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ACL1001: Reading Contemporary Fiction Feminism and Literature.

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1 ACL1001: Reading Contemporary Fiction Feminism and Literature

2 Feminism and Contemporary Culture Feminism and Literature LECTURE CONTENT

3  “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) WHO’S AFRAID OF FEMINISM??

4  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.  ( 21/corporate-culture-blamed-for-gender-wage- gap/835480) THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA

5  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’. ( 9)Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA

6 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

7 ‘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. WOMEN, EMPLOYMENT AND THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIA

8  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? CULTURAL IDEOLOGY AND WOMEN

9   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? THE POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION

10  In ‘The Ideologies of Everyday Life’, Farmer writes:  ‘In the case of sexual difference, 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? CULTURAL IDEOLOGY AND WOMEN

11  “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: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

12  In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory (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

13  “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 efforts 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

14  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. FEMINISM AND LITERATURE: THE 1970S AND BEYOND

15 Where is she? Activity/passivity, Sun/Moon Culture/ Nature Day/Night Father/Mother Head/Heart Intelligible/sensitive… Man ____ Woman … And we perceive that the ‘victory/ always amounts to the same thing: it is hierarchized. The hierarchisation subjects the entire conceptual organisation to man. From New French Feminisms, (eds.) de Courtivron and Marks, pp. 90-1. HELENE CIXOUS FROM ‘SORTIES’

16  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

17  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 different to men. They reject the notion that there is an essential or natural difference 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. FRENCH FEMINIST CRITICISM

18  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. EFFECTS OF FEMINISM ON THE LITERARY CANON

19  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.  FEMINISM AND THE SUMMER WITHOUT MEN


21  Women and Leadership: Putting Unconscious Bias Top of Mind  Corporate Culture Blamed for Gender Wage Gap ( blamed-for-gender-wage-gap/835480) blamed-for-gender-wage-gap/835480  Cunningham, Sophie. A Prize of One’s Own: Flares, Cock- forests and Dreams of a Common Language ( one%E2%80%99s-own-flares-cock-forests-and-dreams-of-a- common-language/) one%E2%80%99s-own-flares-cock-forests-and-dreams-of-a- common-language/  Miss Representation Trailer  The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies REFERENCES

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