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in the Heartland
Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2002.
$65.00, 300 pages, ISBN 0-8142-0903-3 (hardback).
$24.95, 300 pages, ISBN 0-8142-5098-X (paperback).
Feminism in the Heartland provides a detailed account of the
evolution and eventual dissolution of the second wave of the U.S.
women's movement in Dayton, Ohio from 1969 to 1980. In the preface,
Judith Ezekiel provides a justification for her case study that will
likely resonate particularly with feminist researchers who are familiar
with this pivotal period. Ezekiel contends that current research on
the second wave of the U.S. women's movement tends to make broad generalizations
regarding the movement's philosophies and objectives, as well as women's
experiences in the movement, based only on a particular region's involvement
or the perspectives of a few well known feminists. She states that
"the amalgam of the experiences, writings and organizations of
a few visible leaders and those of feminists across the nation"
makes it appear as if "feminist ideas take on the same meaning
in different times and places. This negates the experiences of millions
of women" (ix). The problem is exacerbated when researchers draw
on the same few pieces of original research to construct their own
inquiries into the movement, creating "an illusion of historiographic
consensus" (ix). Feminism in the Heartland begins to
fill the lacuna that has been generated as a result of such practices
by examining the unique situation that emerged in Dayton.
Drawing almost entirely on original primary resources, Ezekiel illuminates
the experiences of movement women in Dayton, comparing and contrasting
these findings with existing research on the national movement. What
emerges is a new contribution to U.S. and feminist history:
The story of Dayton cracks open the apparent historiographic consensus
around a universal, two-part movement, one in which liberal feminism
is the earliest, most durable and hence for many most important part
of the movement. In contrast to the two branch pattern so often described,
a single strand of feminism emerged in Dayton, drawing inspiration
from diverse philosophies but most closely resembling [
various scholars have called the women's liberation, radical or collectivist
Interestingly, in the middle of the Heartland, the ideas emanating
from the radical faction of the women's movement are the ones that
resonated with Dayton's women. Liberal feminism did not appear until
the end of the 1970s and even then it "did not have the same
] impact on women's lives" (242). This may bewilder those
who recognize that the Heartland of America is not well known for
tolerating, let alone generating, radical political ideas.
Ezekiel has worked painstakingly to provide a thorough historical
record of the pivotal events as well as the everyday affairs of the
movement in Dayton. The book includes information gathered from interviews
with 59 people involved with the movement during this period. The
book also draws upon more than ten thousand pages of original documentation
provided by movement members, including full collections of newsletters
produced by all the groups mentioned in the book, minutes from meetings,
notes from speeches, leaflets, articles, position papers, legal documents,
and fundraising documents. Ezekiel supplements these resources with
information from Dayton's two major daily newspapers to provide a
sense of how the local community was responding to the aforementioned
groups and feminism in general during this period. Finally, Ezekiel
brings her own personal experiences to the work, as she lived in Dayton
during her youth and had the opportunity to see a portion of the women's
movement in action.
The book is organized chronologically, as it traces the growth, change
and influence of four organizations that were pivotal in the women's
movement between 1969 and 1980. In Chapter one and Chapter two, the
creation and expansion of the organization called Dayton Women's Liberation
(DWL) are discussed. Chapter one focuses predominantly on the key
founders of the DWL, the events that brought them together and the
importance of consciousness-raising and a radical utopian vision to
the formation and expansion of the movement.
Chapter two traces a broad expanse of issues that contributed to the
proliferation as well as the eventual weakening of the DWL. The chapter
begins with a discussion of the importance of abortion rights to DWL
members and then moves to issues of motherhood, marriage, family and
divorce. The role of lesbians in the national and the Dayton movement
are explored, as is the absence of women of color. The DWL's relationship
with the media and the DWL's own more radical public relations publications
are discussed. The chapter ends with a discussion of problems that
were arising within and between the consciousness-raising groups,
creating internal rifts and hindering the integration of newcomers
into the movement.
In Chapter three, Ezekiel explains how an instrument of the DWL's
own making, the Dayton Women's Center (DWC), begins to eclipse the
DWL in both size and influence. The DWC was put into motion by the
DWL, who perceived it as "a passionate experiment in creating
a utopian institution to carve out free space for women" (80).
The aim of the center was to provide women's programs and services,
including self-help, therapy and educational workshops. Just as the
center was forming, socialist feminists were gaining strength and
they brought with them an alternative vision for the local movement
(which had consisted of the DWL up until this point) and the DWC.
Drawing on critiques made by nationally known feminists and regional
feminist groups, the socialist feminists challenged the foundation
of the DWL. Specifically, they criticized the utopian vision advocated
by the DWL, arguing that it had resulted in immobilization and should
be "replaced with winnable goals" (93). They also were critical
of the organizational structure (or structurelessness) of the DWL
and argued for "explicit structure and means of decision making"
(93). These key areas of division and others resulted in a formal
split between the DWC and the DWL, leaving the DWC predominantly in
the control of the socialist feminists and causing the first major
rift in the women's movement in Dayton.
Chapter four considers three projects that were outgrowths of the
movement; an abortion consultation service, an abortion clinic and
a rape crisis center. Most of the members of these organizations did
not consider themselves feminists or part of the movement, at least
not at first, but they all demonstrate how the ideology of the movement
was permeating the social and political landscape in Dayton. Perhaps
what is most compelling in this chapter is the previously under-examined
influence religious entities had on making reproductive rights services
available to women. Typically, religious groups have been perceived
as antagonistic to reproductive rights and feminist issues, but Ezekiel's
research illuminates how this was not the case at the beginning of
the movement in Dayton. This research finding raises new questions
regarding the range of involvement played by religious entities in
other regions during this period.
Chapter five returns to the topic of the DWC, which had become the
nucleus of the movement under the socialist feminists. Like most successful
organizations in the movement, the DWC again became a battleground
for competing interests. This time the struggle was between the DWC
collective, made up of volunteers who met in the evening to make decisions
regarding the functioning of the center, and the paid staff of the
DWC, who were supposed to implement these decisions in the day to
day operations of the center. Chapter five explains how conflicts
over philosophical and pragmatic issues as well as material concerns,
such as the time and money required to maintain the center, led to
the eventual decision to close the center, which had been the only
"physical landmark" of the women's movement in Dayton.
Chapters six and seven discuss the contributions of the Dayton Women
Working (DWW) and Freedom of Choice (FOC) groups, respectively. The
DWW originated as the employment task force of the local National
Organization of Women chapter initiated by the DWC to fill the political
vacuum created by the DWL's departure from the center. The DWW itself
had left the DWC in 1977, as a result of the tensions and conflicts
brewing there. More than any other group in Dayton, the DWW mirrored
classic depictions of the national movement. The chapter discusses
the ways in which the group worked to improve the status of clerical
workers, and raised consciousness regarding working women's problems
The appearance of the New Right and the creation of the FOC are discussed
in Chapter seven. The rise of the antifeminist New Right recharged
activism in Dayton. In a desperate attempt to ensure abortion rights,
activists from Dayton's women's movement and liberal men and women
joined together to create the new coalition. Ezekiel argues that the
emergence of the FOC "marked the entry of liberal women into
the movement, far later than the literature suggests in other cities"
(216). The goals of this group were neither radical, nor expansive
like those of previous groups. The FOC functioned to ensure abortion
rights remained intact, despite attacks from the New Right. However,
this was all the group aimed to do.
Ezekiel's examination of all those groups shows how the focus of each
successive organization in Dayton became increasingly narrow, pragmatic
and conservative in scope. Essentially, with the creation of each
new organization, the movement was losing some of its revolutionary
fervor. Ultimately, the loss of a radical, utopian vision and the
diminishment of the "personal in the redefinition of politics"
slowly devoured Dayton's movement (250). Ezekiel contends that:
] watered-down visions do not raise consciousness; they cannot
bring women to take the risks involved in becoming in feminist. They
cannot maintain the high level of commitment needed to keep the movement
going. They will not liberate women. The argument for radical, utopian
visions is thus not just one of principle, but of effectiveness (250-251).
Rather than serving as a source of immobilization, idealism had drawn
women into the movement and had served as a source of inspiration
and galvanization. As each successive organization moved farther away
from such a vision, the movement lost some of its efficacy. The lack
of a long-term vision allowed the movement to sputter and eventually
decline. Ezekiel contends, "the women's movement is constantly
faced with opposition and when it retreats and restricts itself in
scope or depth, the opposition expands to fill the abandoned space"
(250). This was precisely how the New Right gained momentum in Dayton.
As the feminists' goals become increasingly narrow and limited in
scope, the New Right began to dominate the domains previously occupied
by the feminists. This configuration continues today.
In Feminism in the Heartland, Judith Ezekiel has provided a
thorough examination of the second wave of the U.S. women's movement
in Dayton based upon original research, while commenting on the implications
her findings have for contemporary social thought regarding the national
movement. While some readers may find the details occasionally cumbersome
and uninviting, few can deny that Ezekiel's analysis provides fresh
insight and provokes new questions, making her book an important contribution
to the current scholarship in feminist and U.S. history. Perhaps Ezekiel's
work will inspire more researchers to trace the evolution of the women's
movement in other regions based upon primary resources, while they
are still available, so that future generations will have a more complex,
nuanced and accurate depiction of women's experiences during this
time. Indeed, only through a thorough assessment of the past's successes
and failures will we generate a more effective vision for the future.
Judith Ezekiel is associate professor of American Studies at the University
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