EARLY ATTEMPTS AT FINDING ‘A VOICE’: FEMINIST. INTERVENTIONS
At virtually the same time as the male hegemony of the modernist literary canon was being valorised by some writers, a number of feminist writers and literary critics (in both the US and Europe) were establishing a range of feminist interventionist strategies. The growth of the Women’s Movement and Women’s Studies in the US and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, and the publication of books such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) through to Kate
Millett’s Sexual Politics (1972) in the US, heralded the emergence of feminist discourses within the academy. While subsequently criticised by debates from within the feminist movement from women of colour, Third World women and lesbian feminists, these texts and the ensuing debates nevertheless established a number of ‘sites of resistance’ for feminists working within and outside the academy.
These second wave feminist interventions, while retaining a model of binary opposition, nevertheless opened up debates in the area of literary criticism and women’s writing. Millett’s (1972) text explored the way sex and sexuality was represented in the work of a number of male writers and considered the power relations involved in such representations. Millett presented an analysis of the portrayals of the sexual act in the writings of Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, D. H. Lawrence and Jean Genet. She highlighted the importance of male power and female subordination, showing how consent is manufactured and male domination maintained. She established the fact that sexual relations were political ones and ‘patriarchy’, ‘gender’ and ‘oppression’ emerged as key concepts in second wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement. Pringle (1995:201) comments that these ‘theorists assumed the existence of patriarchy based on relations of domination and subordination between two fundamentally opposed categories of people, men and women’.
Women’s Studies was a product of the demands for ‘a space’ and ‘a voice’ by the second wave of the feminist movement at the end of the 1960s. Yeatman (1994) contends that the establishment of Women’s Studies within a distinct and separate sphere within the academy opened up a real opportunity and space for feminist intellectual labour. At the same time, she notes that ‘the way in which women’s studies is institutionalized ensures that it is sequestered and ghettoized in relation to what is regarded as the mainstream aspects of the university’ (Yeatman 1994:43). Yeatman also notes that Women’s Studies frequently contributes to its own ghettoisation by ‘adopting an insular and even separatist attitude to its intellectual enterprise, while simultaneously depending upon the very mainstream values and practices of the university it lambastes as patriarchal’ (ibid.).
The development of Women’s Studies as an intellectually dynamic area has reflected many of the theoretical debates and conflicts which have preoccupied feminism increasingly in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The critiques posed to a largely white, middle-class feminist movement by non-Western women and women of colour resulting from a neglect ofwhat Yeatman (1995a) has called ‘interlocking oppressions’ based on class, race, ethnicity and sexuality by the feminist movement, has, as Yeatman (1994:46) notes, ‘unsettled the normal certainties of this movement – oriented intellectual discipline and propelled it into its own distinctive sociology of knowledge’.