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Transcript of Feminist intersections
Feminism as an ideology - an intellectual system for explaining why things are the way they are.
Feminism and other disciplines:
political and social theory, epistemology, psychology, psychoanalysis, spiritual and religious studies, linguistics, cultural studies, literary theory and criticism, daily experience The first wave feminism is connected to both the liberal women’s rights movement and early socialist feminism in the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States and Europe.
In the early stages (mainly in the US) it was interwoven with other reform movements - abolition and temperance - and initially closely involved women of the working classes, and was also supported by Black women abolitionists agitating for the rigths of women of colour (Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, E. W. Harper)
However, the first wave of feminism consisted largely of white, middle-class, well-educated women The aim of first wave feminism:
women and men should be treated as equals and women should be given access to the same resources and positions
confronting the stereotypes about women: giving public speeches, challenging the „cult of domesticity” The first manifesto:
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
"The woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband." Influential texts:
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949) Second wave feminism refers mostly to the radical feminism of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s – in postwar Western welfare societies.
Linked to the radical voices of women’s empowerment and differential rights.
During the 1980s to 1990s: a crucial differentiation of second-wave feminism itself, initiated by women of colour and third-world women. Issues:
Criticism of the dual workload for women working outside as well as inside the home
The demand of equal pay for equal work
Breakdown of the gendered division of the educational system and the labor market
Criticism of „sex roles” and the „beauty myth”
"There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody."
— Florynce Kennedy (1916–2000) We’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
— Gloria Steinem (1934–) During the 1980s:
a new framework grew into “difference second-wave feminism”:
the need to address the differences among women simultaneously promoted the theory of different standpoints and the divergences between them
difference feminism gradually grew into what is now often referred to as “identity politics.” Difference feminism Black and Third world feminism French feminism Second-wave feminism is not one, but many; the question may not be whether you are a feminist, but which kind of feminist you are.
Second wave feminism has been highly theoretical and consequently has had strong affiliations with the academy: generated an explosion of research and teaching on women’s issues, which has now grown into a diverse disciplinary field of women’s, gender, or feminist studies Gynocriticism Feminist literary criticism Anxiety of authorship Radical second-wave feminism grew out of leftist movements in postwar Western societies, among them the student protests, the anti–Vietnam War movement, the lesbian and gay movements, and, in the United States, the civil rights and Black power movements
Produced many of the expressions that have become household words (especially in the United States):
“Sisterhood is powerful”
“The personal is political”
“the politics of housework”
the “prowoman line"
Characterized by the strong belief that women could collectively empower one other. Identity second-wave feminism was marked by a growing criticism from black, working-class, and lesbian feminists:
they questioned the predominantly white, middle-class, and heterosexual feminist agenda and raised the issue of a differentiated-identity politics based on the intersections of gender, class, race/ethnicity, and sexuality
Black and third-world women’s feminism tended to diversify into different standpoints and identities
bell hooks, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Woman and Feminism (1981)
Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (1989) Nowadays there is a chance of coming across a group of women, who call themselves feminist, postfeminists or third wave feminists.
these so-called feminists are in actuality attacking and demonizing feminisms
criticizing feminisms which addressed issues of sexuality, the social construction of gender, and, especially, violence against women and children A large majority of second wave feminists: young women and girls as part of the baby boom generation (1946-1964) that followed the Second World War.
Many were the first in their families to receive university educations
Highly influenced and/or involved in civil rights struggles and radical youth cultural movements.
Disenchantment with social conventions:
forcing women back into traditional roles, especially those that idealized women as full-time wives and mothers.
At the same time: limited opportunities for employment outside of the home
As a consequence:
women dissatisfied with their societal and economic positions, with a host of sexually discriminatory attitudes and policies
It provoked what is called:
the new feminist wave of awareness and protest Third wave feminism:
a term used by a number of women, as well as popular media, to describe contemporary versions of feminisms that evolved from the early 1980s to the present
Some have associated this term with young feminists influenced by
second wave feminism
Yet the term is highly contested and has been employed to describe a number of diverse feminist and anti-feminist theories and practices
A multiplicity of movements, philosophies and practices The rebellious kind of feminism that exploded in the 1980s:
examined not only the intersections between race, class, culture, sexuality, but also the celebration – and coalition politics – of difference
the "new hybridity"
a term used to express the "multiple identities" of many contemporary girls and women
describing a new generation of critical insurgent feminists – primarily women of color – with multiple ethnicities, cultural and class experiences
Contemporary issues related to:
immigration, class conflicts, multiculturalism, globalization, coalition politics, environmental matters, social activisms for national and global human rights More radical notions of gender and sexuality:
incorporation of queer theory:
sexual identities are not fixed, and questions the social construction of heterosexuality as the norm The false stereotype of feminists as anti-male, humorless, unattractive and out of touch with young women's needs and values
Thanks to a number of anti-feminist conservative women and self-serving celebrity women who also adopted the term "third wave feminists" for personal political interests
Demonizing other feminisms and feminists who were associated with the second wave Meanwhile:
within the bastions of power
(international politics, national governments, economy and business leadership, etc.)
women continue to be dramatically underrepresented and underpaid, and the domination of white men continues, although the myth about western women's empowerment persists The notion of post-feminism
because: Sometimes it refers to the challenges of current feminist theory and practices as informed by poststructuralist, postmodernist, and multiculturalist modes of analysis Due to the mainstream media’s appropriation, exploitation, and manipulation of the postfeminist label
it has come to mean the end of feminism and its irrelevance an interesting and important contribution to third-wave feminist thinking
based on the possibility of dialogue between women across national, ethnic, and religious boundaries
differences in nationality, ethnicity, or religion are recognized along the lines of a commitment to listen and participate in a dialogue Transversal politics
by Nira Yuval-Davis Feminist thought resists categorization into tidy schools of thought:
interdisciplinary, intersectional, and interlocking.
At the same time it is also true that feminist thought is old enough to have a history complete with a set of labels:
liberal, radical, Marxist/socialist, psychoanalytic, care-focused, multicultural/global/colonial, ecofeminist, and postmodern/third wave The classic formulation of traditional liberal feminist thought:
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women
(1861, published in 1869) Subordination is rooted in a set of customary and legal constraints that blocks women’s entrance to and success in the so-called public world
In other words: society excludes women from the academy, the forum and the marketplace
The final aim is the achievement of gender-justice: no one should be disadvantaged in the access to society’s goods and services The oppression of women originated in the introduction of private property
Private ownership of the means of production – originally male – led to a class system – its contemporary manifestations: capitalism and imperialism
Theoreticians: Juliet Mitchell and Alison Jaggar: pushed feminists to address issues related to women’s unpaid, underpaid, or disvalued work The oppression of women is caused by the patriarchal system that is characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition.
Patriarchy’s legal and political structures, social and cultural institutions (especially the family and organized religion) must be overturned. One of their major themes:
SEX/GENDER SYSTEM Gayle Rubin’s definition:
It is a “set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity.
[...…] male and female biology (chromosomes, anatomy, hormones) as the basis for constructing a set of masculine and feminine gender identities and behaviors that serve to empower men and disempower women.
[...…] cultural constructions are somehow “natural” and therefore that people’s “normality” depends on their ability to display whatever gender identities and behaviors are culturally linked with their biological sex.” It is used to describe the ways in which gender and sexuality have been used to subordinate women to men; male power is considered to be at the root of the social construction of gender Liberal feminists
Marxist-socialist feminists focus on the macrocosm - patriarchy or capitalism -
in their respective explanations of women’s oppression Concerned with the microcosm of the individual – the roots of women’s oppression are embedded deep in the female psyche
Crucial role assigned to sexuality, feminist theories are built on Freudian and Lacanian theory Focus on the causes of and explanations for women’s subordination to men worldwide
Highlight the differences that exist among women and identify ways in which diverse kinds of women can work together
Address the ways in which race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity, age, religion, level of education, occupation/profession, marital status, health condition, and so on, may separate one group of women from another Help feminists reject both
female essentialism: the view that all women are, down deep, exactly alike
female chauvinism: the view that privileged women should take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of all women Important differences:
to denote feminists who focus on the differences that exist among women who live within the boundaries of one nation-state or geographical area
“global” or “postcolonial”:
to denote feminists who focus on the ways in which most women’s lives in most developing nations are generally worse off than most women’s lives in most developed nations. Sex/Gender/Sexuality Essentialism/Constructionism Identity as performativity SEX Associated with biology and reproduction
Refers to the categories of the biologically observable human body
This mere physical matter differentiates male from female GENDER Associated with words, i.e. symbols, signs and social meanings
Refers to the categories of social expectations, roles, behaviours and values
It is the social area within which men and women are differently raised, treated and valued SEXUALITY Sexual preference
An individual’s pattern of erotic attraction
An individual’ sexual orientation, preference and behaviour ESSENTIALISM:
Gender and sex are connected and natural
Gender and sex are expressions of some natural, universal, eternal essence of men and women, that is, of masculinity and femininity CONSTRUCTIONISM:
It sees gender as constructed on the top of the biological facts by society
The categories feminine/masculine are conventionally accepted fictions
Because the gender system is socially constructed – in other words, because it has been made by human beings – it can be altered: it is not only possible but also necessary to make the genders equal and thus liberate women from a sexist social system Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”
In: Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan eds., Literary Theory – An Anthology (2nd ed.) (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004)
Sexuality as difference and gender as difference:
not the liberation of the woman
but the hierarchical organization of bodies into “discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions.”
The category of sexual difference assigned to the woman encloses her to her biological body, and provides a disguised means for the control of both individual and social bodies Judith Butler’s conceptualization of
gender as performativity reveals
the constructed nature of the category of gender:
Gender as a core or identity is offered by the dominant ideology of heterosexuality as a position that must be entered in order to gain a socially legitimate cultural embodiment.
Gender as a strategy: the final aim is cultural survival.
“[d]iscrete genders are part of what ‘humanizes’ individuals within contemporary culture; indeed, those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished" (93.) Gender is a temporarily constituted identity “instituted through a stylized repetition of acts” , which involve linguistic acts and bodily gestures, movements and enactments simultaneously.
Gender understood as a performative accomplishment means that the ways in which the body acts out its cultural signification are performative, and not expressive of an underlying, naturally given gender identity Central thesis of feminist literary criticism:
Gender is a crucial determinant in the production, circulation and consumption of literary discourses Detecting the stereotypes and prejudices about the woman writer that lie beneath mainstream literature and mainstream literary politics:
"She didn’t write it.
She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have.
She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
She wrote it, but “she” isn’t really an artist and “it” isn’t really serious, of the right genre – i.e., really art.
She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.
She wrote it, but it’s only interesting/included in the canon for one, limited reason.
She wrote it, but there are very few of her.
She wrote it, but she doesn’t fit in.
She’s wonderful, but where on earth did she come from?"
Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (1983) In order to be able to think about female authorship/women’s writing:
First there is the need to establish
a canon of women’s texts.
Why? What has been left out of literature in the case of women?
“Merely the private lives of one half of humanity.” (Carolyn Kizer, “Pro Femina”) In the classic literature of Western Humanistic tradition:
for example: Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Boccaccio’s Decameron
no women authors – of course, we could say
Whereas within the canonized works there are monumental female images that have had a crucial role in the production of female stereotypes
Helen of Troy - goddess, princess or whore?
Penelope, wife of Odysseus - the chaste and fateful wife
Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon - deceiver and murderer
Beatrice (Portinari), the distant love and muse of Dante - figure of youth, beauty and love
Bérénice, the ‘heroine’ of Edgar Allan Poe’s short horror story - the emblematic figure of a young woman with an unknown disease, who is burried alive and who has all her teeth removed by her cousin-fianceé Stereotypes about women:
Women are expected to be passive and submissive, while men are expected to be self-confident and aggressive
Women are expected to be small and graceful, while men are expected to be tall and broad-shouldered
Women are supposed to have "clean jobs" such as secretaries, teachers, and librarians
Women are nurses, not doctors
Women are not as strong as men
Women are supposed to make less money than men
The best women stay at home as mothers
Women don’t need to go to college or university
Women don’t play sports
Women are not politicians
Women are quieter than men and not meant to speak out
Women are supposed to be submissive and do as they are told
Women are supposed to cook and do housework
Women are responsible for raising children
Women do not have technical skills and are not good at "hands on" projects such as car repairs
Women are meant to be the damsel in distress; never the hero
Women are supposed to look pretty and be looked at
Women are never in charge Thus, we can say that:
the literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not incomplete but distorted
Feminist criticism of the early 1970s began by pointing out the simplest of these distortions:
that the female characters of even our greatest "classics" by male writers are often not individualized portraits of possible women, but creations of fear and desire.
Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing, 1973 During the development of second wave feminism in the seventies:
feminist focus moved from attacking patriarchy to the liberation of women
This liberation meant not only economic, but also cultural liberation: access to education and the possibility of producing cultural goods, that is, access to artistic production
Growing importance of women’s literature, both contemporary and from the past
It became crucial for the feminist movement of the seventies to publish, circulate and interpret feminist women’s concerns through literature as well
Thus the 1970s gave birth to
‘women’s literature’ and feminist literary criticism The institution of literary canon
according to Lillian S. Robinson:
"it is more like a gentlemen’s agreement than a repressive institution – isn’t it? But a gentleman is inescapably – that is, by definition – a member of a privileged class and of the male sex. From this perspective, it is probably quite accurate to think of the canon as an entirely gentlemanly artifact, considering how few works by non-members of the class and sex makie it into the informal agglomeration of course syllabi, anthologies, and widely commented-upon »standard authors« that constitutes the canon as it is generally understood."
Lillian S. Robinson, “Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon” The aim of feminist literary critics:
to protest the apparently systematic neglect of women’s experience in the canon
to protest the distorting and misreading of the few recognized female writers and excluding others.
Two possible approaches for feminist criticism: There were feminist scholars who took the direction of re-reading and re-interpretation: they began criticizing both literary and paraliterary key texts in the dominant culture.
These studies critiqued the inadequacy of literary representations of women in the texts written by men
Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1971)
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1970)
Eva Figes, Patriarchal Attitudes (1970)
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1970)
Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader (1978)
However, these feminist scholars faced huge difficulties: their positions in the academy were quite problematic, they were working with few resources, within a largely antagonistic field and without the benefit of antecedents
The problem with this approach:
male-orientated (1) Emphasizing alternative readings of the tradition: re-reading the “classics” and reinterpreting women’s characters, motivations, and actions that identify and challenge sexist ideology (2) Focusing on gaining admission to the canon for literature by women writers Elaine Showalter:
‘If we study stereotypes of women, the sexism of male critics, and the limited roles women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced, but only what men have thought women should be’
The second strand of feminist literary scholars
put the emphasis on the female reader’s identification with female-authored texts
Showalter called the approach
and it became the leading feminist literary mode in the Anglophone academy. The very first step in the establishment of the concept of ‘literature by women’
Asking the very basic questions:
where were the women writers, what did they write, how did they come to write
Its main theoretical texts include:
Patricia Meyers Spacks, The Female Imagination (1975)
Ellen Moers, Literary women (1976)
Elaine Showalter, A literature of their own: British women novelists from Bronte to Lessing (1977)
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The madwoman in the attic (1979) Gynocriticism:
produced a great mass of new material
it complicated our understanding of literary history
it introduced the significance of gender in the production of writing
it generated new interest in more private literary forms such as letters, diaries and journals
lead to the foundation of new, women-oriented publishing houses (the Feminist Press in New York or the Virago Press in the United Kingdom) Gynocriticism is a criticism which concerns itself with developing
a specifically female framework for dealing with works written by women
The main concerns:
to identify what are taken to be the distinctively feminine subject matters in literature written by women
to uncover a female tradition in literary history
to show that there is a distinctive feminine mode of experience or “subjectivity” in thinking, valuing, and perceiving oneself and the outer world Gynocriticism has established an authentic, female tradition:
it has re-discovered the long-forgotten and muted women writers
established an alternative female literary canon of their works
revealed the patriarchal nature of literary canon:
i.e., that literature is the terrain of universally male writers Gilbert and Gubar, The madwoman in the attic (1979):
a monumental study of the nineteenth century woman writer reveals a fundamental inversion
Instead of Harold Bloom’s characterisation of literary history as an
‘anxiety of influence’
in which each generation battles with its ‘precursor’, the literary father, in an oedipal contest to the death:
Gilbert and Gubar see the woman author as restrained by an
‘anxiety of authorship’:
With few female precursors who are pitted and who are fighting an unequal struggle with a long-established male tradition,
the woman author doubts her place in creativity.
Not surprisingly, then, when she discovers her precursors, she does not want to ‘kill’ them but to sustain and learn from them. Problems of gynocriticism:
it critiqued literary history and canonical thinking but wanted to be part of it
it doubted traditional aesthetic values but used them to valorise women writers
it wanted to speak for all women yet invested in a particular raced and classed group, at a particular historical moment
in other words:
it was in favour of white, middle-class, heterosexual women,
neglecting everybody outside of its frames Feminist literary criticism in the eighties became more diverse, more sophisticated and more wide-ranging, but also more divided Black and lesbian feminist literary criticism Literature by women VS. literature by men By the late seventies, to neglect non-white women writers was failing to respond to some of the most striking writing of the time
Increasing interest in non-white writers, whether African American, British Caribbean, diasporic Asian
Growing number of books by:
African American women:
Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Paule Marshall and Alice Walker
Asian American women:
Maxine Hong Kingston
Native American women:
Leslie Marmon Silko
Key theoretical writings:
bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman (1981)
Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott & Barbara Smith eds., All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Black Women’s Studies (1982) A further extension of both the range of interest in women’s writing and its interpretation came from lesbian critics
Bonnie Zimmerman,What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Criticism (1981)
Adrienne Rich, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1980)
Critiquing the ‘heterosexism’ of what were already being seen as ‘mainstream’ feminist critics These tendencies show that feminists realized that
it is impossible to consider gender
in isolation from issues of race, class and sexuality “If we see women’s writing as a history, then such texts show women to be a subject-in-process, always becoming, and the connections we choose to make between ‘women’ and ‘writing’ are enormously, and centrally, political . . . [W]omen’s writing reminds us of our proactive energy in the face of passivity, our demands for pleasure despite ‘duty’. . . [A] feminist attention to women’s writing is part of feminism’s desire to achieve a more compassionate and generous understanding of human consciousness and its effects, of how political changes come about, and of the extent to which the resistance of all peoples, their capacity to represent themselves, is always possible.”
Alison Light, Writing fictions: femininity and the 1950s The distinction between literature written by men and literature written by women:
corresponds to the
hierarchical differentiation between
The category of woman has always been positioned at the (potentially subversive) periphery of society
this category has been produced by the contradictory discourses of patriarchy on femininity – and it has been inevitable in order for man (male/masculinity) to be positioned as the centre of his universe.
As the constitutive other of the masculine, the position of the “feminine in [male] discourse is a very difficult position to specify”
The feminine escapes nomination and representation, figures rather as absence, negativity, or else the opposite or complement of the masculine
Literature written by women is characterized by this absence or negativity
literature written by men and the literary canon constructed by men positions itself as the naturally given, complete and absolute universe of literary texts
this literature with a capital L assumes that it has the capacity to say anything and everything about human experience; it does not and need not and cannot ask questions about its own textuality “To think about masculinity is to become less masculine oneself. For one of the most powerful archetypes of manhood is the idea that the real man is the one who acts, rather than the one who contemplates. The real man thinks of practical matters rather than abstract ones and certainly does not brood upon himself or the nature of his sexuality. To think about himself would be to split and turn inward the confident wholeness which is the badge of masculinity. And to consider his own sexuality at any length would be to admit that his maleness can be questioned, can be revised, and, to a large degree, has been created rather than existing naturally and irresistibly as real virility is supposed to.”
Peter Schwenger, The Masculine Mode, The most important thing about literature by women is that
it poses questions about its own textuality and its own sexuality:
it is an attitude that perceives reality in a subjective way, it approaches reality from a point that departs from the female body and the female imaginary:
it does not make objective, universal, and totalizing statements – it makes localized, partial discoveries that are always in process, that are changing from word to word, from text to text, discovering the world and the body simultaneously
Literature by women is characterized by a textualized sexuality and sexualized textuality which is always in the process of being discovered In Hélene Cixous’ words:
“Almost everything is yet to be written by women about femininity: about their sexuality, that is, its infinite and mobile complexity, about their eroticization, sudden turn-ons of a certain miniscule-immense area of their bodies; not about destiny, but about the adventure of such and such a drive, about trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual awakenings, discoveries of a zone at one time timorous and soon to be forth-right.”
“It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing, and this is an impossibility that will remain, for this practice can never be theorized, enclosed, coded-which doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. But it will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system [...].
Hélene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” Approaching women’s writing
as an un-fixable, fluid, always moving, infinite and endlessly mobile self-reflexivity that places subjectivity and embodiment at the very heart of writing itself
Women’s writing (as well as men’s writing) will be a never-ending process that is always to be discovered Following the lead of Teresa de Lauretis:
she is not looking for the characteristics of women’s writing;
she puts the emphasis on the reader herself or himself: because the reader is there in the background of text from the beginning, s/he is written into the plan of the author and into the process of writing itself.
This reader is always already a heterogeneous subject: s/he is positioned at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, language, nationality, ethnicity, social context, etc.
And this is what the seminar of Intersections intends to be about: to discover this reader – to discover ourselves behind and in the literary text and to create a new text that crosses the boundaries and collapses the hierarchies of the old stereotypes and comfortable preconceptions: about literature, about women’s writing, about the issues of race, class, sexuality, embodiment, aging, vulnerability, and violence.