Meryl Altman


It is now commonplace to study the beginning of second wave US radical feminism as the history of a few important groups – mostly located in New York, Boston and Chicago – and the canon of a few influential polemical texts and anthologies. But how did feminism become a mass movement? To answer this question, we need to look also to popular mass-market forms that may have been less ideologically “pure” but that nonetheless carried the edge of feminist revolutionary thought into millions of homes. This article examines novels by Alix Kates Shulman, Marge Piercy and Erica Jong, all published in the early 1970s. These novels bear clear marks of the practice of consciousness-raising and were inspired by existentialism and de Beauvoir, but reached mass audiences because they were also the novels of the (hereo)sexual revolution. By flirting with the possibility of being labeled as “trash,” these texts carved out a radical terrain of subjectivity for women as they fought individually and collectively to reject a 1950s medicalized vocabulary and to discover their own sexual language. What cultural textures for the fiction raises the question of what kind of work created the conditions for broadly based social change? This points towards ways in which we write and organize for third wave feminism.

Author Biography

Meryl Altman, Director of Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of English, DePauw University