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  • No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, and: The Retreat from Organization: U.S. Feminism Reconceptualized
  • Jan E. Thomas (bio)
No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle B. Freedman. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002, 446 pp., $26.00 hardcover.
The Retreat from Organization: U.S. Feminism Reconceptualized by Elisabeth Armstrong. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002, 141 pp., $54.50 hardcover, $17.95 paper.

Proving that feminism and feminist scholarship are far from dead, these two books offer fresh insights into the history of the women's movement and its potential for the future. Freedman's book provides a broad historical overview of the theories and developments of the women's movement with attention to feminism in a global context. Armstrong's book offers a more narrowly focused re-analysis of key events and debates in the United States' women's movement from the mid-1960s to present with attention to the links between feminist theory and politics. Together, these two books show both the breadth and depth of feminist scholarship today.

In the opening chapters of No Turning Back, Freedman demonstrates how the development of capitalism and political theories of individual rights helped set the stage for the emergence of the feminist movement. With a historical lens, she shows how forms of patriarchy exist cross-culturally and how women's power and resistance are unique to each cultural context. Within these global variations, Freedman finds underlying issues that are key to an analysis of women's power. These issues—the status of women as child bearers, women's solidarity, religion, and women's labor—are discussed within the context of economic and political developments.

The emergence of various feminist perspectives is examined in the second part of the book. Freedman grounds these perspectives in their historical origins and contexts. Liberal feminism is thus connected with the push for women's rights to education, Marxist/Socialist feminism with the organization of working women, and radical feminism with issues of maternalism. Freedman rounds out this section with chapters on race, identity, and international feminism. The three chapters in this section are each developed historically and provide a brief synopsis of the key issues faced by the women's movement at various historical moments. Her international examples illustrate how issues of women's education, reproduction, and labor have remained critical mobilizing issues for activists across time and cultural context.

The remainder of the book examines many issues relevant to the women's movement today, including women's domestic and wage labor, health, sexuality, violence, and politics. However, the inclusion of a global framework seems inconsistent in this section with some chapters being [End Page 226] focused almost entirely on the United States. Freedman's final chapter looks at how women are reshaping the political landscape.

In the 1960s, she notes, women essentially redefined "political" to include the public and private spheres. Their continued and increasing participation in political (public) life has helped women across the globe gain new rights and redefine women's rights as human rights. Highlighting the variety of feminist perspectives that still exist today, Freedman notes the various political strategies that have emerged as women struggle, in their local contexts, to gain human rights. When women do gain rights, change can also be set into motion from inside the political system as exemplified at the local level in India and at the national level in countries such as Norway. Freedman concludes that we have come too far to turn back. While opposition and internal conflicts will undoubtedly continue, she believes feminism is "poised" to expand and flourish.

No Turning Back is an accessible, comprehensive overview of the development of feminism and the women's movement. It presents many issues that are historically and contemporarily important for understanding where the movement has been and where it may be headed. While the global focus is not consistent throughout, there is sufficient comparative material to illustrate how feminism is shaped by and reflects local contexts. Freedman does a good job of pulling out themes that cut across time and place to illustrate not only difference, but...


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