Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

was a universal feature of human culture or the product of history. They explored the historical underpinnings of the public/ private split and addressed its implications for cultural and social politics in the present. Feminist interest in the category of the public sphere was occasioned by several impulses, both theoretical and practical. First, a growing dissatisfaction among feminists with the conventional way of mapping social reality as dichotomous--a division which derives, at least in Western thought, from the categories of Roman law and Greek philosophy. Not only does such an approach risk smuggling in false universal assumptions, but also it occludes an understanding of non-state forms of political and cultural association. Second, as the expression of just such a social movement, feminism itself exceeds a dualistic model. Moreover, by focusing on questions of public and private life, feminism calls attention to the ways in which public and private divisions have been drawn in the past and continue to be drawn today. Third, feminist practice has revitalized democratic theory. Increasingly, questions of recognition and representation, culture and interest, equality and justice are discussed in terms of the gendered organization of public and private life.

As this collection demonstrates, feminists are not united in their evaluation of the public/private split, or in their approach to its study. On the other hand, it serves no good purpose to exaggerate the differences among feminists. To do so would only risk freezing, perhaps 'essentializing' the positions within feminist theory that have generated an ongoing conversation about the contours of public and private life. Rather, it is hoped that these readings will inspire further investigation into how the territories they inhabit shape men's and women's public and private selves, and in turn affect the prospects for democratizing the intimate and civic spheres.


Notes
1.
By the 'second wave' I mean the feminist movements emerging in the 1960s, down to the present day. For a useful overview of the different stages of feminism, see Jo Freeman, "'From Suffrage to Women's Liberation: Feminism in Twentieth-Century America'", in Jo Freeman (ed.), Women: A Feminist Perspective, 5th edn. (Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1995).
2.
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1963), ch. 1. Susan J. Douglas notes: 'in 1964, while teenagers were

-16-

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