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No Turning Back, by Estelle Freeman

By an everyday book reader
August 1, 2007

In the preface to her engaging narrative history of feminism, No Turning Back, Estelle Freedman thanks a woman we should all thank, someone who asked her to recommend one book that best presented feminist scholarship to date.

Realizing that her only suggestions would require the woman to read extensively across a range of disciplines, Freedman set out to provide that book herself. The result is an expansive but eminently readable history of feminism, its political roots and objectives, and the case for its centrality to the future of women. She helps us understant that "feminist politics originated where capitalism, industrial growth, democratic theory, and socialist critiques converged."

No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women
by Estelle FreedmanBook Picture

Softcover: 464 pages
ISBN: 9780345450531, 0345450531
Ballantine Books
January 2003

"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

Repeatedly declared dead by the media, the women's movement has never been as vibrant as it is today. Indeed as Stanford professor and award-winning author Estelle B. Freedman argues in her compelling book, feminism has reached a critical momentum from which there is no turning back. Freedman examines the historical forces that have fueled the feminist movement over the past two hundred years - and explores how women today are looking to feminism for new approaches to issues of work, family, sexuality, and creativity.

Drawing examples from a variety of countries and cultures, from the past and the present, this inspiring narrative will be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the role women play in the world.

Searching in its analysis and global in its perspective, No Turning Back will stand as a defining text in one of the most important social movements of all time.

"An astonishing feat, a comprehensive synthesis of a sprawling and often contradictory body of thought and activism." - San Francisco Examiner

"A tour de force... This is a very important book." - Catharine Stimpson, Professor, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University

"On the situations of women around the world today, this one book provides more illumination and insight than a dozen others combined... Freedman's survey is a triumph of global scope and informed precision." - Nancy Cott, Professor of History, Harvard University

While displaying an in-depth knowledge of her field in discussing women's rights, work, and the more recent history of women's political strategies, Freedman also demonstrates a willingness to engage in critical thinking beyond her own sphere and range; she explores subjects ranging from the development of labor and social roles across centuries and cultures to the ways in which race, class, and other social hierarchies inform and define different "feminisms." Acknowledging that her book does not "tell a single, unified history of revolutionary triumph," Freedman examines issues related to politics, economics, race, relationships, health, sexuality, and violence within the context of feminist history.

Excerpted from the book:

"In No Turning Back I explain why and how a feminist revolution has occurred. I argue that two related historical transitions have propelled feminist politics. First, the rise of capitalism disrupted older, reciprocal relations within families in ways that initially enhanced men's economic opportunities and defined women as their dependents. Second, new political theories of individual rights and representative government that developed alongside capitalism extended privileges to men only. In response, feminist movements named these disparities as unjust, insisting on the value of women's economic contributions and the justice of political rights for women. In short, the market economies and democratic systems that now dominate the world create both the need for feminism and the means to sustain it. Feminist politics originated where capitalism, industrial growth, democratic theory, and socialist critiques converged."

Though it could have been a dry polemic, No Turning Back is, instead, an enthusiastic look at how and why feminist ideas have remained a part of the political landscape since their emergence. Freedman not only recognizes the complex processes of adaptation and redefinition that feminism has undergone, but proposes that this malleability is what has enabled the movement to withstand the test of time.

For an obviously impassioned (but still well-reasoned and solidly supported) presentation of the story thus far, Freedman's answer to this book's instigator should now be an easy one.

For the past twenty-five years, Estelle B. Freedman, a founder of the Program in Feminist Studies at Stanford University, has written about the history of women in the United States. Freedman is the author of two award-winning studies: Their Sisters' Keepers: Women's Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930 and Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition. Freedman coauthored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Professor Freedman currently lives in San Francisco.

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