Feminism

In 2016, feminist and queer theorist Sara Ahmed resigned from her post as professor at the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London, in protest against the failure to address sexual harassment at her institution. Given that she was at the peak of her career and working in a centre she had helped to create, hers was a bold and surprising move, but also entirely consistent with her feminist politics. In one way or another, Ahmed has been writing about this decision, its causes and effects, ever since: first on her blog feministkilljoys; as an example of a ‘feminist snap’ in Living a Feminist Life (2017); in relation to diversity work in universities in What’s the Use: On the uses of use (2019); and now most directly in Complaint!, her tenth book.

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Where is home for a feminist? ‘I carry “home” on my back,’ wrote poet and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), a protective response to the many layers of discrimination she experienced as a queer Chicana woman. ‘Home’, for Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, writing in the 1970s, was a place of confinement, where women’s movements ‘strongly resembled those of domestic poultry’. The home has rarely been a safe place for women (never mind feminists), who have for millennia dared to ask for better accommodation.

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Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel & Why We Lost the Sex Wars by Lorna Bracewell

by
June 2021, no. 432

Among historians of sexuality, it is customary to stress that there was never just one sexual revolution, but many. There were the pop-culture versions, the countercultural expressions and perhaps most momentously, but least discussed, the everyday or ‘ordinary’ sexual revolution. Or conversely, as French philosopher Michel Foucault so influentially argued in The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The will to knowledge – first published in French in 1976 and in English in 1978, in the very thick of the so-called sexual revolution – there was no liberating sex from the disciplinary and regulatory effects of modern sexuality, already by then at least three centuries old. One of the delusions of the age was that, as we put sexual repression behind us (by saying yes to sex, for instance), ‘tomorrow sex will be good again’.

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Written by award-winning historian Lucy Delap, Feminisms challenges the obfuscating binaries of the 'feminist waves'. Its main focus looks into aspects of feminism that have often been in conflict or overlooked by contemporary movements. Zora Simic reviews the book for our current April issue, and describes it as ‘building on and acknowledging the work of those who came before, while bringing new ideas and energy to the task.' Listen to Zora read her full review in today's episode.

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The most difficult thing for white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, cis women to accept seems to be that feminism was designed for them. But the reality is that from a suffrage movement that forced Black marchers to walk at the rear to the ‘girlboss’ CEOs who bully their poorly paid underlings, the cause known as ‘feminism’ has long been dominated by the aspirations of an élite group of women. 

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Lucy Delap, Reader in Modern British and Gender History at the University of Cambridge, is a consummate historian and not one to privilege her own experience. Indeed, one of her chief aims in her innovative new global history of ‘feminisms’ – the plural is important, no matter how inelegant – is to bring to the fore feminists and other activists for women’s rights who are less well known, but hardly less significant, than the usual suspects. In this aim, and from the very first page, Delap succeeds admirably. Feminisms: A global history opens with an ‘incendiary letter’ published in 1886 in a local newspaper in the British-ruled Gold Coast (now Ghana), written by an anonymous author on behalf of ‘We Ladies of Africa’. At once a protest against the sexual violence of colonial incursion, and an assertion of cultural power and defiance, the letter also flags to a present-day audience that this history will not be the standard White Feminist narrative – and hooray for that.

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In July 1894, a year after New Zealand women had gained the national right to vote (the first in the world to do so), their spokesperson Kate Sheppard prepared to address a suffrage rally in London, alongside Sir John Hall, the parliamentary sponsor of the New Zealand suffrage campaign. They took the stage in the vast Queen’s Hall at Westminster to report on their historic fourteen-year struggle. In an age when oratorical skill defined public authority, Sheppard was, unfortunately, not a forceful speaker. She was evidently ill at ease on the platform and her voice ‘scarcely audible’, as historian James Keating reports in Distant Sisters, his meticulous account of Australasian women’s international activism in support of women’s suffrage between 1880 and 1914.

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Liz Byrski’s introduction to Women of a Certain Rage is, among other things, a homage to second-wave feminism and a lament that feminism, ‘originally a radical countercultural movement’, has been ‘distorted into a tool of neoliberalism’. While there is no doubt that strains of feminism have been co-opted by neoliberalism to debilitating effect, this narrative – that feminism has become ineffectual since the 1970s – is one that erases many contemporary feminisms, as well as broader feminism-informed political movements and the work that they have done and continue to do.

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In the foundation Jean Blackburn Memorial Lecture in 2014, David Gonski observed that Australian schooling was unfairly funded – that the money wasn’t going where it was needed. To our national shame, this is not a new phenomenon. Successive governments in Australia have adopted school-funding policies for ...

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So much has been written about male–female power dynamics, Trump’s grotesqueries, the public outing of protected abusers, and the growing chorus of women speaking out about sexual harassment that it’s hard to believe there could be anything new to add. Yet Rebecca Solnit, author of celebrated essays ...

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