NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 223-224
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Feminisms at a Millennium edited by Judith A. Howard and Carolyn Allen. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000, 318 pp., $39.00 hardcover, $21.00 paper.
Feminisms at a Millennium was originally a special issue of the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2000). This special issue was to interrogate feminism and the discipline of Women's Studies at the advent of the new millennium. Judith Howard and Carolyn Allen invited a number of feminist scholars to write on "anything they wanted to emphasize about the millennial transition" (2). The resultant book includes a number of pieces from well-known and respected feminist scholars and a wide range of theoretical perspectives. The articles are short (three to four pages in length) but numerous (with more than 50 authors represented). Overall, the book succeeds admirably at its goal of exploring feminism's history and potential future.
The authors represented in this volume are thoughtful and critical while engaging in discussions of the past, present, and future of feminism(s). For instance, several authors, such as Sandra Harding and Traise Yamamoto, begin their essays by noting the constructed nature of "the millennium." The focus on the millennium as a point of reflection and speculation is problematic (given this constructed and Eurocentric nature). Most authors seem to agree with Elizabeth Grosz, who writes, "social rituals, those marked by a calendar date, by an anniversary, provide as good an excuse as any for engaging in reflections on the past and speculations about the future" (28).
The editors took on a difficult task in organizing a book around a millennial theme. While a journal works as a loosely related series of articles, an edited book needs a stronger thematic element than simply "the millennium." This is evident in Howard and Allen's introduction, which purports to tie together the varied topics in the book. The themes, which include "the rubric of the millennium," "the practice of theory and the theory of practice" (looking forward, looking back, and globalization), and "introspections on the academy" (academic disciplines, Women's Studies and feminisms, embodiment, and cultural productions) seem disparate and lack cohesion.
The book's multiplicity of topics and voices, though, is also one of its strengths. The lack of an overarching structure allows the book to be read in multiple ways, and the editors steer us away from drawing conclusions or searching for meta-narratives. A book on feminisms at the millennium should reflect a sense of fruitful debate among feminist scholars. Therefore, we see Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres's piece, "Word Wars"--which argues that academic feminism has become too enraptured with unintelligible [End Page 223] prose--placed next to Catherine Belsey's piece, "Writing as a Feminist"--which encourages the kind of difficult and discontinuous writing that is often criticized as inaccessible. The book also does not shy away from visionary thinking, such as Jean F. O'Barr's "Master List for the Millennium," or Anne Fausto-Sterling's hope that the university of the twenty-first century might allow faculty responsibilities to shift over time.
Another strength of this book is its complex representation of issues of race, class, and ethnicity. Many of the authors focus on the problems of globalization and contributions of international feminism. For instance, Oyeronke Oyewumi speculates on the way African epistemologies can enrich feminism. Concerns of U.S. ethnic and class minorities are represented, too, in pieces such as Michelle Fine and Lois Weis's "Disappearing Acts: The State and Violence Against Women in the Twentieth Century," and Noliwe M. Rooks's "Like Canaries in the Mines: Black Women's Studies at the Millennium."
The book perhaps underrepresents the importance of issues other than race, nationality, ethnicity, and class. For instance, transgender issues and disability issues seem marginalized, garnering only one or two mentions apiece. Questions of sexuality, age, and other axes of oppression are mentioned, but not explored as fully as one might wish. Although there is a call in some chapters for decentering the axis of gender as a primary...