Women's Studies Textbooks' Review (Brown) 1994

WOMEN'S STUDIES RESOURCES, vol. 16, no. 1 (Fall 1994), pages 2-5,
published by the University of Wisconsin System Women's Studies
Librarian, copyright of the Regents of the University of
Wisconsin System. For information about subscribing to FEMINIST
COLLECTIONS and other publications of the Women's Studies
Librarian, write to 430 Memorial Library, 728 State Street,
Madison, WI 53706, call 608-263-5754, or email
the Women's Studies Librarian.]
by Terry Brown
WOMEN'S STUDIES.  Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing,
1994.  3rd ed. 549p.  pap., $29.95, ISBN 1-55934-225-0.
Jo Freeman, ed., WOMEN: A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE.  Mountain View,
California: Mayfield Publishing, 1995.  5th ed.  pap., ISBN
1-55934-111-4.  [1994?}
Hunter College Women's Studies Collective, WOMEN'S REALITIES,
and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.  [2nd ed., 1995??]
704p. ill.  pap., $29.00, ISBN 0-19-505883-6.
STUDIES.  Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing, 1995.  3rd
ed.  ISBN 1-55934-224-2.
Jodi Wetzel, Margo Linn Espenlaub, Monys A. Hagen, Annette
Bennington McElhiney, and Carmen Braun Williams, eds.,  WOMEN'S
STUDIES: THINKING WOMEN.  Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1993.
[1994?]  608p.  pap., $38.95, ISBN 0-8403-9583-3.
Amy Kesselmann, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind,  WOMEN,
Calif.: Mayfield Publishing, 1995.
Jo Whitehorse Cochran, Donna Langston, and Carolyn Woodward,
Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1991.  2nd ed.
Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1990.  400p.  $25.95, ISBN
1-879960-11-7; pap., $15.95, ISBN 1-879960-10-9.
Laurel Richardson and Verta Taylor, eds.,  FEMINIST FRONTIERS
III.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.  3rd ed. [1992???]  pap., ISBN
Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg, eds.,  FEMINIST
BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.  3rd ed.
512p.  pap., ISBN 0-07-032253-8.
1994.  pap., $13.00, ISBN 0-679-74508-4.
CULTURAL.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.  440p.
$45.00, ISBN 0-231-08072-7; pap., $15.95, ISBN 0-231-08073-5.
Diane Richardson and Victoria Robinson, eds.,  THINKING FEMINIST:
KEY CONCEPTS IN WOMEN'S STUDIES.  New York: Guilford Press, 1993.
368p.  $45.00, ISBN 0-89862-989-6; pap., $18.95, ISBN
Mary Kennedy, Cathy Lubelska, and Val Walsh, eds.,  MAKING
London and Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis, 1993.
END: A READER.  Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.  512p.  $49.95, ISBN
1-55786-346-6; pap., $19.95, ISBN 1-55786-347-4.
     I can safely say that Introduction to Women's Studies is the
most difficult course I have ever taught.  In fifteen weeks or
less I attempt to give the students some sense of the treatment
of women since the beginning of time so they understand why women
began formally to resist their oppression; at the same time, I am
careful not to generalize about the lives of all women,
recognizing that individual women find themselves caught in a
variety of systemic oppressions.  Once an historical context for
the course has been established, I survey the influence of
feminist research across the curriculum, demonstrating the ways
in which feminism has challenged traditional epistemologies and
methods of inquiry.  Because of the truly interdisciplinary
nature of the course, I am inevitably taken out of my  field of
expertise.  The course is often made even more challenging by the
presence of students (sometimes the majority), who are taking the
course, against their will, in order to satisfy a "diversity"
requirement.  For various personal and political reasons, these
students tend to be wary, even defensive, about taking the course
in the first place.  Given the particular challenges of the
Introduction to Women's Studies, choosing the right texts, I have
discovered, is more critical than it is for any other course I
have taught.
     For those of us who teach the course with one central text,
there are now many excellent works to choose from.  Until a few
years ago, however, there were very few texts for introductory
women's studies courses, and most were written in the style of
traditional textbooks -- books that, whether by one author or a
few, tend to convey a unified view of the discipline.  Virginia
Sapiro's Women in American Society: an Introduction to Women's
Studies, now in its third edition, is probably the most widely
read textbook of this kind, and for good reason.  The book is an
exhaustive explanation of the social construction and
institutionalization of gender difference in the United States.
Like most textbooks, Women in American Society must present a lot
of information in a unified and clear manner, but in doing so it
sacrifices subtlety and complexity.  For example, dividing
feminist theory into four categories -- liberal feminism,
socialist feminism, radical feminism, multicultural feminism --
has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that these "types" of
feminism are mutually exclusive or even at odds.  Like Women in
American Society, Women: A Feminist Perspective, first published
in the mid-1970's, presents monolithic definitions of what it
calls "the feminist perspective" and "the traditionalist view"
(emphasis added).  Both of these women's studies textbooks, out
of necessity, find themselves stating as fact ideas that may be
arguable even from a feminist point of view.  I would also add
that neither of these textbooks foregrounds other issues of
difference, such as race, as do more recent women's studies
texts.  Rather than integrate articles on "difference" throughout
the text, the most recent edition of Women: A Feminist
Perspective has unfortunately merely added a chapter at the end
of the book entitled "Feminism and Diversity," which includes
articles on "the experience of minority women in the United
States," "feminist consciousness and black women," "chicana
feminism," "Jewish feminism," and "lesbian feminism."  In
contrast, the recently published Women: Images and Realities: A
Multicultural Anthology thoroughly foregrounds and integrates
issues of difference throughout.  Following the pattern of these
types of textbooks, it begins with a section that defines women's
studies, but unlike other textbooks, includes articles written by
students of women's studies, such as "Finding My Latina Identity
Through Women's Studies," and "What Women's Studies has Meant to
Me."  This multicultural women's studies text may be organized
according to standard textbook models, but it includes a more
diverse selection of writers: bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, Lois
Gould, Nellie Wong, In‚s Hernandez-Avila, Marilyne Frye, June
Jordan, Leslie Marmon Silko, Angela Davis, Suzanne Pharr, to name
a few.
     Since it is the nature of textbooks to generalize about
their subject, the genre is already at odds with the complex
terrain of women's studies.   Women's Realities, Women's Choices,
which calls itself "the first basic textbook written for women's
studies courses," illustrates the inherent problem.  The Preface
devotes several paragraphs to discussing how the authors decided
what pronoun to use when refering to women: using "they" had the
effect, the authors say, of "relegating women, again, to the
voiceless `they,' the `other,' where patriarchy has always tried
to put all of us" (p.xi).  But the pronoun "we," they explain,
had the effect of sounding as if the authors were speaking for
all women.  The problem is with the genre of the textbook itself,
which, insofar as it forces its authors to speak for all women
(in spite of prefatory disclaimers), is antithetical to a
pedagogy that would seek to preserve a multiplicity of women's
voices.  The only truly satisfactory women's studies text, it
would seem, is one that allows women to speak for themselves.  I
am not surprised, therefore, that the most recently published
texts in women's studies are "readers," collections of works
written by women.
     Some of these recent texts combine extensive textbook-like
commentary with selected readings, in the style of Sheila Ruth's
Issues in Feminism, which pairs an essay by the author of the
text with selections from divergent perspectives.  Sheila Ruth,
for example, pairs an essay on images of women in patriarchy with
commentaries about women written by St. Thomas Aquinas, Sigmund
Freud, and Simone de Beauvoir.  Unlike some texts which collect
only contemporary feminist perspectives, Ruth's book contains
feminist and anti-feminist essays from the past and present, as
well as historical documents such as the "Declaration of
Sentiments and Resolutions" from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention
and Sojourner Truth's famous speech "Ain't I a Woman?"  The
recently published third edition collects more articles on issues
of ethnicity, class, and sexuality, and more satisfactorily
addresses homophobia, including an excerpt from Suzanne Pharr's
Homophobia, A Weapon of Sexism.  Women's Studies: Thinking Women,
one of the most recently published texts of this type, introduces
selected readings with informative summaries on subjects such as
the psychology of women, women's health, and violence against
women.  Unlike Ruth's text, Women's Studies: Thinking Women
includes a section on women in the arts.
     Other women's studies readers simply collect many works from
a variety of perspectives.  What distinguishes Changing Our
Power: An Introduction to Women's Studies among these readers is
that it is a deliberately nonacademic (although intended for the
women's studies classroom) collection of works, some of which are
written by women who are not professional writers.  The editors
state that "one goal for the textbook is that it can be
accessible _ neither cluttered with academic jargon nor speaking
from unacknowledged assumptions of the `generic woman.'  One way
in which we have tried to meet this goal has been to write, and
to ask others to write, short essays that come directly from
women's experiences and knowledge" (p.xvii).  While the quality
of the writing in this collection is uneven, the book is probably
one of the most inclusive women's studies texts.  Unfortunately,
it is organized into three sections that, like the title of the
book Changing Our Power, are so vaguely named ("Our Identities in
Difference and Communities," "Claiming our Identities: Naming the
Violence," and "Claiming Our Identities: Creating Against All
Odds") that it is difficult to discern any clear organizing
principle or idea.
     Edited by Gloria AnzaldŁa, Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo
Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives of Feminists of Color,
like Changing Our Power, collects the writings -- poetry,
fiction, memoirs, theory -- of renowned writers such as Sandra
Cisneros, Cherrˇe Moraga, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan as well as
"unknown, little published or unpublished writers."  In many
ways, however, the text is more successful than Changing Our
Power.  The selections in this book are consistently powerful,
thought-provoking, and beautifully written.  While AnzaldŁa warns
the reader that the book was organized according to "poetic
association," the purpose of Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo
Caras is clear: "Besides being a testimonial of survival,"
AnzaldŁa says in the Introduction, "I wanted a book which would
teach ourselves and whites to read in nonwhite narrative
traditions -- traditions which, in the very act of writing, we
try to recoup and to invent.  In addition to the task of writing,
or perhaps included in the task of writing, we've had to create a
readership and teach it how to `read' our work (p.xviii).
Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras would be an excellent
text to use in teaching introductory women's studies students how
to read in new, critical and creative, ways.
     Unlike either Changing Our Power or Making Face, Making
Soul/Haciendo Caras, Richardson and Taylor's Feminist Frontiers
III and Jaggar and Rothenberg's Feminist Frameworks: Alternative
Theoretical Accounts of the Relations between Women and Men are
thoroughly academic in perspective and purpose.  Feminist
Frontiers III, in fact, intends to be an introduction to feminist
research, including significant feminist essays from sociology,
science, history, economics, political science, and psychology.
The book foregrounds the subject of race in its first section
with essays by Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins, and
integrates articles by and about women of color and lesbians
throughout the text.  I have used this text successfully in my
introductory women's studies courses, but I have found that some
selections are written in such lifeless academic prose that, in
spite of the engaging subject, they are a challenge to read with
interest.  While the organization of Feminist Frontiers reflects
the fact that its editors are sociologists, emphasizing the
social construction and organization of gender, the organization
of Feminist Frameworks reflects the fact that its editors are
philosophers, emphasizing more theoretical questions of women's
subordination.  Most of the book is devoted to examining women's
subordination through various "lenses" (e.g., the lens of sex,
the lens of gender, the lens of class, etc.), or theories, some
of which they have called "classical Marxism," "radical
feminism," "socialist feminism," "multicultural feminism," and
"global feminism."
     Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II
to the Present, edited by Miriam Schnier, might make a good
companion text with either Feminist Frontiers III or Feminist
Frameworks, both of which lack a satisfactory representation of
historical feminist documents.  The book collects documents and
commentaries historically important to Second Wave feminism, such
as: The Combahee River Collective Statement, the Radicalesbians'
"The Woman-identified Woman," "The Equal Rights Amendment," and
Anita Hill's statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well
as excerpts from the feminist classics Simone de Beauvoir's The
Second Sex, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and Michele
Walace's Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.  Here and
there the collection includes poetry by Audre Lorde, Syvia Plath,
and Anne Sexton.
     There are several books that call themselves introductions
to women's studies but  whose focus is primarily British.  Maggie
Humm's Modern Feminisms: Political, Literary, Cultural might be a
useful supplementary text for women's studies as it collects
excerpts from a wide range of historical and contemporary
feminist prose.  By its own description, it is "theory and not
practice orientated; academic and not movement based; first world
and not third world directed."  Diane Richardson and Victoria
Robinson's Thinking Feminist: Key Concepts in Women's Studies is
a collection of scholarly articles that summarize the major
issues in a range of disciplines (e.g., feminist theory, cultural
studies, literature, sociology, history, economics, and
education), after foregrounding issues of race within women's
studies in one of the introductory essays, Kum-Kum Bhavnani's
"Talking Racism and the Editing of  Women's Studies."  Each essay
in this volume is careful to represent multiple perspectives on
the subject without foresaking the author's own perspective.
While an essay on feminism and science would have completed the
collection, Thinking Feminist, even though it claims to be an
introduction to the subject, would make an excellent text for a
more advanced course.  Making Connections: Women's Studies,
Women's Movements, Women's Lives is organized around the ways
feminism has redefined knowledge.  The essays here are
theoretical and sophisticated, and some are very good, especially
a compelling article by Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson on
heterosexuality and feminism.  By and large, this collection
seems too specialized (e.g., Julia Hallam and Annecka Marshall's
"Layers of Difference: The Significance of a Self-Reflexive
Research Practice for a Feminist Epistemological Project") to be
used in an introductory women's studies course.
     Finally, I must recommend American Feminist Thought at
Century's End, edited by Linda S. Kaufmann, which is probably
more appropriate for a course in feminist theory or a senior
seminar in women's studies.  This book is, quite simply, one of
the best feminist readers I have examined.  It is thoroughly
interdisciplinary, collecting essays on literature, philosophy,
political science, law, science, film, history, sociology, and
medicine, while it insists on maintaining a global perspective
throughout.  Unlike some of the women's studies textbooks we have
seen, this collection is wary of consensus and categorization:
"Far from attempting to construct a totalizing portrait, these
essays deconstruct it: the words American, national, identity,
and feminist are fraught with signification, but they resist
reductive classification.  Far from striving for consensus,
controversies over race, reproduction, sexuality, economics, and
identity are confronted here" (p.xv).  Some of the most
provocative and intelligent essays in feminist thought from the
1980's and 1990's are collected here, including Gayle Rubin's
classic "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics
of Sexuality" and Gloria AnzaldŁa's "La conciencia de la mestiza:
Towards a New Consciousness."
     Judging from the recent publication of so many excellent
women's studies texts, I can only conclude that, far from being a
discipline gasping its final breath as the newspapers would have
us believe, perhaps now more than ever women's studies is a
serious and thriving academic discipline, willing to look
critically at itself from a variety of perspectives.  In spite of
the challenges, the Introduction to Women's Studies can be one of
the most rewarding courses to teach, a task made even more
gratifying by the array of texts from which to choose.
[Terry Brown is Associate Professor of English and Director of
Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.  She
has published articles on feminist theory, literature, and
pedagogy, and is currently writing a book, with John Nguyet Erni,
on travel writing, sex tourism, and the AIDS epidemic in

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Last updated: August 24, 1999