COMMON DIFFERENCES: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives by Gloria I. & Jill Lewis Joseph

COMMON DIFFERENCES: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives

Email this review


Feminists have long realized that black feminism grows out of a different historical experience than does white and of necessity assumes a different form. So, alter over a decade of feminist theorizing, a black-white dialogue is definitely in order, which is what this book purports to be. But though there are two voices here, there's no dialogue--in part because one of the voices keeps getting strangled in its own jargon. Jill Lewis is from Northern Ireland, Cambridge-educated, and clearly in love with the ponderous involutions of British feminism. For example, regarding sexuality--one of the book's two major themes (the other is motherhood)--she writes: ""In the dominant, White, bourgeois culture of a capitalist society where sexuality is fetishized in specific patriarchal forms, it is a pivotal distinguishing feature of today's feminism that it has been built out of. . . the irreconcilable dilemmas of the institution of sexuality. . . ."" And so on. Joseph, on the other hand, favors interviews, poems, and lengthy excerpts of conversation; and the ethnographic material does contain a certain appeal. She describes how black mothers ""look at the way Black men strut, strive, and connive in their undaunted roles"" and then pass on mixed messages to their daughters: that men are unreliable and not to be trusted yet necessary to one's happiness. Through such socialization, the black daughter grows to define herself in relationship to men but also to consider herself an independent being. There's virtually no analysis, however, of why these contradictions arise and how they're dealt with. And the authors' self-conscious political posturing (The Campaign For Wages For Housework, though lauded, is also criticized for ignoring ""other crucial dynamics that make up the psychosexual, cultural, societal, and economic dialectic of oppression"" and for striving ""to legitimize capitalistic privileges for women"") adds to the impression that they are talking between themselves, but not to most women. At one point Lewis says she wishes there were a simpler account of the Women's Movement's stance on sexuality than the one she presents, yet then suggests that ""The political debates internal to the Women's Liberation Movement, with the diversity and divergence of positions and analyses they offer, are perhaps. . . the most important aspect to comprehend about White feminism."" Perhaps for the already-converted; hardly for the world at large. A skewed and jargony treatment of an important subject.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1981
ISBN: 0896083187
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday