The idea of completely understanding the processes of any revolutionary change is daunting—to say nothing of making sense of its cultural and historical contexts. In the historic waves of North American feminist theory and practices, the respective paradigms of feminism shift, evolve, and ultimately normalize along lines of particular intellectual circles and politically historic movements. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the first convention for women’s rights and suffrage in 1848, for example, show a completely different, and seemingly unparalleled, cultural milieu than a feminist theorist like twenty-first century philosopher Judith Butler. Both women, however, illustrate a “revolutionary context” for understanding a broader feminist identity, however constructed—both show the powerful effects of change within particular societal circumstances. In Writing the Revolution: The Feminist History Project’s Collected Columns of Michele Landsberg, Canadian writer, social activist, and ardent feminist Michele Landsberg reminds us that beyond any of the historical feminist revolutions are the people of the revolutions—women and their narratives. From Landsberg’s columns, we get the sense that she finds feminism on the ground, in everyday life, to be the centering force that keeps the falcon of feminist theory from circling out in a wider and wider gyre of culture.
In short, Writing the Revolution is a collection of newspaper columns from Landsberg’s days as a journalist for the Toronto Star. Her stories featured feminist causes, fundamentally grounded by women and their respective stories, and how these stories spoke to the broader socio-cultural themes at work in her native Canada, or even to the United States. This collection, however, is more than a simple haphazard smattering of invocative or significant feature articles. By its very nature and its scope, Writing the Revolution serves as a timeline for the fronting issues and themes most specifically pertinent for Landsberg and her feminist context. Covering causes like daycare, union strikes, and the dialog of women’s testimonies in court, the book becomes a brilliant, Derrida-esque archive of what Landsberg saw as the purpose of feminism throughout her writing career. Her early work of the 1970s and her columns from the last ten years let us understand what she sees “the feminist revolution” to be today, and how we ought to make sense of it now. The collection is interspersed with a current commentary and reflections—weaving the columns together to illustrate the context for the “revolution” that she wants her readers to grasp.
One of the hardest things about “writing the revolution” is first determining what that revolution is or was—the next hardest thing is determining what it means to write it. If we take “the revolution” to mean a simple revolution of feminism, it becomes very tricky to sort out, contextually, whether Landsberg intends for feminism to be the complete and ultimate underlying revolutionizing force behind political change toward women. Since Landsberg’s book is a collection, there is a natural tendency to think of these as “case studies” that somehow add up to the broader theme of revolutionary activity.
Consider, for example, her series of articles on labor union strikes, and the feminist voice and presence that appear in the changes that women are bringing to the working conditions around them. Landsberg unhesitantly takes up the cause of Canadian women workers, highlighting how their unique socio-cultural circumstances let them be a force that is changing what it means to be a female worker in a Canadian union. From this, the reader can reason something along these lines: If this case shows feminism to succeed, then all cases like this would underscore the legitimacy of the underpinnings of the feminist movement. Sure, the audience can see that “something changed,” thus making the movement “revolutionary,” but without a broader context weaving these examples together, Landsberg’s examples and columns leave the reader wondering what tied or ties women together in a revolutionary movement from the 1970s to now. Although the theme of feminism in revolution is compelling (much more so than, say, “Feminism: Why Not?”), part of what would make the collection even more compelling would be what she sees—or saw, for that matter—“the revolution” to be and what it meant. Landsberg has done a phenomenal job of pulling together this archive from the late twentieth century about what it was to participate in this feminist revolution—the reader is left to interpret what it all meant or could mean.
Writing the Revolution: The Feminist History Project’s Collected Columns of Michele Landsberg is a fascinating collection of the author’s columns, views, and writings over thirty years of work with feminism and its ramifications. This book allows the reader to dive into the pragmatic expressions of the feminist movement and voice in North America, and Landsberg’s reflections between articles help us to see how she makes sense of her writing. While Landsberg’s columns and topics are eclectic and far-ranging, they provide us with her unique view of feminism and what she feels it means to write about it.