- Feminists in the Global West: Advances, Reversals, and Persistence
This version of the editorial note for issue 26:2 corrects several typographical errors that appeared in the original. Click here for the original article as it was published.
However unpopular the label feminist seems to be among students today, the subject of feminism continues to engage historians and inspire innovative scholarship. Indeed, since taking the editorial reins of the Journal of Women’s History nearly four years ago, we have published three issues on feminism; this is our fourth. Unique to this issue are articles that focus on how feminists have created memes; negotiated differences among themselves and disagreements with non-feminist women; addressed the impact of domestic responsibilities on women’s opportunities; collaborated across national borders; and embraced and resisted gender essentialism as a foundation for feminist theory and activism.
We open this issue with “Wollstonecraft as an International Feminist Meme,” an article that examines how select Western feminists between 1890 and 1941 rediscovered and adapted the ideas and reputation of Mary Wollstonecraft to meet their particular needs. In so doing, they made Wollstonecraft into “a personal and political icon for their causes.” The authors—Eileen Hunt Botting, Christine Carey Wilkerson, and Elizabeth N. Kozlow—identify two widely divergent images of Wollstonecraft produced by women’s rights leaders in three different countries. Millicent Fawcett in Britain, and Bertha Pappenheim and Lily Braun in Germany, invoked Wollstonecraft to represent the “womanly” nature of women’s rights. Fawcett did so by publishing a special centennial edition of Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman along with interpretive commentary, presenting Wollstonecraft as a suffragist who embraced the domestic duties and feminine values associated with British Victorian ideals. Nine years later, Pappenheim introduced German readers to a similar, though more maternal, version of Wollstonecraft, and Braun emphasized Wollstonecraft’s support for women’s economic independence of men as a corollary to maternal responsibilities. In contrast, the American Carrie Chapman Catt invoked Wollstonecraft as a feminist pioneer for women’s rights to equal education and citizenship. She interwove “racist” and “nativist” views that accorded with the nation’s imperialist “civilizing” missions in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Making memes is and has been an important aspect of feminist social reform, the authors conclude, although it can result in an uncritical reproduction of dominant cultural values.
In “Feminism and Fatherhood in Western Europe, 1900–1950s,” Ann Taylor Allen provides another international exploration of feminist strategies in the early twentieth century. Her examination of feminist ideas about [End Page 7] fatherhood and the “man question” in Germany, Sweden, and France provides a history for what we know today as the “work-life balance” issue. Like Botting, Wilkerson, and Kozlow, who show how Lily Braun invoked Wollstonecraft to argue for mothers’ economic independence from men, Allen explains how Braun’s socialist values informed her demand that the German state provide for mothers. These same values made her reluctant to criticize “men’s behavior in the home,” a move that might have divided the socialist movement. Rather than call on men to perform domestic work, Braun imagined a system of “cooperative housekeeping” that would relieve individual women’s burdens. Swedish socialist Alva Myrdal believed men capable of and ideally responsible for domestic work—and advocated that future generations of boys be educated accordingly—but she too fell back on “cooperative dwellings” and state support for mothers, leaving fathers “involved only as tax payers.” Simone de Beauvoir, the only single (though partnered), childless feminist in Allen’s study, also recognized that domesticity underwrote women’s inferior status, but she was pessimistic about the possibility that men would take on domestic roles. Together, these prominent feminist leaders reflected “a general lack of faith or interest in fathers’ ability” to assume domestic responsibilities. Similar sentiments “lay behind most feminist reform programs of the first half of the twentieth century.” The consequences were significant; postwar European welfare states reified the gendered household division of labor implicated in feminist assumptions about fatherhood.
In “Transnational Pan-American Feminism: The Friendship of Bertha Lutz and Mary Wilhelmine Williams: 1926–1944,” Katherine M. Marino investigates the flow of feminist ideas across national...