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Good books on the american feminist movement? Opinions on feminism?

+1 vote
I ask this because feminist thought (particularly american feminists) has had an enormous effect on the way people in the west think. It certainly occupies a fairly large part of mainstream politcal dialogue. I just read a section in  a an anthropology textbook on Muslim culture, and he spends practically the whole time talking about emic/etic perspectives on gender segregation in muslim culture (i.e., what westerners think vs. what muslims think about gender segregation and male superiority in muslim culture)
asked Aug 18, 2015 by anonymous
edited Aug 18, 2015 by anonymous
Major Problems in American Women's History by Mary Beth Norton is an okay book. It's more of an anthology of different writings. It's kind of textbooky when you read it and doesn't really pertain to anything that's radical, per se.

This is interesting and I will have to think about a book that I feel is worth wile reading. On the topic of Western Feminism, though, I read an essay by Saba Mahmood about the Women's Egyptian Mosque Movement. Essentially women in this movement all come from fairly secular middle class backgrounds but all choose to embrace a someone fundamentalist form of Islam. While many of their teachings revolve around things that most feminists would abhor (learning "modesty," subservience etc), in fact they are actually  very much engaging in a feminist praxis. For example, fundamentalist Islam does not allow women to teach the Quran. Second, the women involved in this movement, in teaching each other, are participating in a form of collective autonomy (something most feminists would support). Nonetheless, they are supporting a patriarchal system even if it is by "choice." The essay really blew my mind actually. It can be little confusing  in its use of post-structuralist jargon, but it really made me look at feminism in a different way. 

hmmmm...that has similarities with the section on islam in the anthropology book called "Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System" which is a good anarchist read because large portions of the book compare non-state and state societies in a way that seems fairly accurate....but anyway, he talks about how leila ahmed sees harems as having a feminist quality because it gives women seperation from men (she argues is created by women) and allows them to talk trash about them and the man-world they inhabit

The seclusion of women from men inside an externally patriarchical culture is interesting to examine as a location of women's solidarity and mutual aid. However, from a radical perspective, it is inadequate -- if that radicality is premised on the abolition/negation of various hierarchical institutions. Leila Ahmed's argument that since women created harems that they are therefore locations of women's agency is absurd. The same argument has been made about trade unions. These attempts at counter-power are defensive, perhaps allowing people within them a little extra breathing room in an otherwise thoroughly oppressive situation (patriarchy, capitalism), but they are locations of adaptation, not resistance. If you're only interested in adaptation and finding so-called safe spaces, then fine. But I have always thought of anarchists as people trying to resist and/or destroy oppressive institutions. 

Lawrence, I agree with you. This is why I avoid some of post-structuralist theory. "De-centering" a narrative (in this case Western Feminism) can have the tendency to inadvertently reinforce hierarchies. Or, in the case of some theorists, this may be exactly the point: to show how certain ideologies take authoritarian modes. Nonetheless, the article I was referencing helped me look at feminism in a broader way, even if I very much disagreed politically with the subjects of analysis.
whats post structuralist theory? one of those academic terms i tend to ignore...

btw: the version of this book i have is a totally "outdated" edition of it that's not for sale on amazon (it's a "free copy" made in 1994 for professors, that according to the omniscient authority of the book is NOT intended for student use, that i got at a really really free market.....LOL! You probably won't be able to find it anywhere else....). I checked out amazon for some critique on the book, but all of those editions were made at a minimum of 10 years later....and won't have "free" written all across the inside!

rs666: this is not a book, and it may not really be directly relevant to your question, but i always liked it and found it to be a refreshing contrast to much feminist writing i have encountered.

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/rita-katrina-andrews-only-a-tsunami-will-do-for-a-post-feminist-anarchy

edit: and it seems to jibe with the last sentence of dot's answer below.

1 Answer

+2 votes
in the context of your question, i think that feminisms would have to be local, and enable people to determine for themselves what it means. in that way, feminism would lose some of its power, because it would be meaningful mostly as a reminder to focus on a particular set of problems, as a subset of more general questions of power and agency. cross cultural studies are interesting (as always) because they remind us of the variety that might be open to us (but that quickly turns into cultural tourism in today's world, so...)

in today's world, feminism, like anarchism (like any perspective on the world, i guess), is a way to start/have conversations about the lives we want to live.
answered Aug 20, 2015 by dot (57,810 points)
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