Jew­ish Rad­i­cal Fem­i­nism: Voic­es from the Women’s Lib­er­a­tion Movement

  • Review
By – March 7, 2018

Jew­ish Rad­i­cal Fem­i­nism tells the sto­ries of Jew­ish women who were involved in rad­i­cal fem­i­nist activ­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ties in the Unit­ed States from the 1960s through the 1980s. The first half of the book focus­es on trail­blaz­ing Jew­ish women in New York, Chica­go, and Boston who par­tic­i­pat­ed in fem­i­nist groups that were direct­ed at women’s lib­er­a­tion gen­er­al­ly — although women with Jew­ish back­grounds some­times made up the major­i­ty of lead­ers and par­tic­i­pants. As Joyce Antler explains, these women did not nec­es­sar­i­ly iden­ti­fy as Jew­ish; only lat­er did some of them rec­og­nize the impact that their val­ues-based upbring­ings in pro­gres­sive Jew­ish fam­i­lies had on their involve­ment in women’s liberation.

The sec­ond half of the book exam­ines the expe­ri­ences of rad­i­cal fem­i­nist women who did iden­ti­fy as Jew­ish, either reli­gious or sec­u­lar, at the time of their par­tic­i­pa­tion. Some of them worked to trans­form con­ven­tion­al ideas about gen­der as well as the Jew­ish rit­u­als affect­ed by those ideas; oth­ers focused on par­tic­i­pat­ing as Jews in the gen­er­al move­ment for women’s lib­er­a­tion, chal­leng­ing the anti-Zion­ism and anti­semitism they faced at inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences on women’s issues. And Jew­ish les­bian fem­i­nists con­front­ed gen­der norms and homo­pho­bia in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and beyond.

The sto­ries Antler shares are drawn pri­mar­i­ly from a con­fer­ence she orga­nized for forty of these women, where they were able to be in dia­logue with one anoth­er about their expe­ri­ences. The snip­pets of these con­ver­sa­tions, which Antler shares in the first half of the book, allow the read­er to hear direct­ly from the women them­selves. In the lat­ter half of the book, we hear more of Antler’s voice — her nar­ra­tive and analy­sis. To round out the women’s sto­ries, she also draws upon oth­er resources, includ­ing pam­phlets and mag­a­zines from the era.

This book’s breadth makes it an impor­tant read for any­one inter­est­ed in a deep look at women’s lived expe­ri­ences with­in rad­i­cal fem­i­nist groups of the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Antler has con­tributed an impor­tant, acces­si­ble, and inspir­ing work to the field of women’s studies.

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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