Social Scientist. v 13, no. 149-50 (Oct-Nov 1985) p. 126.


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ARLENE EISEN : WOMEN AND REVOLUTION IN VIETNAM Zed Books Limited, London, 1984.

ARLENE EISEN, journalist, research worker, teacher in women's studies and activist in civil rights, anti-war and women's movements, follows up her first book 'Women in Vietnam (1974) with this current study that gives an account of Vietnamese women since liberation in 1975. Based on interviews, reports and historical research, her new book traces the progress of Vietnamese women's struggle for liberation and emancipation within th^ framework of socialist construction. The book also takes up some important questions from the debate between feminism and 'socialist theory. It also makes a contribution to an understanding of the difficulties and problems that a Third World country faces in building socialism. This understanding brings into sharper focus the concept of a 'revolution within the revolution', the extent of women's participation in political leadership and decision-making in different aspects of Vietnamese life.

In Vietnam, as elsewhere^ women have come to symbolise the strength of National Liberation Movements and the potential of women. Would the gains made by women during the war expand in peace time or would socialists abandon their commitments to women, once in power ? Feminists have often idealised the liberation-women equation and rejected socialism as the means of providing an environment for the liberation of women. The over-throwing of all sex roles is the feminist dream, not the Vietnamese reality, which is a combination of both the militia woman and the bereaved mother knitting socks for soldiers. The goal of the Vietnamese women's movement is not to legitimise feminist goals, but to face day to day problems in a war ravaged, economically backward country. To them status may not figure as the primary concern when they have trouble in meeting the nutritional and health requirement^ of the family.

When Vietnamese women discuss liberation, they speak from the experience of a people that have survived feudal oppression, defeated French colonialism, fought US occupation and who are now in the process of building socialism. Conditions have pushed them very hard and very far. We se how, from being beasts of burden, women have transformed into a strong force in Vietnamese society, despite poverty, war and death. In this process, Eisen is concerned in seeking answers to proclaimed feminist goals. Is it possible for certain roles to maintain their status as 'women's work' without being oppressive to women ? Can the patriarchal family evolve into a democratic



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