Feminist scholar Freedman (Maternal Justice, 1996, etc.) offers an optimistic assessment of women’s efforts to claim equality.
Refreshingly, the author seems to have no personal axes to grind as she scrutinizes women’s changing roles in a male-privileged society. Beginning with a look at the historical forces that strengthened patriarchy, Freedman (History/Stanford Univ.) chronicles how women became increasingly devalued, but she also stresses the importance of female individuals or groups who were able to wield power and influence all over the world, including Africa, China, and South America. Emphases on particular issues varied as organized feminist movements emerged around the globe, but advocates fought for women’s right to read, to own property, to vote, to divorce, to work outside the home for decent wages, and to share political power with men, among other goals. The text examines questions of health and sexuality, including prostitution, rape, sexual harassment, wife and child abuse, as well as the politics of choice. A final section hails the renaissance of female artists and writers, along with the power of language to define who women are. Although Freedman doesn’t gloss over the conflicting interests among various groups, her upbeat conclusion is that given the continuity and demonstrated flexibility of feminism, today more than ever women are poised internationally to strengthen their political impact, whether as mothers for peace or as strategists for increasing representation in government. Her effort to put a topic in historical context and then give a balanced, but necessarily brief, analysis can leave a reader frustrated for more information; appendices, chapter notes, and bibliographic notes offer some additional resources.
A welcome and stimulating overview that connects the modern feminist movement not only to its own past, but to global struggles for economic and social justice.