It is not enough to inquire into how women might become more fully represented in language and politics. Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of “woman”, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought
(Butler 2008: 4)
Queer theoretician, philosopher, and professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at University of California, Judith Butler was, among others, inspired by the French philosopher, existentialist and feminist, Simone De Beauvoir. In 1949 De Beauvoir asked the question: what is a woman? in her book The Second Gender and in relation to that question underlined the fact that, one is not born a woman – one becomes a woman:
No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine (…) an Other
(De Beauvoir 1997: 295)
With this in mind, we want to present a shortened historic overview of what the term ‘feminism’ really is. Adding to that, we want to understand how feminism has affected the media, women’s sense of self, and the rights of women. Our point of origin for writing this, is, besides Butler’s admonition, inspired by Associate Professor in Culture, Media and Creative industries, Dr. Christina Scharff, who points out that the new, public, feminist debate lacks the input of academic knowledge. This results in an oversimplified debate and historically inaccurate information, which ultimately creates a negative image of second wave feminists, especially. Additionally, the trouble of the new ‘mainstream’ feminist approach leaves little room for queer theory, leaving them incapable of changing the heteronormative way in which we view the world. Scharff therefore calls for intersectional analysis, whereby we can acknowledge certain categories of identity such as ‘white’, ‘heterosexual’, and ‘upper class’ as oppressive factors in the life of minorities (Scharff 2013: 274).
More books like “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”, please!
What makes up the category of ‘woman’? How has she been defined in respect to the image of man? What happened when she actively started to take part and the fight for her own self definition? And what does the idea of women’s liberation actually mean?
We might be explaining the history of feminism in the United States, but we are of the understanding that feminism in the United States is connected to the general fight for equality in the Global North (Chakravarty & Mortensen 2016: 9).
Lecturer in history, Leigh Ann Wheeler, explains why it is important to look at women’s history. The understanding of gender roles and gender differences has changed drastically throughout history, which is why it is important to understand that our notion of history is constructed: it should never be seen as ‘natural’ or definitive. According to Wheeler, an understanding of women’s history can challenge and change the existing idea of gender roles dominating society today:
(…) it [women’s history] shows us that we (…) are products of history but we are also agents of history whether we are first ladies, movement leaders, homemakers, waitresses, factory workers, teachers or students. We are all making history, everyday
(Wheeler 2012: 14:40)
This is especially important, since history books today rarely mention women. Maria Perstedt, chief of ‘Kvindehistorisk Museum’ (Museum of the History of Women) in Umeå, Sweden, points to a survey in Sweden that indicates only 13% of the people mentioned in history books are women. In the 1800s (a period in which many history books were written) it was actively decided not to include experiences, actions, and knowledge that belonged to women. This is a problem to this day, since it reinforces the idea that men have always been in power, making it ‘natural’ and unquestionable (Perstedt 2015).
Since there is no agreement as to whether we can discuss waves of feminism or not, and if so, then how many, we use professor of history and chairwoman of Center for Gender Equity, Martha Ramptons’ notion. She talks about feminism as divided into four waves (Rampton 2015).