Teaching Feminism Through Contemporary Women's Writing.


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A presentation from Prof Gina Wisker (University of Brighton). Presented as part of the CWWSkills programme (AHRC collaborative skills development). Liverpool, January 2014

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Teaching Feminism Through Contemporary Women's Writing.

  1. 1. CWWA AHRC postgraduate development programme Liverpool January 2014 Gina Wisker University of Brighton 1
  2. 2.  Why?  How?  When?  What with?  What problems? 2
  3. 3. The issues which first and second wave feminism dealt with are still current - differently nuanced  Teaching without any recognition of values inherent in the context, texts, discussions is dishonest and dull  Troublesome knowledge and transformative learning are critical for learning – students, staff and researchers  Theory empowers and helps articulation - you have a right to speak and the intellectual engagement afforded by theory clarifies enriches and enables more complex thinking, nuanced arguments, tolerance and engagement(William Perry stage 9 thinking)  3
  4. 4.  …storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten the usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit -in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.(Chinua Achebe, 1987 )  Read it in the spirit of breaking the rules (Nalo Hopkinson, 2000) 4
  5. 5.  Going back to Wollstonecraft and Woolf  -if we refuse to ‗think back through our mothers‘ we shall create ghosts of our own.(Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik on Woolf‘s A room of one’s own)  Woolf identified   Economics, space, rights The male valorised forms of expression and topics – the novel was pliable in women's hands  Establishing a history , ongoing discussions- gives our work depth 5
  6. 6.  Second wave –re reading re writing new writing  Focus on the body, domestic, differences in language, power imbalances  ―Notes from the Front Line‖ (1983): ‗I am all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the pressure of the new wine makes the old bottles explode.‘ (69) Angela Carter 6
  7. 7.  I believe that all myths are products of the human mind and reflect only aspects of material human practice. I‘m in the demythologising business …. How that social fiction of my ‗femininity‘ was created by means outside my control, and palmed off on me as the real thing …. This investigation of the social fictions that regulate our lives – what Blake called the ‗mind-forged manacles‘ – is what I‘ve concerned myself with consciously since that time.  I'm in the demythologising business ‗Notes from the Front Line‘ in, On Gender and Writing, 1984 pp70, 71. 7
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  9. 9.   The campaign for women's liberation never went away, but this year a new swell built up and broke through. Since the early summer, I've been talking to feminist activists and writers for a short book, All The Rebel Women, and as I tried to keep up with the protests, marches and talks, my diary became a mess of clashing dates. The rush was such that in a single weekend in October, you could have attended a feminist freshers' fair in London, the North East Feminist Gathering in Newcastle, a Reclaim the Night march in Edinburgh, or a discussion between different generations of feminist activists at the British Library (this sold out in 48 hours, was moved to a room four times bigger, and sold out again). You could have joined one of the country's 149 local grassroots groups, or shared your experience of misogyny on the site Laura Bates, 27, started in April 2012. Her Everyday Sexism Project has proved so successful that it was rolled out to 17 countries on its first anniversary this year, tens of thousands of women worldwide writing about the street harassment, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and body-shaming they encounter. The project embodies that feminist phrase "the personal is political", a consciousness-raising exercise that encourages women to see how inequality affects them, proves these problems aren't individual but collective, and might therefore have political solutions. This year, 6,000 stories that have been sent to the project about harassment or assault on public transport – the majority never reported to authorities – were used to train 2,000 police officers in London, and create a public awareness campaign  Kira Cochrane   The Guardian, Tuesday 10 December 2013 9
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  11. 11. 5 Minutes Of What The Media Actually Does To Women  upworthy.com  "I don't look like that, and I don't desire to look like that." —Kate Winslet  11
  12. 12.  How would you engage students with still topical issues?  And make them more topical ?  How would you do this through literature and the media? 12
  13. 13.                    Theory/Politics/Texts Actions for Content Page Build Content Create Assessment Add Interactive Tool Content Theory Reading for Week One Attached Files: handout [1].docx (22.788 KB) Attached some Woolf extracts for you to read prior to lecture - will take about 30 minutes - really helpful to understand Deborah's lecture K Useful article on Ecriture Feminine Attached Theory/Politics/Texts Attached Files: THEORY-POLITICS-TEXTS 2012.pptx (106.218 KB) Kate's summary of different feminist political movements and different feminist literary theory approaches Useful Critical Essays on Ecriture Feminine Purkiss, Carter, Ann Rosalind Jones Michelle Roberts "Middle-Class Hero" on i-player http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00wx9q0 13
  14. 14. WEEK ONE THEORY/POLITICS/TEXTS (Lecture and online ppt s by Kate Aughterson, uni Brighton with additions by Gina Wisker uni Brighton ) Feminism: “a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women‖ (Collins English Dictionary) 14
  15. 15. An analysis of female exclusion from dominant power and political institutions (which are masculine); the political attempt to redress the balance of that exclusion by striving to provide equality in the political, the economic and social spheres, for women and men. 15
  16. 16. begins with an analysis of women's essential, biological, differences from men;  Celebrates difference as one with own culture and history, castigates masculine culture as authoritarian, hierarchical and closed.  seeks to introduce the "feminine" (qualities of nurturing/openness/fluidity/ negotiation etc) to the dominant masculine culture. Includes Marxist feminism:  biological difference used to justify economic subordination (family into economic system)  creating an ideology of masculinity and femininity ascribing certain roles for men and women which are supposedly natural.  political change: either the link between biology and domestic labour has to be broken: OR, domestic labour has to be accorded its real value in society. The personal is political  16
  17. 17.  both masculinity and femininity are social, linguistic and economic constructions  as such, the constructions can be utilised by both men and women as fluid identities to assert differing and changing power relationships. . 17
  18. 18.     Texts can perpetuate and construct women's subordinate position in society (ideology, interpellation) AND, Texts can also be potential places for liberating rebellion, for both writers and readers Texts offer examples, vehicles using language and the imagination, opportunity to engage theory –and a space to discuss Why is feminism important in literary studies?    Giving women an equal say as critics and constructors of a canon = basic freedom of speech Showalter: "studying a different culture‖ Different choices and perspectives 18
  19. 19.         Avoid polemic Offer challenges Respect differences Expect historical about turns (feminism was a turn off for years) Engage with and provoke arguments Work through troubled transformative texts and question promotes-if the aim is to engage with an own critical thinking –which feminist theory and criticism intends - we need to do this ourselves through our teaching and learning practice . Context culture perspective differences Reinvigorate the reasons for engaging with feminist criticism, theories, approaches, infused topics- gender and power imbalances, women's bodies under patriarchal control (Indian rape, Saudi Arabian codes of behaviour, glass ceilings) 19
  20. 20.  What has worked for you as a student or teacher in the past? To engage with ideas, arguments, and particularly feminism in practice through texts? 20
  21. 21. I work through  introducing ideas and issues, access to discussed theory and important critical texts (theorising aids articulation not just anger and silence)  Promotes, discussions , questions explored through texts - often in extract 21
  22. 22.  How does this poem and these extracts and examples engage us with The body, women's language, gender and power, culture and context in relation to gender 22
  23. 23. Why bluebeard? Male wealth power rights ownership  Women's bodies and persons only to be controlled and dominated , murder legitimated  The enclosed room of oppression  Violence, loss of history, silence, cultural inflected readings  Sexuality, energy, mother rescues (Carter) sisterhood might not be supportive (postfeminists Hopkinson)  23
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  25. 25.  And, ah! his castle. The faery solitude of the place; with its turrets of misty blue, its courtyard, its spiked gate, his castle that lay on the very bosom of the sea with seabirds mewing about its attics, the casements opening on to the green and purple, evanescent departures of the ocean (13).  Rapt, he intoned: ―Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.‖ A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.‘ (17) 25
  26. 26.  ‗what do you think of Audre Lorde‘s comment that massa‘s tools will never dismantle massa‘s house?‘  ‗in my hands massa‘s tools don‘t dismantle massa‘s house-and in fact i don‘t want to destroy it so much as I want to undertake massive renovations-then build me a house of my own‘(Hopkinson/Mehan 2004 p 7) 26
  27. 27. ‗Eggs are seeds, perfectly white on the outside. Who knows what complexions their insides might reveal when they crack open to germinate and bear fruit?‘ (Hopkinson ‗the Glass bottle trick‘ 2000) A re write of the Bluebeard tale, spliced with Fitcher‘s bird, mixed in with Caribbean myth and post feminism‘s doubts about sisterhood. 27
  28. 28.  ‗The duppy wives held their bellies and glared at her, anger flaring hot behind their eyes. Beatrice backed away from the beds. ―I didn‘t know‖ she said to the wives, ‖don‘t vex with me. I didn‘t know what it is Samuel do to you‖(100), the mixed Caribbean creolised English and received pronunciation mirrors the newly remixed culturally inflected tales, with her own tale. Whether she can preserve her own egg like the song ‗Eggie Law, what a pretty basket‘ (101), her father used to sing to her while hurling her in the air, is to be seen. 28
  29. 29. Gothic hybridity- language, myths, culture through the Bluebeard tale  1) Traditionally disempowerment through the  overwhelming male power, the silencing of women , endangerment is disobedience - male rescue(brother) - a tale to teach women to obey  2) Angela Carter‘s re write as a new assertion of female refusal of that power, sexual awakening and further romance of equals  3) Hopkinson‘s re write with Caribbean and post feminist inflections- snake swallowing an egg, duppies in glass bottles, internalised self loathing due to racism, dubious sisterhood. 29
  30. 30.  What decisions can you make about texts to teach ?  Why those ones? What will they enable to be discussed and dealt with  How are you going to introduce theory through the texts/before/after/in addition to? And why?  What challenges might you meet? What can you do to deal with them? 30