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I am interested in two main questions. I am in my second year of university in International and Comparative Studies and Political Science and have recently found my new passion. After being labelled a feminist for most of my life, I've decided to learn more about it. However, there are so many differences of opinion even within the feminist movement. Could you recommend me a good book so that I may be able to study feminism as a political ideology? Most of the readers I have found have been pretty shallow.

My second question is related to free trade and particularly the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the successful campaign by NGO's to block its passing by the OECD. From a feminist perspective can you explain why NGOs have gained power within the international community, and evaluate the desirability of this? Is freer trade in the best interest of women? How should women react to governments which are advocating for freer markets?

Thank you very much. Any input you may have or advice you may be able to give me would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Amy (London Ontario)


Thanks for your note. There certainly are many ways to be a feminist, and therefore, many different agreements on what is takes to be a feminist as well as what feminists must do in order to achieve equality. I fear sounding too self-promoting, but I actually just finished co-writing a book on feminism (Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future), it won't be out until September, but I wish I could send it to you, because I think that it does a good job of explaining the current state of feminism. In fact, much of the book was influenced by the questions that I get "Ask Amy"--many of which point to a confusion about feminism and among feminists. Basically I think that a feminist--is anyone who supports the full social, political, and economic equality of all people. Differences arise when people have a different style or goal (i.e. political change and/or cultural change). I think it's most important for each person to be secure in their feminism to realize that for the most part fellow feminists aren't their enemies, but rather the anti-feminists are their enemies. Therefore, we can't be distracted by the divide and conquer, but rather should go for focusing our energy on who our enemies really are--those who want to take away any gains made by/for women.

A few books that might helps explain this better:

  • The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow.
  • A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics by Jo Freeman
  • Ain't I A Woman by bell hooks.

As for the questions about the power/strength of NGOs. I certainly agree that NGOs have received more attention and recognition over the past few years, but this is a good thing for the most part. NGOs are almost there to act as a buffer between governments and the individuals they represent. Since the government--for the most part--hasn't given the people a voice--the NGOs have been their to lobby the government to listen to their constituents. The one downside to this is that is could potentially eliminiate the governments of their constituents, therefore, they become less accountable to individuals and more accountable to organizations. As I understand it, the problem with free trade it that it in fact creates incentive for more low wage jobs and these jobs are mostly filled by women--so free trade in general is not a good thing for women.

I hope that answers all of your questions--perhaps I've confused you even more. I hope not.


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