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The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Presentby Christine Stansell
Synopses & Reviews
In this sweeping, definitive volume, Christine Stansell, one of the leading historians of her generation, tells the story of one of the great democratic movements of our times.
For more than two centuries, the ranks of feminists have included dreamy idealists and conscientious reformers, erotic rebels and angry housewives, dazzling writers, shrewd political strategists, and thwarted workingwomen. Well-known leaders are sketched from new angles by Stansell, with her bracing eye for character: Mary Wollstonecraft, the passionate English writer who in 1792 published the first full-scale argument for the rights of women; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, brilliant and fearless; the imperious, quarrelsome Betty Friedan. But figures from other contexts, too, appear in an unforgettable new light, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in the 1970s led a revolution in the constitutional interpretations of women’s rights, and Toni Morrison, whose bittersweet prose gave voice to the modern black female experience.
Stansell accounts for the failures of feminism as well as the successes. She notes significant moments in the struggle for gender equality, such as the emergence in the early 1900s of the dashing “New Woman”; the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote; the post–World War II collapse of suburban neo-Victorianism; and the radical feminism of the 1960s—all of which led to vast changes in American culture and society. The Feminist Promise dramatically updates our understanding of feminism, taking the story through the age of Reagan and into the era of international feminist movements that have swept the globe. Stansell provocatively insists that the fight for women’s rights in developing countries “cannot be separated from democracy’s survival.”
A soaring work unprecedented in scope, historical depth, and literary appeal, The Feminist Promise is bound to become an authoritative source on this essential subject for decades to come on. At once a work of scholarship, political observation, and personal reflection, it is a book that speaks to the demands and challenges—individual, national, and international—of the twenty-first century.
What is the feminist promise? At different times, feminism has promised to bring about world peace, end prostitution, and abolish pornography, the sexual double standard, and the nuclear family. Feminists have promised to make women more like men and to teach men to be more like women, and to make sexual difference irrelevant altogether. They have sought a world where there was less sex, more sex, better sex, and better marriages, no marriage, gay marriages. In other words, feminism has encompassed a wide variety of social views and positions, sometimes antagonistic to one anotherFeminists have embraced women's traditional loyalties to children and kin as a fundamental value, and they have also heralded individualism as the one basis for true freedom. Like any long-lived and durable political tradition, feminism has always promised more than it could deliver. But it has also produced stunning successes, challenging institutions and presumptions that have been in place for centuries. Book jacket.
About the Author
Christine Stansell is the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Chicago. Her previous books include American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century and City of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789–1860. She writes widely about matters of feminism and American history in print and online, including for The New Republic, Salon, and The Daily Beast. Among other awards, Stansell has received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. She has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Mary Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Table of Contents
Wild wishes — Brothers and sisters: women's rights and the abolition of slavery — New moral worlds — Loyalty's limits: the Civil War, emancipation, and women's bids for power — The politics of the mothers — Modern times: political revival and winning the vote — Democratic homemaking and its discontents: feminism in the lost years — The revolt of the daughters — Politics as usual and unusual politics — Politics and the female body — Global feminism: the age of Reagan and beyond.
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