Friday, January 11, 2019

Lisa Greenwald's "Daughters of 1968"

Lisa Greenwald, PhD, spent almost a decade working in and researching the women’s movement in France, supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship and grants from the French government. She has worked as a consultant and in-house historian for a variety of nonprofits and foundations in France, Chicago, and New York. She currently teaches history at Stuyvesant High School in New York City.

Greenwald applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Daughters of 1968: Redefining French Feminism and the Women's Liberation Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 locates the origin of the political and radical wing of feminism:
Two small groups already functioning when the street fighting began in May 1968 would become very important to the evolution of second wave French feminism. The MDF (Mouvement démocratique féminin or the Democratic Women’s Movement) and its daughter group, FMA (Féminin-Masculin-Avenir—Feminine-Masculine-Future), produced a synthesis of revolutionary theory and dynamic activism. Perhaps most important, they opened the field of political action and political critique to include personal relations between the sexes, a position that would mark contemporary French feminism for the next two decades.
Daughters of 1968: Redefining French Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement, is the story of modern-day French feminism which was both impactful and full of intellectual and personal conflict. It is the book that has been clamoring to be written since American academics decades ago claimed second wave “French feminism” as a literary movement divorced from the politics that shaped it. A small collection of women psychoanalysts, novelists, and philosophers who have written about and for women since the 1970s have enjoyed significant academic interest beyond France and are often seen by foreign academics as epitomizing French feminism. This belief continues among American academics and much of the French public, thus this book intends to shift the understanding of French feminism in a more political direction. Between women’s suffrage in 1944 and the Socialist electoral win in 1981, using feminist arguments to attract voters, French feminism played a central political role in the history of France. The women who drove this feminist epoch and were at the forefront of action on women’s behalf were often social scientists, teachers, and workers—leftists committed to a materialist critique of society. They were part of a longer tradition, which flourished in the postwar period, and which produced widespread social change, revamping the workplace and laws governing everything from marriage to abortion.

The book emphasizes three points: First, that French feminism sought to rectify women’s secondary status but also to tear apart patriarchal society and reinvent it in feminist terms; second, that the way French feminism developed was indeed singular but not as it has been described by philosophers, having more to do with the influence of Marxism as well as Catholicism; and third that there were many contradictions and strands of French feminism, some of which invoked the principle of corporatism to deny feminist demands and others who cultivated a universalist vision of France to bolster them.
Learn more about Daughters of 1968 at the University of Nebraska Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue