Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

15
Celebrity Material: Materialist Feminism and the Culture of Celebrity

Jennifer Wicke

A materialist feminism could be defined, provisionally, as a feminism that insists on examining the material conditions under which social arrangements, including those of gender hierarchy, develop. While fully acknowledging that the gender hierarchy pervasively maintains 'men on top', materialist feminism avoids seeing this as the effect of a singular, persistent patriarchy and instead gauges the web of social and psychic relations that make up a material, historical moment, when the women in question may be situated in a variety of positions that defy a horizontal reading. The women of the Bloomsbury Group, for example--Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington, and others--are materially constellated differently than nineteenth-century Flemish female coal miners, or Georges Sand, or the Saudi Arabian women who boldly staged a 'drive-in' a few years ago.

Generally speaking, feminists in the United States have demarcated two arenas for the meta-analysis of feminism over the last twenty years or so: the arena of academic feminism, and the grass-roots feminism of the 'movement' made manifest in protests, organizations, clinics, hot lines, and shelters. This division has become entrenched, as have the polarized debates that surround it: 'mere' academic feminism is said to be an ivory-tower phenomenon cut off from grass-roots political vigour, or parasitic on those roots; the flip side argues that, while movement or public feminism often stresses essentialism, this is a strategic essentialism that academic feminism, or theory, can back in practice before eventually 'sophisticating' it, in theory. An equally prevalent brand of feminist self-examination or self-critique is the often trenchant claim that academic feminism is too overwhelmingly white and middle-class

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Reprinted with permission from The South Atlantic Quarterly, 93/ 4 (Fall 1994), 751-78. Copyright © 1994 by Duke University Press.

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