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Feminism Means a Lot of Things, and This Book Contains Them All

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Fahs has ordered the text thematically, with sections like “Queer/Trans” and “Anticapitalist/Anarchist.” She includes blog posts and charter statements, along with self-described manifestos whose demands include the abolition of currency and the elimination of men. The earliest text, from 1851, is a speech by Sojourner Truth; the most recent, from 2018, is a poem titled “Occupy Menstruation.” Many of the documents cluster around the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the movement’s cresting second wave. Fahs’s curatorial instincts are inclusive — crucial for a project devoted to assembling voices so marginalized they had to shout to be heard.

That said, aside from her brief introductions to the theme at the beginning of each section, she doesn’t supply much background information for the documents themselves. I wanted some guidance on how to situate these manifestos, and to understand what their authors were reacting to. They toggle between sweeping generalizations and pointed specificity, referring in passing to names and events that may have receded into the past but clearly sparked a vehement response. Fahs must have her reasons for her selections, but in the absence of any explanation, some of them left me wondering. Why does a rolling, evocative address to the homeless by the African-American anarchist Lucy E. Parsons belong in the same “Trashy/Punk” section as a Tumblr post by the singer-songwriter Grimes?

Not that Fahs is endorsing all of the views on offer. She can’t. You get the sense that some of the contributors, given the chance, wouldn’t have merely disagreed about the finer points but might have actively loathed one another. Andrea Dworkin denounces sexual intercourse as “an act of invasion” while others are resolutely pro-sex. At another extreme, “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” from 1913, glorifies rape. A 1914 exhortation by the poet and painter Mina Loy derides the “unfit and degenerate,” and makes a reprehensible appeal to the “race-responsibility” of the “superior woman.”

There are sober, policy-oriented documents collected here, but they’re admittedly pretty dull to read. The wilder the proclamation, the more likely it is to take up space in your memory and imagination. Some of them, like Solanas’s inimitable “SCUM Manifesto,” tread a line between horrific and funny, dehumanizing men (“walking dildo” is one of her gentler aspersions) while also railing against the evils of Muzak.

Solanas accuses men of projecting their own hated traits onto women — insecurity, vanity, passivity — while appropriating women’s decisiveness and swagger for themselves. This gesture of turning the tables does raise a central question, even if she doesn’t deign to answer it. (You get the sense that Solanas, whose notoriety was assured when she shot Andy Warhol in 1968, wasn’t interested in questions all that much.) Is there a fixed amount of power in the world, and is it therefore a feminist goal to wrest it from the men who wield it? Or does that allow a cramped, patriarchal understanding of power to dictate the terms? In other words: Take up space? Or change the space entirely by making more of it?


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