Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor)

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Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor)

Buy Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor) at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Richard T Watson
Reviewed by Richard T Watson
Summary: A story of a slow revolution, without being revolutionary itself. Though hardcore feminists might find it a bit tame, Kira Cochrane's collection of essays and articles is suitable for most readers (male or female, confirmed feminist or otherwise).
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Guardian Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0852652275

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Some revolutions happen faster than others, and the revolution in society's thinking about women is certainly one of the more gradual ones. Kira Cochrane, Women's Editor at the Guardian from 2006 – 2010, has collected together the best articles and essays from that paper's women's section since 1971. The result, Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism, is a lively account of the more recent women's liberation movement in the UK and of the issues facing women in a modern, late twentieth/early twenty-first century society.

Except it's not quite so straightforward as that. Women of the Revolution is no novel, nor is it (as Cochrane had initially expected) a textbook description of a single-minded collective – far from it. There are interviews from different sides of feminism, and over the course of the four chapters (a decade each) the priorities of women have shifted, although common themes return again and again. Writers and interviewees include members of the establishment, journalists, academics, mothers, and those very much outside of mainstream culture. Perhaps surprisingly, there are plenty of moments when feminism is attacked by women (demonstrating the difficulty in presenting feminism as one single movement or school of thought – it simply isn't, and Women of the Revolution proves this time and again). The articles are very much of the moment, and often written without the benefit of hindsight – so this account is always immediate and rarely has the dispassionate distance of a textbook account. Women of the Revolution is that much stronger for it.

Although it's trying to present an internationalist story that affects the human race and isn't constrained by geography, there is still a filter through which Women of the Revolution views the world. These articles were all written for the Guardian newspaper, based in Britain, and so there is unavoidably a Western, English-speaking, liberal slant to much of what is written. This is especially apparent in articles about places outside of the English-speaking world; even when they're written by people living in those places, there's still an awareness that the intended audience is a Guardian audience, with all that implies.

Women of the Revolution is far from presenting a homogeneous picture of feminism and articles cover issues from around the world, of both national and international significance. Many articles concentrate on women in the UK, several on those in the US – and these groups have similar interests. But several articles focus on women in Africa and Islamic countries, and those about Islamic or black women in the UK or US serve partly to remind the reader that other articles were largely identifying UK/US women as white and probably middle-class. This collection strives to give voice to the non-white, poor women whom feminism should also be fighting for – it sometimes succeeds, but never quite goes for the jugular in demanding equality across the board for all women.

In one article from 1982, two writers from Spare Rib Magazine accused the women's section at the Guardian of following fashions, being feminist when it was safe to be so and then retreating, 'as we knew you would', during the 'Thatcherite backlash' of the early 1980s. This isn't a feminism calling for an outright challenge to society's norms, nor a whole re-structuring; it's not right-on feminism. The revolution of the title is more subtle and gradual than that – it's more of a challenge to attitudes than a call to arms.

One of the benefits of this being a collection of essays and articles is the great variety Cochrane is able to offer her readers. Each article is on a different subject to the one previous or the next one, although there are common ideas and themes that return through different decades. For example, a woman's right to earn, a father's role in child-rearing, lesbianism, rape and ethnic diversity in the women's movement. And of course, as many of the featured writers are professional journalists (or at least were at the time), the reader is treated to a variety of different writing styles and approaches, handling similar themes, different topics and big ideas. Each is engaging in its own way; some witty, some inquisitive, some angry, some insightful, some defiant – all provocative, all passionate and all still topical, even those written in the early 1970s.

The revolution to place women on an equal footing with men began before the scope of this book, and will continue long after it is published. But Cochrane's collection of articles is a compelling and lively account of forty years of that constant but gradual fight. In the future, they may well come to be regarded as the most significant decades of the struggle, decades in which women tipped the balance in their favour. For now, Women of the Revolution is highly recommended reading, even with its Western, liberal bias – regardless of whether you think of yourself as a feminist."

The Bookbag has also reviewed John Brockman's What is Your Dangerous Idea?, another collection of thought-provoking and potentially revolutionary articles. For a more feminist-orientated book, try Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman.

Buy Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor) at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism by Kira Cochrane (editor) at Amazon.com.


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