The legacy of second wave feminism

On Friday, the third issue of History of Women in the Americas came out, showcasing several of the excellent papers presented at our conference in November 2013 about the legacy of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique. The issue is available through Open Access here: The introduction, co-written by the editors (including me) sets out to frame the papers within the context of a continuing discussion around feminism, and seeks to explore the ways that Friedan’s work remains useful for today’s women, whatever the flaws of the book.

On Wednesday morning, I ran the first seminar of the new academic year with a bunch of students who are taking my ‘Sentiment, Suffrage and Sex: Women in the USA’ class. I have been teaching this in various guises for about 7 years, and every year I ask students taking the class whether they consider themselves feminists. Every year I die a little inside: ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’ has been the most common refrain, at least at the start. This year was different. Eager hands went up to declare their allegiance to feminism. For some, it was Emma Watson’s speech about feminism that made the concept more acceptable than it was before. For others, the decreased access to abortion in the US had focused attention on the ways that the state interfere with women’s bodily autonomy. Whatever the reason, this group of students seems much more open to the idea of feminism than any group I have had for the past seven years. I’m looking forward to helping them unpack their ideas, and helping them articulate their positions within a new critical framework over the next 12 weeks. I’m looking forward to their take on Betty Friedan. I don’t know whether they will see parallels with Emma Watson, but they should.

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