This page is going to be devoted to introductory aspects of feminism. As a Women’s & Gender Studies affiliate, feminism comes up quite a bit in class and guides my research agenda. I hope this is a page I can use for a variety of classes I teach. I plan to update it regularly (one a semester or so…).
How not to think about Feminism
Some might argue that feminist scholars are seeing a conspiracy theory, and they just blow things out of proportion. That’s too reductive an explanation. The authors are showing us (with various levels of success) that the media we consume are products of the culture.
Gloria Steinem’s “Why Younger Women are More Conservative”
Gloria Steinem focuses her attention in the article for today on young women. She tells us that young women are more conservative–more likely to go along with the status quo–because they “in the stage most valued by male-dominant cultures” (230). While you’re free to disagree with her argument, let’s try to point to areas where young, conventionally beautiful women appear in the media.
Some specific points about Steinem’s article:
- p. 230: “As students, women are probably treated with more equality than we ever will be again. For one thing, we’re consumers.”
- p. 230: Young women “have [their] full potential as workers, wives, sex partners, and childbearers.”
- p. 232: Women “worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career” while college students.
- p. 232: Women “are still brainwashed into assuming that [they] are dependent on men for [their] basic identities.”
- p. 233: “Society tries hard to convert women into ‘man junkies’; that is, into people who are addicted to male-approval and presence.”
- p. 233: Young women may “refrain from identifying themselves as ‘feminist.'”
Le Guin’s “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”
“He liked his polite, intelligent students, but he felt no great warmth towards any of them. They were planning careers as academic or industrial scientists, and what they learned from him was to them a means to that end, success in their careers. They either had, or denied the importance of, anything else he might have offered them” (Le Guin 128).
Le Guin’s address raises the issue of a woman’s “place” in society. Sure, the address is from 1983, but I think we can continue to point to contemporary situations where women’s roles are defined in relation to men: think hegemony and patriarchy.
- para 2: “Intellectual tradition is male”; therefore, men are the standard in academic circles and their modes of discourse are seen as the norm.
- para 3: If you want kids, have them…
- para 4: “Success is somebody else’s failure.”
- para 5: “You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you.”
- para 7: View of society–“The so-called man’s world of institutionalized competition, aggression, violence, authority, and power.”
- para 7 & 8: What’s her issue with Machoman?
- para 9: To live in a world “without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated.”
How might we read Le Guin’s address as a text that addresses compulsory heterosexuality?
McRobbie’s article critiques the subject(ed) ideal of feminism. She argues that the concept of feminism is not simply defined or even definable (in terms of having a concrete definition or essentialized qualities) philosophy. Working from a postmodern perspective, McRobbie shows feminism in a state of flux, ever changing and developing through discourse (p. 603). McRobbie shows feminism as a philosophy that would reject monolithic narratives of itself because having a dominant ideal or driving force is a patriarchal concept. It’s best, according to McRobbie, to see feminisms–multiple discourses that “attempt to represent and analyse what it is to be female” (p. 604).
essentialism: for any specific kind of entity (i.e., a class, group, ethnicity,”race,” etc.), there is a set of characteristics or properties all of which any entity of that kind must posess.
subjection: process by which a person becomes relegated to a position or place under the power or authority of another.
- Growing philosophy (p. 605): “as the society within which feminism exists also undergoes quite dramatic changes, this too has an impact on what feminism is and can be.”
- Postmodern fragmentation not a problem (p. 605): having multiple discourses or arguments “allows for open debate and dispute about boundaries and disciplines and what constitutes a study, what is knowledge.”
- Feminist social self formed through discourse and experience (p. 607): “The feminist social self…is an amalgam of fragmented identities formed in discourse and history and called into being both by the experiences of femininity and by the existence and availability of a feminist discourse whether that comes in the form of books, education, mass media, or through friends, politics and community.”
- Abandon the search for the “real me”(p. 609): The “real me” is a mask, but the search leads to questions about what it means to be a woman.
So, what does it mean to search for the ‘real me’?
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed. New York: Harper Collins, 1974.
McRobbie, Angela. “Feminism, Postmodernism, and the ‘Real Me.'” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Keller. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. 598-610.