16th Mar 2012
Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism edited by Kira Cochrane
Women of the Revolution is a collection of articles and interviews from The Guardian over the last four decades, examining aspects of feminism from the early women’s liberation movement to the present day.
It has been thoughtfully edited by Kira Cochrane, the former women’s editor for the newspaper from 2006-2010.
The book is split in to four sections, one for each decade, and details the highs and lows of the women’s movement in Britain and beyond.
The articles are generally brief and succinct, and the contents page accommodates a one-line summary for most of the articles, so this is an easy book to dip in and out of.
But if read chronologically it does give a fascinating insight in to the shifts in ideology, and the priorities and preoccupations of the feminist movement in each decade.
The articles from the 1970s are radical, inspirational and focus mainly on women being liberated from the home and workers’ rights.
The 1980s sees women that start to consider the feminist within the context of the World.
‘Power feminism’ dominates the 90s, with articles that examine the influence of icons such as Princess Diana and Hilary Clinton.
The significantly longer section for the 00s period covers a broad spectrum, most notably sex and sexual liberation, media influence and issues of gender stereotyping.
Race issues and domestic violence are prominent across all the decades, suggesting this is something that the feminist movement (and the Guardian) has always considered close to its heart.
The list of contributing journalists and feminists is extensive and varied, from the Guardian’s first women’s editor Mary Stott, to Suzanne Moore, Jessica Valenti and Beth Ditto.
For me, the heroine of the book is Jill Tweedie, whose radical, revolutionary articles that call to “cherish our freaks and fanatics” and “never, never listen to anyone who says, ‘be reasonable’” made me want to get out of my pyjamas and go smash patriarchy right that second.
The list of interviewees also boasts influential and desirable figures including Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf. One of my personal highlights was Maya Jaggi’s in-depth interview with Oprah Winfrey, an open and honest chat with a woman at the peak of her mind-boggling influence in America.
Other articles worth noting include Andrea Dworkin’s no-nonsense look at the Clinton sex scandal and Ariel Levy’s provocative and straight-talking piece on raunch culture, Playboy and sexual liberation.
I could go on listing the interesting articles but I think everyone will have their own ‘favourite bits’ based on personal preferences and prejudices.
As Cochrane notes in her introduction, Women of the Revolution doesn’t give you a comprehensive, clear-cut view of feminism. It doesn’t even give you a particularly balanced one, but it does successfully pick out the key events and figures to give a brief overview of the movement.
It reads like a kind of patchwork quilt of feminism, and I really like that. I think it’s important for women to understand how the movement has evolved over time; it hasn’t been one fluid, uphill crusade. It has faced obstacles and hypocrisies, it has divided some women and united others.
In some cases many would argue that progress has even gone backwards, but with publications like the Guardian still putting women’s issues in the forefront of people’s minds, they succeed in arming women with the knowledge and power to celebrate what has already been achieved, and see clearly where battles have only just begun.
This book is both a tribute to the women who have fought hard over the last forty years and achieved so much, and a call to arms to a new generation of young women to pick up where they left off. Here’s to the next forty years of feminism!
Recommended for: Anyone who would like a whistle-stop tour of the women’s movement. A must-buy for any feminist, and it would make a great gift too.
Other recommended reading: If you’re interested in the ideological shifts in feminism over the decades you should look at the defining feminist texts of each era like The Female Eunuch, The Beauty Myth and How to be a Woman.