A New Feminist

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

NewFemininsm.co is dedicated to Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a scholar whose thinking and manner inspired this blog and provides the foundation upon which New Feminism is growing.  With this post, I introduce her background and bio.  I look forward to posting excerpts from her work which help us consider and discuss New Feminism and how New Feminism informs and impacts our daily lives.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese was an accomplished historian and professor of women’s studies who “roiled both disciplines with her transition from Marxist-inclined feminist to conservative public intellectual.” New York Times.  Prior to her death in 2007, she resided in Atlanta with her husband Eugene Fox-Genovese and worked at Emory University as the Eléonore Raoul professor of humanities.

Both a feminist herself and a convert to Roman Catholicism, Fox-Genovese clarified and challenged the presumptions and consequences of late 20th century feminism. She consistently sought meaningful dialogue on the stresses and contradictions confronting women in daily living, conflicts which she believed resulted from the “difference between women and men” in a legal, political and social world focused upon “the rights of women as individuals.”

If women, she earnestly asked, pursue their fulfillment as a matter of “individual right or a market transaction,” who will bear the “responsibility for the values that embody our humanity . . . nurture, care, patience, self-sacrifice?”

One online bio of Fox-Genovese describes her life as follows:

“Elizabeth Fox-Genovese began her career as a specialist in French History, developed expertise in women’s history in the antebellum South, and ultimately came to be known as a leading conservative feminist. With degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Harvard University, she began teaching history at Emory University, where she was the founding director of the Institute for Women’s Studies and began the first doctoral program in Women’s Studies in the United States.

Having started her career as a Marxist, Fox-Genovese became increasingly aware of the conflict between Marxism and human rights and dignity. Her conversion to Roman Catholicism in the 1990s coincided with a shift to pro-life advocacy, and her outspoken
expression of her views and critiques of liberal feminism brought her notoriety on the left and admiration on the right.

The author of a number of scholarly works, including Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South and Feminism is Not the Story of My Life: How Today’s Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women, as well as The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview with her husband Eugene Genovese, she was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Cardinal Wright Award from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the C. Hugh Holman Prize from the Society for Southern Literature.”

While Fox-Genovese developed and contributed substance to New Feminism, she also, importantly, mirrored that substance in a New Feminism manner of discussion and dialogue. Mark Bauerlin captured this aspect of New Feminism:

“As is well known,[Fox-Genovese’s] anti-abortion position put her at odds with her field, and even though she founded the first doctoral program in women’s studies in the United States, she earned little credit for it once she went pro-life.

More than that, Fox-Genovese was the object of widespread animosity at her own university, and before I even knew her I heard and overheard dozens of smears, whispers, and denunciations at faculty gatherings and in lounges and at the next cafeteria table.

Here is the remarkable thing about it. . . . not once in private or public conversation did she ever utter any statement of a personal nature against them. Fox-Genovese was sharp and incisive about intellectual matters, and she played no favorites, arguing in a firm and patient manner with everyone including her husband whenever she found important disagreements. (Rarely did she quibble over the small stuff.)

But gossip and slight weren’t her thing. She stood in the middle of heated and rancorous debates that extended from national legal policy to local politics at Emory, but never did I hear her descend into detraction. Time and again the bait was offered, and she held back. No cheap shots, no easy dismissals, no reliance on like-minded auditors for reassurance. Her example continues for the many students and colleagues she affected over the years, and academe is a lesser place without her.”

Allow me to add:  her example continues for New Feminists determined to engage an often aggressive and combative culture in urgent dialogue about the health, well-being and future of women and their children and families.  May we live up to her standard.



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