Reading Guide to: Humm M  (Ed)  (1992)  Feminisms: A Reader, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheat sheaf

 Part 2  Introduction  (Humm)

Feminism has contributed a number of significant innovations in social thought -- innovatory language, practices  (such as consciousness raising groups), and campaigns, such as those about rape and sexual abuse. The history of feminist movements is a long one, but the recent waves probably began in about the 1840s in both Britain and the USA, originally connected to broader movements to extend the suffrage. Connections with other civil rights movements persisted in the 1960s, with the beginning of civil rights campaigns. However, by then there were already distinct characteristics, such as the extension to the personal, and the role of new networked organisations. In the USA especially, Women's Studies were established as an academic specialism too. 

Feminism seems to have occupied distinctive ‘waves, with different combinations of theoretical and political impulses.'... first wave feminism... [was]... principally concerned with equalities... second-wave feminism... uses women's differences to oppose the "legalities"  of a patriarchal world'  (page 11).[So we see here the familiar 'escalation' of the movement, rather as in the marxist scenario. There is also something similar to a shift, which we have detected before, from a theoretical perspectives aimed at assisting practical struggles, to a more investigative and eventually constructive role for theory]. First-wave debates centred on 'materialism... women's collective social and political interests', while second-wave debates turned more on 'materiality -- moral solidarities created by female standpoints, and identities based on differences which include women's material, psychic and affiliative strengths'  (11). There is a shift from an interest in access to one of developing autonomy and differences from men. Resources used to develop these debates including psychoanalytic theory and Social Theory, leading to 'the making of a new knowledge from the standpoint of women's embodiment'  (12).  However, these theoretical developments can be seen as emerging 'from those whose interests  [they] affirm'  (12).  [So theory becomes the traditional 'handmaiden' of practice?]

The notion of identity and who defines women's identity remains as a constant issue, however, and there are similar questions and similar goals shared between feminists of the different 'waves'. 'What  unites twentieth-century feminists, arguably, is the desire to be united'  (13). [This seems a rather abstract goal, not really an immediately practical one. There is also here some hint of a belief in ‘reconciliation-- and notion that in some unspecified future Utopia all differences will be reconciled. This is also characteristic of some of the work in the dubious  'alienation problematic’ in marxism] 

According to Humm, Kristeva offers a three-phase model. The first wave features demands for equal treatment within male institutions, and shares a male linear notion of time. The second wave breaks with the old forms and introduces 'female time', which is cyclical.  The third phase becomes possible given the 'demassification of power' which enables substantial local liberation from conventional ideologies, leading to a final autonomy for women.

Although there are different phases, there is an underlying escalation model so that the first wave was crucial in permitting subsequent waves.

Part 3 Introduction  (Humm)

Second-wave feminism has focused on the concepts 'reproduction', 'experience', 'difference. The notion of reproduction emerges as ‘the sum of radical campaigns, of theories of gender difference, of sexual preferences, of social representations, of family identities, oentific [sic] paradigms, environmental and pacifist issues, and, crucially, differences of race  (53). The focus is on the politics of reproduction, the way in which a oppression is based on representations of sexuality, as a critical take on the apparently biological constraints that still affect women  (affecting their opportunities in paid work, for example).

[There is a greater role here for theory as well]. 'Theory proves necessary when commonsense designations are at stake'  [still a bit of a handmaiden though -- but see below].

Reproduction has expanded from classic Marxist conceptions to incorporate the notion of difference. Differences are now celebrated, and the accompanying change away from the notion of 'women' as sharing ‘a single universal experienceis 'liberating'-- there is now a 'world of multiple and mobile racial, class and sexual preferences'  (54). Nevertheless, women still need to fight for their reproductive rights. This is a struggle against violence, sexual stereotyping and 'the orthodoxies of sociopsychological theories'  (54) These elements can come together in struggles such as research on, and campaigns for, abortion or the causes of rape and violence. The struggles grew to incorporate environmental issues and peace campaigns. 

Second-wave feminism gained impetus from New Left, socialist and civil rights campaigns and policies, and also reflected the increase in women's paid work. In America especially, Women's Studies emerged  'as a distinct discipline'  (55). New terms and slogans appeared, such as 'sexism',  ‘consciousness raisingand 'the personal is political'. 'The recognition that public policies [and politics itself] could be crafted from private experience is unique to feminism'  (55).  Women's publishing increased public visibility, but 'the development of radical women - centred activism, for example the women's refuges' remained crucial.

The  second wave also saw a more organised critique of traditional theories, which include Anthropology (enabling criticism of the apparently eternal differences between the sexes); Economics  (valuing women's economic activities, such as those in domestic labour); History  (criticising male emphases, and restoring accounts of empowered women and their role); Law (how it tends to support male power); Literature (how the literary tradition ignored women's writing); Media (representations of women and accounts of the 'male gaze'); Medicine  (which objectifies women ,perpetuates sexist ideology, and ignores women's health agendas); Psychoanalysis  (which institutionalises men's definitions of women and 'the feminine'); the sciences (the very categories are seen as sexist, and women scientists are marginalised); Sociology  (which still sees gender as just another category, instead of as a central one. Each of these areas also features important feminist developments -- new questions, a new work which centralises women, new proposals in law and medicine, new developments in epistemology.

Political  themes turn on the recognition of the universality of patriarchy, and the diversity of women's responses and experiences. There have been various alliances with other movements, connections especially with black and non-Western women's movements. These alliances have led to new challenges, including the problems of articulating these different sorts of oppressions. Ultimately,  'The aim of all feminist theory and practice is the creation of equal rights shared by non-alienated beings of women and of men free to attend to personal and collective reproduction and autonomy  (60).