Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism
Victoria L. Bromley
Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2012
Reviewed by Caroline Williams
Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism is a “reader-friendly guide to thinking through the multiplicities of feminism” (xi). The book is easy to read and free from overcomplicated jargon. Each chapter, which follows a thematic order, concludes with a clear explanation of its achievements, followed by questions for study, allowing the students to check their understanding as they go along. The chapters are supplemented with suggested activities and questions for discussion, asking the readers to critically engage with what they have read and position themselves within these discussions; this is especially useful for relating feminism to everyday life. Bromley uses colloquial language and tone throughout in order to familiarize students with feminist themes of equality and social justice, thus reminding readers to analyze the intersectionality of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, and ability in their praxis.
This book debunks myths about feminism within the USA and Canada, introduces feminist theory and methodologies, and gives historical context to the women’s rights movements from the first wave to current activism. Bromley has three goals in mind with writing this book: 1) to “spark” student’s “curiosity about theory,” 2) to enable students to “recognize that theory is something” they use on a daily basis, and 3) “to build … confidence around theorizing and critical thinking” (xii); all of which Bromley achieves while assuming no prior knowledge and thoroughly introducing each new terminology as it arises. While constantly reinforcing that prior to feminism, theory was written from a white male perspective, Bromley explains that early feminism was also written from a white privileged perspective. In breaking with this cycle, Bromley makes great efforts to introduce the reader to African American, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and masculinity feminisms, while suggesting that readers also need to take into account class, ability, and age in order to gain a fuller understanding of power and privilege.
One of the main strengths of Feminisms Matter is the introduction to theory as an everyday occurrence. Theory is a word that is thrown around in academia, yet not always explained in relation to research strategies or movements. Bromley achieves her goal of demystifying theory while using examples that are not always heard or thought of, such as her inclusion of Aboriginal women’s struggles under Bill C-31. For students new to feminism, it would be easy to assume that feminism’s only struggle was to gain the vote or that equality has now been achieved. Bromley has therefore provided essential perspectives in the effort not to perpetuate mainstream educational practices of silencing.
The weakness lies in the book’s main aim; while aiming to cover everything, many voices have been left unexplored or underdeveloped. The author writes about the importance of including gender, race, class, sexuality, age, and ability, but we hear no voices from people with ability issues, and others, such as immigrant women and Latino women, are only mentioned in passing. While it is not possible to touch upon everything, as a reader I felt unprepared to further research or discuss ability and the related topic of immigrant care workers. While the author offers a further reading list for each chapter, I suggest that three of the seminal works in Indigenous women’s studies were missing, a topic that is otherwise well covered in the book.
While it appears that Bromley wrote Feminisms Matter as an introductory book aimed at sophomores/juniors who are studying women’s and gender studies, political science, history, and sociology, it is clearly open to anyone with an interest in gender studies. I would suggest that this book is actually useful for undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate, teachers, lecturers, and people wishing to enlighten themselves to feminism in the twenty-first century. The book can appear basic at times. The author takes nothing for granted in her explanations, thus providing a useful starting block to anyone who did not have the opportunity to take a women’s and gender studies course at university. For those with graduate students who need informing of the advancements in the field of feminisms, this book provides a useful, self-taught opportunity to explore the history and current topics. To those who may be teaching introductory courses, this book offers not only a useful overview from which to teach, but also gives students questions for studies and activates for discussion within class. To anyone currently teaching at elementary or high schools who never took a feminist studies class, I would suggest that this offers an excellent starting point to engage with feminisms and to make sure that teachers do not perpetuate the myths of feminism in the classroom.
 Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012); Indigenous feminism: Making Space for Indigenous Feminism edited by Joyce Green (2008) and Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, and Culture edited by Cheryl Suzack et al. (2011).
Caroline Williams is an Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia (UEA). She received her PhD from the University of Arizona in 2013 from the American Indian Studies program, concentrating on Indigenous women and culture. Her research explores the evolution of Indigenous beauty pageants from the boarding school era of the 19th century to the present day, exploring themes of resistance, agency, and cultural revitalization.