Academic journal article Hecate

Editorial

Academic journal article Hecate

Editorial

Article excerpt

Editorial

Early second-wave feminism is now widely re-read as `identity politics' but this is a considerable distortion of history. Back then, we were involved in imagining new feminist identities, not finding and then asserting existing feminine ones. Further, new identities were not thought of as the main liberatory ambition but rather as a happy result of struggles to change the conditions in which women thought, lived, and acted. The emphasis was on agency. A little later, `difference' feminism, when referring to female difference from men, seemed to celebrate a femininity many of us might challenge but, when referring to differences among women, it offered interesting possibilities for thinking about the varying experiences and desires of different groups of women. Some issues of female `otherness' had already been identified, although white, middle-class feminists did not usually hear them. Of course, some `difference' feminism, in investigating the repressed feminine contra the masculine, did seek to question the defining binary divisions. But with `difference' of the second kind, among women, organisation can become difficult to the point where `gender' fades out as a category of political analysis. Relevantly, an essay by Rita Felski (Signs 23.1,1997) calls for a re-thinking and reassertion of `identity' vis-à-vis `difference.' The essay is accompanied by responses from three well-known theorists with whom she takes issue (Rosi Braidotti, Drucilla Cornell, and Ien Ang), and a reply by Felski.

Questions of `difference' and `identity,' and not only for women, are to the fore in other areas in Australia at present with the parliamentary institutionalisation of the far-Right One Nation Party (whose rise we discussed in our editorial a year ago, 23.1) in the June Queensland election, and the threat of the same thing federally. The very name `One Nation' encodes a unitary version of Australian identity that feminists question (and that has never actually existed); the party, on the scant but unpleasant evidence of those policies so far made public, seems a repository of fears and resentful desires. The quasicelebrity figure of its leader, Pauline Hanson, is constructed as representing the `aspirations' and `story-telling' (Jeff Lewis, interview with Robert Bolton, Media Report, ABC Radio National, Brisbane, 18 June 1998) of her supporters who search for their sense of identity. The effects of by now long-lasting hard times, with a racialist constant that encourages scapegoating in Australian history, are largely to blame for this rude beast -- though some have invoked the comparable rise of David Duke in the earlier 1990s in the American South (and hope for a parallel to his welcomed fall due to threadbare economic policies). The psychologically irrational element in the populist voicing of racism and other prejudices, however, has meant that Hanson's darkly besuited opponents, when they eventually argued with her, did not make much headway.

Felski is aware of the problems of some `identity politics,' as are her respondents. I do not suggest that attempts to organise `as women' are doomed to similar or even comparable conservatism, for the history of feminist achievement shows the opposite. But women, organising `as women,' inevitably do so in quite specific cultural circumstances so that in Australia, for example, the fight for abortion rights can fruitfully be rethought as part of a larger fight over the rights of women to decide when, as well as whether, they will have children and over their rights to bring them up. Political links can then be made with the racially-distinct experience of the `stolen generations' of Aboriginal people, women, men, and children (and, in a usually more haphazard way, of some working-class women and lesbians). A racially-cognisant perspective allows the question of women's rights over their bodies in relation to sexuality and fertility (the right to decide to give birth, or not; to engage in sexual activity, or not) to be more, not less, politically challenging. …

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.