Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, held every year as a celebration of the advances in women’s rights that have already been made and a reminder of the advances in women’s rights that are still to come. In honor of the occasion, we are taking a look at three of our recent and upcoming titles in Women’s Studies that emphasize the historical depth and modern breadth of the Women’s Rights Movement.
Women in Iraq: Past Meets Present, by Noga Erfati, Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: Feminism, Memory, and Care, by Julie Stephens, and The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time, edited by Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner represent the diversity of Women’s Studies, but also illustrate how very different approaches to feminism often support each others’ conclusions.
Through a detailed discussion of the Iraqi women’s fight for fair treatment over the past century in Women in Iraq, Noga Efrati offers a reminder that the Women’s Rights Movement is not a solely a product of the modern West. Efrati examines the social and political effects of the British occupation and subsequent British-backed Iraqi government in marginalizing the interests of women. However, far from simply being a story of oppression by various governing bodies and acquiescence by Iraqi women, Efrati’s account is one of s constant fight by generations of Iraqi women for political and social rights. While Efrati does not shy away from the fact that there have been setbacks for Iraqi women—in her worrying epilogue, she points out similarities between the British occupation and withdrawal after World War I and the American occupation and withdrawal still in progress today—it is impossible to come away from Women in Iraq without an appreciation of the wide and varied history of the global Women’s Rights Movement.
While Women in Iraq tells the story of the fight for women’s rights in a part of the world often left out of histories of feminism, in Confronting Postmaternal Thinking, Julie Stephens discusses an aspect of feminist thought that is being pushed out of the public sphere altogether. Through an examination of the unease provoked in modern society by maternalist conceptions of ethics, politics, and culture, Stephens argues that neoliberalism as a system of ideas is uncomfortable with the very idea of motherhood, and is deeply challenged by the values of nurture, care, and protection that are represented by the maternal. Struck by the fact that modern society seems to need to “relearn” these caring, motherly values, Stephens defines and traces the creation of our system of postmaternal thinking before arguing that the forcing of maternal ideas and ethics from the public to the private sphere has serious social consequences. In fact, it is only by going through a process of “active remembering,” by accepting a public role for forms of thought culturally understood to be those of women, and by once again embracing the motherly values of caring and nurturing that we can come up with successful solutions to many pressing global problems.
At first glance, The Global and the Intimate appears to occupy a different position in relation to the Women’s Rights Movement than either Women in Iraq or Confronting Postmaternal Thinking, the conclusions reached by Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner, the collection’s editors, are very much in line with the thinking of both Efrati and Stephens. Instead of examining the story of a specific group of women or identifying a specific realm of thought where feminine values are being ignored, the editors and authors The Global and the Intimate, twist the typical binary of Global/Local into a more productive comparison of Global/Intimate. This new comparison allows the authors from a wide variety of scholarly disciplines to show that the concepts of the Global and the Intimate offer subtle critiques of each other. In its sixteen essays, The Global and the Intimate showcases real-world examples of feminist ideas of how the outside world shapes intimate relationships and individual actions change the hegemonic view of globalization. By writing in a way that “explicitly adopts a method that involves disrupting the very idea of scale,” the authors of The Global and the Intimate offer a feminist challenge to a socially accepted dichotomy that allows the marginalization of the minority in the interest of the global majority. And by highlighting oft-overlooked stories such as “the conceptual connections that women prisoners in a Mexican prison began to make with prisoners in other parts of the world,” Pratt and Rosner emphasize that one must study women at an intimate level to truly understand the global Women’s Rights Movement.