Oakly and Mitchell, the British editors of two previous collections on feminism (one in 1976 and one in 1986), return for another tenth-year state-of-the-movement report. Despite the high-profile backlash against feminism that they refer to in their subtitle, what they discover is not wholly disheartening. In fact, given the caliber of essayists they've assembled here, the present state of feminism, and its future, seems almost rosy. Carol Gilligan, the author of In a Different Voice, eloquently argues for the necessity of better incorporating women's voices into society at large. Carolyn Heilbrun talks of women's uneasy romance with a masculine literary tradition that has largely ignored them and with an academic establishment that is still shockingly inhospitable to them. And in a wonderful overview, editor Oakly traces the history of gender within the feminist movement. This is, in some ways, a feminism that we're comfortable with: The writers lash out mainly at the status quo, patriarchy, and the right. The content of many of the other pieces assembled here, however, proves that feminism is going through a difficult transitional period, one in which many of the movement's elder stateswomen are duking it out among themselves, and a younger generation of women is emerging that feels dissociated from the more vocal feminism of the 1970s. Some of the most interesting work here reflects that turbulence, such as Margaret Walters's lighthearted but critical study of sexual "melodrama" in feminism, which highlights some striking similarities between archenemies Catharine MacKinnon and Camille Paglia. Other essays focus on feminism, and anti-feminism, in Britain, Sweden, and post-Communist Eastern Europe.
A useful anthology, providing the kind of critical self- awareness and vigor that will help to keep feminism alive, exciting, and deeply relevant.