Daughters of 1968: Redefining French Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement, Lisa Greenwald

Deadline: 10/12/2019

Daughters of 1968: Redefining French Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement, is the story of modern-day French feminism which was both impactful and full of intellectual and personal conflict. It is the book that has been clamoring to be written since American academics decades ago claimed second wave “French feminism” as a literary movement divorced from the politics that shaped it. A small collection of women psychoanalysts, novelists, and philosophers who have written about and for women since the 1970s have enjoyed significant academic interest beyond France and are often seen by foreign academics as epitomizing French feminism. This belief continues among American academics and much of the French public, thus this book intends to shift the understanding of French feminism in a more political direction. Between women’s suffrage in 1944 and the Socialist electoral win in 1981, using feminist arguments to attract voters, French feminism played a central political role in the history of France. The women who drove this feminist epoch and were at the forefront of action on women’s behalf were often social scientists, teachers, and workers—leftists committed to a materialist critique of society. They were part of a longer tradition, which flourished in the postwar period, and which produced widespread social change, revamping the workplace and laws governing everything from abortion to marriage.

The May Events of 1968 with their embrace of radical individualism and anti-authoritarianism triggered a break from the past, and the women’s movement split into two separate strands. One became intensely activist and individualist contemporary feminism: hostile to entrenched political power, demanding justice and the reinvention of social norms. The other became less activist—sometimes anti-activist—and a particularist amalgam of postmodern theory and a metaphysics of the self which distanced itself from feminism. This theoretical debate was not academic. It manifested itself in pitched battles between women and organizations that wound up on the streets and in the courts.

The history of the French feminist movement is the history of women’s claims to the individualism and citizenship already granted to their male counterparts, at least on principle, in 1789. Yet French women have more often donned the mantle of particularism, advancing their contributions as mothers to prove their worth as citizens, than they have thrown it off, claiming absolute equality. The exceptions to this norm, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Andrée Michel, and the activists of the 1970s demonstrate the complexity and tensions within French feminism and its effort to move France from a predominantly corporatist and tradition-minded country to one marked by individualism and modernity.


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