Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Anne C. Herrmann; Abigail J. Stewart | Go to book overview

PART ONE
Inventing Gender

We begin our discussion of feminist theory by offering four approaches to some of feminism's central questions: What does it mean to be a woman, how is that meaning created, and what difference do these meanings make to feminist analysis? Rosalind Delmar (Chapter 1) differentiates between "woman" and "feminist" by situating her discussion historically, examining the narrative we have inherited from the nineteenth-century women's movement. The Combahee River Collective (Chapter 2) relies on a notion of "identity politics" to issue a statement in the form of a political manifesto about the struggle of the group's members to end their oppression as black feminists. Cherríe Moraga (Chapter 3) exposes the system of interlocking oppressions she faces as a Chicana lesbian in an autobiographical essay that attempts to understand the mother-daughter relationship within the context of Mexican history. Finally, Susan Bickford addresses recent feminist critiques of identity politics and rethinks the notion of a "politicized identity" by examining the subject of feminism as "suffering self" within the language of citizenship and democratic political action. In each case there is an emphasis not just on "feminist" as political subject but also on how the meaning of that subject is produced.

Delmar begins by insisting on the distinction between feminism and the women's movement, a history of ideas and the history of a social movement. Women organizing based on their shared identity as biological women is not the same as making a political choice to advocate feminism based on a shared set of ideas about the meaning of womanhood. Women may share a description of women's oppression and the ideal of emancipation, but they do not necessarily agree on how to analyze that oppression or how to resist it. Whereas the nineteenth‐ century women's movement sought to reconceive women as a social group rather than as a sex, culminating in female suffrage, a central

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