Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sisterhood Interrupted

Deborah Siegel -- writer, feminist and entrepreneur -- doesn't strike one as the type to dredge up old fights. Though she's 38, she looks about 18 as she sits happily in the grass at Union Square in a green and brown print dress, sandals thrown to the side and her legs curled under her, and tells me about the anticipation she feels about her new book coming out. Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild (Palgrave) is essentially a historical tour of the last 40 years of ideological, and sometimes sadly personal, battles for the soul of feminism.

Siegel is an apt guide as something of a renaissance feminist. With her Ph.D. in English and women's studies from the University of Wisconsin, she connects with academics. With her large network of New York-based feminist authors and nonprofit gurus, she connects with cultural critics and feminist celebrities. And with her Midwestern roots -- she was born and raised near Chicago -- she connects with the average girl....

I want women across the generations to understand that, in important ways, we're more alike than we are different. Older and younger feminists are often depicted at odds, with veterans cast as relics of a bygone era and younger feminists portrayed as unaware of or ungrateful for the work their mothers did. But younger women aren't abandoning the movement -- they're reinventing it. This is our legacy. Feminists have been creating, imagining and reinventing since day one....

Betty Friedan worried that radical feminists were alienating suburban housewives with their talk of "orgasm politics" (cue raging vibrators). Radical feminists worried that the National Organization for Women was alienating twentysomething hip chicks with its "tame" emphasis on working within the system (cue respectable ladies picketing men's eating clubs).

We're having the same conversation again -- is sexual empowerment radical? Who is feminism leaving out? But it's differently inflected, as I show in the book, because the players, and the zeitgeist, have changed....

Feminism is about passion, and the strength of conviction among women fighting for change is going to be intense. But just think how much more could be accomplished if that passion was unleashed solely at targets external to ourselves! We'd be unstoppable.

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