Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sisterhood Interrupted: From radical women to grrls gone wild

Deborah Siegel
(Palgrave Macmillian, 2007, 224 pp, RRP £7.99)

A historical tour of the US women’s movement told through the forty- year drama surrounding the feminist slogan and ideology ‘The Personal is Political’. This tale of cat-fights and ego-clashes gives the beef on Betty Friedan and cultural ‘orgasm feminists’, older feminists and younger women, and Gloria Steinem and seemingly everyone else; all mulling over the bug-bear of whether feminism is a culture or a cause, and the best ways to ‘get ahead’ personally and collectively. Divided into two sections – ‘Mothers’ and ‘Daughters’ – Siegel’s exposé on scandals, accusations and ‘zap actions’ (guerrilla protests) doesn’t just savour bitchiness from within the ranks, but aims to show how history too often repeats itself. The old question of whether feminists should focus on empowerment or social change mires today’s activists, with the ‘third-wave’ excelling in the first category and still finding its feet in the second. A focus on the popular face of the movement - its media stars, personalities, magazines and publications- means that contemporary feminist activism is given short-shift; too much oxygen is taken up by the post-feminist feminists who poo-poo the second wave as ‘victim’ feminism, and the ‘mama drama’ of younger women usurping their mentors. Spicy, well-written and impeccably researched, Sisterhood Interrupted is an entertaining, but uneven, primer to the ideological brawls and generational disconnect of the US women’s movement, with an eye to making the lessons of the past well-learnt. Includes foreword by Manifesta’s Jennifer Baumgardner and a comprehensive resource and reading guide.

Reviewed by Red Chidgey

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