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Comments on Sharon Sievers' "Six (or more) Feminists in Search of a Historian" Asunción Lavrin Sharon Sievers has provided a thought-provoking set of questions to those historians who have taken for granted the existence of a common ground of understanding for the study of feminism. Inspired by the trenchant inquiry initiated by Karen Offen on the possibility of opening a comparative historical approach to feminism, Sievers uses her own experience with Japan to share with us her doubts and hopes about the possibility of achieving a "multicultural" language that may one day help us to transcend intellectual and cultural barriers and allow us to see the many nuances of that historical experience.1 It is obvious that sex alone does not create a bond among women. Social and economic class, nationality and ethnicity pull women apart with as much force as gender binds them together. We must add to the list of disrupting factors the cultural "encasement" that we now call ethnocentrism . What I found important about this essay is that it made me think about the double edge created by those factors not only on the subject of our concern as historians, but also on us, as practitioners of history. Sievers questions the approach of U.S. theoretidans of feminism as being poorly grounded in history and, especially, in the history of those not sharing certain key western ideological and cultural concepts. Although she spares historians from the force of a frontal attack, her criticism is intellectually extensive to us, although, as a consolation, she offers the thought that at least our discipline is not inherently ethnocentric and, therefore, wilUng "to want to claim the rest of the world as an object of study." If the problems of bias are not inherent to the discipline, then we must take a second look at its practitioners. Are we willing to hear other voices, to admit to other points of view, to share concerns other than ours? Furthermore , are we not only willing but ready? Accepting the potentially upsetting consequences of having our intimate convictions shaken is not an experience to which we look forward and through which we sometimes do not wish to live. The challenge is directed at us, not at the past. I take that challenge personally as somebody engaged in a monographic study of feminism in an area of Latin America known as "the southern cone" (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay), and in a broader manner interested in the history of feminism in Spanish-speaking areas of the American continent. To those of us involved in women's history, invoking the Americas as a continent is already a form of defiance of widely accepted notions of a dichotomy between North and South, between Hispanic and "Anglo" exper- ©1989 JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY, VOL. 1 No. 2 (FALL)_________________________ 154 Journal of Women-s History Fall iences. In fact, echoes of western vis-à -vis nonwestern reverberate in the discussion as we sometimes are asked to consider whether the experience of the Americas South is or is not "western." Since the terms of most discussions are defined by the participants, we find yet another variant to this subject. Thus, some, who do not question the place of Latin America within the western experience, nonetheless accept it with a disdainful evaluation of what they consider "derivative" and nonimaginative in Latin American emulation of North American and European models. Where are we then? Within the stream of universal values or subject to cultural imperialism? If we use the subject of feminism to explore the possibility of an answer to these questions, we must be careful to follow the canons of our discipline. The effort of writing a history faithful to the spirit of the time and the thought of the actors is critical. However, we cannot engage exclusively in an exercise in inteUectual history. Our reconstruction of the feminist experience , whether in Latin America, Europe, the U.S., or Asia, should take into consideration the very real confines created by legislation, family ties, education, and the economic means of those involved. The cultural roots of the society and the degree of involvement with other people abroad are also key...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 153-157
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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