- Peace on Our Terms: The Global Battle for Women's Rights After the First World War by Mona L. Siegel
Using the Paris Peace negotiations following World War I as the central catalyst, this work details the feminist activism of women from several different nations in and around the diplomatic proceedings of 1919. As such, it fits with recent scholarly efforts to examine the transnational movements that developed in the twentieth century, broadening investigation to include those that have been neglected in histories of international diplomacy primarily focused on white male actors.
Siegel begins with an investigation of the proceedings of the Inter-Allied Women's Congress that coincided with the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, based on newly accessible evidence, specifically records of the conference secretary, French Jewish feminist Suzanne Grinberg (seized by the Nazis during World War II and subsequently by the Soviets in 1945, only being returned to France at the beginning of the twenty-first century). Women's delegations from the United States, Europe, Egypt, China, and Japan went to Paris in an attempt to ensure women's voices were heard in the peace process. The delegates argued that women should be rewarded with rights and opportunities in return [End Page 176] for their wartime contributions and that women, as "naturally" caring and nurturing, must have a place in shaping a new, peaceful world order, one that included gender equity and social justice. Siegel then follows them in various parts of the world as they attempted to achieve these goals.
Siegel not only examines the representatives from the "Great Powers," but gives significant attention to the voices of non-white, non-Western women. She indicates their importance in the global struggle for women's rights, as well as in defying derogatory racial stereotypes and forging international alliances. The stories of many of these women are remarkable, such as that of Chinese delegate Soumey Tcheng, who the author compares to the warrior Hua Mulan and credits with single-handedly stopping China from ratifying the Treaty of Versailles (in protest over the provision granting Shandong province to Japan) using a fake gun fashioned from a rosewood branch. Other stories, such as those of Egyptian Huda Shaarawi, African-Americans Mary Church Terrell and Ida Gibbs Hunt, and Japanese Tanaka Taka, are equally engaging and enlightening. Although she highlights the camaraderie that emerged between some, Siegel does not ignore the ways Western feminists remained mired in racist and Orientalist thinking. At best, they continued to operate in "white savior mode," failing to acknowledge the autonomy and equality of Black, brown, and Asian women, and at worst, were dismissive of those they deemed "savage" or "submissive" by nature. The latter were often excluded and left with little choice but to form their own organizations.
Although Siegel's central focus is the role of women promoting feminist goals, she connects them to other movements in which her subjects participated, such as the Egyptian struggle for independence from colonial control and Chinese efforts to reform and modernize. Such acts were not separate from feminist aims, as these women saw gender equality as integral to building not only successful, modern nations, but also global peace and security. The author also devotes a chapter to the women's international labor movement, which at times stood at odds with feminist groups dominated by middle-class women who neglected the interests of workers or opposed female-specific regulations as counterproductive to gender equality, as well as clashing with men's labor groups who tended to view their female counterparts as competition or selfishly focused on women's issues. In so doing, Siegel demonstrates the intersectionality of gender, race, and class in the attempts to build a post-war order that was truly socially just and equal. [End Page 177]
Despite their tremendous efforts, these international feminists achieved modest and limited results in 1919. They were able to secure some victories, such as protections for...