Levy ’96 Considers Feminism in Books About American Women

David LowNovember 12, 20092min

In the Nov. 16 issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Ariel Levy ’96 looks at two new books: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (Little Brown) by Gail Collins, and You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman (Palgrave) by Leslie Sanchez.

In her essay, titled “Lift and Separate,” Levy discusses not just the content of the two books but also considers how feminism is still so divisive. She discusses some of the triumphs and defeats of the feminist movement and some myths of the movement as well. For instance, Levy writes that “bra burning became the most durable and unsettling image of modern feminism,” but then continues: “So it may be worth noting that it never actually happened.”

Levy notes how activist feminists are often stereotyped and how women like Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain who describe themselves as “traditional” are far from traditional women. She recognizes how the feminist movement succeeded in getting women into the government and the private sector workforce. But she also comments that the “contours of mainstream feminism started to change accordingly. A politics of liberation was largely supplanted by a politics of identity.”

Near the end of her essay, Levy writes: “Feminism as an identity politics has enjoyed real victories. It matters that women serve on the Supreme Court, that they make decisions in business, government, academia, and the media. But a preoccupation with representation suggests that feminism has lost its larger ambitions. We’ve come a long way in the past forty years … The trouble is that the journey hasn’t always been in the intended direction. These days, we can only dream about a federal program insuring that women with school-age children have affordable child care.”