Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

"[Not] Talking 'Bout My Generation": Historicizing Feminisms in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

"[Not] Talking 'Bout My Generation": Historicizing Feminisms in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls

Article excerpt

The impulse to construct history in generational terms, to identify oneself and one's politics with a particular generation, is evident in the recent debates taking place in feminism concerning the relation between second-and third-wave feminisms. Constructing a third wave sets up a particular kind of historical narrative for feminism that implies both the end of the second wave (and the completion of its project) and the beginning of a third wave that is distinctly different to its predecessor. While third-wave feminism signals its indebtedness to second-wave feminism (there could not be a third without a second), at the same time it often constructs itself in generational terms as the more progressive daughter of its second-wave mother. The introduction to Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford's Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration usefully maps out the competing definitions of the third wave as it has been constructed in the past decade. For instance, in Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards define the third wave as "women who were reared in the wake of the women's liberation movement" (15). Barbara Findlen's Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation makes explicit in its title the notion that a new generation of feminists are replacing an old one, and Rene Denfeld's The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order is a more populist and overt dismissal of the second wave as no longer relevant to contemporary politics. The assumption being made here is that third wavers have enjoyed the benefits of their metaphorical mothers' heroic efforts and come to feminism as more knowing subjects, as subjects acutely aware of the dangers of the cruder versions of liberal and radical feminism. The critical discourse that has developed as a way of explaining feminism's history often describes it in generational terms as being a family affair. Tensions and conflicts within feminism are understood as those that occur between mothers and daughters; they are the "natural" consequences of generational change. Naturally bound to each other, these feminisms are related and thus the daughter bears a resemblance to the mother, but, at the same time, she offers a new and implicitly more progressive alternative to her second-wave predecessor.

A number of feminists have raised questions about third-wave terminology and the generational model of feminist history embedded within it. In Third Wave Feminism, the editors set out to "revise the wave metaphor, whilst ensuring that the voices, ideas, arguments and hopes of 'third wavers' are heard" (4). In "Inventing Generational Models: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Literature," Kathleen Woodward critically examines the Freudian psychoanalytical model of subject formation that rests on generational division and conflict. She points to the ways in which that model effaces the postmenopausal woman, dismissing her as "post-historical" because she no longer fulfils a reproductive function. In the same essay Woodward also points to Judith Roof's "Generational Difficulties, or the Fear of a Barren History," which describes how the generational model imposes what Roof calls a "reproductive narrative" upon the history of feminism. That narrative "superimposes assumptions about property, propriety and precedence" that function to reinforce and reproduce the power structures dividing women from each other (154). It is the word "precedence" that is most relevant to the present discussion, for with it Roof implies that the generational model constructs the past as the authentic source or origin of the present, as the essential and unchanging bedrock upon which knowledge of the present is founded. The mediated nature of history remains unacknowledged by this model, thereby continuing the myth that the past is fully recoverable, knowable, and fixed.

The reliance upon the familial structures inherent in the idea of generational difference locates feminist history firmly within a network of family relationships. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.