Feminism in Action

Building Institutions and Community through Women's Studies

By Jean Fox O'Barr

Foreword by Kristin Luker

Feminism in Action

316 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4439-7
    Published: April 1994

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Feminism in Action is Jean O'Barr's firsthand account of two decades spent working to promote the cause of higher education for women through the establishment of women's studies programs. The book brings together revised versions of O'Barr's most significant presentations on the subject, from a 1976 talk to incoming Duke University students, through original essays that document the process of institutional change, to a 1993 lecture on the impact of race on discussions of gender. Striking the perfect balance between a theoretical sense of what feminism proposes and a practical sense of what is politically feasible, these essays pose--and help to answer--basic questions about the role of women's studies programs in the academy. Exactly what kinds of changes do such programs instigate? How do they work, institutionally? What accounts for their extraordinary success in supporting higher education for all women, from recent high school graduates to older returning students? Written in a lively, anecdotal style and supplemented by personal testimonies from students and colleagues, the essays provide not only a valuable history of the field of women's studies but a concrete blueprint for current and future programs. from the book From a student point of view, the way in which women and gender are presented and discussed appears as important as their mere mention as topics, if not more so. Such student observations suggest that individual faculty members function as 'gatekeepers' of knowledge to a much greater degree than disciplines or departments do. . . . Students require active preparation and encouragement if they are to be able to transfer information learned in the context of a women's studies class into other courses.

About the Author

Jean Fox O'Barr is the founding director of women's studies at Duke University, holding the Margaret Taylor Smith Directorship, the first endowed Directorship in the US. She is now a Distinguished University Service Professor. Her books include Engaging Feminism: Students Speak Up and Speak Out.
For more information about Jean Fox O'Barr, visit the Author Page.


"The book's value lies as much in its autobiographical as in its didactic elements, revealing a woman who wove the strands of necessity into the opportunity for both self-development and the empowerment of others."--Choice

"By taking Women's Studies curricula and classrooms as models, Jean O'Barr eloquently documents the ways that inclusivity and student-centered learning are necessarily linked. Anyone in higher education who is concerned with answering critics' charges that faculty do not care about educating students will have much to learn from this splendid account of creative teaching, learning, and institution-building."--Marcia Westkott, University of Colorado at Boulder