Every Day About the World: Feminist Internationalism in the Second Wave

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English Language and Literature

First Advisor

Goldsby, Jacqueline


“Every Day About the World” offers a new narrative of US second-wave feminism from its emergence in the 1960s through its institutionalization in the 1980s, recuperating a foundationally international horizon through which feminist literature and analysis were formulated, tested, and revised. By attending to a series of pivotal but under-considered scenes of engagement for US feminism, I describe the political and conceptual challenges confronted by US feminist writers as they looked beyond national borders, as well as the literary approaches through which those challenges were registered and occasionally surmounted. Solidarity with anti-imperialist movements abroad provided consistent occasions for US feminists to assert a variable but shared terrain of gender politics—what poet June Jordan imagines in 1985 as a “comprehensive present tense” linking partial perspectives through an international horizon. Drawing on archival research, close reading, social movement history, and feminist theory, I argue not simply that literature served as an essential tool with which feminists conceived internationalist gender politics, but rather that internationalism provided essential occasions for feminist writers to retool, stretch, and reinvigorate inherited genres. Each chapter considers a uniquely charged international site in which feminist categories of analysis and literary practices were forged, shaping the development of US feminist thought. Chapter One identifies the Vietnam War as a critical event in the politicization of intimacy. Muriel Rukeyser and Grace Paley were among the most prominent of those writers for whom feminist insights emerged in necessary relation to a felt complicity with US war-making abroad, and each author developed strategies for holding imperialism and patriarchy in active relation. Considering Rukeyser and Paley in relation to the competing frameworks of masculinist antiwar and isolationist feminist politics, I demonstrate the centrality of internationalist commitments to the feminist literatures that these writers helped bring into being. Chapter Two considers the unique challenges posed by Black feminists to the coherence and unmarked referents of white feminist analyses during the second wave. If Black feminists led intra-movement dialogue about the limits of universalizing politics, internationalism was a vital spur toward self-interrogation among Black feminists themselves. This chapter reads prose by Angela Davis, Paule Marshall, and others that imagines the Caribbean as a shifting scene of identification and attempted solidarity. These writings toe a fine line between what I call reflexivity—a critical practice that makes use of one’s own experiences and perceptions to generate more expansive political analyses—and therapeutic self-reference—a habit of mind in which new experiences are instrumentalized to satisfy one’s own prior needs and desires. The changing balance of these two modes in Black feminist writing registers transformations in US feminist internationalism’s activist infrastructure at the end of the 1970s. Chapter Three assesses the profound shifts in June Jordan’s and Adrienne Rich’s poetry and nonfiction of the mid-1980s, concurrent with a diffuse but linked series of developments unfolding across US feminism and against the backdrop of the decade’s growing Central American solidarity movement. The 1980s represent a key period of transition in histories of the second wave: in the face of challenges both internal and external, feminists were learning to accommodate more by claiming less, shrinking their assertions in order to grow their constituencies. Jordan’s and Rich’s essays and poems about their travels to Nicaragua at once index these developments and stand apart from them, deriving models of feminist solidarity that center rather than surmount the specificities of place. These writings helped usher in a turn toward the politics and epistemology of perspective, standpoint, and location in feminist theory of the later 1980s. In a brief Coda, I suggest that Jordan’s 1985 poem “Moving Towards Home” signals the twilight of the era of feminist internationalism elaborated in this dissertation at the same time that the poem anticipates the transnational frameworks which would supplant it.

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