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March 13, 2013
By Megan Akers
Mary White Stewart, author and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, recently released her fourth book, Portraits of Change: Unparalleled Freedoms, Unanticipated Consequences, in which she provides a reflection on mid-century social change as it shaped women's lives, using a personal lens to illustrate the power of political and social movements.
This theme coincides with Women's History Month, observed nationally throughout March, which pays tribute to the powerful impact of generations of women who have proved invaluable to society.
Stewart, who is currently a professor of sociology and director of the School of Social Research and Justice Studies, an administrative unit within the College of Liberal Arts, combines her professional experiences and personal insight to give readers a look at how an individual woman's life can reflect global changes and vice versa. She has been teaching at the University for more than 20 years, and has directed the Gender, Race and Identity Program and the Women's Studies Program, which has been absorbed into the Gender, Race and Identity Program.
"I have always enjoyed writing, and at the same time it is part of an expectation that I have as a professor and researcher to write and disseminate my ideas," Stewart said. "I was inspired to write Portraits of Change because I really wanted to convey the impact of social change as seen through individual lives of women."
In her book, Stewart traces how the women's movement and widespread social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s impacted the women of her own family. In particular, she focuses on the experiences of four generations of women, including her, as they come of age, marry, divorce and age. She explores, from a sociological and feminist point of view, how each generation responded to social and political constraints and freedoms of their time while analyzing how their individual choices shaped the next generation.
For Stewart, who has written three other books and is currently working on a new one, writing Portraits of Change provided a unique challenge.
"It was a real balance between expressing my own experiences, as they reflected larger social changes, and exposing myself to judgment," Stewart said. "Because I delve into some personal experiences about both myself and my family, I was sensitive to our vulnerabilities. At the same time, I thought the difficult experiences I had as a woman, a wife, a mother and a scholar would reveal the deep impact of dramatic social change on women's lives."
Stewart further describes her experiences about coming to terms with growing older and going through powerful changes from a gender standpoint, which is a perspective she incorporates in her course on gender and identity.
Stewart hopes for her readers to be reminded of how an individual's personal life is a part of a complex social and political environment. She uses the experiences of her family in order to challenge her readers to think about how the same event may be experienced differently by individuals based on gender, race, physical location and class.
"I think it is very interesting to look at the kinds of choices you make during a time of dramatic social upheaval and to analyze the way in which that social change affected your entire life," Stewart said. "I want my readers to see how we, as individuals, are really influenced by these patterned changes and sometimes by the chaos that those changes leave us with."
Stewart's book, Portraits of Change: Unparalleled Freedoms, Unanticipated Consequences, is published by Rowman and Littlefield and can be found for purchase online at Amazon. Her previous books include Ordinary Violence: Everyday Assaults against Women and Silicone Spills: Breast Implants on Trial.
Megan Akers is a student writer for University Media Relations.