When Time magazine declares the death of feminism on its cover by posing Ally McBeal as today’s undernourished approximation of Gloria Steinem, what’s a young feminist to do? Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly set out to disprove Time‘s imagined generational degeneration by editing a book of their own, soliciting correspondence between women of their age bracket and their chosen “foremothers,” including Steinem herself.
Bondoc and Daly have amassed an impressive roster of role models, from Katha
Pollitt to Angela Davis to Judy Blume; their self-styled
protégées, while less famous, are for the most part passionate, articulate representatives of a generation that feels itself to be politically at sea.
The young writers juggle effusive admiration of their elders (which sometimes spills over into cloying idolatry) with demands that they account for the unfinished legacy they’ve left, posing questions about the future of the movement. These are neither gentle demands nor easy questions, but the artificiality of the collection’s conceit (“letters,” intended for publication, between “friends” who have often never met) combined with its polemical reason for being (“See,
feminism isn’t dead after all!”) diminish the provocations raised. Just because the younger set express nostalgia for the activism of the ’60s and ’70s doesn’t mean that a thriving feminism needs to resemble a love-in; several of the older women reproach them for confusing mentoring with mothering (“When did sisterhood become mother-daughterhood?” demands Pollitt).
Ultimately, some of the
most interesting questions the
collection raises involve the status of writing itself as a site of activism and feminist
self-assertion; Ntozake Shange issues the challenge “i sweat when i write/ do you?” Susan Faludi muses that “the disappearance of correspondence in the modern age may be a far greater setback to feminism’s historical record than we
realize”; Letters of Intent attempts to shore up and extend that legacy.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 23, 1999