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Exploring more than 100 of the most important ideas, organizations, and events to have defined the feminist movement, this is an essential introduction to feminism.
The latest entry in DK's bestselling Big Ideas series, The Feminism Book is a complete study of feminism. Trace the subject from its origins, through the suffrage campaigns of the late 19th century, to recent developments such as the Everyday Sexism Project and the #MeToo movement. Examine the ideas that underpin feminist thought through crucial figures, from Simone de Beauvoir to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and discover the wider social, cultural, and historical context of their impact. Find out who campaigned for birth control, when the term "intersectionality" was coined, and what "postfeminism" really means in this comprehensive book.
Using the Big Ideas series' trademark combination of authoritative, accessible text and bold graphics, the most significant concepts and theories have never been easier to understand. Packed with inspirational quotations, eye-catching infographics, and clear flowcharts, The Feminism Book is a must-have for anyone with an interest in the subject.
This is an impressive book that documents not just the movements within a movement, but also the principal events and the women who were at the centre of each of them. It has a chapter that criticises pornography as ‘an essential sexuality of male power’. The focus on Judith Butler comes in the chapter on the difference between sex and gender, where, it holds that gender ‘is a set of repeated acts’.
The chapter ‘”God’s Plan” is often a front for men’s plans’ exposes the chauvinistic foundation of religion. Richard Dawkins must be praying that all women are liberated for that will mean many more men will follow suit, but there is a movement within feminism that continues to embrace religion except that ‘feminist theology’ is not male-centric.
The big question is whether the growing movement has a narrow direction in which women might break free from men but leaves humanity divided. Closing the book with the #MeToo movement rather than a discussion as to how equality can work is probably the book’s singular drawback because there are many men who will champion the right of women as equals, but the feminist movement might move in a direction that excludes the community of such men.
This is pleasingly comprehensive, it covers A LOT of trends and tendencies which I have found are not known about, in the main, or only seem to be known about by staunch supporters/devotees or staunch opponents/detractors. So, to that end, I checked to see, for instance, if the book had anything about "Anarcha-Feminism" for instance, I was not disappointed, a complete two page spread on it with keynote thinkers, quotes, pictures etc.
Then I considered would they have anything on all but forgotten trends such as "political lesbianism" or "compulsory heterosexuality" (two significant ideas/schools of thought during the eighties, which have simultaneously been "figures of fun", ie the comic character Ali G's repeated equation of feminism with lesbianism, and hotly debated). Those are present too, comprising very factual accounts in condensed form, usually (like I say some these trends and schools of thought have been hotly debated, from almost every single conceivable angle, it will be insufficient or just barely sufficient in scope for some readers perhaps but for a DK book I think it is what would be expected. Practically a book on a modern political ideology like this one could have run to a series of volumes). There are some more niche or margin ideologies or trends which are not represented, which are interesting to anyone who has had a more exhaustive interest in modern political ideologies, associated with feminism, such as the "Amazon" movement (which stressed strength and physical prowess, campaigned for equal roles in the military, first responder units and policing).
As with all of the DK range, I would praise the structuring of the content, it is set out into different phases or waves, so there is the "birth of feminism" (18th to early 19th century), the struggle for equal rights (1840 - 1944), the personal is political (1945 -79), the politics of difference (1980s), a new wave emerges (1990 - 2010) and fighting sexism in the modern day (2010 onwards).
Of course when it comes to feminism the use of the word "wave" denotes a particular idea, hence the chapter A New Wave Emerges, which has as its first sub-chapter "I am the Third Wave". This vindicates a particular idea that feminism itself is a singular or monolithic ideology which has progressed through a series of different developments or iterations denoted as waves, first, second, third.
I personally dont think this is the best way to consider the topic and have always preferred instead other considerations of it, which without assuming any sort of factionalism or internal sectarianism, feminism as being divisible into separate ideological schools of thought, ie liberal, socialist, marxist, radical, ecological. It is perhaps a minor complaint, it is also fair that the idea of waves itself is included.
However, that said, a consistent feminist liberal (sometimes libertarian or individualist, "iFeminist") would take issue with some versions of "the personal is political" as it may not permit a private and public/social sphere of life, the limited nature of political and public life or obligations and duties is a significant part of liberalism in at least its classical iteration at least.
Also the idea of progressing in a linear fashion through a series of waves of development ignores, to a certain extent, a certain "euro-centric" or "western" or "anglo-sphere" bias, if you want to describe it as that, as there are many parts of the world in which liberal, socialist, marxist iterations of feminist thinking have never emerged and later developments, such as political lesbianism (and the heterosexual or lesbian rejection of the idea), are almost inconceivable.
One thing this kind of time line has in its favour is that it can be a useful "foil to the discussion" of whether the various developments and innovations are signs of growth and diversification or instead deterioration and fragmentation (I've read convincing consider of either accounting for changes or tendencies).
The book ends with the MeToo movement, which is perhaps a good a point as any, there is a large glossary of terms, which is useful, directory of persons and an index. I think this is a really great addition to the range, I would hope that there are other modern political ideology books, conservatism, socialism and liberalism surely would possess as much topical range and development to warrant their own books. Recommended.
Each chapter is fairly short (2 to 4 pages on average) incorporating the sidebars, callouts and images that are a common feature of DK books; the hardback version is nicely bound with a good glossary of terms. A highly recommended volume in this new “Big ideas simply explained” range of DK books.
18th Century - Early 19th
1840 - 1944
1945 - 1979
1990 - 2010
Each is really useful and helps to evolve trains of theory across time.
As I say, it’s a pretty hefty book, taking a roughly chronological approach all the way through from early feminists such as Mary Astell through to recent issues such as the #MeToo movement and the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. As the last example illustrates, it’s not confined to Western feminism, but includes – at least briefly – global perspectives. Further, it touches on the relation between feminism and many other issues which are not exclusively feminist concerns (disability, racism, nuclear disarmament, etc).
Each chapter or section is between about one and six pages, with a mixture of text, pictures, and some ‘key fact’-type boxes and quotations. Given the way that it moves around, I found the ‘in context’ box at the start of each new section helpful for reminding me how one bit of the discussion fits with others.
However, I would say that one issue with the organisation is the relevant material is sometimes scattered across multiple entries. For instance, I found the entry on trans-women (pp. 172-3) surprisingly brief, given that this has been a hot topic of late. I later found that there’s another section (pp. 286-9) on trans-feminism, which seems to go over some of the same ground again. I don’t know whether these entries were written by the same author or not, since I can’t see any indication of who wrote particular sections.
Another minor quibble is that I at least would have welcomed at least some scholarly referencing, so that I could follow up some of the claims made in the text. We’re told, for instance, that abortion is illegal in more than 60 countries round the world (p. 159), but no citation is given to support this claim. Given that several authors have PhDs, it would be nice to see reference to sources or at least directions for further reading.
Further, there are one or two cases where I might want to check the accuracy of some details. Still in the abortion section, there are three consecutive sentences on p. 158 that go from talking about “English abortion law” to abortion “in Britain” to “the UK,” without any acknowledgement that these three things (England, Britain, the UK) are different. The discussion of Wollstonecraft on p. 34 also suggests that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a liberal thinker, which is rather dubious, though it doesn’t materially affect the main point of the text.
I don’t want to be too critical though. Even with a team of authors, tackling such a large topic as feminism – crossing time, space, and a range of substantive issues – is a considerable undertaking. While I found some bits more interesting than others, I found much of it eye-opening, even on things I knew a bit about already. It’s probably more of a reference book, to be dipped into rather than read cover-to-cover, but I did find myself getting absorbed by it and reading several chapters in a sitting.
It’s a shame that many people, with a caricatured picture of feminism, will probably never bother to read a book like this. For those with an open mind, wanting to learn more, I’d say that this is a pretty good starting point.
I suppose the target audience for this is young women, but frankly it should be read (and enjoyed) by everyone.
I have been allowed to have a look too, and found it interesting and informative.
With the usual (and excellent) DK style - plenty of relevant pictures and diagrams, the topic is made easy to absorb.