Feminism is approaching the turn of the century with an eventful past. With history comes legitimacy; accordingly, women’s issues and feminist scholarship have established an unprecedented presence in academic and political arenas. In particular feminism has attainted a unique prominence in philosophical and legal scholarship. At the same time, the women’s movement has reached a point of aesthetic distance from the apex of the struggles for women’s rights in the 1960s and 1970s. This distance and the increasingly conservative political climate of the 1980s and 1990s have prompted intensive reflection on feminism’s past. Both the current emphasis on feminist history and the influence of feminist perspectives in philosophical and legal scholarship are reflected in recent book publications, some of which are annotated here.
Feminist scholars are exploring and re-explaining their past in order to encourage dedication to a revived movement. Some commentators examine women’s experiences in the first and second wave of feminism, which correspond roughly to the struggle for women’s suffrage and to the fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, respectively.’ Many feminist thinkers are concerned that the women’s movement is stalling2 and have examined the similarities of the two preceding stages to identify some of the causes of the perennial difficulties that inhibit organized advancement of feminist agendas. A consensus is emerging about some of the central impediments to sustained activism. For example, many argue that the sameness/difference framework, which defines woman by comparison to man in order to justify reform, leads to theoretical conundrums and limits effective socio-political change.3 In their attempts to understand and surmount the seemingly intractable impediments to the feminist movement, Alice Echols, Deborah Rhode, and Diana E.H. Russell critically examine the theoretical and historical dimensions of the previous periods of heightened activism and bring the lessons of the past to bear on the obstacles of the present.
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