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Feminist Nightmares: Women At Odds: Feminism and the Problems of Sisterhood

SUSAN OSTROV WEISSER
JENNIFER FLEISCHNER
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg70x
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  • Book Info
    Feminist Nightmares: Women At Odds
    Book Description:

    Though all women are women, no woman is only a woman, wrote Elizabeth Spelman in The Inessential Woman. Gone are the days when feminism translated simply into the advocacy of equality for women. Women's interests are not always aligned; race, class, and sexuality complicate the equation. In recent years, feminist ideologies have become increasingly diverse. Today, one feminist's most ardent political opponent may well be another feminist. As feminism grows increasingly diverse, the time has come to ask a painful and frequently avoided question: what does it mean for women to oppress women? This pathbreaking, provocative anthology addresses this troublesome dilemma from various feminist perspectives, offering an interdisciplinary collection of writings that widens our understanding of oppression to take into account women who are at odds. The book examines the social, political, and psychological ramifications of this phenomenon, as evidenced in a range of texts, from women's antislavery writing to women's anti-abortion writing, from mother-daughter incest stories to maternal surrogacy narratives, from the Bible to the popular romance nove, from Jane Austen to Alice Walker. The value of the volume is perhaps best summed up by an early response to the idea - This is a book that should never be written; feminists should concentrate on how men oppress women. Ironically, it is precisely because the subject triggers such responses, the authors argue, that a volume such as Feminist Nightmares has become a necessity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8494-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)
    SUSAN OSTROV WEISSER and JENNIFER FLEISCHNER

    During the early stages of soliciting essays for this collection, one of the editors encountered the following reaction: “This is a book that shouldn’t be written. Feminists should concentrate on how men oppress women, not how bad women are to each other.” The very hostility and vigor of the objection to examining “womenat odds,” suggesting that this is a book whose subject touches a nerve, convinced us that such a book ought to be written—and written by feminists.

    We do not wish to open the subject of whether women think or act against other women as a question...

  5. I SISTERS UNDER THE SKIN?

    • 1. U.S. ACADEMICS AND THIRD-WORLD WOMEN: IS ETHICAL RESEARCH POSSIBLE?
      (pp. 21-43)
      DAPHNE PATAI

      The short answer to the question posed by my subtitle is, in my view, “No.” But much more than that needs to be said. To which “U.S. academics” am I referring? What is meant by “third-world women”? What is “ethical” research? Before addressing these questions, I must make explicit a term that, though not named in my title, frames the comments that follow: my concern is above all with feminist academics and with the meaning of feminism in research situations governed by inequalities and hierarchies—situations, in other words, that routinely unfold in the real world. These inequalities, which may...

    • 2. SCOLDING LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU? THE PROBLEMATICS OF SISTERHOOD IN FEMINIST CRITICISM
      (pp. 44-61)
      DEVONEY LOOSER

      As with many women writers “found” by second-wave feminisms, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has been held up as an exemplary model of womanhood. Montagu is frequently taught alongside her eighteenth-century British “sisters,” Aphra Behn, Mary Astell, and Mary Wollstonecraft, all of whom carved significant spaces outside of traditional feminine roles in their lives and writings. Montagu has not lacked a contemporary audience, her letters garnering space inThe Norton Anthology of Literature by Womenas well asThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. The ways we read Montagu, however, have become increasingly complicated as of late. In recent years Montagu...

    • 3. LOUISA SUSANNA McCORD: SPOKESWOMAN OF THE MASTER CLASS IN ANTEBELLUM SOUTH CAROLINA
      (pp. 62-87)
      MANISHA SINHA

      In recent years, the importance of gender as an indispensable category of historical analysis has been acknowledged by many scholars.¹ However, practitioners in the relatively new field of women’s history are still faced with the dual task of illuminating the female past and developing theoretical frameworks conducive for its study. Two of the major paradigms used by historians of American women, the framework of “oppression” and the idea of a separate female community and culture, posit an artificial homogeneity in women’s historical experience based on their biological and social identity as women. As Nancy Hewitt has pointed out, “The notion...

    • 4. WOMANISM REVISITED: WOMEN AND THE (AB)USE OF POWER IN THE COLOR PURPLE
      (pp. 88-105)
      TUZYLINE JITA ALLAN

      The woman-centered universe ofThe Color Purpleis often cited as the definitive womanist feature of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel. Critics have pointed to the text’s inscription of an unoppressive, nonhierarchical model of power relations, as indicative of the author’s unimpeachable pro-woman stance.¹ Black women in the novel, for example, are seen as bearers of what Michael Awkward calls “(comm)unity,” a collective sense of “expressive power” informed by a “supportive” sisterhood (Awkward 1989). Awkward does not use the term “womanist” to describe this communal ideal, but he provides an accurate chart of its development through a power-sharing women’s cooperative that...

    • 5. MIXED BLOOD WOMEN: THE DYNAMIC OF WOMEN’S RELATIONS IN THE NOVELS OF LOUISE ERDRICH AND LESLIE SILKO
      (pp. 106-122)
      JENNIFER SHADDOCK

      Women, perhaps more than any other oppressed group, have internalized the cultural narratives that legitimize our oppression. Flattered by and covetous of male attention, willing to align ourselves with male power even at the cost of our own freedom and integrity, too often silent and passive in the face of our own victimization, and, worse, frequently complicitous in the more socially pervasive forms of misogyny, women enact on a day-to-day basis the plot of a deeply embedded sexist narrative. Historically unable, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words, to “authentically assume a subjective attitude,” to interpolate ourselves as a continuously sustained, if...

  6. II BONDS OF MOTHERHOOD

    • 6. MOTHERS AND SISTERS: THE FAMILY ROMANCE OF ANTISLAVERY WOMEN WRITERS
      (pp. 125-141)
      JENNIFER FLEISCHNER

      Part of the work facing antebellum antislavery women writers in the U.S.—both black and white—was to enlist the sympathies of white women on behalf of enslaved African-American women. This was complicated, and critical, in a culture structured in part by the absolute dualism between “black” slavery and “white” freedom and by racialist notions of biological difference.¹ Nor was a belief in inherent racial differences limited to racist proslavery ideologues, who naturalized the enslavement of Africans by enshrining notions of the moral and physical superiority of whites over blacks. Identity as being in part a condition of biological inheritance...

    • 7. TRUE CRIMES OF MOTHERHOOD: MOTHER-DAUGHTER INCEST, MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER, AND THE TRUE CRIME NOVEL
      (pp. 142-158)
      ROSARIA CHAMPAGNE

      Feminism has historically relied on the mother-daughter bond as a non-contested category for women’s connection and social activism (Chodorow; Friday). And yet, with the genre of women’s true crime fiction, mother-daughter abuse shows up in every narrative gap. There are two formula plots for this genre: in the first, a white upper-middle-class woman murders her daughters; her neighbors and tennis pals are shocked; her husband didn’t see it coming. (These narratives flourish in white middle-class women’s magazines, such asRedbookandWoman’s Day). The second model, typified by Flora Rheta Schreiber’sSybil,centers the mother-daughter relationship around incest, not murder....

    • 8. EQUALITY, OPPRESSION, AND ABORTION: WOMEN WHO OPPOSE ABORTION RIGHTS IN THE NAME OF FEMINISM
      (pp. 159-188)
      LINDA C. McCLAIN

      There are vigorous debates among feminist theorists who share a commitment to securing reproductive freedom and keeping abortion legal concerning the best “feminist” justification of abortion rights, the most persuasive rhetoric, and the proper relationship among law, theory, and women’s actual experiences.¹ Despite their differences, these feminist theorists most likely would concur that the right to choose abortion is a “core issue of women’s equality and liberty” (Law 1984: 1028). But some women who identify themselves as feminists claim that, to be true to feminist principles, one should oppose legal abortion. They argue not only that legal abortion is against...

    • 9. THE POLITICS OF SURROGACY NARRATIVES: NOTES TOWARD A RESEARCH PROJECT
      (pp. 189-206)
      E. ANN KAPLAN

      In their narratives, surrogate mothers often announce their motive for becoming such mothers as a sisterly desire to help infertile women. Yet, in practice, surrogacy becomes the terrain for incredible, even unprecedented, hostility and violence between women. It is this discrepancy between sisterly motives and unsisterly practice that I want to explore here. Since narratives are always discursively formed, my ultimate aim is to understand what discourses produce the women’s stories narrated in popular journals: What audiences do they address? What effect does the context of their publication have on the form of the stories? What economic, political, and other...

  7. III WOMEN IN THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

    • 10. WOMEN AT ODDS: BIBLICAL PARADIGMS
      (pp. 209-224)
      JUDITH R. BASKIN

      The Hebrew and Greek Bibles (the Old and New Testaments), themselves literary works of overwhelming power, are essential foundation texts for understanding a wide variety of themes and motifs in Western literature and art. Indeed, many argue that reinterpretations of the characters, situations, and concerns of biblical literature constitute the most significant component of the European and American cultural tradition.¹ Given this overwhelming resonance of biblical subject matter and language in prose, poetry, and imaginative representations of all kinds, it is not surprising that feminist critics have returned to biblical texts in search of the originals of some of the...

    • 11. POST-FEMINIST AND ANTI-WOMAN: THE REVOLUTIONARY REPUBLICAN WOMEN IN FRANCE, 1793–1794
      (pp. 225-241)
      WILLIAM THOMPSON

      Over the course of the French revolutionary era, which witnessed the creation of a staggering number of revolutionary clubs and organizations, it is hardly surprising that a political group composed entirely of women should make an appearance. Such is the case of the Société des Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires (who will be referred to here as the Revolutionary Republican Women, or the Society). The founding of this group, a radical faction initially aligned with the Jacobins and later with the Enragés, marks the beginning of a unique enterprise in revolutionary France: a society formed for women and by women who wished...

    • 12. THE BURDEN OF MYTHIC IDENTITY: RUSSIAN WOMEN AT ODDS WITH THEMSELVES
      (pp. 242-268)
      NANCY RIES

      The fetish of female powerlessness and suffering was the symbolic centerpiece of the elaborate marriage ritual of prerevolutionary peasant Russia. A young woman’s poignant passage from the freedom of girlhood to the enslavement of marriage formed a pivotal image around which the entire wedding complex revolved. Above all, Russian wedding rituals stressed the inexorability of female destiny and the inevitability of female suffering and travail.

      One of the most notable aspects of Russian wedding rituals was the extensive lamentation of the bride. Through the singing (or wailing) of these laments, brides marked the pathos of their imminent separation from relatives...

    • 13. THE WONDERFUL-TERRIBLE BITCH FIGURE IN HARLEQUIN NOVELS
      (pp. 269-282)
      SUSAN OSTROV WEISSER

      The Bitch figure, a staple of Harlequin novels as well as other popular romances, is not only wonderfully terrible, the woman the reader loves to hate; she is also terriblebecauseshe is wonderful, in ways that the heroines of these novels most decidedly are not, and which I will suggest the female reader herself might long to be. This is why, in the quotation above, only women are said to be able to read and correctly understand other women. The two figures, good and bad women, constitute a couple system orbiting around the male as if by nature, exhibiting...

  8. IV FAMILY LIKENESSES

    • 14. THE PROBLEM OF SPEAKING FOR OTHERS
      (pp. 285-309)
      LINDA ALCOFF

      Consider the following true stories:

      Anne Cameron, a very gifted white Canadian author, writes several semifictional accounts of the lives of Native Canadian women. She writes them in first person and assumes a Native identity. At the 1988 International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, a group of Native Canadian writers decided to ask Cameron to, in their words, “move over,” on the grounds that her writings are disempowering for Native authors. She agrees.¹

      After the 1989 elections in Panama are overturned by Manuel Noriega, President Bush declares in a public address that Noriega’s actions constitute an “outrageous fraud” and that...

    • 15. FEMINISM MEETS POST-COMMUNISM: THE CASE OF THE UNITED GERMANY
      (pp. 310-327)
      NANETTE FUNK

      The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, symbolizing more than any other single event the end of the Cold War division of Europe into East¹ and West, ushered in contact between post-Communist women and feminists from Western Europe and the United States. In some instances, there is promise of fruitful interaction; but in the newly united Germany, where there is a direct meeting between East and West, tensions have become systematic, playing havoc with the possibility of joint action and even dialogue between East and West German women. The bitterness, anger, hostility, and suspicion on both sides that...

    • 16. REHABILITATING MARY CRAWFORD: MANSFIELD PARK AND THE RELIEF OF “THROWING RIDICULE”
      (pp. 328-342)
      EILEEN GILLOOLY

      No matter how highly acclaimed it sometimes is—Lionel Trilling, for example, ranked it among the greatest of English novels—Mansfield Parkis famous for being the least well-liked of Austen’s novels.² Dominated by the moral correctness of Fanny Price, it generally leaves its readers with an impression of earnestness and sobriety that even partisans of Austen have at times found hard to appreciate. As Claudia Johnson has noted, “Janeites confessed and unconfessed” lament its “ungratifying humorlessness.”³

      Mansfield Park,however, is home not only to Fanny Price but Mary Crawford as well, whose laughing comments and quick wit pervade and...

    • 17. LOST IN SPACE BETWEEN “CENTER” AND “MARGIN”: SOME THOUGHTS ON LESBIAN-FEMINIST DISCOURSE, BISEXUAL WOMEN, AND SPECULATIVE FICTION
      (pp. 343-357)
      ROBIN ANNE REID

      In volume one ofThe History of SexualityFoucault argues that the “psychological, psychiatric, medical category of homosexuality was constituted … less by a type of sexual relations than by a certain quality of sexual sensibility…. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” (43).¹ Thus, in the nineteenth century, important changes occurred in the discourses of sexuality, as the previous category of homosexual acts was replaced by the creation of the homosexual individual. The creation of the homosexual individual was accompanied by a proliferation of discourses that functioned as mechanisms to analyze, dissect, and...

    • 18. IN THE ZONE OF AMBIVALENCE: A JOURNAL OF COMPETITION
      (pp. 358-392)
      MURIEL DIMEN

      Alice Bach asks me to contribute to a feminist issue of the Union Seminary Quarterly Review, which she edits. The issue’s topic is to be “competition between women”; authors may write about it in any way they please as long as they also refer to a relevant scriptural text. Since the volume is to be interdisciplinary, Alice says that I, as a psychoanalyst and anthropologist, cover ground others don’t. I’m intrigued—I know a lot about competition not only in theory but in practice (what feminist doesn’t?); I’ve even written about it.¹ I feel weird about the religious part.

      As...

  9. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 393-398)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 399-406)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 407-407)