How to harness the euphoric rage of the record-breaking women’s marches? How to make tangible progress, not merely prevent further losses? To answer these riddles requires understanding how we got here, and Marjorie J. Spruill’s Divided We Stand offers a detailed if sometimes dense primer ... The chapters detailing these competing events are the best in Divided We Stand ... These divergent narratives from 40 years ago offer many lessons to those hoping to maintain the momentum of the Jan. 21 women’s marches. Two of the most salient: Forge unity out of diversity and hold elected officials accountable.
Ms. Spruill’s honorable attention to the state meetings can drag her narrative at times, but she still manages to draw out a story crucial to understanding American politics over the past 40 years ... The 2016 election showed that women remain the most divided of identity groups. Some 53% of white female voters were willing to cast their ballots for a man whom feminists despise as a misogynist. And the question raised by the battle of 1977—who speaks for women?—still bedevils American politics.
Spruill offers substantial evidence that women’s rights had long been a bipartisan cause. Both Republicans and Democrats had endorsed passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) since the 1940s ... As Spruill documents, the 1980 presidential campaign cemented the parties’ split over women’s rights. The Democratic platform broadly endorsed feminist positions, including government-funded abortions for poor women. By contrast, the GOP abandoned the party’s 40-year support for the ERA and endorsed a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Republican orthodoxy embraces these anti-feminist policies even today. Spruill’s blow-by-blow description of the NWC and its aftermath reflects exhaustive research. Her interviews of key participants both illuminate the narrative and preserve first-hand accounts for future scholars. Unfortunately, at times, the details overwhelm...minutiae can make it hard to follow the larger story ... How did the conference contribute to the toxicity of present-day American politics? Spruill’s account goes a long way toward answering that tantalizing question, but not quite far enough.