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Slide 2:

“I’m not a feminist—I like men!” “I’m not a feminist—I think women should be able to stay at home and raise children if they want to.” “I’m not a feminist—I wear a bra.”

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So, what is feminism? Who is a feminist? What does it mean to be a feminist? What is a woman? How does one “become” a woman?

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What is the underlying determination of identity and consciousness? Is it class or gender, for instance? Is it ethnicity or religion, for instance? What does it mean to write as a woman?

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Why are women subordinated to men in most known cultures? How prevalent has women’s oppression been? What forms does it take and what are its societal and cultural consequences? What can be done about it?

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“Feminisms” as opposed to “feminism” -- to acknowledge the diversity of motivation, method, and experience among feminist academics. Although feminisms are multiple, feminists do share certain beliefs. “Feminist critics generally agree that the oppression of women is a fact of life, that gender leaves its traces in literary texts and on literary history, and that feminist literary criticism plays a worthwhile part in the struggle to end oppression in the world outside the texts” ( Warhol & Herndl; p. x) . Overtly political nature of it is perhaps the single most distinguishing feature of feminist scholarship.

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The history of feminism is divided into two waves : First Wave and Second Wave Feminisms . First W ave ( dating from 1830 to 1920 ) : best recalled for the Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements—with their emphasis on social, political and economic reform; and Declaration of Women’s Rights (1848) . For instance, like other first wave feminists, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1928) is concerned with women’s material disadvantages compared to men—focusing on the history and social context of women’s literary production.

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Second W ave ( dating from 1960 to the present day ) is organized around Women’s Liberation and grew out of the civil rights and student protest movements of 1960s. De Beauvoir marks the moment when “first wave feminism” slips over to “second wave feminism.” The Second Sex (1949) establishes with clarity the fundamental questions of feminism. Man defines the human, not woman, in an inbalance which goes back to the Old Testament. He is the “One” and she is the “Other.” Although the second-wave feminism shares the first wave’s fight for women’s rights in all areas, its focal emphasis shifts to the politics of reproduction, to women’s “experience,” to “sexual difference.” Sexuality becomes a key issue. One significant development that really changes the way women experience sex is the discovery of the “birth control pill” in 1960.

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Themes dominating the Second-Wave feminism are the following : the omnipresence of patriarchy the inadequacy for women of existing political organizations the celebration of women’s difference as central to the cultural politics of liberation. Madwoman in the Attic (1979) by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar is a landmark of the second wave feminism. The argument in the book is that women writers can be understood as a group—and understood as “participating in a quite different literary subculture from that inhabited by male writers.”

The essentialism debate :

The essentialism debate The question of essentialism is a continuing debate in feminist scholarship: Is there an innate and natural difference between men and women? Is a woman a woman because she is biologically female or because she behaves like a woman? As the French feminist Luce Irigaray puts it: “equal or different?”

Essentialism vs. Anti-essentialism:

Essentialism vs. Anti-essentialism Essentialists believe that because women are biologically different from men, they are also psychologically and emotionally different. Difference, they argue, is not sth. to be overcome, as though it were shameful not to be a man, but sth. to celebrate: women should be proud to be women. They argue that feminism should work to liberate women from a system of male-centered values and beliefs, and should empower them to discover their own uniquely female identity. This identity is frequently describe d as being more emphatic and co-operative, more connected to others, and more accepting of multiple viewpoints, unlike male identity, which is monolithic, authoritarian, and founded in a rationalist belief in one truth. Anti-essentialists such as D e Beauvoir, however, argue that sexual difference is a consequence of cultural conditioning. Society has created woman as other.

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