Books by Ruth Rosen

Released: Feb. 1, 2000

A lively, comprehensive chronicle of the women's movement from Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) through the backlash of the —90s. Rosen (History/Univ. of California, Davis; The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1983, not reviewed) vividly describes key events of the women's movement, along with their impact on American society. American women who embraced Friedan's message that they were silent victims of a conspiracy to limit their lives launched a battle for equality. Not only did housewives challenge their traditional supporting roles at home, but women denounced the established male leadership in politics. Rosen provides fascinating accounts of the infighting that plagued such progressive left-wing groups as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Even among —60s radicals, men set the political agenda, while women made coffee and mimeographed memos. Particularly interesting is the movement's impact on lesbians. While encouraging them to come out, the women's movement rejected butch/femme roles and promoted "loving relationships between two strong, independent women." Radical groups within the movement, in fact, advocated political lesbianism, urging women to make the "political choice" to live as lesbians. At the height of the movement, it was plagued by what Rosen refers to as "guilt-tripping." The more radical feminists made others feel guilty for marrying or bearing children. The media, of course, were quick to focus on the infighting and the radicalism as a way of de-legitimizing the movement. Nevertheless, its influence continues to be pervasive. As a result of the women's movement, women began to be addressed as Ms., language became increasingly gender neutral, and the number of female politicians doubled within two decades. Rosen perceives the —90s reaction against the movement as proof of its extraordinary impact. Beneath the extensive scholarly apparatus is a fascinating, beautifully readable account of a movement that in many ways profoundly changed America. (16 pages b&w photos) (Book-of-the-Month Club selection.) Read full book review >