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Introduction to week 4

Introduction to week 4
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MAUD BRACKE: In recent years, we seem to witness a revival of feminist activism around the globe, including campaigns demanding urgent action on gender-based violence, such as Ni una menos, not one less, originating in Argentina, and #MeToo, originating in the USA. This wave of mobilisation reveals dense global connections as well as the diversity of local approaches and speaks of a fresh desire for direct action. Taking as our starting point global communication and local specificities, we will, this week, look at feminist movements, theories, and practises during the late modern era. The very definition of feminism has been, and is, contested among activists and scholars alike.
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As the term was introduced in Europe in the early 19th century, women campaigners situate it in very different contexts. For instance, women activists in post-colonial Africa have argued that the word “feminism” is embedded in a historically specific analysis of Western modernity and patriarchy and the fight against it. Arguing that their own struggles take a very different form and are bound up with the legacies of colonialism and slavery, they have opted for different terms such as “womanism.” Or to take another example, women campaigners under communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the second half of 20 century, framed their politics in terms of socialist discourse.
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The term “feminism” was associated with Bourgeois individualism, and yet they, too, were driven by a desire to enhance women’s social power, freedom, and rights. In order to include such examples, and as an attempt to think more deeply about what a feminist agenda might be, I invite us to use the term “feminism” in a broad sense, along the lines of what has been proposed by historian Karen Offen. And it should be noted that such an inclusive definition is not uncontested. I include any political movement or programme that was aimed at bettering women’s social status and envisaged women themselves to play a leading role in such struggles. This week’s Focus on Feminism breaks down into three sections.
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We will start by introducing “intersectional feminism,” first coined by Black US legal scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. The concept of intersectionality has revolutionised the perspectives of those struggling for social justice around the globe and has reframed understandings of inequality and oppression. Analysing the limits of a legal system which was designed to consider one axis of discrimination in isolation, race or gender or disability, Crenshaw articulated a fundamental critique of anti-discrimination law in the US. And of political discourses on race and gender more broadly, for their inability to understand Black women’s oppression as resulting from a specific combination of gender and race discrimination.
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Today, many feminist movements are, or aim to be, cognizant of the intersections of oppression based on gender, race, sexuality, and class, and have initiated the difficult task of understanding the very different manifestations of oppression and different paths to liberation. Drawing on the expertise of Dr. Peggy Brunache, Dr. Jeffrey Meek, and myself, all at the University of Glasgow, we will explore the new perspectives that intersectionality can bring in articulating feminist agendas and in historically Analysing these. We look not only at cooperation between differently situated groups, but also at tensions that have emerged in the encounters between feminists of different social classes, nationalities, cultures, or sexuality. Secondly, we look at two key moments of change in terms of women’s political rights.
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Moments of powerful feminist activism have often occurred amidst a wider context of political or cultural turmoil. This was certainly the case in the late 18th century, when revolutions erupted around the globe, not least in France and Haiti. This was also the case in the early 20th century, when rapidly changing views on gender and sexuality and the political upheavals provoked by World War One conspire to allow for the radicalization of campaigns for women’s suffrage. We will discuss the latter in reference to Australia with Dr. James Keating of the University of New South Wales, while exploring questions of women and citizenship during the French and Haitian revolutions with Dr. Mike Rapport of University of Glasgow. Last, we tackle “cultural feminism.”
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Generally, the term denotes the articulation of an agenda for political or societal change through the production of cultural artefacts or engagement in cultural initiatives. Art historian Dr. Sabine Weber will introduce this section by offering a historically informed reflection on how art and culture might contribute to transforming the gender order, though she also highlights some of the pitfalls associated with such cultural politics. Next, we explore the intriguing case of 20th century US artist Romaine Brooks, who through her portraits and self-portraits aimed to destabilise the norms of sexuality and gender. Crawford Alex Mann, curator at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, will join us to discuss the artist and more broadly the potential for feminist transgression through visual art.
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We conclude by delving into a phenomenon that has played an important role in shaping women’s and men’s feminist consciousness around the world since the 1960s, women’s libraries and bookshops. Doctor Adele Patrick of Glasgow Women’s Library, an organisation which you have also encountered in the first couple of weeks of this course, will talk to us about the trajectory of this unique institution, from its grassroots beginnings, to its status as one of the leading such libraries in the UK and Europe.

My name is Maud Anne Bracke and I am a Reader in Modern European history at the University of Glasgow and co-Director of the Centre for Gender History. I will guide you through the final week of this course, focused on feminist politics.

Short bibliography

Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalising the intersections of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, 1:8, pp 138-67.

Lucy Delap, Feminism: A Global History (Penguin, 2020)

Kathryn Gleadle, Zoe Thomas, eds (special issue), ‘Global Feminisms 1870-1930: Vocabularies and Concepts – a Comparative Approach, Women’s History Review, 27:7, 2018.

Karen Offen, ‘Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Perspective’ , Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14:1, 1998, pp 119-57.

Bonnie G. Smith, ed. Global Feminisms since 1945 (Routledge, 2010)

Tiffany K. Wayne, ed. Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History (2 Vols, Greenwood, 2011)

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