Friday, April 22, 2005

Review: Ten Thousand Roses

(Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution by Judy Rebick. Toronto: Penguin, 2005.)

Before I picked up this book, its existence evoked in my mind a vague cloud of anxiety and insecurity. My main project is a book (and hopefully a series of radio shows) using oral history interviews to bring to light bits and pieces of Canadian social movement history. This book uses oral history interviews to take a detailed look at the women's movement in Canada from the late 1960s to the 1990s, and it is written by one of Canada's foremost feminist activists and most visible figures on the left, Judy Rebick. I was worried that it would turn out in some partial way to be a "scoop" of my own work, and one done by someone much more experienced and well-known than me to boot.

Actually reading the book has been wonderful. Most importantly, it is an accessible, direct, and inspiring history of Canadian women coming together to make change. I learned a great deal about the women's movement, and on many occasions I found myself thinking, "Wow. That is so cool." My own current relative isolation from social change work due to personal circumstances, along with the fact that the present moment in history in the United States (my home right now, but perhaps not for much longer) is a time of defeat after defeat after defeat for even very modest progressive goals of all stripes, mean that hope for social change is not an easy thing to come by. But there are lots of stories in this book of women coming together, identifying problems, and by sheer determination and creativity actually creating change. This book helped to renew my hope.

It would be hard for me to summarize what I learned from this book, but one of the things which struck me the most was how significant the alliance of women across class difference and across political difference has been to the Canadian women's movement. I hadn't appreciated that this is a fairly unusual thing, in comparison to other countries; nor had I appreciated the amazing extent to which it actually happened in Canada. The much greater difficulty in dealing with difference in terms of race and ability also received attention in the book (though I have the impression from the experiences of people that I know that the book is perhaps a little too optimistic about the success of the women's movement in grappling with racism, particularly outside of some national and Toronto women's movement spaces).

In terms of my more personal worries with respect to the book, happily they proved to be largely unfounded. Rebick interviewed a few people that I also interviewed, and covered some territory that I wish to cover. However, though it may mean I make somewhat different choices in how I deal with those areas, the impact on my work will be minimal. The fact that this work focuses with some effort at completeness on one movement over about 30 years means that quite different choices have been made about structure and context than I will be making as I grab interesting bits and pieces from many movements over 50 or 60 years. As well, some of the ways in which my project and this book think about social movements are a bit different -- not in fundamental ways, I don't think, but in terms of choices about how explicitly and assertively to try and get readers thinking in new ways about power and about what social movements actually are. In any case, we need dozens more books like this, which use the words of the people who were actually involved the movements that helped create history to help us understand that history.

Anyway, the fact that this has been published by a major corporate publisher is an indication that there is a market for this kind of material, which is good news, and this will also be a wonderful reference for me when presenting the context for my own interviews. Thanks, Judy!

And I think every Canadian, particularly every Canadian who is politically active, should read this book.

[Edit: For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

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