Remapping Second-Wave Feminism: The Long Women’s Rights Movement in Louisiana, 1950–1997, by Janet Allured adds to the important scholarship examining the modern women’s movement at the local level. As her title suggests, Allured aims to transform historians’ understanding of the movement in two ways: by bringing attention to the American South, especially to Louisiana; and by extending the movement’s chronology before and after the 1960s and 1970s. Louisiana, she argues, was a “key incubator of the modern women’s rights movement” (19). Rather than import ideas from elsewhere, southern activists generated approaches to change that shaped feminism within and outside the region. Historians, however, have largely ignored the significance of the South and Louisiana to national feminist struggles, Allured contends; she also suggests that prevalent stereotypes about feminists inadequately represent Louisiana’s activists. That neglect extends back to the 1960s, when northern activists condescended and pontificated to southern feminists; southerners, in response, criticized their northern sisters’ arrogant and patronizing treatment. According to Allured, these tensions were among the many factors that created a distinctly southern brand of feminism that defied prevalent stereotypes about who feminists were, what they believed, how they behaved, and how they pressed for change. Louisiana activists understood, or quickly learned, that effective change in their state required tactics and approaches that differed from those in other places. Generally, Louisiana feminists were not radicals and had “no interest in overthrowing capitalism” (6); instead, most were “well-educated, well-groomed professionals who eschewed the countercultural styles of their more radical sisters” (6). Often inspired by their participation in struggles for racial justice and by theology, southern feminists exhibited decorum even as “they pried patriarchal privilege out of the hands of the old boys’ club and achieved gender neutrality in the law, if not always in practice” (11). Allured explores how such change occurred by looking at campaigns to address sexual and domestic violence, abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and gender equality under the law, reproductive rights, and sexual liberation. New Orleans was a hub of feminist activity in the state, spreading it to other cities and, less often, to rural areas, where activists launched new shelters for women fleeing domestic violence and other new services to address specific needs. Primarily focusing on feminism as a form of action (7), Allured acknowledges but largely downplays the significance of ideological differences within feminism that have received attention from many other scholars. “In a region as poor and underresourced as the South, most activists’ time and energy went into doing rather than writing,” she explains (9). Instead she casts her eye on the movement’s many outward accomplishments. Remapping Second-Wave Feminism is organized around a series of case studies that chronicle issue-specific campaigns; however, the stories of individual activists form the heart of the book. Maintaining that black women, especially, typically worked outside the framework of groups (10), Allured weaves women’s biographies throughout the narrative and uses specific examples to support her arguments. These biographies primarily come from oral history interviews the author conducted with current and former activists. Numbering nearly one hundred interviews, this impressive collection is archived at Tulane University, where it will be an invaluable resource. This archive makes an extremely significant contribution on its own. Allured sometimes generalizes from the experiences of these exceptional individuals, and at times identity stands in for ideology. However, by making these biographies an important component of her investigation, she introduces new figures to the story of American feminism, and she claims as southern some activists best known for their work nationally or outside the region (e.g., Louisiana native Kim Gandy, who served as president of the National Organization for Women from 2001 to 2009). Allured also includes the work of activists who promoted reform efforts and the creation of vital services meant to improve women’s lives, including some who rejected a feminist identity. Members of the conservative Catholic Daughters of America, for example, opposed the ERA but set up the state’s first shelter for battered women. Indeed, Allured highlights religious faith as an inspiration for activists, and the contributions of faith-based communities to social justice movements. Religious faith proved especially important for southern black women, whose feminism was influenced by their churches as well as their unions, civil rights groups, and race-based women’s organizations. By highlighting this range of activity, Allured illustrates how women developed their political consciousness. She also makes the point that social change is circuitous and seldom follows a direct or singular path from strategy to victory. Allured firmly establishes the presence of a homegrown feminism in Louisiana. This movement was unique, she argues, due to feminists’ faith-based motivations and their adherence to a politics of respectability. She also asserts that women of color and white women were more likely to unite for feminist activities in this state than elsewhere. White and African American women in the South found each other more easily “because they were in constant contact, even if on an unequal basis” (247). As a result, Louisiana feminists worked across the color line for social justice, and “their ranks … were far more diverse ethnically, socioeconomically, and religiously than were their opponents’” (246–247). Yet slavery and segregation created walls between women, despite (or because of) their proximity, of course. Perhaps feminism helped bring down those walls in the desegregation era. Such assertions warrant further examination of the nature of feminism in the South and considerations of diversity within the region, as well as comparisons between southern feminists and their counterparts outside of the region. Allured’s study suggests how feminism in Louisiana resists generalizations, especially given rural and urban differences and New Orleans’s distinctive racial and ethnic makeup. The book leaves unanswered the larger question of how the story of American feminism changes when Louisiana is included. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Louisiana in the historiography of second-wave feminism expands the scholarship and suggests many interesting avenues for further research. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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