Letters of Intent: Women Cross the Generations to Talk about Family, Work, Sex, Love and the Future of Feminism


This intimate exchange between today's young women and their feminist foremothers sheds new light on the issues that divide and connect the generations.
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This intimate exchange between today's young women and their feminist foremothers sheds new light on the issues that divide and connect the generations.
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Editorial Reviews

Lisa Marcus
...[W]ithin the constraints of their chosen format, the editors have choreographed excahnges that will certainly intrigue an audience hungry to eavesdrop on conversations about feminism's future. —The Women's Review of Books
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This collection of 21 pairs of letters seeks to bridge what the editors perceive as a feminist generation gap through exchanges about abortion rights, mentoring, mothering, racism in women's rights groups, the role of lesbian activists, health and spirituality. Bondoc, a Filipina-American chef who has written about food and health, and Daly, who has edited an anthology about the politics between lesbians and straight women, solicited letters from young women, which were answered by feminists from the previous generation (or beyond). While some questions and responses are well articulated, the book is disappointing structurally. For example, it's not always clear how topics were selected or why there are two or three sets of letters on one subject and none on others, such as the status of African-American feminism. In a few cases, the letters are stiff, as in Amy Richards and Gloria Steinem's correspondence about their personal experiences with abortion. Among the most literate and unself-conscious exchanges are Marie Lee and Elaine Kim's letters on interracial marriages among Asians. While Eisa Nefertari Ulen's letter to Angela Davis is poetically phrased, her plea for Davis's active leadership rightfully elicits a lecture cautioning Ulen to avoid "a certain romantic idea of the Sixties" and to "make your own revolution." Overall, the letters convey one generation's hard-fought struggle to attain success and equality and the next generation's relative complacency. Agent, Jennie Dunham. (Mar.)
Lisa Marcus
...[W]ithin the constraints of their chosen format, the editors have choreographed excahnges that will certainly intrigue an audience hungry to eavesdrop on conversations about feminism's future.
The Women's Review of Books
Polly Morrice
...[T]he reader has a sense of having encountered a host of independent spirits -- committed to feminist ideals, but determined to tread their own paths.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A series of letters between 20- and 30-something women and their "foremothers" in the feminist movement, aiming both to bridge a generation gap and to elevate current discussion of feminist issues above the level of mere "sound bites." The letters are organized in pairs, with a younger woman writing to her would-be feminist mentor with a question about women's lives. The foremothers, who include Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi, Angela Davis, Phyllis Chesler, Wilma Mankiller, and Judy Blume, among celebrated others, answer with reference to both history and personal experience. Somewhat arbitrarily divided into five sections, the subject matter ranges from sexuality to careers, health, spirituality, and what the future holds. A useful appendix offers biographies of all the writers. But does the book actually kick off a new round of women nurturing "a collective vision," as Steinem envisions? Or is it messier than that, as poet/essayist Katha Pollitt explains to her former intern Emily Gordon, who wants all older women to be as supportive as Pollitt has been to her? Pollitt's reply to Gordon: "Women are just people. Feminists are just people preoccupied and self-centered [possessed of] anxiety, self-doubt, envy." In other words, get your own agenda, and don't count on the mothers to be hand-holders. Davis and Chesler echo the get-a-life message. Editors Bondoc and Daly, themselves writers, contribute letters wondering about nutrition (to health educator Annemarie Colbin) and breast cancer (to activist Sandra Butler) respectively. Elsewhere, they've tried to hold the whiners in line-there are dialogues about women in the military and sports and about the Wiccan religion, lesbianism, andracism. A passionate, poetic conversation between Eisa Davis and Ntozake Shange relieves the generally polite tone of mutual admiration. While personal relationships may have developed between the writers of these letters, young and old feminists scrambling for millennial focus will not find it here. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684856247
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 3/5/1999
  • Pages: 239
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.79 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Table of Contents

Editors' Disclaimer

Letters of Introduction

Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly


Intergenerational Approaches to Activism and Social Change

How are our experiences with abortion and feminism similar?

Amy Richards and Gloria Steinem

Does your generation resent up-and-coming young women?

Emily Gordon and Katha Pollitt

Which come first, our paychecks or our principles?

Tayari Jones and Pearl Cleage

If feminism has been absorbed by the larger culture, what purpose do feminist and lesbian projects serve?

Catherine Sameh and Suzanne Pharr

In an interracial world, is choosing a white partner denying your heritage?

Marie Lee and Elaine Kim


Women Prove Themselves on Male Turf

How do we respond to pseudo feminists trashing the feminist movement?

Jennifer Gonnerman and Susan Faludi

Why would a woman want to serve in the military, anyway?

Sara Hammel and Arie Taylor

Are there sports in which women beat men every time?

Emily Jenkins and Mariah Burton Nelson


Younger Generations Take Their Foremothers to Task

What happened to your generation's promise of "love and revolution?"

Eisa Nefertari Ulen and Angela Y. Davis

Why is there so much tension between feminist bosses and their female assistants?

Liza Featherstone and Dr. Phyllis Chesler

Do you feel responsible for opening doors for young women in film?

Nisha Ganatra and Christine Choy

Why aren't you angrier about homophobia?

Lisa Springer and Betty Millard


The Politics of Health, Healing, and Spirituality

Why do so many women have unhealthy relationships with their bodies?

Anna Bondoc and Annemarie Colbin

Can we regain the traditions and beliefs that made our ancestors strong?

Lisa Tiger and Wilma Mankiller

What do young women need to know and do about breast cancer?

Meg Daly and Sandra Butler

How do you reconcile being pagan and Jewish?

Jennifer Hunter and Starhawk

What did you wish for me?

Karin Cook to her mother, Joan Carpenter Cook, who died of breast cancer


Women Pass the Torch to Coming Generations

If we've gotta live underground and everybody's got cancer/will poetry be enuf?

Eisa Davis and Ntozake Shange

How did you manage a writing career while raising kids?

Jennifer Baumgardner and Judy Blume

How are you preparing your daughter to face racism?

Patricia Wakida and Yeong hae Jung

What do you love about being a lesbian mom?

Catherine Gund Saalfield and Dr. April Martin

Contributor Biographies

Copyright Acknowledgments

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First Chapter

Chapter One:

How Are Our Experiences with Abortion and Feminism Similar?

Amy Richards and Gloria Steinem

Dear Gloria,

We met on a Saturday in early September 1991 when I was a junior in college. You were about to finish Revolution from Within (well, almost) and needed help fact-checking and researching. I rang your doorbell, having no idea what to expect. I had a larger-than-life, child's vision of you in my head. You answered the door, warmly welcomed me into your home, finished a phone call, offered me tea, and gave me a chapter from your manuscript to read. If I did have any comments, I don't remember. I do remember thinking, "Who am I to comment on Gloria Steinem's work?" You quickly helped me move beyond this toward a place of mutual respect.

Although I grew up with a feminist mother in a house scattered with Ms. magazines, I still didn't really know who "Gloria Steinem" was. You had something to do with women and equality, although at the time I probably didn't use that word. I knew you and your life in an external and romanticized context. I assumed that you were just "born a feminist" and that the rest of us weren't lucky enough to have built-in "shit detectors," as you would say. Now, six years later, I do know you as a friend, role model, mentor, employer, and soul sister on this quest for equality -- and I know that feminism has been as challenging, delayed, and difficult a journey for you as it has been for the rest of us.

When I met you my activism was in its infancy, whereas yours was an innate reflex. I wasn't "political," nor was I a student leader in the traditional sense of the word. I took women's history courses oeeper roots of reproductive freedom. I marched for other people to have the right to abortion, never thinking that I personally would have to use it. I also hadn't yet connected the "political" act of marching to any "personal" experience. I was experiencing the excitement and comfort of being among people united for something that we believed in individually and collectively.

Now I know that reproductive rights encompass much more than the right to have an abortion, including access to information and to resources that enable us to make informed choices about our bodies and lives. It begins with comprehensive sex education and "praise for women's bodies," (to borrow a title from one of your articles) and ends with controlling our bodies and, in turn, ourselves. As you have often pointed out, reproductive freedom is a basic human right, like freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

My friend Zoe was the impetus for my being at this march. A few months later, she bought me a home pregnancy test when my period was two weeks late. My test was positive, and I was forced to deal with my own misconception that "teenage pregnancy" was something that happened to other people. For the first time, I was confronting my fear of "ending up where I began" (a sentiment you first put into words for me), remembering the girls from my working-class neighborhood who were sent off to "homes" for nine months or were single mothers by the age of sixteen. I knew my choices: adoption, irresponsible parenting, or abortion -- and there was never a question in my mind that I was going to have an abortion. It was the best choice for me and for any potential child.

Regardless of my certainty, I still carried around guil t and shame about having been "knocked up." This little voice in my head whispered, "You knew about birth control; you knew it only took once." Plus, I was trying to live up to society's unrealistic expectations that girls be infallibly good. So I hid these feelings and tried to protect myself from having to tell anyone. I soon realized that this was hurting me more than protecting me.

The minute I dared to hint to a few select friends that I was pregnant and about to have an abortion, some acknowledged they had made the same decision, and we shared sighs of relief. During these moments of honest exchange we connected our personal lives to larger political issues. Why, we wondered, were we made to feel as though we were bad people just because we had become pregnant and decided we weren't ready for it? We were confronting the fact that our guilt and shame came not from within but from a powerful, gendered caste system that judged women's lives in an unrealistic way. Verbalizing our experiences was the most difficult leap. Once we did, we realized, one, that our feelings of "being judged" went away, and, two, that those judgments were inflicted on us because we were female. Discovering that we weren't in control of our decisions -- because these decisions were actually in the hands of the "state" -- made the personal/political link all the more obvious and, likewise, all the more frustrating.

I remember sitting with you one night watching a documentary about women's reproductive choices. You said that you "had yet to see any film capture your experience with abortion" -- one that was void of guilt and shame. You told me you have never once thought about "what 'it' would look like or how old 'it' would have been by now." Knowing this realigned my thinking because I was still trying to make myself feel guilty for becoming pregnant in the first place. When I have made remarks like, "After having had a legal and safe abortion, I will always fight for reproductive freedom," or "Such and such happened when I was pregnant..." people have responded, "I'm sorry." Sorry for what, I wonder. Sorry for "my loss"? Sorry that I made that choice? Could we all still be victims of anti-choice brainwashing? And, how, Gloria, have you managed to fend it off?

I made a promise to always speak openly about having had an abortion to keep others from feeling isolated. Each time I have shared, I feel relief -- my openness has helped others deal with similar decisions, just as your openness in the pages of Ms. about having had an abortion comforted many women, myself included. I know that it was this kind of consciousness raising that inspired the feminist movement of the 1970s -- and that is needed to continue to inspire the feminist movement of the 1990s.

My abortion was safe, legal, and in the most basic sense accepted. The doctor who performed your abortion made you promise two things: one, that you would never tell anyone his name; and, two, that you would always do whatever you wanted with your life. The doctor who performed my abortion didn't need to use those words with me; he didn't have to: My decision was a commitment to do whatever I wanted with my life. What we share is that both experiences brought us to our feminist activism. I had assumed that going undercover as a Playboy bunny sparked your feminism, but, in fact, it was a public hearing on abortion. Both of us awakened our personal commit ment to approaching wrongs through a gender lens -- the push we needed to stop divorcing the "us" from the "them" -- those whom we wanted to "help."

Once I'd arrived in a feminist world, I couldn't imagine where I'd be without it. But I can't help but ask why so many people wait for a personal experience to make that political connection? I look at Anita Hill and how she was jettisoned into feminism by being forced to painfully revisit her sexual harassment on national television. Through my work with Third Wave (a national philanthropic and activist organization for young feminists), I see many young women -- and men -- who are reticent to speak out on issues unless they themselves are directly affected. But I cling to Third Wave's philosophy: See It? Tell It. Change It! I just wish we could work on "changing it" -- whatever "it" is -- without having to first experience it so intimately. Do you think it's inevitable that we get motivated to be activists only when we experience injustices?

The journey toward equality will hopefully bring some answers, and it's because of your work and others' that we can even formulate the questions. As a feminist activist on this journey, I'm privileged to have your life and work as an example. It makes my trip a little less lonely and certainly less daunting. Still, as you have calculated, we have at least a hundred years left on our quest to a world "where women matter." To combat frustration, I always remember your standard reply when people ask why and how you do what you: "Because it's harder not to."

I am always thinking of ways to thank you for your example and for all that you have exposed me to. Nothing seems like quite enough. The most appropriate w ay is to promise to provide others with the example you've given me...and to do whatever I want with my life.

With thanks, sisterhood, and oh so much love,


* * *

Dearest Amy,

I like this idea of writing to each other. For one thing, it makes a place for us to understand each other even better. Though we've spent six years working together, we're both too subject to outside demands and deadlines to have enough time to talk and explore, so in a way this assignment is a gift. For another, I think our letters may help disprove the myth that younger women learn more from older women than we older women do from you. In my experience, it's pretty balanced: experience in return for fresh perspectives, a longer view in return for a clear focus on the present.

With you as an individual, I also have special rewards. You are one of the most constructive, energetic, intelligent, and empathetic people I've ever met, regardless of age. I learn from you every day. For example, I learned from your letter that even you, who were born into a time when abortion was legal and women were allowed to be sexual beings, still tried to force yourself to feel guilty about needing and having an abortion. That surprised me, for more than thirty years before, I had done the same thing. This makes me more aware that deep change comes slowly, that even though decriminalizing abortion has saved women's lives and health, women are still being held more responsible for sexual behavior, not to mention for the decision to give birth to ourselves instead of (or before) giving birth to someone else.

However, I'm glad your time of feeling alone was measured in weeks and months, not years. That's the difference betwe en struggling in isolation and having a women's movement. You could share your experience and know you were not alone. That didn't happen to me for more than a decade. Yet we were both prevented from exploring our true feelings at the time and honoring our decision as taking responsibility for our own lives. It makes me understand that if I focus on how much better it is for you than for me, I will fail you. This is the way older women often fail younger women: by comparing emotions instead of respecting experiences as absolutes. As Letty Cottin Pogrebin has said, there can be no "competition of tears." Tears are tears, joy is joy, and all of our feelings are to be honored. There is no hierarchy of emotion. Neither of us should have to decide whether it's better to be young or old, born into this era or that, with or without a particular race or class, with this sexuality or that ability. Feminism is not about ranking, but linking; about creating a community with others who are just as unique as we are. Unless women act together with this consciousness of balance between sameness and difference, we will remain a very long way from the vision of the old Irish woman taxi driver who said to me in Boston many years ago, "Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." She understood what was shared, regardless of age.

What you and I experienced is also an example of the large body of research that shows -- despite media depictions of abortion as an always agonized choice -- that the most common emotion after an abortion is relief. Regret, depression, and guilt occur mainly when abortion is the result of pressure, and is not freely chosen. Nonetheless, its popular image is still one o f tragedy -- more tragic than going through a forced pregnancy and bearing an unwanted child, even as a result of rape. (To assess the real cost, we need only think about the torture used to break the will of women political prisoners: forcing them to bear the child of their torturer.) In other words, most women who choose abortion have an experience that is closer to yours and mine in taking control of our own lives, yet the idea of abortion as always tragic renders our two realities invisible, and also devalues the tragedies of women who are coerced and pressured.

Maybe this respect for similarity and difference -- for a shared emotion, created by a different cause in a different time -- is the key to making friendships across generations. It keeps older women from telling younger ones, "You shouldn't be feeling thus and so" (because your circumstances seem so much easier than ours), and keeps younger women from saying, "You can't possibly know what I'm feeling" (because circumstances were so different from the world as it is now).

To put it another way: We all fight for our lives on the barricades of our times, in ways large and small. Each generation fights to clear more safe territory -- or fails to fight and loses territory. So the next generation experiences a parallel struggle, but in a different place.

For example, you and I were both the daughters of single mothers and spent most of our lives as partners in a family unit of two. This made us independent and taught us how to survive in the world. We also shared feelings of shame at being different and a romantic envy of the so-called "normal" family we didn't have. On the other hand, my mother came of age in the regressive years betwe en the first and second waves of feminism, and was made to feel crazy for wanting to follow her personal star, instead of following her husband -- a struggle that had broken her spirit long before I was born. It was different for your mother. Younger than I am, she had more support for her courage in leaving an impossible marriage, struggling for her own education, and finding work that could support her and her daughter. She didn't remarry, yet she did have male companionship (which my mother would have rejected as improper, even though she, too, had fallen in love with another man after my father). She also found an alternate family in her women's group, a small circle of friends who have supported each other for more than twenty years.

All of this means that you and I shared independence and outsiderness -- as well as respect for our mothers' struggles -- yet we grew up with a very different model of female strength and possibilities.

I don't know whether you will marry, live alone, with a partner, or choose some combination of these in sequence over your lifetime, but I see you and your generation as much better able to forge equal partnership. Mine absorbed the message of marrying the person we wanted to become, not becoming that person ourselves, and so marriage came to seem to me like the end of all possible change -- a little death.

You can imagine an equal partnership and redefine marriage as an institution for two whole people, not a person-and-a-half. Your sense of self can continue to grow after marriage -- not to mention your legal ability to keep your name and civil rights -- in a way that rarely existed in our hopes, much less our realities. Still, inequality is likely to arrive when and if you decide to have a child. Men are not encouraged or required to take care of children and the home as much as women do -- to put it mildly -- so women still sacrifice more of their own time, possibilities, and sense of self. Equal parenthood will have to be imagined before it becomes real, and even so, it will take big societal shifts in work patterns and a new vision of both men and women as achievers and nurturers. In other words, my generation demonstrated that women can do what men can do. Yours will have to demonstrate that men can do what women can do.

Barriers in the workplace have also moved, leaving more free territory, but much still to be cleared. I was turned away from jobs and entire professions for being female: "Help Wanted -- Male" and "Help Wanted -- Female" were categories in want ads until the 1970s (as "White" and "Colored" had been until the civil rights movement), and professional schools categorically excluded or allowed only small quotas of females. Your generation can enter the work force pretty much anywhere and do well for a decade or more. But then the barrier reappears: The glass ceiling shuts you out of high positions, and the sticky floor of the pink-collar ghetto still keeps most of your generation of female workers in poorly-paid, mostly female jobs. Future victories will be won partly by the tactics that worked for us -- and we'll be glad to share them -- but you will also need tactics that only you can imagine.

You also may have learned from observation that women are the one group that gets more radical with age. In the suffragist era, the critical mass of activists were over fifty, sixty, even seventy. In the current feminist one, most are over forty or fifty. In a patriarchy, this political pattern makes sense: women lose power as we grow older, men gain it; women gain more reason to rebel, men grow more conservative. The miracle that you and many other young women have performed is measured by the degree to which you have overcome this pattern. You are honoring yourself and other young women.

But you still may need the comfort of remembering -- especially when looking at your contemporaries who are still fearing feminism and playing by the patriarchal rules -- that life itself will eventually radicalize them. You also will see this pattern disappear little by little, a decade at a time, until female power is finally no longer derived from youthful sexuality, childbearing, and finding Mr. Right. Eventually, women and men will be valued for all the varying periods in our lives, not for playing one conformist gender note.

You said you were surprised that my feminism was as "challenging, delayed and difficult a journey" as yours. Perhaps each of us sees the other as having been "born feminist," or generally having an easier time. That's the impression we get from all the no-process, no-struggle images of the media. The only answer is to talk to each other and, whichever side of the generational divide we're on, to answer each other's questions honestly.

For example, we both feared "ending up where we began," the penalty for those of us who have traveled a long distance in our lives. I can only tell you that as time and confidence increase, the fear melts. Sooner than I did, you will bring all your worlds together.

Which leads me to something I think we both need in form, even though it varies in content: a group of women friends to meet with once a week or so. My generation called this a consciousness-raising group; and later, a networking group. Some young women now call it a book club, a coven, or just "my group." But as long as women are marginalized, we will need a place where we are central. At least for a few hours, we can nurture strength and a collective vision.

Besides all these examples of cleared and uncleared territory, there are free spaces only you as an individual inhabit: You are so responsible that you never forget the largest political issue or the smallest need to lock the door; you are ten times faster than I am at every task and give me the feeling of wind whistling past my ears; you not only know what's wrong with the welfare system but take your personal time to help a mother on welfare go to court to keep her children; and in the midst of growing into a world-class feminist organizer, you never forget the joy of cooking or dancing, shopping or having fun with friends -- which is, of course, part of being a world-class organizer.

After all, revolutions must include dancing and sex, poetry and good food, friends and fun. Otherwise, we won't have them when the revolution is over. Never forget: The means are the ends.

No matter how equal our exchange and mutual learning, however, I'll always have one great advantage over you. Because of my age, I'll never have to live in a world without you in it.

With love and trust,


Copyright © 1999 by Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly

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Letters of Introduction

Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly

Dear Anna,

When you approached me with the idea for this book and the suggestion that we collaborate, I was equal parts thrilled and apprehensive. For one thing, neither one of us could claim a female mentor. While we had worked for female bosses, and met famous women and feminists, no one felt like "ours." I, for one, felt this to be a serious lack in my life, and while I loved and appreciated the men who had mentored me, I longed to have a feminist foremother to sit down to coffee with once a week and just shoot the breeze (or plan a revolution!).

Being a writer, I have "met" my chosen foremothers through the written word, and to this day, most don't know how much I respect and value them. I imagine this is true for many women. Some young women have had the good fortune to have a live mentor/friend/teacher/boss with whom they've formed a relationship that will last a lifetime. I hope also to develop such relationships, and one thing our book has shown me is that positive relationships across generations are possible and fruitful. In fact, with several of the "foremothers" I've met through working on this book, including my chosen foremother, Sandra Butler, I have begun a dialogue that I do think will continue in the future. I'm thankful for the enlightening conversations I've had with foremothers Phyllis Chesler, Katha Pollitt, Betty Millard, and others.

As much as this book has expanded my circle of foremothers, it has put me in close contact with some of the most innovative and exciting young women in the country. In the course of soliciting for and editing this anthology, I have compared noled by their work.

A couple things I've learned: One is that if I had to make a generalization about the older generations of women in this book (the forty- to eighty-year-olds), it is that the second-wave feminists among them have a tendency (I know I'm going to catch flak for this!) to talk as if feminism and women's rights were invented in the '60s -- an idea that the popular media has seized upon and which is a damaging myth concerning feminism floating around today. Women -- feminists and not-yet-feminists -- need to remember, constantly, that we are part of a legacy. The very fact that we have the rights we have today is due not only to the marvelous work of feminists in the '60s and '70s, but also the '50s, '40s, '30s, '20s, and the 1800s, and farther back in time and including every time any ordinary woman has demanded her basic human rights.

What I have learned about our generation (the twenty- and thirty-somethings) is twofold. One is that many of us have a very hard time with the notion of feminism. In fact, I doubt all the women in this anthology would call themselves feminists (though I do think of this as a feminist book). Some of them write about this, some don't. Some of the older women, too, have moved away from feminism. I find this all very troubling. Certainly, a concept and a movement such as feminism are open to and in need of critique. But by disavowing it, what is left in its place?

The other thing I learned about our generation is that a lot of us have an intense case of "handholding" syndrome. We're pissed off at our foremothers for not helping us out more professionally, rolling out the red carpet for us, and treating us like princesses. (I'm really going to c atch flak for this generalization!) We use our anger at our "mothers" as an excuse for inertia and lack of focus. We're jealous that they got an exciting revolution and we got...Bill Clinton? While I think friendships and working relationships between women of different generations could only be a good thing, I must agree with Katha Pollitt when she responds to Emily Gordon's question about why more older women don't act as mentors to younger women:

[A] reporter [who approached me] had your question: Why wasn't my generation welcoming hers into leadership? I asked her the same question I ask you: Where's you activism?...If NOW is too stodgy, start your own group. If Ms. is too granola, start the magazine you want to read. (I'll subscribe.)

Angela Davis has similar words for Eisa Ulen:

So when you ask of my generation, "What formal structures do you have in place for us," my answer takes a similar form: "What formal structures do you envision successfully moving all of us into the future, your future?"...You possess your own wisdom. And you will make your own revolution.

So you see, as usual, I saved all my most candid and heartfelt feelings and opinions for you. Except that thousands of other people will be reading them this time around! But that is the whole point of letters: capturing the intimacy between two people, the raw edges, the unfinished thoughts, the quirks, and the passion for life. I hope everyone is as inspired by these letters as we are. I'm very proud of us, my friend.



* * *

Dear Meg,

I never doubted that I wouldn't do this book without you.

But I too had apprehensions a bout this project: How would we get so many busy women to write letters expressly for the book? How would we select our contributors? Which issues should be covered? Even if we found young women to write letters, would the foremothers respond?

What kept me fueled was memories of my days in the world of reproductive rights conferences, where women of different generations came together but didn't necessarily talk. Usually a panel of established, "older" women sat on a podium, while a smattering of starstruck, impassioned young upstarts like you and I sat in the front row, waiting for the moment when the moderator opened the floor for Q&A. When young women stepped up to the mike, often we would get tongue-tied and blurt out a gushing, "I love you and your work" (embarrassing everyone) or issue a feisty question about why "third wavers" concerns were nowhere in the agenda. Typically, the older woman's response to the latter was, "Aren't you grateful for all the hard work we've done for you?" or, "We'll look into it."

So on the one hand, you could say this book was born out of disappointment about older women's bewilderment toward our generation. They seemed to be waiting for us younger, privileged ones to pick up their cause -- only to discover that we didn't always approach things the way they did, wouldn't choose the same battles, wouldn't define success as they did.

On the other hand, both of us were baffled to hear some members of our generation say, "I'm not a feminist, but..." But what? It's easy for us to forget that we enjoy certain rights that were fought hard for -- and not invulnerable to reversal. Like you, I am renewed in my conviction that women who refuse to ally themselves with th e feminist movement are like guests who stuff themselves at a banquet but refuse to step into the kitchen to put in their shift. Eventually the chefs on duty will burn out, leaving everyone to go hungry. You're right when you say that feminism's death certificate benefits the patriarchal order. But it also feeds younger women who eschew activism, saying, "I've got my job, my sexual liberation and my rights. See ya!"

We have both been inspired by our conversations with older women, whose stories remind us of our place in history. When I told a successful female attorney about our book, she recounted her early days as an attorney, when her boss invited her up to his apartment for a drink and she accepted because she felt her career depended on it. She returned his kiss at first, only able to put a stop to his further advances with, "I'm flattered, but I'm engaged to be married." (She then went on to specialize in prosecuting sexual harassment cases.) Some impulsive part of me asked, "Why didn't she tell the asshole to go to hell? And why didn't she report him?" I had to remind myself that I lived in an era where a friend was propositioned by her supervisor and could bring a sexual harassment suit. My friend and I were both college-educated and had both come of age during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, when it was easier to be publicly incensed and political among thousands of supportive women. Still, even in 1998 my friend still found herself worrying, "What was I wearing that made him come on to me?" Obviously, our work isn't over.

And so you and I committed ourselves to assembling a book of letters between twenty- and thirtysomething women and their "foremothers." We found some pairs o f women who fit the mold and had a long-standing mentor-protégée relationship or friendship. For the most part, though, the young women we approached were like ourselves: in need of an excuse to write intelligently and thoughtfully to someone we admired or were puzzled by from afar. While we wanted women to write to each other instead of idolizing, discounting, or pontificating at each other, we got some first drafts that, like those times at the microphone, were nervous and emotional -- either too gushing or too angry to be constructive. We were faced with the delicate task of trying to edit "conversations" without censoring and diluting the original intent.

We wanted the letters to illustrate how life had or hadn't changed for women over the past forty years or so. Yet we were disappointed that so many said that things hadn't gotten better and in some cases had worsened. Eisa Ulen put it this way: "Sometimes I think black folks were better off when we had less rights and more revolution." But we had asked our contributors for real answers, not false, glib, or feel-good "solutions," and we got them.

You voice frustrations about how feminism is "spin-doctored" in the media. How many times have we talked about The Media's gleeful portrayal of the death, or at least the unhipness of feminism? Maybe this explains our generation of pundits' attempts to write feminist stories from more sexy, quotable, attention-getting angles palatable for Entertainment Weekly or the talk shows. There's "Do Me Feminism," "Girl Power," "Conservative Feminism," "Antifeminist Feminists," and, most recently, Time magazine's baffling "Ally McBeal Feminism." And while it's all well and good to i nvestigate new feminist paradigms, it seems to make for superficial discussions of alt-too-enduring problems. So celebrating bitchiness is "in," for example, but does that mean breast cancer is "out"? And who decided that feminism needed niche marketing?

What I'm most proud of is that these letters were, for the most part, more personal, real, and deep than the usual sound bites and glib solutions. Sure, our contributors wanted to get into current front-burner issues like women in the military, lesbian parenting, motherless daughters, and racism. But they also wanted to ask questions and admit uncertainties. And seeing these letters alongside each other places seemingly unrelated issues into a context of larger, more complex factors like self-empowerment, distribution of power, and accountability.

Like you, I now feel connected to an incredible network of women and feminists. Like you, I want this book to jump out of its covers and become a site of activism, fervent discussion, and even disagreement. I want the women in this book to call each other up and say, "I was thinking about your project, and I want to get involved," or even "I can't believe you said that! Can we talk about this?" I want our readers to say, "I'm fighting for such and such, too," or even "They left out so-and-so, and she needs to have her work acknowledged." You see, Meg, our work could never be finished, in a way. We might have spent the next ten years finding contributors to this book! We left out so many women with stories to tell and questions to ask -- female priests, basketball players, actors, sex workers, and CEOs. But doesn't that just prove the point that feminism will never be "over"?

After rereading our manus cript for the umpteenth time, I am struck by a kind of beauty about the unruly, unwieldy, nonhomogeneous nature of the book. We brought together women who share a fierce commitment to women's right to self-actualization but who may have different strategies for social change. For example, Arie Taylor's success as a black woman in the military matters to Sara Hammel, a young white journalist who would never choose to do hand-to-hand combat. Lisa Tiger's struggle to educate people about HIV in her Native American community is just as critical as and, in fact, linked to Tayari Jones' struggle to teach her students about feminism and homophobia in Texas. If our struggles remain isolated or if we refuse to listen to each others' conflicting agendas, we have no movement -- just a slew of individual therapy sessions. Instead, we might build a feminism whose members accept that the movement is as complex, undecided, unclear, but as driven, impassioned and necessary as the individuals who make it up.

And so, Meg, for me this book has been about a feminism of acceptance. Our readers and even you and I have to accept correspondence that isn't all pleasant or even conclusive. Some letters diverged from the topic that we asked to see covered. Younger women searching for advice had to settle for some "figure it out for yourselfs." Some younger women's questions were almost deliberately ignored by their foremothers. Older women had to accept being "called out." We could have gone in and "demanded" happy endings, pat answers, treatises on the way things should be. But that wasn't only unrealistic, it's a moot point.

Feminists are here not just to survive (although sometimes it seems like that's the only thing w e have time for). We are here to thrive. But first we must open our mouths, commit pen to paper, and declare our intent to act. And to talk to each other. We are supposedly the "more communicative" gender, but we have to be good listeners, too.

In the last six incredible years of friendship, Meg, you have bestowed upon me the generous gift of listening. I hope that I have returned the favor, because our numerous conversations, E-mails and letters have nourished my growth as a woman and as a feminist.

With great love and respect,


Copyright © 1999 by Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly

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