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Dialogue: Six (or more) Feminists In Search of a Historian Sharon Sievers Feminist UOOl (Jane): "WHY are we still arguing about the definition of feminism!" Feminist #002 (Gayalri): "This is not about definition. It is about meaning." Feminist #003 (Fumiko): "Well, we're still arguing, that much is clear." Feminist #004 (Céline): "Ah yes, Fumi-chan, but only that is clear." Feminist #005 (Kale): "Our only experience is what we see and hear at this moment?" Feminist #002 (Gayalri): "Can you be sure that women truly experience anything?" Feminist #006(Pilar): "This is precisely the reason feminism is so useless! At least give us analysis grounded in history—something we can use!" We know that feminism—even at a safe historical distance—is seen by many women outside of the United States and Europe as another form of "cultural imperialism" whose white, capitalist, and imperialist associations make it virtually useless in the analysis of their own history. Unlike marxism, which is, on one level, a western critique of the west, feminism has rarely been thought of, except by a few feminists, as a revolutionary ideology in its own right. We all recognize that there are many complex reasons for this, none of which have to do with the failure of feminism to produce its own Marx. I raise these issues as a reminder that, large as they are, questions of ethnocentric bias and a lack of revolutionary content in feminism represent only a glimpse of the difficult issues we face as we begin to develop the history of feminism. Currently, there is little appreciation of the significant differences that might exist between women's history and the history of feminism. Reading through various responses to a book I wrote some time ago—a book that was taken by most to be a history of women, though in fact it was a history of feminism in Japan—taught me something about the importance of the distinction. It is time to explore those differences and to begin thinking of the history of feminism as an enterprise different from, though clearly related to, the history of women in spite of strong tendencies to deny the validity of feminism as a historical experience. The arguments that deny a history to feminism may be similar to earlier objections to women's history, but in their cross-cultural expression, denials are clearly linked to the notion that feminism has always been a western experience, defined narrowly in terms of (earlier) women's rights and (later) radical separatism. My argu- © 1989 Journal of Women-s History, Vol. ι No. 2 (Fall)____________________ 1989 DIALOGUE: SHARON SlEVERS 135 ment is that only by developing the history of feminism will we be able to confront problems of definition, links to theory, the politics of feminism, and its processes. It is impossible not to notice the ambiguities in recent historical descriptions of feminism, many of which are included within the framework of competing world views. Feminism is often characterized as a movement that makes all men the enemy in a sexual/political struggle, forcing women (always) to choose between, for example, nationalism or socialism. That remains the favored description in spite of the fact that feminist history has most often been one of coalition. On the other hand, recent feminists have claimed "sisterhood" as an ideal, though it is clear that all women—even within the same family—have not been sisters in that idyllic sense we once imagined possible. What little we know of feminist history suggests that coalition has been possible; that cooperation across barriers of class and race have been rare, but possible; that white feminists raised in capitalist society have taken their feminism to black struggles in Third World countries; that Japanese women, the "professional mothers" of a postindustrial society, have protested "sex tours" to Korea because the practice is symbolic of the sexism of the two societies, as well as of a continuing imperialist relationship to which women are often held hostage. Writing the history of feminism means exploring these examples of our history in more detail; it means making clearer choices about what is and is not universal about feminism; it means establishing more...


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