Academic journal article New Formations

Who Do You Think You Are? Feminist Memoir Writing

Academic journal article New Formations

Who Do You Think You Are? Feminist Memoir Writing

Article excerpt

'This is not a memoir' is the opening sentence of my book, Making Trouble! Oh yes it is, my publishers said, fully aware that in recent years it is books packaged as memoir, which, as they like to say, 'shift units'. 'This Is Not About me', the Scottish novelist, Janice Galloway calls the childhood memoir she has just published, knowing that childhood is, precisely, all about those people and things around you, implanting themselves, being implanted, upon you. Galloway evokes the narratives engulfing her on reaching puberty: 'I was turning into a moody cow like Aunt Kitty. If I didn't get a grip, I'd be a cheeky bitch, like [older sister] Cora before I knew what had happened. I wouldn't trust me to behave at all'. (We know that story.) However, I had many other reasons, besides childhood's porousness, to be wary of the 'memoir' label tagged to Making Trouble, in which I wanted, primarily, to think about recent feminist history from the joyful rebirth of 'women's liberation', now some four decades ago, right up to the present moment. I wanted, for instance, to suggest how strange is so much seen as feminism's contentious afterlife: for instance, think of those three women in the FTSE 100 index of top executives earning over three million each last year. Has feminism failed because there are still only three women up there? Or has feminism, once so preoccupied with issues of equality, failed because some women aspire to earn such obscene salaries, several million times more than the majority of women globally took home last year. (And I am not going to dwell upon any animals 'with lipstick', aquatic or agrarian, although the contradictions of Sarah Palin, when she stood for the vice presidency of the USA in 2008, with her explicitly antifeminist stances, are also part of feminism's ambiguous afterlife).

What makes feminist legacies so contentious? As different 'generations', those waves, as many like to depict them, kept on rolling in, rolling over, what went before, one so fast upon another. Making Trouble was hardly 'my' story, as one expendable cog on a journey, or at least moving along some crevice of the journeys, I was exploring. Of course, I was once again probing issues I've addressed often enough before, though this time in a less theoretical, more personal voice, mapping out my own engagement in, distance from, the particular patterns, conflicts, alliances and misalliances, of that movement quickly labelled '2nd-wave feminism'. It was, as most of you'll know, a movement that later veered off into a jumble of popular and academic feminisms, multiplying and dividing, as movements do (its offshoots battling with each other, soon seemingly far distant from their original roots). One branch contained the vast diversity of grass-roots campaigning, whether workplace or community based, alongside policy reform initiatives, and much more. Another branch, first moulding while sharing common experiences as women; later, if entering scholarly domains, often embracing Derridean or Foucauldian deconstructions of 'experience', while soon questioning the meaning of 'gender', 'sexuality', indeed, any notion of 'identity' at all, as always--to borrow Judith Butler's influential framings--contingent, provisional, illusory, 'performative', at the very least, permanently problematic. Putting myself in the frame, then, I was exploring how ideas, especially those political ideas that influence our lives, arise, mutate, then often fade away before our very eyes, though we may struggle, as best we can, to keep a hold on them. Even our own memories are not safe from the re-writings of history, as Walter Benjamin once said, though in somewhat different words and a very different context. (1) This thought is expressed in the old Soviet joke I kept hearing till recently: 'The future is certain, it is only the past that is unpredictable'. (2) (The joke's disappeared suddenly, however, since right now , following the financial crisis begun in 2008, even the future is looking just a little less certain, though sadly not through any actions we've chosen. …

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