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Feminist Consequences

Feminist Consequences: Theory for the New Century

Elisabeth Bronfen
Misha Kavka
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  • Book Info
    Feminist Consequences
    Book Description:

    Exploring the status of feminism in this "postfeminist" age, this sophisticated meditation on feminist thinking over the past three decades moves away from the all too common dependence on French theorists and male thinkers and instead builds on a wide-ranging body of feminist theory written by women.

    These writings address the question "Where are we going?" as well as "Where have we come from?" As evidenced in the essays compiled here, the multiplicity of directions available to this new feminism ranges from poststructuralist academic theory through cultural activism to re-readings of law, literature, and representation. Contributors include Mieke Bal, Lauren Berlant, Rosi Braidotti, Elisabeth Bronfen, Judith Butler, Rey Chow, Drucilla Cornell, Ann Cvetkovich, Jane Gallop, Beatrice Hanssen, Claire Kahane, Ranjana Khanna, Biddy Martin, Juliet Mitchell, Anita Haya Patterson, and Valerie Smith.

    Feminist Consequences, representing the forefront of international feminist thought, marks a new and long-desired stage of feminist criticism where women are themselves making theory rather than reacting to male production.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53014-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxviii)
    Misha Kavka

    Feminism ain’t what it used to be. Perhaps with some nostalgia, many of us who call ourselves feminists look back to the peak of the second wave in the 1970s, to a feminism that in retrospect seems to have had a clear object (women), a clear goal (to change the fact of women’s subordination), and even a clear definition (political struggle against patriarchal oppression). Such clarity is a trick of memory, no doubt, which reflects more on the pluralized, diversified state of feminism at the turn of the new century than it does on the actual agreements among the theorists...

  4. PART 1 Whatever Happened to Feminism?

    • Chapter 1 Psychoanalysis and Feminism at the Millennium
      (pp. 3-17)

      In the last two decades there has been an untold gain in the understanding of the psychological and representational effects of sexual difference. Yet despite this, the politics of the original feminist turn to psychoanalysis for a means of analysis of the internalization of women’s secondary status seems finally to have run out in the sands of postmodernism. Is there something inherently apolitical in psychoanalysis? Does its self-described nonpolitical discourse draw all hopefully radical uses of it (of which there are other instances than feminism) into its apolitical, therefore potentially reactionary net? Alternatively does the recurrent, cyclical demise of feminism...

    • Chapter 2 Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (excerpt)
      (pp. 18-37)

      I am a feminist professor who was accused by two students of sexual harassment. This [work] is centered on that fact: the title is modeled after the style of tabloid headlines because of the way this fact lends itself to sensationalism. While any accusation of sexual harassment seems to promise a juicy scandal, this particular accusation is more sensational due to the newsworthy anomaly of a feminist being so accused. While sexual harassment is customarily a feminist issue, feminists usually appear on the accusers’ side. For a feminist to be the accused is a dramatic reversal.

      What kind of a...

    • Chapter 3 Gender and Representation
      (pp. 38-57)
      REY CHOW

      Understood in a conventional, aesthetic sense, “representation” is a word which indicates the process of the “creation of signs—things that ‘stand for’ or ‘take the place of’ something else.”¹ The central concern with aesthetic representation, in the West at least, has always been mimeticism or resemblance; it is assumed that signs, which are fictive, should bear likeness to the “reality” which they represent. As is clear in this basic definition, what informs the problematic of representation is a binary structure in which one of two parts involved is supposed to be a copy, a replica, an objectified “stand-in” for...

    • Chapter 4 Whatever Happened to Feminist Theory?
      (pp. 58-98)

      To raise the question of whatever happened to feminist theory is to assume that it has come to pass, that it has come to an end, and that together with what some have called the period of post-feminism,¹ we now have entered the epoch of post-theory. To be sure, a survey of the current critical field indicates that pronouncements about theory’s death or end are only half true or, to say the least, premature. The “practice of theory” is alive and well in a variety of contexts, from the literary field to political theory, from postcolonial to queer to psychoanalytic...

  5. PART 2 The Ethics of Affect

    • Chapter 5 Ethical Ambiguities and Specters of Colonialism: Futures of Transnational Feminism
      (pp. 101-125)

      The strengths of transnational feminism in the last decade have also been weaknesses. Feminism has split not only between activism and theory but also into particular feminisms that struggle with the perceived inadequacies of a feminist universalism. At the same time, the splitting of feminism has allowed for a comprehensive study of local contexts and their feminist agendas and causes. The accusation of ethnocentrism that feminism in the West faced in the eighties and earlier has become a central part of the discussion of local contexts, while how “to do” feminism both within the academy and in practice has been...

    • Chapter 6 The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy, and Politics
      (pp. 126-160)

      Ravaged wages and ravaged bodies saturate the global marketplace in which the United States seeks desperately to compete “competitively,” as the euphemism goes, signifying a race that will be won by the nations whose labor conditions are most optimal for profit.² In the United States the media of the political public sphere regularly register new scandals of the proliferating sweatshop networks “at home” and “abroad,” which has to be a good thing, because it produces feeling and with it something at least akin to consciousness that can lead to action.³ Yet even as the image of the traumatized worker proliferates,...

    • Chapter 7 Dark Mirrors: A Feminist Reflection on Holocaust Narrative and the Maternal Metaphor
      (pp. 161-188)

      The devastation of European Jewry that has been named Holocaust, Shoah, the Event—each term evoking a different narrative context for this historical trauma—has become an object of increasing cultural fascination. Provoked in great part by the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in the mid-nineties, in part by the awakened desire among aging survivors and their descendants to give meaning to their horrific history, a proliferation of publications in both historiography and literary studies has raised anew critical questions about representation and its limits, questions that return us again to Adorno’s often quoted remark...

    • Chapter 8 Class and Gender in Narratives of Passing
      (pp. 189-210)

      Stories of racial passing have long captivated the attention of American viewers and readers.¹ These accounts of characters who are “legally” black yet light-skinned enough to live as white have fascinated the American imagination for a variety of reasons. I suspect that they compel, at least in part, because they force the reader to confront a range of conflicts that are raised but inadequately explored in the classic texts within the genre. In this article I consider some of these paradoxes as sites that reveal the interconnections among race, class, and gender in the U.S. context. I locate passing within...

  6. PART 3 The Pleasures of Agency

    • Chapter 9 Redressing Grievances: Cross-Dressing Pleasure with the Law
      (pp. 213-253)

      The double proposal scene with which Billy Wilder puts closure on the scenario of mistaken identities played through in Some Like it Hot continues to fascinate not only critics writing on postwar American film comedy but, perhaps more crucially, those engaged in the debate on the potentially subversive resignification cross–dressing entails.¹ As the plot unfolds, the two musicians Jerald /Jeraldine (Jack Lemmon) and Jo /Josephine (Tony Curtis), who have unintentionally become the witnesses of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, find that the only way they can leave Chicago and thus escape detection is to don women’s clothes and join...

    • Chapter 10 Contingencies of Pleasure and Shame: Jamaican Women’s Poetry
      (pp. 254-282)

      Complaints, sometimes virulent, against feminism are now commonplace in the mass media. We are told that feminists are immersed in obscure academic theory; they are out of touch with most women’s concerns; their stridency has alienated a younger generation of would-be feminists; they are obsessed with male-bashing; they are neo-Puritans who deny the possibility of consensual sex; they promote reactionary stereotypes of women as victims, and so on.¹ Needless to say, it is far easier to show what was wrong with feminism in the 1990s than it is to propose constructive alternatives. But given such a climate of criticism in...

    • Chapter 11 Fierce Pussies and Lesbian Avengers: Dyke Activism Meets Celebrity Culture
      (pp. 283-318)

      I want to reflect on the 1990s through a collection of images that stages the ongoing serial drama of encounters between feminism and mass culture. Although it’s a historically significant collection, it’s also a very personal one, accumulated according to the idiosyncratic dictates of pleasure; it includes the Lesbian Avengers’ poster featuring blaxploitation star Pam Grier, Vanity Fair’s 1993 cover shot of k.d. lang and Cindy Crawford, Della Grace’s photographs of butch-femme couples in sexy poses, and Nicole Eisenman’s drawings of cartoon heroines such as Wilma and Betty. When I look at these images, I see some of the outcomes...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  7. PART 4 Where to Feminism?

    • Chapter 12 Enfolding Feminism
      (pp. 321-352)

      In the seventies, defining femininity seemed so important because it enabled women to seek a ground for bonding. Somehow, it took me a long time to understand that ontological communalities don’t necessarily lead to common politics.¹ In my experience, women had not been socialized to trust, and care for, other women. Their training had been obsessively to encourage jealousy and rivalry instead of trust, and all the care had to go to the men and the kids. Unlearning this turned out to be harder than we would have liked.² The tenacious presence of family metaphors—sisterhood cannot be thought of...

    • Chapter 13 Success and Its Failures
      (pp. 353-380)

      If Women’s Studies has reached a point of stasis on some campuses, it is due in no small measure to its success. Women’s Studies has succeeded in defining and delimiting objects of knowledge, authorizing new critical practices, significantly affecting scholarship in a number of disciplines, defining important political issues, and establishing itself as a legitimate academic and administrative unit on hundreds of college and university campuses. With these kinds of successes come problems. Having delimited a proper object and carved out particular domains, having generated and disseminated specific analytic practices, having developed consensus about at least some key political problems,...

    • Chapter 14 Becoming-Woman: Rethinking the Positivity of Difference
      (pp. 381-413)

      By the end of the last century of the second millennium one cannot even attempt generalizations about the state of feminist theory in the West, let alone in the rest of the globe. If this is to go down in history as the century of women, then diversity and the respect of differences among women are not optional, but are a real epistemological and ethical necessity. All one can offer is a reasoned map, or a politically invested cartography of one’s situated perspective or location. These politics of location aim at expressing accountability for one’s own implication within the very...

    • Chapter 15 The End of Sexual Difference?
      (pp. 414-434)

      I am not sure that the millennium is a significant way to mark time or, indeed, to mark the time of feminism. But it is always important to take stock of where feminism is, even as that effort at reflection is necessarily marred. No one stands in the perspective that might afford a global view of feminism. No one stands within a definition of feminism that would remain uncontested. I think it is fair to say that feminists everywhere seek a more substantial equality for women, and that they seek a more just arrangement of social and political institutions. But...

    • Chapter 16 A Return for the Future: Interview with Drucilla Cornell
      (pp. 435-454)

      MK: What has been your own experience of feminism? What are the issues and debates that have shaped your thinking as a feminist?

      DC: I come from a very different background than many academic feminists, and I think my experience of feminism was shaped by that difference. I was very active in the antiwar movement and in the civil rights movement, which I shared with many other women of my generation. I took it perhaps one step further, as I was a union organizer for six years and worked in factories. My experience of feminism was shaped by the basic...

    (pp. 455-458)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 459-468)