Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Girls Gone Wild

Title: Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Girls Gone Wild
Author: Deborah Siegel
Genre: Non Fiction, Feminism, Women's Studies

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publishing Date: June 12, 2007
Hardcover: 240 pages

Summary: (from goodreads)
Contrary to clichés about the end of feminism, Deborah Siegel argues that younger women are reliving the battles of its past, and reinventing it--with a vengeance. From feminist blogging to the popularity of the WNBA, girl culture is on the rise. A lively and compelling look back at the framing of one of the most contentious social movements of our time, Sisterhood, Interrupted exposes the key issues still at stake, outlining how a twenty-first century feminist can reconcile the personal with the political and combat long-standing inequalities that continue today.

Reading feminist blogs has given me a basic foundation of information, but as I've become more interested in feminism I've realized I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to most of feminism's history. I picked up this book hoping to learn more about the waves of feminism and the feminism of our mothers and grandmothers. While this book essentially skips over first wave feminism (basically feminism during the nineteenth and early twentieth century that focused on women's suffrage), this book breaks down the second (starting around the mid 1960s and through the 1970s) and third wave (1993 to today) of feminism rather nicely.

Sisterhood, Interrupted starts out by giving a loose account of the birth of the first wave and how the word "feminism" came into being in the introduction. The book is then broken up into two sections: "Mothers" and "Daughters." Part one focuses on the second wave with special emphasis on those who had access to the media (like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan). Siegel also gives a rundown of the New Left, radical feminism, consciousness raising, sex, Ms. magazine, and lots and lots of infighting. Part two focuses on the third wave, postfeminists, BUST and Bitch magazines, the likes of Katie Rolfes and Naomi Wolf, and of course, more infighting. Siegel is upfront with the fact she is focusing on popular feminism and Siegel's overall point is that the generations of feminist activism are more alike than they are different.
"... members of the younger generation who think they are rebelling are instead treading well-worn ground and that older women don't recognize their own progeny. The Result is nothing short of tragic: Instead of making tidal waves together, we splash about in separate pools."
I imagine that most of the information in Sisterhood, Interrupted will be basic stuff for anyone well versed in feminist history, but for me it was exactly what I was looking for. Siegel broke down the waves, major ideas, popular personalities, and the problems with each feminist movement in a concise and interesting way. While most people have heard of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Sisterhood, Interrupted gave me a better understanding of why these women were so important and what they disagreed on. Siegel focuses a lot on the phrase "the personal is political" and it's very interesting to see how different people interpreted the same idea.

By far my favorite part of the book was the section on post-feminists verses third wave feminists since this struggle is still apparent today. The idea that feminism is no longer needed has always amused me and Siegel shows how that idea has been around since before universal suffrage was even achieved (1919, so people have rejected feminism as unnecessary since before sliced bread). While some post-feminists believed feminism promoted vulnerability and victim status, their focus on sexual power often ignored other inequalities. Instead of arguing how to make women empowered, the question was often whether or not women are actually still oppressed (sound familiar?).
"There was another reason for the so-called rejection of feminism among the younger generation. If you grew up believing you were equal, then wasn't the term "feminist" - with its implication of battles yet unwon - itself a threat to your sense of social standing?"
Siegel has said she wanted to write "a road map to the feminist past for a younger generation, and a guidebook to the present for women who have long been calling for change" and I think she did just that with Sisterhood, Interrupted.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

From page 139:
Feminism's third wave thus began in a swirl of intense, ironic, and often painful contradictions around issues of progress, promotion, and power. But the greatest contradiction of all, perhaps, was this: If second-wave feminism had succeeded, that is, if second-wave feminists had won all their battles, there would have been no third wave. Indeed, there would have been no need. By definition, third-wave daughters embraced a movement that had yet to succeed. In that sense, the third wave was the ironic embodiment of their mother's failure.

In contrast, postfeminists had believed in and internalized feminism's success. Women's equality and liberation was, to them, not a goal but a reality. In this regard, they implicitly paid the second wave the greatest respect. In the postfeminists rubric, one could no longer cry "patriarchy" to excuse one's personal failures and disappointments, nor claim "victim" status when wronged by the system because, they felt, women were no longer victims - no longer the "second sex." Postfeminists existed on the presumption that feminism had effectively changed the world.

What is so striking about this profound difference in the way younger women viewed feminism's progress was how it shaped the way they related to their foremothers - and to the second wave. If you believed that traditional feminism was still needed, as the this wavers firmly believed, the question then became: Where did the mothers go wrong?
Siegel reading an excerpt of Sisterhood, Interrupted:


I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the internal fights over how feminism should be articulated and framed and struggles between the second and third wave. While this book definitely isn't a comprehensive history of feminism, it is a great primer. Sometimes I can be hard to find a good place to jump into a subject as complex as feminism, but Sisterhood, Interrupted is as great a place as any.

Rating: 8. Excellent – some laughing and/or crying involved


  1. My library doesn't have it. :(
    I'm going to try to get it through an inter-library loan. This sounds like a book I need to read!

  2. I hope you can find it! I'm kind of sad I have to return this book to the library. It'd be a good book to have on hand I think.


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