Patrica Ireland has been the president of NOW (National Organization for Women) since 1991. She will continue to be president until at least 2001. This book is an autobiographical one that describes how she became active and rose in the NOW leadership. It is mildly progressive.
It starts out fairly boring, because the advances for wimmin that Ireland seeks are based on wimmin's status in the 1960s and fairly small. By the end of the book though, we understand the reasons why Ireland has to write so much about a womyn's ability to just be a persyn. She is responding to the stereotypical reaction that feminists encounter in their work: that they are all lesbians, man-haters or sexually or professionally frustrated, that there is nothing political in what they are saying.
Patricia Ireland describes a life of starting sex with boys young,(p. 23) aspiring to be a cheerleader,(p. 23) being a dancer and bar type,(p. 33) having fist-fights as a kid (p. 18) and then becoming an airline flight attendant. As a flight attendant, NOW helped her in a legal struggle for health insurance. Eventually she became a corporate lawyer and then a full-time activist.
She divorced once, had one long-term marriage, but by the end of the book she reports having a lesbian companion. No doubt part of her appeal to her own organization is the little bit of everything. She liked boys from a young age, had an illegal abortion, has a lesbian lover and experienced divorce once. She worked first in a stereotypical female job, then proved her bourgeois competence as a corporate lawyer, becoming a partner at her firm before she would dedicate herself to politics full time.
The reviewer has to admit that while we often disagree with NOW, we cannot expect much better than what Patricia Ireland represents in the main bourgeois organization for wimmin's liberation. As a world traveler, she learned early on about conditions in the Third World and she was initially politicized by the whole anti-Vietnam War milieu.
She came to understand political violence first-hand with numerous anti-communist terrorist bombings in Miami by Cuban exiles, which she links to right-wing extremists killing abortion doctors and other reproductive health workers. She takes blame for this violence in her book: "All of my organizing, all of my rhetoric, all of my best efforts had simply not been enough to stop the murder and the violence. I felt like a total fraud: Here I was holding myself out to the world as a leader, but none of my strategizing or hard worked seemed to have made any difference."(p. 291)
We believe that Ireland has adopted a superficial Liberal tolerance approach to violence which does not address root causes. She has the nerve to cite Frederick Douglass and say slavery was not abolished by persuasion of ruling class men, but she does not get into this question deeply.(p. 297) MIM reminds everyone that slavery was a system of violence-enforced national domination. For this reason, abolishing slavery required beating it out of the slaveowner -- whether through rebellions or civil war.
What we like about Ireland in particular is that she has put certain electoral strategies on the backburner to develop the "outsider" reformist movement. To do so she openly says she will work with communists,(p. 154) she will stand for lesbian and gay rights and she seeks alliance with oppressed nations people. We also agree with her persynal decision not to have children(p. 2) as too much of a commitment for a time when full-time political activism is necessary.
Mindful of their membership and financial dues collecting base, Ireland and other NOW officials noticed that they radically increased their base with the Anita Hill controversy (e.g., p. 245) and lost it when the Democrats won presidential office in 1992.(p. 262) Seeing that happen should persuade any mass organization that independence from the bourgeois parties is in their organization's and movement's best interests. We would not have chosen the Anita Hill issue, but one that embarrasses ruling class men from both parties seems like a good idea.
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