not in terms of happiness but in terms of liberty.
Quite evidently this problem would be without significance if we were to believe
that womans destiny is inevitably determined by physiological, psychological, or economic forces. Hence I shall discuss first of all the light in which woman is viewed by
biology, psychoanalysis, and historical materialism. Next I shall try to show exactly how
the concept of the truly feminine has been fashionedwhy woman has been defined
as the Otherand what have been the consequences from mans point of view. Then
from womans point of view I shall describe the world in which women must live; and
thus we shall be able to envisage the difficulties in their way as, endeavoring to make
their escape from the sphere hitherto assigned them, they aspire to full membership in
the human race.


Simone de Beauvoir

1. Franchise, dead today.
2. The Kinsey Report [Alfred C. Kinsey and others: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (W. B.
Saunders Co., 1948)] is no exception, for it is limited to describing the sexual characteristics of
American men, which is quite a different matter.
3. E. Lvinas expresses this idea most explicitly in his essay Temps et 1Autre. Is there not a case
in which otherness, alterity [altrit], unquestionably marks the nature of a being, as its essence,
an instance of otherness not consisting purely and simply in the opposition of two species of the
same genus? I think that the feminine represents the contrary in its absolute sense, this contrariness being in no wise affected by any relation between it and its correlative and thus remaining
absolutely other. Sex is not a certain specific difference no more is the sexual difference a mere
contradiction. Nor does this difference lie in the duality of two complementary terms, for two
complementary terms imply a pre-existing whole. Otherness reaches its full flowering in the
feminine, a term of the same rank as consciousness but of opposite meaning.
I suppose that Lvinas does not forget that woman, too, is aware of her own consciousness, or
ego. But it is striking that he deliberately takes a mans point of view, disregarding the reciprocity
of subject and object. When he writes that woman is mystery, he implies that she is mystery for
man. Thus his description, which is intended to be objective, is in fact an assertion of masculine
4. See Part II, ch. viii.
5. See Part II, pp. 12931.
6. A significant article on this theme by Michel Carrouges appeared in No. 292 of the Cahiers du
Sud. He writes indignantly: Would that there were no woman-myth at all but only a cohort of
cooks, matrons, prostitutes, and bluestockings serving functions of pleasure or usefulness! That
is to say, in his view woman has no existence in and for herself; she thinks only of her function in
the male world. Her reason for existence lies in man. But then, in fact, her poetic function as a
myth might be more valued than any other. The real problem is precisely to find out why woman
should be defined with relation to man.
7. For example, a man will say that he considers his wife in no wise degraded because she has no
gainful occupation. The profession of housewife is just as lofty, and so on. But when the first
quarrel comes he will exclaim: Why, you couldnt make your living without me!
8. The specific purpose of Book II of this study is to describe this process.

Linda Nicholson
By the early 1990s, it had become clear that the kind of feminist activity that had blossomed from the late 1960s through the late 1980s in the United States was no longer
present. Consequently, many began to ask: what was the present state of feminism?
One idea put forth in the early 1990s was that feminism had not died but was merely
in a third wavea younger form of feminism that looked very different from earlier forms.1 Here I would like to turn to the question of the current state of feminism,
not through asking whether we are in a third wave, but through reflecting upon the
general use of the wave metaphor in feminist self-understanding. In seeing what has
been useful, or not, in this metaphor, we can generate some tools in understanding the
contemporary state of U.S. feminism.
Let me begin then with some reflections on the wave metaphor. In the late 1960s, it
was very useful for feminists to begin to describe their movement as the second wave
of feminism. It was useful because it reminded people that the then current womens
rights and womens liberation movements had a venerable pastthat these movements
were not historical aberrations but were part of a long tradition of activism. The late
1960s and early 1970s was a time when feminists began to rewrite U.S. history. Involved
in that rewriting were new understandings of the suffrage movement, including the recognition that the suffrage movement was part of a larger nineteenth century movement
around womens issues. One could expand the meaning of the suffrage movement and
tie it to 1960s activism by referring to the former as the first wave of U.S. feminism and
to the 1960s movement as the second wave. Thus the wave metaphor both showed the
1960s movement as something other than an historical aberration and also framed the
nineteenth century movement as far larger and more historically significant than most
of us had been taught.
But the wave metaphor has outlived its usefulness. For one, the places where it
mostly gets mentioned, among those who are committed to some version or another
of feminism, are those places where people mostly now know this history, i.e. know
about the larger significance of the nineteenth century womens movement and know
that 1960s activism emerged from a long history of struggle around womens issues.
But it is not only that the wave metaphor has outlived its usefulness. It is also that the
wave metaphor tends to have built into it an important metaphorical implication that


Linda Nicholson

is historically misleading and not helpful politically. That implication is that underlying
certain historical differences, there is one phenomenon, feminism, that unites gender
activism in the history of the United States, and that like a wave, peaks at certain times
and recedes at others. In sum, the wave metaphor suggests the idea that gender activism
in the history of the United States has been for the most part unified around one set of
ideas, and that set of ideas can be called feminism.2
But as the historical record has increasingly illustrated, that is not how best to
understand the past in the United States. The different kinds of activism around gender that have taken place since the early nineteenth century in this country cannot
be reduced to one term, feminism. That kind of reduction obfuscates the historical
specificity of gender activism in the history of the United States. It obscures the differences in the ideas that have motivated different groups of people to pursue different
kinds of political goals at different moments in time. For example, to call the nineteenth century movement the first wave suggests an underlying similarity between
the political goals of this movement with those of the movements that began to emerge
in the 1960s. But as Nancy Cott argued in her groundbreaking book, The Grounding
of Modern Feminism, it is not even appropriate to call much of the activism around
gender issues in the nineteenth century, and particularly the nineteenth century suffrage movement, a feminist movement. For one, those active in this movement did
not use the term. Moreover, many who supported suffrage had more limited political
goals than did those who began to use the word feminism in the early twentieth century. Many of those who supported suffrage did so not on the basis of a general idea of
womens equality with men, or because they thought of women as individuals similar
to menideas that would become important for many of those beginning to call themselves feminists in the early twentieth centurybut because they believed, for a variety
of reasons, that women should have the vote. As Cott quotes an early twentieth century
feminist, All feminists are suffragists, but not all suffragists are feminists.3
Not recognizing these distinctions has led some scholars to be puzzled about why
feminism died after the nineteenth amendment was passed. My own view is that it
did not die because at that moment in time it had not yet been born, at least not as the
type of large-scale social movement that suffrage had become. In the early twentieth
century, while there were a large number of people who supported womens suffrage
and who were working to improve womens situation in other ways, such as through
supporting protective labor legislation for women, their support did not translate into
what was then becoming understood as feminism. An important strand of the feminist
vision of the timethat women and men were similar in fundamental ways and on that
basis should be treated as equalswas the position of only a small number of women,
mostly those in professional or gender neutral jobs. That kind of feminist position, as
reflected in the National Womens Party endorsement of an Equal Rights Amendment,
was strongly opposed by many who saw such an amendment undermining the protective labor legislation that women had only recently won. The relative isolation of this
kind of feminist position remained the case up until the early 1960s.4
But even in the period between the passage of the nineteenth amendment and the
early 1960s, real changes in gender roles and relationships were taking place. During the

Feminism in Waves: Useful Metaphor or Not?


1920s and 1930s, ordinary women were challenging older notions of womanhood in a
myriad number of ways, from cutting their hair, to adopting new norms about sexuality, to developing new understandings of their relationship to wage labor. Particularly
in the post World War II period, a growing number of women were entering the paid
labor force for a larger period of their lives. In the 1940s and 1950s, women in unions
were beginning to make many of the same kinds of political demands that had become
associated with the label feminism in the early part of the centurysuch as equal pay
for equal work. Connections began to be made among those who occupied leadership
positions in such unions with others who were arguing for womens rights in other
arenas, laying the groundwork for the kind of political activism that began to surface
in a more public way in the early 1960s.5 This complex history tends to be obscured by
the use of the wave metaphor.
Moreover, the use of the wave metaphor becomes particularly unhelpful when we
turn our attention back to the present. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, feminism
began to expand its meaning, including not only those who supported what many now
think of as a liberal understanding of feminism, but also those who took this worldview
in new directions. The 1960s through the 1980s was a period of great theoretical and
political creativity and activity, making possible a very broad understanding of feminism. But after that kind of creative activity began to die down in the 1990s, people
began to wonder whether or not we were in a third wave of feminism. The appeal of this
way of thinking was that it kept up the hope that gender activism had not really died
down but merely had taken a somewhat different, more youthful and jazzier form. But
when I think about what has transpired in the period from the 1990s to today, I dont
think that the metaphor of a third wave is the best way to describe what has gone on.
Instead, let me offer a different kind of analysis about what has happened.
Since the early 1990s, we have been in a period where the feminism that emerged
in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s has both flourished in many areas and stalled in others,
and this complexity cannot be adequately captured by the metaphor of a wave. Rather,
we need to understand the areas in which it has flourished and the areas in which it has
stalled to have a realistic assessment both of where we are as well as to better figure out
where we need to go.
Let me begin with the more optimistic perspective on how feminism has been flourishing. Following the mass transformation of consciousness that was the great legacy
of the mass movements of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, feminism began the quiet, but
very important job of institutionalizing itself. The phrase that has sometimes been used
to describe this process is the long walk through the institutions. We all are aware
of many of the results of that process: the creation of womens studies programs, the
establishment of rape crisis centers and shelters for the victims of domestic abuse, the
creation of womens caucuses in many organizations, the formation of womens political organizations, such as Emilys List, etc., etc. What we tend to be less conscious of is
how many of these institutionalized manifestations of 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s feminism are not static but have continued to grow and develop, more quietly perhaps than
was the case with their inauguration, but still happening. Womens Studies programs
are no longer small isolated ghettos in liberal arts schools but have spread into law


Linda Nicholson

schools, medical schools, and schools of architecture and journalism. Emilys List has
grown into a powerful organization that almost succeeded in helping make a woman
president of the United States. The womens ordination movement in many religious
denominations has either achieved its goals or, in the case of some churches, such as the
Roman Catholic Church, has continued to grow.6 Women make up an increasing percentage of those receiving doctorates in the United States, indeed surpassing the percentage of men in 2003.7 While employed women still do a disproportionate share of
housework and childrearing, that share has decreased over time.8 And gender is talked
about in more sophisticated and more public ways than would have been heard even
in the glory days of the 1970s. Within Womens Studies settings, feminists recognize
today in more conceptually developed ways than they did even in the 1980s, how phenomena such as gender, race, and class intersect in constituting an individuals social
identity. Among the wider public, in the last presidential campaign, even conservative
Republican women used the word sexism to disparage many of the criticisms Democrats were making of Sarah Palin. For all of the hypocrisy that one might see in their
responseswhen exactly did Phyllis Schlafly change her mind about the appropriateness of a woman with a four-month-old baby entering the work force?still, that these
conservative women and men saw the adjective sexist as rhetorically powerful, meant
that feminism was not only far from dead but was in a state of growth.
THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS. The bad news, however, is also not hard to find. The
wage gap between women and men continues to exist. Rigid and narrow standards of
beauty continue to dominate the lives of women, perhaps even more so today than even
forty years ago.9 A sexual double standard among young women and men continues to
be in place.10 And no one could claim that many of the other encompassing goals of the
radical and socialist feminist movements of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980ssuch as for
the elimination of racial and class inequalityhave been attained.
The question then is why the feminism of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s has advanced
so far in some ways and gone nowhere in others. And here again, this is a question for
which the wave metaphor supplies little help. Instead, what we need to do is examine
the reasons why we are where we are by looking at the very specific contexts of the lives
of diverse groups of women. I cant come up with a full answer to this question, but
instead let me offer a few reflections.
One of the reasons why 1960s, 1970s and 1980s feminism did generate the kind
of mass attention that it did was because a lot of it spoke to the real conflicts many
women were experiencing as they were entering the workforce. As I noted earlier, the
post World War II period was one of an important change in the gendered nature of
the paid labor force. Women had been entering the work force in increasing numbers
since the early twentieth century. But prior to World War II, a lot of this labor had been
associated with women who were poor, black, single, or childless. After World War II,
more married women, more white women, more middle class women, more women
with children at home, became part of the paid labor force. Moreover, they were entering jobs that were not as sex stereotyped as those in which most women had been
employed before the war. The consequences of these changes were numerous. Among
union women, it meant that while older demands such as protective labor legislation