They Didn’t See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties

Lisa Levenstein. Basic, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-09528-5
In this focused and persuasive study, UNC Greensboro history professor Levenstein (A Movement Without Marches) pinpoints the 1990s as a transitional decade when the feminist movement became decentered, intersectional, diverse, global, and coalition-driven. She chronicles the 1995 Non-Governmental Organization Forum in Beijing, where mainstream organizations such as the Ms. Foundation and NOW came under criticism for trying to legislate diversity from the top down, and U.S. activists discovered they had “far less to teach than to learn” from international groups. Levenstein discusses how new technologies created an alternative media landscape, fostering niche subcommunities around the world and necessitating new methods for navigating dissent. The biggest cultural change, according to Levenstein, was the broadening of feminism’s objectives from equal pay and reproductive justice to include human rights issues, such as climate change, economic inequality, labor organizing, and disability rights. Levenstein concludes by profiling three U.S. organizations (SisterSong, SONG, and INCITE!) founded by women of color in the 1990s. Her sober-minded, revisionist history effectively counters stereotypes of the decade’s feminism as being “obsessed with fashion, celebrity, and ‘mindless sex talk.’ ” Contemporary feminists will be enlightened, while those who entered the movement in the ’90s will feel vindicated. (July)
Reviewed on : 02/27/2020
Release date: 06/16/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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