Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s

Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s

Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s

Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s

Synopsis

Utopianism - the belief that reality not only must, but can, be changed - is one of the most vital impulses of feminist politics. Angelika Bammer traces the articulation of this impulse in literary texts produced within the context of the American, French and German women's movements of the 1970s. Partial Visions provides a conceptual framework within which to approach the history of Western feminism during this formative period. At the same time, the book's comparative approach emphasizes the need to distinguish the particularities of different feminisms. Bammer argues that in terms of a radical utopianism, Western feminism not only continued where the Left foundered, but went a decisive step further by reconceptualizing what both political and utopian could mean. Through simultaneously close and contextualized reading of texts published in the US, France and the two Germanies between 1969 and 1979, her book examines the transformative potential as well as the ideological blindspots of this utopianism. It is this double edge that Partial Visions emphasizes. Feminist utopianism, it argues, is not just visionary, but is also myopic - time and culture-bound.

Excerpt

Both Shedding and The Wanderground were predicated upon two basic cultural feminist assumptions: (1) that gender difference was given, and (2) that women's "difference" should be seen as positive. It was given because there were historical and biological factors, they believed, that distinguished women from men in essential and thus unalterable ways. It should be seen as positive, they argued, because women were not just different from men; they were the better people. in their view, it was not the construction-or even fact-of difference that was oppressive to women but the discriminatory way in which this difference was valued. in short, it was not gender difference that needed to be called into question or changed, but its valuation: "difference" became the rallying point for a cultural feminist "identity politics." the argument was that women didn't have to question or change who they were; they merely had to affirm it.

This affirmation of femaleness as a positive identity was not limited to cultural feminism, however; it was a vital dimension of 1970s' feminisms in general. Indeed, I believe it is not exaggerated to say that, much like the "black is beautiful" dimension of the Black culture movement, the celebration of "woman" as a source of pride, strength, and political unity was essential in even making a women's movement possible. At the same time, the assumptions on which this insistence on the commonalty of woman (or, as it was then still put, "sisterhood") were based were also problematic. For one, to the extent that "woman" had been revalued, but not redefined, traditional gender concepts and their attendant social roles were not only upheld, but de facto affirmed. For another, the "we" implied in the assumption of both a supposedly shared, quasi-universal female experience (and by extension, of supposedly shared feminist goals) ignored the ways in which other factors, such as race, class, age, ethnicity, sexual, religious, or cultural differences, had not only historically established significant and often deeply divisive differences among women, but continued to do so. the new worlds envisioned by feminists like Mary Daly, Sally Miller Gearheart, or Christa Reinig, were not utopian to all women; certainly not to all alike.

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