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No Turning Back
The History of Feminism and the Future of Women
Written by Estelle Freedman

No Turning Back
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Category: Social Science - Feminism & Feminist Theory; History - Social History; Social Science - Research
Imprint: Ballantine Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: January 2003
Price: $17.00
Can. Price: $21.00
ISBN: 978-0-345-45053-1 (0-345-45053-1)
Pages: 464

2002 Outstanding Academic Title in History, Geography, & Area Studies
CHOICE Magazine (American Library Association)

A Library Journal Best Books of 2002

Feminism — alive or dead? According to Estelle Freedman, Professor of History and a founder of the Program in Feminist Studies at Stanford University, feminism is not only clearly alive and well, but is being reinvigorated and reassessed with a new urgency, vibrancy, and promise for the future unprecedented in its history.

Repeatedly declared dead by the media and pundits, feminism is at once a controversial topic of discussion and is also a force that, Freedman argues, has reached a critical momentum from which there is no turning back. Yet, much more work remains ahead before women attain real and true equality.

No Turning Back examines the historical forces that have fueled this movement over the past two hundred years. Freedman looks at the time "before feminism", in its various historical periods, geographical locations, cultural groups and economic systems, and provides an interesting account of the 'traditional' gender roles for women in predominantly patriarchal and rigidly defined societies. She then points to two currents that redirected the history of women away from the relatively constant and hierarchical positions dictated by the past. These two forces, one the relatively recent rise of capitalism and the other a result of this new economic system (chiefly political theories of man's individual rights and representative government), are forces that feminists have previously pointed to as unjust and conducive to creating a second-class status for women. However, although Freedman agrees with this assessment, she asks readers to reconsider that these very same forces have created the need for feminism, allowed for its initial emergence, and have provided the means to sustain it.

Continuing her radical and provocative exploration of feminism, Freedman takes a hard look at the actual word 'feminism', in what it says etymologically, what meanings it has come to take on, and why it is important that we redefine and reanimate the term for today and the future. She gives her own definition of the word and qualifies it with four components essential to it, namely: equal worth, male privilege, social movements, and intersecting hierarchies. Her insightful exploration of these elements within the context of present-day aims and goals of feminism provides the framework for an even larger discussion of why feminism is so feared in society, why it is so important to continuing struggle for equity between women and men, and why, ultimately, it is the key to helping solve the looming global dilemmas that affect all of us.

Freedman supplies case studies of how different women today are looking to feminism for new approaches to issues of work, family, sexuality, and creativity and how these women are practicing these ideals in their day to day living. Freedman argues that it is this real-life application of Feminism that makes the momentum and energy of the movement vibrant and forceful, and why women today cannot and should not turn back but, instead, should push forward.

Drawing examples from a variety of countries and cultures, from the past and the present, theory and praxis, No Turning Back is an invaluable reassessment of feminism's past, its recognition of its power in the present and, contrary to uninformed belief, its continued vibrancy and life well into the future.

This book should be required reading for all students of women's history, feminist studies, gender politics, and the sociological implications of the changing roles of women.

For a teaching guide to the chapters in this book, a list of references, and other useful resources, please cut and paste the below link into your web browser:


Praise for No Turning Back....

“Freedman (Stanford Univ.,) has integrated a coherent narrative of the “revolution that has transformed women’s lives” across the globe with this readable survey of the interdisciplinary scholarship produced by academic feminists over the past 30 years. Organized around a series of familiar themes–the diversity of women’s lives in the past, the emergence of a feminist movement, work and family, health and sexuality, and the current state of women’s activities–the book examines how “feminist movements have transformed law and politics over the past two centuries.” Beginning with an account of the emergence of the feminist movement in the 19th century and ending with a discussion of the issues that have become central elements of international and national politics everywhere, Freedman shows that women’s issues have become a permanent element of global political life. While the book centers on the experience of women in the US and Western Europe, it also places that history into a global framework, providing a wealth of information about women’s lives and projects across the world. Chock full of interesting examples from a variety of disciplinary and political perspectives and containing an excellent set of bibliographic listings, this book should be in every library’s collection. All levels.”—CHOICE Magazine (American Library Association)

"No Turning Back is a tour de force. A pioneering historian, Estelle Freedman now proves how global--and enduring--feminism is, has been, and will be. This is a very important book."
--Catharine R. Stimpson, University Professor and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University

"Estelle Freedman has accomplished the impossible--a brilliant synthesis of feminist scholarship and activism, truly interdisciplinary and transnational. Her lucid analysis of the past and future role of women's movements is inspiring and empowering."
--Gerda Lerner, Author of The Creation of Patriarchy, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, and Why History Matters

"On the situations of women around the world today, this one book provides more illumination and insight than a dozen others combined. From history to economics, from race issues to feminism, from international development to cultural politics, Freedman's survey is a triumph of global scope and informed precision."
--Nancy F. Cott, Professor of History, Harvard University, Author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

"Breathtaking in its scope, No Turning Back charts the origins and impact of feminism across the globe. Estelle Freedman weaves this rich and complex tale into a clear and vivid story, showing how the rise of capitalism and democracy created both the need and the conditions for feminist activism to flourish. Written with passion and full of new insights, No Turning Back offers an impressive scholarly synthesis and an inspiring message of hope for the future of women in the 21st century. Another tour-de-force for one of the nation's foremost feminist scholars."
--Professor Elaine Tyler May, Department of American Studies at the University of Minnesota

"A compelling, exhaustive scholarly history of international women's movements and global or transnational feminisms. From the struggles for women's education in Europe to the anti-slavery crusade in the United States to anti-colonial and nationalist struggles in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, women have fought around the globe for social justice and their own empowerment. This monumental study of women's resistance movements cross culturally brilliantly shatters the myth that feminism is a dying Western invention."
--Johnetta B. Cole, Emerita Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies, and African American Studies, Emory University

"Freedman thoroughly and thoughtfully defines the movement's history, tracing developments over time and cultures with astonishing ecumenicism....By purposely placing feminism's historical perspective within contemporary parameters, Freedman's interdisciplinary approach provides a scholarly precept for predicting the movement's future applications while affirming its present relevance and acknowledging its past contributions."—Booklist (American Library Association)

"Stanford historian Freedman (Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America) offers a comprehensive, accessible synthesis of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship, placing feminism in a global, historical framework....Recommended..."—Library Journal, (starred review)

"A welcome and stimulating overview that connects the modern feminist movement not only to its own past, but to global struggles for economic and social justice."—Kirkus Reviews

"...as I began reading the book, I realized that even a weary feminist had much to learn from Estelle Freedman. This book is broad and sweeping....Freedman includes the relevant topics....No Turning Back is historically specific, with concrete examples and active voices....Freedman writes clearly in the vernacular, addressing an audience broader than an academic one....No Turning Back is a model of how to write global history; few scholars have managed this mass integration of scholarship." —Women's Review of Books

Preface • Acknowledgments • The Historical Case for Feminism • Part One: Before Feminism -- Gender and Power • Part Two: The Historical Emergence -- Women's Rights, Women's Work, and Women's Sphere; Race and the Politics of Identity in U.S. Feminism; The Global Stage and the Politics of Location • Part Three: The Politics of Work and Family -- Never Done: Women's Domestic Labor; Industrialization, Wage Labor, and the Economic Gender Gap; Workers and Mothers: Feminist Social Policies • Part Four: The Politics of Health and Sexuality -- Medicine, Markets, and the Female Body; Reproduction: The Politics of Choice; Sexualities, Identities, and Self-Determination; Gender and Violence • Part Five: Feminist Visions and Strategies -- New Words and Images: Women's Creativity as a Feminist Practice; No Turning Back: Women's and Politics • Notes • Bibliographic Notes • Appendices • Index


Estelle B. Freedman is Professor of History and a founder of the Program in Feminist Studies at Stanford University. She is the coauthor of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was a New York Times Notable Book.

From the Hardcover edition.