Feminist Reflections on Childhood

A History and Call to Action

Penny A. Weiss
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1869-2
Publication: May 21

HC: $110.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1868-5
Publication: May 21

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1870-8
Publication: May 21

310 pages
6 x 9

Recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people

Read chapter 1 (pdf).


In Feminist Reflections on Childhood, Penny Weiss rediscovers the radically feminist tradition of advocating for the liberatory treatment of youth. Weiss looks at both historical and contemporary feminists to understand what issues surrounding the inequality experienced by both women and children were important to the authors as feminist activists and thinkers. She uses the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Simone de Beauvoir to show early feminist arguments for the improved status and treatment of youth. Weiss also shows how Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a socialist feminist, and Emma Goldman, an anarchist feminist, differently understood and re-visioned children’s lives, as well as how children continue to show up on feminist agendas and in manifestos that demand better conditions for children’s lives.

Moving to contemporary theory, Feminist Reflections on Childhood also looks at how feminist disability theory is well-positioned to recognize the voices of children, and how queer theory provides lessons on contemporary trends that provide visions and strategies for more constructive adult-child relations. Weiss, who includes her own experiences as a mother and foster mother throughout the book, closes her distinctively feminist takes on childhood with a consideration of speculative fiction stories that offer examples of what feminists think makes childhood (un)livable.


Feminist Reflections on Childhood is an important contribution to the study of the place of children in the history of feminist political thought, especially in the United States. It shows the ways that an array of women writers in America, across eras and genres, from Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Emma Goldman to Joanna Russ and Octavia Butler, have articulated the ethics of caring for children and making space for their freedom and voices in families and other social and political communities. By weaving together an illuminating range of sources drawn from literature, history, philosophy, and personal experience, Weiss convincingly shows that a political concern for children’s well-being is at the social root of any feminist approach to theorizing or realizing freedom and justice for each and all.”
—Eileen Hunt Botting, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, and author of Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child: Political Philosophy in ‘Frankenstein’ and Artificial Life After Frankenstein

Feminist Reflections on Childhood is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book that places children at center stage in feminist discussions of equality and social justice. In her trademark conversational style, Penny Weiss engages with an impressively diverse selection of historical feminist thinkers to envision how to give children the voice and respect that they deserve as members of our political communities. This compelling book is an invaluable resource for scholars and activists committed to rethinking the rights and responsibilities of childhood, family dynamics, childrearing practices, adult-child relationships, and much more. A truly magnificent contribution to feminist political thought.”
—Amber Knight, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Table of Contents


1. Who/What Is a Child?
2. Why Feminist Reflections on Childhood?

Interlude: The Stories (Voice and Silence)
3. The Everyday Silencing of Children and the Feminist Politics of Voice

Interlude: The Stories (Participation, Justice, and Community)
4. Reflections on Childhood in the History of Feminist Thought: Tyranny and Resistance
5. Two Models of Feminist Childhoods: Emma Goldman and Charlotte Perkins Gilman
6. Feminist Manifestos: Childhood on Feminist Agendas

Interlude: The Stories (Shared Hopes, Dreams, and Fears)
7. Learning from Feminist Epistemology
8. Learning from Feminist Disability Theory
9. Learning from Queer Theory
10. Childhood in Feminist Dystopias and Utopias


About the Author(s)

Penny A. Weiss is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University. She is the editor of Feminist Manifestos: A Global Documentary Reader and coeditor of Feminism and Community (Temple), as well as the author of Canon Fodder: Historical Women Political Thinkers and Conversations with Feminism: Political Theory and Practice, among other books.