is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan,
was the first major anthology to emerge out of feminism’s
second wave. First published in 1970, Morgan's collection helped
launch to prominence many then-unknown feminist thinkers, including
Kate Millet, as well as members of influential women’s liberation
groups such as the Daughters of Bilitis and Redstockings. Until
the 2003 release of Morgan’s subsequent anthology, Sisterhood
is Forever, Sisterhood is Powerful was unmatched
as a nearly comprehensive overview of modern feminism. (A third
anthology, Sisterhood is Global, also edited by Morgan,
while enthusiastically recommended, is not included in this review
due to its close similarities to Sisterhood is Powerful).
Reading Sisterhood is Powerful is the best way to familiarize
oneself with the history of the modern day women’s movement,
while reading Sisterhood is Forever is the best way to
familiarize oneself with the state of the women’s movement
today. Taken separately or together, Morgan's two anthologies educate
us in feminist history, and compel us to take immediate action by
becoming involved in the women’s movement.
Sisterhood is Powerful is more than a collection of articles and essays; it is an all-inclusive
guide to then-contemporary women’s movement. In addition to
groundbreaking essays and social analyses, the book, which is now
unfortunately out of print included a contact list for women’s
liberation groups and recommended resources. Reading these reference
guides today is captivating -- it's easy to forget how difficult
it must have been for feminist women outside of major cities to
find each other in 1970. Where such groups did exist, they often
consisted of radical cells operating far outside the mainstream
of American life. Sisterhood is Powerful makes reference
to the fact that before the book was published, many women tried
look feminism or women’s groups up in the phone book, often
only to find none were listed.
While the two anthologies
are similar in structure, Sisterhood is Powerful is a much
more radical book than its counterpart, largely because women fighting
for liberation in the late 60s and early 70s were viewed -- and
often viewed themselves -- as extremists and radicals. Sisterhood
is Powerful was written at a time when women were still defined
by their relation to a man and by motherhood, and before they had
control over their reproductive options.
To put the radicalism
of Sisterhood is Powerful into context, readers may recall
that by 1970, a major rift had formed between feminist women and
the men of the New Left. As the "Know Your Enemy" list
offered by Morgan in Sisterhood is Powerful notes, Abbie
Hoffman, a leader of the New Left, once declared, "The only
alliance I would make with the Women’s Liberation Movement
is in bed." Today, it's disturbing to read a quote like this
from a leftist, but before women in the liberation movement called
attention to sexism within the left, it was not at all uncommon.
The essays in Sisterhood is Powerful articulately defined
the problems women had while working in the New Left movement of
the late 1960s, and why they ultimately had no choice but to splinter
off and form their own social revolution.
Since feminism was largely
new during this time period, it also went through a painful period
of division between the two major forces: radical and liberal feminism.
Sisterhood is Powerful was clearly a product of the former,
while mainstream women’s organizations, such as NOW, represented
the latter. Morgan addresses this split when she wrote of the need
for radical feminism in her introduction:
I fear for the women’s
movement’s falling into precisely the same trap as did our
foremothers, the suffragists: creating a bourgeois feminist movement
that never quite dared enough, never questioned enough, never
really reached out beyond its own class and race. The only hope
of a new feminist movement is some kind of only now barely emerging
politics of revolutionary feminism, which some people are trying
to explore in this anthology.
Morgan called for a radical
feminist revolution, and Sisterhood is Powerful, which
explained and ultimately came to represent radical feminism, and
was not written to be beloved by a mainstream audience. The writers
openly and aggressively challenged the fundamental structures of
mid-twentieth century society, including workplace norms, relationships
and family formation. As with other radical feminist works published
in 1970, such as Shulamith
Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, many women
in this anthology are calling for an abolition of the nuclear family
and a complete overhaul of patriarchal society.
Radical feminism was
a direct response to the overt sexism which permeated nearly every
aspect of American life. One of the experiences Lindsy Van Gelder
shares in her essay, "The Trials of Lois Lane: Women in Journalism"
shows what women were dealing with at the time Sisterhood is
Powerful was published: "…[M]y favorite adventure
was at the New York Daily News, which operates an internship program
for college graduates. I remember the editor in charge beaming over
my resume….then he noticed that I was married….I told
the editor I was on the Pill and planned to stay that way for some
time to come. Anyway, my husband and I both believed in working
motherhood. 'Honey.' The editor said cavalierly, 'that’s no
way to talk. A pretty little thing like you ought to be home having
a baby every year!' It was only due to the efforts of second wave
activists that it is now illegal for a potential employer to ask
a woman if she has children or ever plans to have them.
Sisterhood is Powerful
has obviously left an imprint on feminism and our society as a whole.
For those who are familiar with some of the most outspoken feminists
of today, it is clear the women anthologized in Sisterhood is
Powerful paved a way for their present day counterparts. For
example, Nomy Lamm, the writer who discusses her disability and
plus size body in many funny and radical essays, clearly has these
women to thank for their style of the "in your face feminism"
she has embraced.