Susan Brownmiller was a Gucci-clad, 33-year-old writer grappling privately with the decidedly masculine preserve of feature journalism when she attended her first consciousness-raising session in 1968. Her first impression? Oh, brother! But as other women around the room told their stories, they resonated with something deep in Brownmiller's psyche, and when it was time to tell her own--"I've had three illegal abortions"--the ambitious reporter experienced something akin to a road-to-Damascus conversion.
Brownmiller's 1975 classic, Against Our Will, changed the nation's perception of rape and turned her into a feminist icon overnight. In Our Time, though, is less an argument for transformation than an encyclopedic look at the forces that shaped the social movement of late-20th-century feminism, from occasional clashes of colorful personalities like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer (who, 30 years later, have a tendency to seem larger than life) to the methodical, often unexciting, day-by-day planning behind the landmark sit-ins, lawsuits, and other headline events. Sisterhood's call to arms was most persuasive when the enemy was economic oppression and the battle cry "equal pay for equal work!" Solidarity was harder to muster, Brownmiller reports, when it came to targeting social injustices, particularly those pertaining to sex. Were Clarence Thomas's raunchy remarks to Anita Hill business as usual or a type of harassment? Was pornography a male counterreaction intended to degrade newly liberated women or an effort to make sexual pleasure available to fantasists of all persuasions? These arguments persist today--and In Our Time reminds us that they must be viewed in historical context. --Patrizia DiLucchio [via]