Elevate Difference

Taking Women in New Directions: Stories from the Second Wave of the Women's Movement

Paula Kassell's Taking Women in New Directions is not what it sounds like. Rather than being stories about the women's movement in the '70s and '80s, it is primarily a collection of articles that Kassell wrote for the feminist newspaper, New Directions for Women (which she also co-founded and ran out of her own home for seven years). The newspaper was published from 1972-1993, and at its peak had a circulation of 65,000.

The articles themselves are in the form of newspaper clippings, one every page or two (for a total of sixty), and are accompanied by family and personal photos, all of which makes the ninety-seven-page book seem more like a scrapbook than a text. Other than the clippings and photos, there is an eight-page history of the newspaper, also written by Kassell; a couple of pieces about Kassell written by others, Kassell's feminist curriculum vita; and some correspondence between Kassell and an editor. The result is an odd mix of self-promotion and social history.

This doesn't mean that the book is without value. It functions well as a primary source of second wave feminist writing. Kassell always documented her sources and was careful to provide detailed information about the books and organizations she referred to. The articles, editorials, book reviews, and columns, which are presented chronologically, cover a wide range of feminist issues, from equal pay to reproductive rights. One thing that was interesting about reading the book was seeing how many of the issues Kassell wrote about are still not resolved today.

The publisher, Hudson House is a “vanity” press. I give Kassell credit for putting forth the effort to compile the contents, have the book published, and undertake book signings at the age of ninety-one. (The book was published in 2008.) The impression I got is that Kassell wanted to leave behind a testimonial to her work in the feminist movement, primarily, but not solely, in terms of her contributions to New Directions for Women. For example, one of the her accomplishments was to help persuade the New York Times to begin using the honorific “Ms.” (It was one of the last major newspapers to do so.) And she is justifiably proud of all the organizations she joined or helped to found over the years.

The strength of this book is that it shows how the personal life of one woman can contribute to the impact of an entire movement. It is a good answer to those who say that the feminist movement is no longer necessary because all of its goals have been met. And yet the things that have changed have been through the efforts of women like Paula Kassell.

Written by: Ellen Keim, June 1st 2010