Book Review: True Confessions

Volumes have been written--and careers built--on investigating the origins of feminism, but what of the origins of feminists?

What experiences inspire and define feminist thinkers, and what are the professional consequences of introducing feminism into academic inquiry? In True Confessions, groundbreaking academic feminist Susan Gubar presents essays in which more than two dozen pioneers in the field of women's studies, all of whom represent important "firsts," discuss the personal experiences that ground their theories and the professional repercussions of their feminist identities.

Nancy K. Miller and Jane Marcus identify ties between their oppressive fathers and their struggles against patriarchy, but Tania Modleski and Shirley Geok-lin Lim cite their mothers' behavior as the impetus for their pursuit of feminist sisterhood. In a piece that opens, "When my mother found God, all hell broke loose," Dyan Elliott lays the groundwork for an exploration of the complex relationship between feminism and religion, a recurring theme that results in unexpected and fascinating lines of study across many disciplines of the humanities.

The intersection of race, class and gender looms as large in these pieces as it does in any Women's Studies curriculum. Among the many contributors who address sexual harassment in academia are Martha C. Nussbaum, who recalls crashing the gates of an all-male philosophy department, and Ann Douglas, whose male colleagues frequently interpreted her enthusiasm for their shared studies as sexual interest in them. Jane Gallop presents the other side of the issue, asking what it means--and if it is even possible--to be a feminist accused of sexual harassment.

Frances Smith Foster and Tey Diana Rebolledo reflect on the tension that exists between one's feminist identity and one's racial identity, and the pressure felt from all sides to prioritize one over the other. Lillian Faderman explores the links between feminism and lesbianism, and Nancy Chodorow synthesizes her remarkable career in feminist-oriented psychoanalysis into a single, stunning essay.

Women we recognize as intellectual giants who changed history appear in these pages simply as women, with remarkable stories of the personal liberations, sexual awakenings and professional challenges that changed them. True Confessions is a revelation. A must-read for feminists budding and seasoned alike, it is a master class in the origins and evolution of women's studies and feminist activism. Gubar and company establish that the personal is still political and firmly suggest that if we think feminism's work is done, we must think again. --Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Shelf Talker: A fascinating anthology about the personal experiences that changed the women who created women's studies and changed feminist history.

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