by Brenda Feigen
(Knopf) $26

by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards
(Farrar, Straus, & Giroux) $15

IT'S NOT EASY being a member of the lost generation--born between the boomers and Generation X--especially if you're a feminist. Some writers now identify three separate surges of American feminist history: the 19th-century and early 20th- century "First Wave"; the "Second Wave" of the 1960s-1970s; and the "Third Wave," consisting of feminists who are currently under 30 years old. So where does that leave those of us in between the Second and Third Waves? Do we emulate our activist mothers, or look to those in their teens and 20s for our feminist inspiration?

Many Second Wave feminists are now publishing memoirs, and a frequent topic is their disappointment with the younger generation of feminists. In particular, they bemoan the Third Wave's apparent apathy and lack of political activism.

Brenda Feigen's new memoir, Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist, is not so much a blow-by-blow account of the early women's movement (as are so many of her cohorts' recent books), but rather, a personal assessment of what it has meant for the last four decades--and what it still means--to fight the good fight on an everyday basis. Feigen explains the role that feminism played in every part of her life: her jobs in law, politics, and the entertainment industry; her marriage to a male feminist; her coming out as a lesbian; and her battle with breast cancer.

It's hard to imagine now what it was like to be a female student at Harvard Law School in the late '60s, when Feigen was enrolled there. Out of 565 students in her class, only 32 were women; the professors (all male) routinely announced, "Good morning, gentlemen," when they entered the classroom; and professors would only call on female students once a year, on the designated "Ladies' Day." After winning a sex-discrimination suit against Harvard's male-only law club, Feigen channeled her energy into the emerging women's movement.

But the new "women's libbers" were hardly one big happy family. Feigen doesn't shy away from dissing those feminists who made her efforts more difficult--from radicals who refused to work within "the system" to Betty Friedan's homophobic tantrums against "the Lavender Menace" to Shirley MacLaine's rant at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. "If you people had your way," MacLaine reportedly shrieked, "you'd have George [McGovern] support everyone's right to fuck goats."

Notwithstanding the occasional entertaining celebrity anecdote, Feigen's penchant for name-dropping and providing needless detail significantly weakens the first half of the book. We learn about Gloria Steinem's sleeping habits, John Lennon and Yoko Ono's unexpected appearance at Feigen's apartment, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's shuttle rides from D.C. to New York. Feigen's amateurish style begs for better editing.

Not One of the Boys is far more interesting when Feigen recounts her lifelong experiences with sexism and explains exactly how she attempted to remedy the problems she faced. Here is activist feminism at its best--the proverbial personal and political joined at the hip.

In 1971, Feigen held a meeting at her apartment to see if there was enough interest in producing a feminist newsletter. Female journalists poured into Feigen's home, complaining of being forced to write articles on nothing but fashion and makeup. Shortly thereafter, Ms. magazine was born. Fast-forward to the late '80s, when Feigen took up Hollywood film producing after quitting her job as a talent agent at the shockingly misogynistic William Morris Agency. As the co-producer of 1990's NAVY SEALS, Feigen was excluded from Orion's all-male meetings and shooting sites, while being "complimented" that she was "one of the smartest cunts in the business."

Feigen gains even more steam in the book's later chapters on recent feminist issues. She skewers the excesses of feminist academics, for example, who focus on "deconstructing postmodernism" at the expense of addressing real problems, like the fact that women still comprise only 12 percent of Harvard's tenured faculty.

Not One of the Boys closes with the hope that the women's movement will be "encouraged, supported and joined now by our feminist children." Feigen joyously notes that women made up 52 percent of her daughter's law school class at Berkeley--a vast improvement over Feigen's own Harvard days.

But Feigen's daughter and her friends grew up in a world very different from their mothers'. Will they really be motivated to take up the fight?

That's the question that 30-year-old feminists Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards address in Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. The two met while working at Ms. magazine and developed an interest in the generation gap that kept popping up between Second Wave and Third Wave feminists. Baumgardner felt a cavernous split between her older feminist colleagues at Ms. and feminists her own age--especially the "Girlies with tight clothes and streaky hair, who made zines and music and Web sites." Though she admired these young women's creativity and self-confidence, she noted that "part of what was free about them seemed to be that they weren't taking on anything they might have to lose." This, of course, is precisely the criticism that Second Wavers have been making of the younger generation of feminists.

Baumgardner and Richards were both born in 1970, a handy coincidence that allows them to center Manifesta's prologue on what life was like in the year of their birth. While the lack of freedom for women at the time--from not being allowed to choose wood shop over home economics to not being able to choose abortion at all--is hardly news to anyone who remembers those days, it could be an eye opener for younger women. The problem, though, as the authors point out, is that these experiences don't provide any "clicks"--the term Jane O'Reilly coined in the '70s to describe moments of feminist consciousness--for Third Wavers. They can take high-school auto shop; they can get an abortion on demand. If 43 percent of U.S. women under the age of 45 have had abortions, how can young women imagine this right being taken away?

Third Wave feminists have different concerns--body image and eating disorders, for example, and male sexual responsibility. But perhaps the biggest generation gap comes down to the simple problem of terminology--most notably, younger women's reluctance to identify with that other "F-word." Why do so many Generation-X women say, "I'm not a feminist, but...."? Manifesta does a fine job of dissecting the use of the F-word and the politics behind it, but as terms like bitch, slut, cunt, chick, and girl are reclaimed and lose their power as put-downs, oddly enough, feminism still remains a dirty word.

The authors cite women like GE executive Sam Allison, who is on the board of the Milwaukee Women's Center and still claims that "she's not a feminist but simply an 'advocate to end violence against women.'" Gee, that sounds so much like... feminism. Throw in all those exasperating female musicians like PJ Harvey, who sing marvelous lyrics of womanly power and yet still deny their feminism, and you've got to wonder--what the hell is up with the F-word? Baumgardner and Richards wonder, too, and insist that many women "need to be outed as feminists." Still, they acknowledge that "identifying ourselves as feminists means addressing uncomfortable topics: the humiliation of being discriminated against, [or] the fact that we are vulnerable when we walk home late at night...."

But more often than not, the resistance to the F-word comes from women's fear that publicly proclaiming their belief in the equality of women--by calling themselves feminists--somehow equals man-hating. Manifesta offers the instructive case of Sarah McLachlan, organizer of the Lilith Fair, a profitable tour that features chart-topping female musicians, largely female audiences, and huge donations to women's shelters and social-service agencies. McLachlan has publicly insisted that "the tour isn't a soapbox for extremist feminism," adding, "This is not at all about dissing men." Clearly not--but as Baumgardner and Richards note, "There are certain assurances we just shouldn't have to make.... After all, an all-black tour of hiphop musicians wouldn't feel obligated to assure people that they're not dissing whites."

Though Manifesta admits that "the Third Wave of the movement doesn't have an easily identifiable presence," the authors claim that recent cultural phenomena like Riot Grrrls, the Bust and Bitch zines, Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, and Inga Muscio's Cunt are all examples of the vitality of modern young feminism, albeit cloaked in the guise of culture. But how can the presence of cultural feminism be translated into, say, increasing the number of female politicians, bureaucrats, CEOs, and major media executives--in other words, creating a female presence where the real power lies? Second Wavers doubt that cultural feminism will go very far without the support of grassroots activism.

Take the so-called "Girlie" feminists, for example, whose reclaiming of Barbie dolls, pigtails, barrettes, makeup, and nail polish is a topic of great debate among older and younger feminists alike. Baumgardner and Richards claim that they love the Girlie movement, yet they concede that Girlie style can be just another brand of conformity. "Without a body of politics," Manifesta concludes, "the nail polish is really going to waste." The authors fail to provide a deeper analysis, however, of what attracts girls and women to Girlie culture in the first place. "Girlie takes the feminine and drains the weakness and inferiority from it," they write. And perhaps Barbie dolls are just as valid as toy trucks, but when you ask girls why they like Barbie--or Cinderella, or the Little Mermaid--most will tell you, "because she's pretty."

Manifesta is indignant over Second Wavers' tendency to overlook "the everyday feminism right in front of [their] noses," and berates older feminists who deny young feminists the leadership opportunities that would most engage them in the movement. "Instead," the authors complain, "[Second Wavers] focus on little girls--sweet, young, and as unthreatening to the Second Wave way of doing things as possible--as a not so subtle way of avoiding and ignoring the generation of young adult feminists." Indeed, Manifesta shines brightest in its meticulous deconstruction of the girls' self-esteem movement promoted by well-meaning Second Wave feminists. Baumgardner and Richards assert that the girls' movement is really more about the adult women who are active in it than the girls they are trying to help.

The nascent feminism among young women may in fact be much more prevalent than Second Wavers realize, and the most promising aspect of Manifesta is the final chapter's promotion of everyday activism and networking, as exemplified by the authors' personal experiences. Following that are a number of appendixes, offering a fountain of practical information for would-be activists. The authors provide concrete examples of simple, community-based actions that any young feminist could take up--like publicizing the fact that the National Honor Society is violating Title IX by revoking the membership of pregnant girls, while not excluding the boys who did the impregnating.

Overall, Manifesta is a timely call to arms for younger feminists, while it serves up genuinely useful advice for closing the feminist gender gap. The book's only serious weakness is its confusing organization. After touching briefly on a given topic, the authors move on to other subjects--but later, the same topic is picked up again, sometimes as an entire chapter. In terms of coverage, Manifesta doesn't leave a whole lot out, and as a result, it's all over the map.

The book closes with an epilogue, "A Day with Feminism," which reverses the depressing 1970 scenario provided in the introduction, and imagines what it might be like to live in a world without sexism. For an embittered feminist of the lost generation, this burst of youthful optimism is truly refreshing.

But perhaps those of us stuck in the middle between the Second and Third Waves should look to very young girls in our search for signs of a feminist future. My six-year-old niece--a potential harbinger of the Fourth Wave--recently described her Halloween costume to me over the phone. She couldn't get an Elvis outfit, she explained, so a skeleton was the next best thing. Most importantly, she didn't want to look the same as all her girlfriends. What were they dressed as? "Princesses," she sighed. "Every single one of them."