My joy and sorrow in reading older feminist books

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how much I love books already. I mean, it’s the whole point of the blog, right?

But I have been finding a special love for older books on feminism. The new books are wonderful, I have loved Bad Feminist and Full Frontal Feminism. There’s just this other thing that happens when I read the older books like The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex, and now it is part of the fun of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. There’s something about realizing that so much of the feminine experience hasn’t changed that really gets under my skin while I can also appreciate all those things that I’ve never had to deal with because of women like these.

I know I’ve been reading it for a while and should probably have finished by now, but I am in no rush. I love reading about how there was a time, and perhaps it’s not over, when Steinem was unsure about reporting on and speaking up about women’s issues. When I read about her feminist awakening and all the little insecurities that were always there and all the little frustrations as we begin to look for a way to walk away from gendered expectations, I feel like she’s in my head. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone in the uncertainty that can come with this, but it’s ever worse to remember that she is a few generations before me and we are still struggling with these issues in many arenas.

What do you think?

Does anyone else enjoy reading old books about issues that people tell you are solved but aren’t?

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7 thoughts on “My joy and sorrow in reading older feminist books

  1. I’ve only begun reading Second Sex, but the author’s frustration is tangible from her first sentence. I’ve read other feminist essays written in the 70’s and 60’s when the feminist movement was really becoming a thing. Also, so much frustration. They all made excellent points in their work, but their tone (not always, but) often blamed every man that ever lived for the injustices against women through history.

    Today’s feminists–from what I’ve seen–are often more balanced. They include men in the battle against these injustices instead of painting every man as the enemy. Misogyny, they realize, hurts us all.

    Of course, both older and newer feminist writers have plenty of justifiable reasons to be frustrated–even angry. The approach has changed, I think.

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    1. Oh, yes, and they are much more likely to intentionally use humor to make their point. I forgot about how negative the Second Sex starts out. All the ovum stuff was weird and made me uncomfortable. It gets better, though doesn’t quite reach positive. She just does such a thorough job of describing every facet of life and even recognizes nuances. And she’s French, so Ihad no other reference to determine if European men were legitimately worse. I’m glad I’ve read it, though. More than her negativitiy, the worst part was seeing the things that haven’t changed.

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  2. I like reading early sexologists like Harry Benjamin and Magnus Hirschfield. Some of their writing is terribly dated, but a lot of it is also radical and full of empathy for their patients.

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  3. We like to remind you our pre-World War and World War generations plus the boom-children had lots of old borders to cut and faced so many totally different ideas about liberation of the mind, having found dissolution in mankind by all the horror of those incredible wars we had to endure. The upbringing of our grandparents, parents and bringing up our children in this very fast changing industrial and economical evolution could not other than bring conflicting ideas and generation clashes.

    In our search for freedom and our young blood envisioning a better world for all, the 1968 revolt did not bring the solution many of us had hoped for. When we look at those who were on the barricades that time many have abandoned their green ideas and betrayed the hippy movement becoming caught up and chained by capitalism.

    The existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist Simone Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir her work has to be read in that light. For years (decades) our generations had to struggle with subordination, use of the body and eroticism. In our patriarchal society today still there are too many inequalities between man and woman and ‘the battle’ is not over yet though in several countries the feminism may be put on a low(er) fire.

    Concerning keeping patrimony intact both sexes in the industrialised countries have become so independent they could liberate themselves from the other sex, but more and more grows the danger that people can’t cope any more to survive on one income and therefore new ways of partnering are looked for to manage the possibility to survive in this over commercialised capitalist world where often the machine and production has become more important than “man” (male or female).

    Today not only women are still slave, men are also enslaved. Like in the 60ies of previous century many still have to learn that marriage is not a perverted institution oppressing both men and women, but can be a blessing and enrichment for each, when they come in unison, respecting each other peculiarities.

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    1. I’m trying to come to terms with it all, but it’s been difficult. That is a problem that I didn’t even know existed before I started her book, so I’m not great at looking at that perspective yet, but I’m defiitely working on it.

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