Skip to main content

Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century's End


Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century's End

Sara M. Evans's TIDAL WAVE, an exploration of feminism and feminist
ideology from the 1960s on, is not a quick read nor is it an easy
one. But it is a compelling, satisfying and important one. Feminism
has become one of those antiquated words that many feel is no
longer relevant in today's society. Newsweek, for example,
runs a story on the growing trend of househusbands and breadwinner
wives with relatively little fanfare. Nonetheless, whatever your
views on the current state of sexual politics, Evans's second
historical take on women's lib is informative for more than just
the facts it ties together about the birth of Ms., the growth of
the Equal Rights Amendment and the rise of Riot Grrrls. TIDAL WAVE
is also a fascinating history of how a group with little or no
tradition of defining itself, much less politicizing itself, shaped
a movement in fits and sputters.

Evans begins the book with an early anecdote about her personal
history in the women's movement. She joined a consciousness-raising
group and, as a young intellectual in graduate school, chose to
shape her curriculum around women's history. Though TIDAL WAVE is
by no means autobiographical, it's clearly a subject close to
Evans's heart. That would be apparent with or without her mention
of "Group 22," but it gets right to the heart of what so many women
discovered in the late 1960s: the personal is the political.
Knowing that Evans experienced this first-hand makes her
observations that much more powerful.

The second wave of American feminism began nearly 50 years after
the first, when women suffragettes campaigned to win the vote. In
describing this period, Evans weaves fact and interpretation
seamlessly. Anyone who did not pay attention or was too young to
remember those times may not realize, for example, how divided the
women's movement became because of the many different synergies
influencing its members. A female Black Panther had different
motivations than a Jewish lesbian, a white housewife or a
blue-collar American Indian. While their overall goals may have
been similar, their life experiences demanded different priorities.
Yet there was little dialogue in this vein, and thus concerns
festered. In many ways, that was what ultimately led to the
undertow, as Evans terms it. White women dominated the movement's
direction, especially in the media. Even though fringe groups
arose, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are the faces we remember
from the movement. There was actually much more to it.

Ironically, in trying to escape the oppression and hierarchy women
wanted so much to fight, they themselves became bogged down. Evans
explains that most groups chose not to have a single leader present
one voice to the outer community for fear of one person getting too
much power and others not getting a chance to share their voices.
Thus, if one woman were asked to speak at many high schools, for
example, on the topic of women's rights, her group would often
intervene and send someone else or decline the invitation. Because
few breakout leaders emerged, groups collapsed or spun off into
multiple fringes.

Evans writes knowledgably, with clear and not overly flowery
language. She toggles between time periods of two to three years
throughout the book, preferring instead to organize her sections by
idea or trend. This isn't a criticism so much as a warning --- pay
close attention to dates as you read along or you could end up in
1973 when you thought 1971 was just starting. You may get lost, but
you won't get bored. This may not seem like a summer beach book,
but it's as engrossing as one.

Reviewed by Toni Fitzgerald on January 23, 2011

Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century's End
by Sara M. Evans

  • Publication Date: February 24, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • ISBN-10: 074325502X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743255028