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The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism
ISBN: 0385721021

Edited by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin
Review by: Michelle Humphrey

12/01/04

The first wave of feminism began to crest a hundred and fifty-six years ago at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 under the sturdy gaze of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, along with Susan B. Anthony, led a formidable trek to suffrage. Though Stanton wanted to further the work on a number of issues, including divorce reform and the personal freedoms of women, Anthony focused unwaveringly on a single objective – the vote – recognizing that victory would be achieved only through intense commitment. Many of Stanton’s other causes had to wait (some seven decades after her famous “Solitude of Self” speech), and were at last energized in the Second Wave, the feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s which fought hard for reproductive rights, equal pay and shattering the glass ceiling.

It only makes sense that the Third Wave would be even more pluralistic in their approach, and one gets a well-defined sense of their direction in The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, edited by Vivien Labaton, executive director of the Third Wave Foundation, and Dawn Lundy Martin, one of the group’s founding members. Fire introduces the wide and inventive reach of modern young feminists, not only in raising the voices of low-income women and communities of color (which were largely ignored in the Second Wave), but also in guiding the movement to new places like independent media centers, transgender litigation and the US prison system.

It is a credit to the authors of these essays that their words do not feel like radical dissertations so much as cultural unburials, bringing to light the lesser known realities of immigrant domestic workers and the School of the Americas, a US institution of military training that graduates Latin American dictators. All of the essays are grounded in the wise premise that social change arrives through education and alliance, as well as making use of the interconnection of multiple issues. Here, Elisha María Miranda proves especially skilled in her piece on the displaced persons of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The theme of exile interfaces with colonialism, environmentalism and the regulation of women’s bodies in the course of her startling narrative.

The liveliest essays include those on the state of hip-hop by Ayana Byrd and Holly Bass, along with Jennifer Bleyer’s anatomy of the girl zine revolution of the early 1990s. On a more academic note, there is Shireen Lee’s article on technology and Sid Lindsley’s analysis on population control. These writers, though sometimes verbose, produce surprising facts and trends, from why school-age girls aren’t drawn to the technical sciences to the history of the birth control movement. (White eugenicists joined to preserve the status quo. Black women joined to undermine it.)

Wilma Mankiller, who writes the coda, approves of the work of the new generation, and her tone strikes the great balance of mother-love and intellect. While Labaton and Martin may not have assembled a young feminists’ bible (it’s not of that scope), the collection presents ideas that are resolute, gutsy and provocative.

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