The 20th century will be remembered also as the century of the feminist movements. And it’s just beginning.

The Problem of Definition:

The objective of Feminism is to end sexism, but because the oppression of women is closely related to other forms of oppression, this will require efforts to end other forms of oppression as well. “Patriarchy”, the rule of men, is a structure of oppression that exists in most cultures. Feminists want to achieve the liberation of women, which means full equality for them.  Feminism is a research project, but also a political movement, and as such it is different from other forms of struggles for social justice.

Some Quotes:

  • Simone de Beauvoir: …man is defined as a human being and woman is defined as a female. Whenever she tries to behave as a human being she is accused of trying to emulate the male…
  • bell hooks 1989, p.22: Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice.
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, p.8: My suggestion is that the presumed universality and unity of the subject of feminism is effectively undermined by the constraints of the representational discourse in which it functions. Indeed, the premature insistence on a stable subject of feminism, understood as a seamless category of women, inevitably generates multiple refusals to accept the category. These domains of exclusion reveal the coercive and regulatory consequences of that construction, even when the construction has been elaborated for emancipatory purposes. Indeed, the fragmentation within feminism and the paradoxical opposition to feminism from “women” whom feminism claims to represent suggest the necessary limits of identity politics.
  • Martha Nussbaum, 1995, “Objectification”, in: Philosophy and Public Affairs, p. 249) Power and objectification: If power is defined as the ability to make someone act in a certain way, then this is itself already a particular conception of power, shaped by the idea of male domination.
  • Sojourner Truth: Speech delivered in 1851, at the Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio: ” Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full? Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
  • Andrea Dworkin: Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice. At the beginning you sink into his arms, at the end your arms are in his sink.

Suggested Reading List:

(From New York Library Website)

This is a short list of essential works for feminist theory and thought.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft: An 18th century work that argues for the education of women for the betterment of society. It was one of the first works to view men and women as equal and deserving of the same fundamental rights.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: A statement on women and the creation of creative written works. Equates artistic creation with financial freedom.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvior: Published in 1949, this was one of the first works to separate gender from sex, recognizing that gender is a learned trait without biological basis. It was also the first to describe the male-gender as the standard from which women deviates, causing the creation “The Other”.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan: Published in 1963, this book was a catalyst to the second-wave feminist movement by bringing to light the deep lack of fulfillment pervasive in Untied States middle-class housewives. The popularity of the book has recently been rekindled because of the television show Mad Men.

Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women’s Liberation Movement by Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall: A collection of pamphlets, comics, leaflets, and essential documents from the second wave of feminism 1968-1977.

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer: A confrontational work calling for the sexual liberation of women.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem: A diverse collection of essays by one of the pioneers of second-wave feminism.

Witches, Midwives, & Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English: A second-wave feminist statement on the historic demonization of women healers juxtaposed with the contemporary rejection of women from the traditional medical establishment.

Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective: Although primarily a health reference book rather than theory, OBOS historically challenged male-dominance over women’s health by providing information and resources about women’s bodies directly to women themselves.

Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks: Named after a Sojourner Truth poem, this book is a comprehensive look at black women within first and second wave feminist movements and examines the problematic aspects of black women feminists within white feminist structures.

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis: Explores the underlying racism of the suffrage movement and the intersection of race and class within feminist contexts.

In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan: Challenges the male standard of psychological testing, especially in relation to the stages of moral reasoning presented by Piaget.

This Sex Which is Not One by Luce Irigaray: Focusing more on female difference rather than female sameness, Irigaray challenges years of psychological and philosophical “phallogocentric” thought.

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: Postmodern third-wave feminist queer theory, Butler calls into question the use of pronouns and rigid ideas of gender within feminist theories.

Dislocating Cultures by Uma Narayan: A  post-colonialist feminist work which examines the appropriation of Western values by Western feminist on Third World women’s ideology, particularly in relation to American and East Indian women.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf:  How the Western culture of beauty is damaging on a social and personal level.

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi: Faludi explains how feminist achievements from the 1960s led to a (mostly media-fueled) backlash against American women in the 1980s.

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Piper:  Explores how adolescent girls are in constant struggle with their “true self” vs. the “girl-poisoning” culture in which they live.

Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins: Interpretations of black feminisms within academic and non-academic platforms, including poetry and oral history.

This Bridge Called My Back by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua: Writings by radical women of color from an immigrant perspective.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminity by Julia Serano: Searching for acceptance as a transwoman in the feminist community.

Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam: Theories of maleness & masculinity in relation to drag kings, butch women, and female-to-male transgenderism.

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