Feminism, the Public and the Private

Feminism, the Public and the Private

Feminism, the Public and the Private

Feminism, the Public and the Private

Synopsis

Series Blurb Oxford Readings in Feminism provide accessible, one-volume guides to the very best in contemporary feminist thinking, assessing its impact and importance in key areas of study. Collected together by scholars of outstanding reputation in their field, the articles chosen represent the most important work on feminist issues, and concise, lively introductions to each volume crystallize the main line of debate in the field. The categories of public and private have been at the centre of feminist theory for the past three decades. Focusing on the gendered relations of sexuality and the body, family life and democratic citizenship, feminists have redirected public debate on questions of privacy and publicity. They have challenged leading theories of the public sphere, adding immeasurably to the historical and cross-cultural understanding of public and private life, from the rise of liberal and democratic institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to today's media-saturated public sphere. This volume presents the results of this multi-disciplinary feminist exploration. Contributors demonstrate the significance of the public/private distinction in feminist theory, its articulation in the modern and late modern public sphere, and its impact on identity politics within feminism in recent years. Feminism, the Public and the Private offers an essential perspective on feminist theory for students and teachers of women's and gender studies, cultural studies, history, political theory, geography and sociology.

Excerpt

Claiming that 'the personal is political', second-wave feminists boldly challenged the myths supporting conventional notions of the family and personal life. Far from being a platform for personal fulfilment, in feminist writings the private sphere first figured as a site of sexual inequality, unremunerated work, and seething discontent. In Betty Friedan's evocative formulation, the housewife-- the ideal woman of the post-Second World War years in the United States and other advanced industrial societies--suffered silently from a 'problem that has no name'. Housewives, however, were only the tip of the iceberg. Students and civil rights activists, married and single women, heterosexuals and lesbians joined the ranks of a resurgent feminist movement which began to name the problems accompanying woman's multiple roles as wife, mother, sexual companion, worker, and political subject. Feminism offered women a public language for their private despair. Consciousness- raising groups and feminist organizations provided women with a route out of private isolation and into public activism. In the burgeoning field of feminist theory accompanying this new phase of activism, the problem of sexual subordination came to be linked closely to the division of public and private life. Breaking the silences of personal life, feminists sought the grounds for a more egalitarian private and public sphere. This last point bears repeating. Whereas it is commonly assumed that feminists, like women, are preoccupied with personal life, feminism's contribution to the theory and practice of a more robust, democratic public sphere is sometimes overlooked. As the slogan 'The Personal Is Political' attests, a feminist movement moves in two directions, placing the gendered organization of both public and private space at centre stage.

Feminists did not invent the vocabulary of public and private, which in ordinary language and political tradition have been intimately linked. The term 'public' suggests the opposite of 'private':

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