At a time when some feminist critics are saying that the feminist movement has been too individualistic and too market oriented, Joan Kennedy Taylor contends that feminists should cherish and celebrate their tradition of individualism and equal rights. Reclaiming the Mainstream points out that the most enduring voices in the women’s movement – Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, John Stuart Mill, Charlotte Perkins Gilman – have spoken out against government privileges and special protection for women so that their individual differences might flourish.
This book argues that modern feminism grew out of the 19th-century Woman Movement which, like much late 19th-century thinking, became a battleground between individualist and collectivist ideas. When individualist ideals predominated in this movement – ideals of independence, social mobility, even sexual freedom – it gained wide adherence. But when the movement supported collectivist ideas of social reform, it became more marginal and sectarian. It was a focus on the individual woman’s rights and happiness that reinvented feminist movements twice in our history, in the decades from 1910 to the New Deal and then again in the late 1960’s. Reclaiming the Mainstream examines this history, gives an overview of the contemporary scene, and analyzes the campaign to pass and ratify an equal rights amendment – and its failure.
Reclaiming the Mainstream also discusses contemporary policy issues that affect women: affirmative action and comparable worth; rape, battering, sexual harassment, and incest; the many facets of sexual and reproductive choice; and the attempts to unify feminist and non-feminist women against pornography or in support of social feminist issues.
On all these topics, Taylor offers a new and surprising individualist feminist analysis that asks feminists to make their philosophy more consistent and more effective. She calls attention to the continuing voices within the feminist tradition that encourage women to reclaim their strength, their faith in their own abilities, and the community feeling of the seventies to find non-governmental solutions to the problems women still face in managing work, family life, and relationships.