Unit 1: “Feminist Histories: Movements and Waves”
As one of the lighter weeks (only four books and seven articles), “Feminist Histories” included texts that both described the details of past feminist movements as well as offered insights regarding how to actually conceptualize feminist history. Interestingly, my own reading of the material focused less on the details of historical feminist movements, but more so on the ways feminist scholars have interrogated and complicated historical analysis. Feminist scholars have made an ardent attempt to broaden master narratives and problematize popular models of feminist history, most notably the wave metaphor and generational eras. Much of the way feminist history is thought and written about is singular and linear. Distinguishing feminism by first, second, or third waves not only conveys the idea that feminist movements are compartmentalized and discrete, but also assumes that each wave improves upon the last. Such linear progress narratives reduce our understandings of feminist practice to a problematic periodization where the multiple and overlapping aspects of feminism go unacknowledged. One way to trouble these common collusions with linear time is by attempting to historicize contemporary feminist movements. How, for instance, do we represent 1990s and 2000s feminism in the present moment? Which feminisms occurred and are occurring in this time period? How do these feminisms bear aspects of prior waves and thus indicate the fragility of the wave metaphor? An attention to multiplicity and a challenge to wave and generation metaphors are key.
In my reading for this unit, feminist scholars have urged for an earnest critique to linear models and have suggested a focus on ideological groundings. Rather than generational time-periods, ideological similarities offer an expansive potential to feminist histories and non-linear genealogies. Such potential, I argue, also broadens our understanding of movements. Presently, large-scale feminist movements are assumed to be nonexistent. But what exactly constitutes a movement? Can academic feminism or those located within the inter/transdiscipline of Women’s Studies be participating in a movement, one with roots in intellectualism as well as community engagement? In April I attended the 2nd Annual Congressman Parren Mitchell Symposium at the University of Maryland. Hosted by UMD's Critical Race Initiative, the symposium's theme was “Intellectual Activism, Social Justice, and Criminalization.” Scholars begged the question: What is intellectual activism?