week 5

Report
ACL1001: Reading Contemporary Fiction
Feminism and Literature
LECTURE CONTENT
Feminism and Contemporary
Culture
Feminism and Literature
WHO’S AFRAID OF FEMINISM??
 “Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no
opponents. It has set up no concentration camps,
starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its
battles have been for education, for the vote, for
better working conditions.. for safety on the streets…
for child care, for social welfare… for rape crisis
centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If
someone says ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ I ask ‘Why?
What’s your problem?’”
 — Dale Spender (Australian Feminist)
THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA
Figures from the Australian Bureau of
Statistics show the gender division has grown
over the past three years to 18 per cent, the
highest in more than 15 years.
The statistics say women are paid on average
$240 a week less than men.
(http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-0521/corporate-culture-blamed-for-gender-wagegap/835480)
THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA
 Female CEOs are a rare breed in Australia, particularly at the
very top. The nation has the lowest percentage of women in
top business roles compared with the UK, the US, Canada,
South Africa and New Zealand. A 2010 census by the Equal
Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency (soon to be
the Workplace Gender Equality Agency) reveals just six female
CEOs in the top 200 companies where women hold a mere
104 of 1300 key executive positions’.
(http://knowledge.asb.unsw.edu.au/article.cfm?articleid= 139
9)
WOMEN, EMPLOYMENT AND THE
FAMILY IN AUSTRALIA
Families typically cause career disruptions for women
in Australia, where, currently, we don’t have a
generous parental leave scheme. This means that
women are more likely to be hired in casual and part
time capacities. This leads to a decrease in personal
wealth, and smaller retirement funds than their male
counterparts (i.e. working fathers).
Australia occupies the middle strata in the OECD for
female participation in full-time employment, while
countries such as Sweden have almost achieved
parity.
WOMEN, EMPLOYMENT AND THE FAMILY
IN AUSTRALIA
‘Most part-time jobs in Australia are low -waged.’ (Zajdow, 2005,
p.103)
Part-time employment, while appearing to be a more flexible
option for working mothers, are actually structured to benefit
employers, rather than families.
People in part time work are less likely to have competitive
superannuation, employer-funded maternity leave schemes as
well as less stability.
CULTURAL IDEOLOGY AND WOMEN
 Women have traditionally been steered towards the ‘caring
professions’: nursing, child care and teaching (for example).
 Are women innately more caring than men?
 What might be the issue in perpetuating this ideology?
THE POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION
 http://vimeo.com/28066212
 This documentary is interesting because it draws a line
between the stereotypical or patriarchal representation of
women in contemporary culture and the ways in which they
are limited in their professional lives and aspirations.
 What issues does the trailer raise for you?
CULTURAL IDEOLOGY AND WOMEN
 In ‘The Ideologies of Everyday Life’, Farmer writes:
 ‘In the case of sexual dif ference, ideology serves to mask the
cultural contingency of our understandings and practices of
gender, encouraging us to think of them as simply “the way
things are”’ (2011 , p.25).
 In feminist terms, why might this be problematic?
FEMINISM AND LITERATURE: AN
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
 “But what I find deplorable, I continued, looking about
the bookshelves again is that nothing is known about
women before the eighteenth century. I have no model
in my mind to turn about this way and that. Here am I
asking why women did not write poetry in the
Elizabethan age, and I am not sure how they were
educated; whether they were taught to write; whether
they had sitting rooms to themselves; how many women
had children before they were twenty one; what, in
short, they did from eight in the morning till eight at
night.” (Virginia Woolf, 1919, A Room of One’s Own
p.45)
FEMINISM AND LITERATURE: THE 1970S
AND BEYOND
 In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature
and Theor y (1985), Elaine Showalter identifies three distinct
approaches to how women had been represented —or
misrepresented—within literary history. She states that: “In
its earliest years, feminist criticism concentrated on exposing
the misogyny of literary practice” (1985, p.5), citing the
stereotypical portrayal of women in fiction as either angelic or
monstrous.
FEMINISM AND LITERATURE: THE 1970S
AND BEYOND
 “The second phase of feminist criticism was the discovery that
women writers had a literature of their own, whose historical
and thematic coherence, as well as artistic importance, had
been obscured by the patriarchal values that dominate our
culture” (1985, p. 6)
 Toril Moi writes that “It is in no small part due to Showalter’s
ef forts that so many hitherto unknown women writers are
beginning to receive the recognition they deserve; A Literature
of Their Own is a veritable goldmine of information about the
lesser-known literary women of the period” (Sexual/Textual
Politics 56)
FEMINISM AND LITERATURE: THE 1970S
AND BEYOND
 The third phase of feminist criticism that Showalter identifies
in The New Feminist Criticism “demanded not just the
recognition of women’s writing but a radical rethinking of the
conceptual grounds of literary study, a revision of the
accepted theoretical assumptions about reading and writing
that have been based entirely on male literary experiences”
(1985, p.8)
 If we think about Helene Cixous’ binaries: man/woman;
sun/moon; activity/passivity we can see that this stage of
feminist theory is about interrogating the biases that exist in
language itself.
HELENE CIXOUS FROM ‘SORTIES’
Where is she?
A c t i v i t y / p a s s i v i t y,
Sun/Moon
C u l t ur e / N a t u r e
D ay / N i g h t
Fa t h e r / M ot h e r
Head/Heart
I n te l l i g ib l e / s e n s i t iv e …
Man
____
Wo m a n
…
A n d w e p e r c ei v e t h a t t h e ‘ v i c to r y / a l w ay s a m o u n t s to t h e s a m e t h i n g : i t i s
h i e r a rc h i z ed . T h e h i e r a r c hi s a t i o n s u b j ec t s t h e e n t i r e c o n c e p t ual o r g a n i s a t i o n to m a n .
Fr o m N e w Fr e n c h Fe m i n i s m s , ( e d s . ) d e C o u r t i v ro n a n d M a r k s , p p . 9 0 - 1 .
FRENCH FEMINIST CRITICISM
 In this last phase of feminist criticism we see the influence of
French feminist theorists such as Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva
and Luce Irigaray, who believed that language reinforces and
reproduces stereotypes about women.
 For example, while an unmarried woman might be called a
spinster, an unmarried man might be called?
 Are there any other binary terms you can think of?
FRENCH FEMINIST CRITICISM
 The French feminists are influenced by literary movements
such as post-structuralism and postmodernism, as well as
early experimental writers such as Woolf. What is
important here is that these feminists resisted the idea that
women were (and are) inherently dif ferent to men. They
reject the notion that there is an essential or natural
dif ference between the sexes, and instead point to the ways
in which culture (patriarchal culture) continues to segregate
men and women and produces tired ideologies about
women which casts them as inferior to men.
EFFECTS OF FEMINISM ON THE LITERARY
CANON
 Feminist literary theory challenged and continues to
challenge the literary canon. It questions whether great
works can continued to be categorised as such if they
misrepresent the experiences of half the population
 Feminist presses ensured that women’s writing was
published and that women’s experiences were
‘realistically’ portrayed in the novel. From the 1970s
there has been a surge in the writing of women’s lives
by contemporary female authors. For example,
Margaret Atwood, A .S. Byatt, Margaret Forster, Kate
Grenville, Maxine Hong Kingston, Drusilla Modjeska,
Carol Shields, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Rebecca Wells
and Jeanette Winterson to name a few, have all written
fiction about women’s lives.
FEMINISM AND THE SUMMER WITHOUT
MEN
 Next week, we’ll look in more depth at whether or not the
Summer without Men is a feminist text.
 We’ll examine the way in which it represents women and
focus on the way it is written.
 I would suggest that the Summer without Men is a feminist
text as it challenges both stereotypes about women as well as
the conventions of realism.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLF 6sAAMb4s
A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE ON VAMPIRES
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM
REFERENCES
 Women and Leadership: Putting Unconscious Bias Top of Mind
http://knowledge.asb.unsw.edu.au/article.cfm?articleid= 1399
 Corporate Culture Blamed for Gender Wage Gap
(http://www.abc.net.au/news/ 2010-05-21/corporate-cultureblamed-for-gender-wage-gap/835480)
 Cunningham, Sophie. A Prize of One’s Own: Flares, Cock forests and Dreams of a Common Language
(http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/article/a -prize-ofone%E2%80%99s-own-flares-cock-forests-and-dreams-of-acommon-language/)
 Miss Representation Trailer http://vimeo.com/28066212
 The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies
http://www.youtube.com/user/feministfrequency

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