Women Transforming Politics



Some time in 1994 Joan Tronto and I began a conversation about editing a volume of essays that would take an alternative look at the study of women and politics. We soon added another colleague, Cathy Cohen, to our conversational circle and the three of us became the editorial team that guided the creation of Women Transforming Politics.

The inspiration for our book came, in part, from Vicki Ruiz and Ellen Dubois’ 1990 collection of essays, Unequal Sisters, an anthology that had altered significantly the range of topics and voices included in the study of U.S. women’s history. That text had showed how different American history looked from the perspective of the diversity of U.S. women’s roles and experiences.

We wanted our collection of essays to show how the “integration of women into political life fundamentally changes the nature of American politics,” and leads to a “reassessment of the definition of politics, the nature of political action, and the purpose of public life.” And we also wanted to include essays that were either produced for the anthology, or less frequently included in readers on women and politics.

The volume was intended to bring to light the actions of poor and working-class women, women of color, and others defined as ‘marginal’ to politics. It also took an interdisciplinary approach to the study of politics. This meant that, in addition to examining traditional institutions and structures of power, such as government and electoral politics, we incorporated essays on women’s community organizing, labor activities, and cultural work.

As we outlined the topics to include, the book started to grow...and grow. I remember sitting at more than one meeting, either in Cathy’s apartment near Yale University, where she was then teaching (She's at University of Chicago now), or in Joan’s office at Hunter College (Joan's moved to the University of Minnesota), struggling to bring the manuscript down to manageable size. (In the end, the book still came in at 595 pages!)

We also faced the formidable task of how to organize the book in ways that would allow it to become a useful teaching text, structure it thematically, but without forcing the essays into more traditional categories. We eventually settled on four sections—Politics, Economics, and Culture: How Women Live; Consciousness Raising, Cultural Politics and Grassroots Organizing; Participation, Electoral Politics, and Movement Building; and Pitfalls, Paradoxes, and Futures of Feminist Politics.

Although many of the essays in this 1997 collection would have to be updated in a new edition—a task none of us was up to handling!— it was used in many university courses for a long time.

You can download a review here: WTP Review.