In 1975 Ceil Herman, a Long Island homemaker and anti–equal rights amendment activist, testified before the New York State Senate's Judiciary Committee on the New York State equal rights amendment: “we women who choose a career in the home are … considered by [feminists] to be servile, dishonest, inefficient, inconsistent, idiotic, passive, ignorant, and ineffectual individuals” (p.107). The political consequences of the disrespect felt by women such as Herman are at the heart of Stacie Taranto's argument that New York's abortion and state [equal rights amendment] battles forced many (white often newly middle-class) suburban women to pay attention to politics for fear that what they cherished most—motherhood, homemaking, and nuclear family life—would be taken away by feminists. (p. 162) Using interviews, private papers, and state government and organizational archives, Taranto takes us into the daily lives, subjective experiences, and political activities of women whose import in reshaping the political history of the late twentieth century has not been appreciated. This book traces how and why, between the 1960s and 1980, these women were transformed from apolitical homemakers into activists pressuring the Democratic party to adopt more conservative social positions into Republicans who contributed to the party's shift to the right. Key chapters explore the experiences of white, mostly Catholic, housewives who moved from the city to the suburbs in the 1960s; the fights over legalizing abortion in 1971 and defeating the equal rights amendment in 1975; Long Island antiabortion activist Ellen McCormack's failed run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976; and Alphonse D'Amato's defeat of Jacob Javits in the 1980 New York Senate race. Taranto explores from a different vantage point a familiar story about how gender and racial politics shaped the political realignment and rise of conservatism in the 1970s. While historians such as Robert Self and Laura Kalman have written about this topic at the national level, and historians such as Lisa McGirr, Matthew Lassiter, and Kevin Kruse have examined it in the context of the sun belt, Taranto makes a compelling argument that New York offers a new, important perspective on this phenomenon. Religion and race are at the core New York's significance. Focusing on white, mostly Catholic, married mothers in New York suburbs is a welcome corrective to the version of this story largely focused on evangelical Protestants' role in reshaping conservatism and the Republican party. And shifting attention away from the well-documented role of the southern strategy in reshaping the Republican party, Taranto makes clear how race shaped the experiences and identities of women activists in suburban Long Island and Westchester County. “The women often assumed that their own merit and ability to ascend the socioeconomic ladder had led their families to the suburbs,” Taranto writes (p. 29). “They failed to understand or acknowledge the link between social mobility and racially coded politics and structural inequalities” (ibid.). Taranto considers with empathy and insight the ways that this group of women felt about and responded to the changes in their world. Explaining how these women's subjective feelings of being disrespected became mobilized into a grassroots movement that shaped the realignment of political parties seems particularly important today. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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