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Saturday, January 19, 2008

ProLife Feminism Yesterday & Today Gets Another Great Book Review!

Kimberly Kelly, a graduate student at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, has published a great book review of ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Second Expanded Edition in the November 2007 issue of the Journal of International Women's Studies. This, of course, is the book that led to the Nonviolent Choice Directory.

Kelly identifies herself as a prochoice feminist, and she gets and respects that prolife feminists are really, truly, deeply feminists as well, feminists who are eager to cooperate on reducing abortion. What well-timed balm on my very recent smarting from stereotypes and negativity from both "camps" in the abortion debate! It is such a delight to be understood and listened to by someone who evidently knows how to disagree respectfully while recognizing and appreciating common ground.

I will let you all read it for yourselves. But Kelly makes this point about the book's first part, the "yesterday" part, that I feel moved to address. Even though she does not attribute this failing to Part Two, quite the opposite.

It is disappointing that discussions of unique issues facing women of color and economically disadvantaged women written by these women are so infrequently included in the anthology. One can appreciate more privileged women recognizing and using their status to speak out in support of other women, but this is not a substitute for the voices of the groups directly affected.

This is true, that people from marginalized groups should be directly included. And I made a strenuous effort to find and include their voices. In some cases I (I wrote most of the editorial stuff in Part One) succeeded. Examples that come immediately to mind:

--Part One shows the origin of nineteenth century US feminism in the Haudenosaunee Six Nations, and reprints part of the Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca prophet.

--The journalist Eleanor Kirk, author of "What Will Become of the Babies," suffered deep poverty with her children after leaving her abusive husband.

--The discussion of slavery includes the story and the voice of slave narrative author Harriet Jacobs.

--Scholar/activist Matilda Joslyn Gage was disabled, and her perspective on disability rights is reprinted.

--Some of the women represented in Part One were in modern terms lesbians, such as Frances Willard, Jane Addams, and Susan B. Anthony.

--The discussion of eugenics includes the voices of sterilization abuse survivors.

--Part One reprints a passage from a socialist-feminist play about crisis pregnancy by Rose Pastor Stokes, a Jewish birth control and labor activist from a decidedly workingclass background--she was even a child laborer in the cigar-making industry.

--The discussion of Irish Americans includes a passage from a poor mother's letter to the child she placed with the Foundling Hospital in New York.

--Workingclass women from the Women's Cooperative Guild in Great Britain have their say about the reproductive conditions under which they and other women labored.

--Part One concludes with the life and words of Dorothy Day, a Roman Catholic and therefore a member of a religion which, like the religion of Rose Pastor Stokes, at that time encountered signficant discrimination in the Protestant-majority US.

I feel horrible that I could include little more than this in Part One. But I encountered some large impediments in the historical research. The nineteenth and early twentieth century women's movement did include women of diverse religions, socioeconomic statuses, races/ethnicities, and sexual orientations. However, it was dominated by WASP-white, middle-to-upper class, Protestant women.

Not only were they the most visible and numerous feminists, the historical record privileges them over feminists from other groups. The voices of the non-majority feminists are far more scant and harder to find. I had absolutely no funding for the years of assiduous reseach. I had no institution or benefactor or mentor to back me up financially or otherwise, which was a strain because I have multiple disabilities and my family is working-poor. This book was written for love, not money! I slowly but thoroughly dug into the libraries and other resources I could access in my home city for free, and sent off for photocopies of documents I could identify in other institutions elsewhere. But I had no means to do the deep, onsite, in-person archival research in other places, the research indispensible to achieving a rounder picture.

So, Kimberly, sorry to disappoint you. But I tried very hard within these limits to represent the non-"mainstream" voices. I think maybe I achieved this a bit more than you apparently think, and if I didn't, it was not because I had the mindset of "privilege," which is definitely not where I, personally, come from!

Otherwise...a wonderful book review...thanks...

To read other reviews of the book, you can start here.


Kim Kelly said...

Hi, Rachel. This is Kimberly Kelly. I agree, there is nothing that refreshes the soul as much as respectful and thoughtful consideration from the so-called other side. Would you like to talk some time? It seems like we could have a productive conversation.
Best wishes,
Kim Kelly

Marysia said...


Thank you for getting in touch!

Although--the author of the above post is not Rachel, it's me, Mary, one of the other two coeditors of the book (Marysia is my Polish nickname). I am forwarding your message to Rachel and to Linda, the other coeditor.

A conversation would be great.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

Oops! But I'd love to talk with you, Linda and Rachel. Is there some way I can privately send you my email and phone?


Marysia said...


You are welcome to send your info to editor(at)nonviolentchoice.info

Look forward to hearing from you!