New review: On the herstory of feminist coalitions

// 2 February 2009

Michelle Wright reviews a book which sketches the history of coalition building between second-wave feminists and other social justice activists

feministcoalitionscover.jpgIn contemporary feminist circles – particularly amongst feminist academics, but increasingly amongst grassroots activists too – it’s become commonplace to cast second-wave feminism as a movement dominated by white and middle-class women who marginalised at best, and ignored and excluded at worst, the different concerns and experiences of women of colour, poor women and lesbians.

The reason this is reiterated so much is simple; for there to be any chance of a full women’s liberation, we, the feminists of today, need to work harder than our second-wave sisters did at acknowledging the differences between us and tackling all those oppressions – racism, capitalism, imperialism, as well as sexism – that coalesce to keep women down the world over.

However, in continuing to shelve second-wave feminism under ‘white and middle class’, we may be in danger ourselves of ignoring the important role women from many different backgrounds played in the fight for women’s liberation throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

This is why Feminist Coalitions: Historical Perspectives on Second-Wave Feminism in the United States is such an important addition to the literature on women’s history, for it expands the dominant narrative of second-wave feminism to include the voices and struggles of working-class women and women of colour.

As editor Stephanie Gilmore explains in the introduction: “Long a part of the theoretical discourse of feminism, intersectionality has not been fully integrated into our historical analyses of people’s social movement action.” The white and middle-class amongst us tend not to acknowledge how the activism of women involved in the other social movements of the ’60s and ’70s, such as black freedom and the New Left sometimes overlapped with the predominantly white, middle-class women’s movement.

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