Reclaiming the Feminist Vision

Reclaiming the Feminist Vision: Consciousness-Raising and Small Group Practice.

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Freedman advocates that consciousness-raising be revisited, revised as appropriate, and applied as a tool for revitalizing feminism and all activism for social justice. The book draws from the technique outlined by Kathie Sarachild in her Program for Feminist Consciousness-Raising presented at the first National Women’s Liberation Conference in the fall of 1968 that inspired so many CR groups in the late ’60s and seventies.

The book is grounded in bell hooks’ definition of feminism (“a movement to end sexist oppression (that) directs our attention to systems of domination and the inter-relatedness of sex, race, and class oppression.” … “Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men.”) Freedman’s work responds to her ongoing support for consciousness-raising (CR) and her urging that there be many accessible books that can encourage feminism “for everybody.”

Freedman documents that while early CR groups strived for commonality around female oppression, Black feminist theory and an expanded awareness of gender and sexuality have reshaped and are continuing to reshape consciousness-raising practice. Intersectional feminism reveals that there is a matrix of interlocking oppressions; people may be both oppressed and oppressors; dominated or privileged depending on shifting identities and changing circumstances. Given a deeper understanding of how privileges and oppressions intersect, consciousness-raising — sharing and analyzing our everyday experiences as a basis for meaningful action — is even more valuable.

Freedman argues that the CR approach, whether named as such or not, has continued to keep the women’s liberation movement alive. The chapters in Reclaiming a Feminist Vision reveal that the technique has been used in political involvements, spirituality groups, mutual aid efforts, work groups and teaching and learning projects within and beyond the academy and can be applied across the life course. For example, Freedman is 73 and urges in the last chapter, “CR Through the Lifespan” that the CR model can challenge oppressions that trivialize and silence the elderly. Instead of facelifts and trying to make 60 “the new 40,” we can gather to speak honestly and analyze deeply our lived experience and form coalitions with other social justice groups to take action for systemic change.

Consciousness-raising is being revitalized today across class, race and geography. Translators of Our Bodies Ourselves used consciousness-raising groups to learn how to adapt the classic guide to health and sexuality for women in dozens of countries and more than 25 languages. The CR process was used by gatherings of nannies and caretakers whose analyses of shared experiences led to the creation of Domestic Workers United, a national group organizing for power, respect and fair labor standards. Eve Ensler, creator of the Vagina Monologues, uses the CR approach in her recent book about girls, I Am an Emotional Creature. And consciousness-raising also is taking place every day on the internet, as the chapter “Only Connect” reveals.

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From a feminist who was on the front lines of consciousness-raising, comes a perfect book for women’s centers and women’s studies programs. Reclaiming a Feminist Vision: Consciousness-Raising and Small Group Practice is not only an historical overview but a toolkit for building social justice work within any feminist or multicultural organization.

Juli Parker, Director, Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality, Former Chair, NWSA Women’s Center Caucus,
Board Member, YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts, blogger www.thefeministcritic.com

This timely book is a valuable guide to a new era of consciousness-raising that is unfolding across geography, age, class, gender, abilities and other, often interrelated, identities and interests. Freedman details how the CR technique of sharing and analyzing lived experience moves individual perspectives to collective activism for social justice. The process has kept feminism alive between “waves” and is again revitalizing the women’s liberation movement.

Paula Doress Worters, co-founding author of Our Bodies Ourselves