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Prevailing accounts of the fate of women's movements in that decade ascribe their hardships to a postfeminist ideology or the result of a "backlash" against women, particularly in America. Sylvia Bashevkin's study excavates, however, a much more complex situation. By identifying the policies and goals held in common by feminists in all three countries and tracing their collision course with the conservative policies of the three administrations, she is able to document setbacks but also some progress, despite the right-of-center leaders. She also challenges the assumption that organized interests in the United States are less vulnerable in hard times than those in parliamentary systems, finding that the elections of Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, and Margaret Thatcher had similar effects on both sides of the Atlantic. Her comparative analysis reveals that the policies of current leaders, while marginally better than their predecessors, will not allow women and women's movements to regain lost ground.
Organized thematically, rather than by country, Women on the Defensive describes the difficult relationship between feminists and conservatives during a time of bitter ideological and policy battles when the vibrant social movements of the 1960s and 1970s were seriously threatened.