Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Feminist Literary Canon, Part Seven: 1980-1990

(Echidne's note:  Part 6 is here , part 5 here and Part 4 here.  Links to earlier posts can be found in Part 4 (assuming they still work..).  Wikipedia articles are used as a general source in this series.)

Audre Lourde (1934-1992) was a Caribbean-American lesbian writer, poet, librarian, and activist. 
Lourde criticized feminists of the 1960s for focusing on the particular experiences and values of white middle-class women. Her writings are based on the "theory of difference", the idea that the binary opposition between men and women is overly simplistic: although feminists have found it necessary to present the illusion of a solid, unified whole, the category of women itself is full of subdivisions. Among other works, Lourde wrote The Cancer Journals(1980), in which she describes her experience with cancer and calls on the reader to relinquish silence and speak out. She focuses on the importance of the love received from the women around her throughout her experience, and the comfort from talking about it with other lesbian cancer survivors. She also discusses coming to terms with the outcome of the operation, which left her with one breast. She explains that although it would be fine for women to resort to a prosthesis if they want to, she chooses not to, thinking that it seems like a cover-up in a society where women are solely judged on their looks. She also discusses the possibilities of alternative medicine, arguing that women should look at all the options. 
Her book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) began a new genre known as biomythography, a term she coined which means the weaving together of myth, history, and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition meant to represent all the ways in which we perceive the world around us.
In Zami, Lourde discusses her upbringing and early life. The book describes the way lesbians lived in NYC, Connecticut, and Mexico. It also discusses Lourde's difficult relationship with her mother, whom she credits for imbuing her with a certain sense of strength; the book ends with a homage to her. Zami is a Caribbean name for women who work together as friends and lovers. 
In one of Lourde's most famous essays, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House"  from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984), she attacks the underlying racism of feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argues that, by denying difference in the category of women, feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligns white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as "agents of oppression."
Margaret Atwood (born 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist.
 She is best known for The Handmaid's Tale (1985), a novel which won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987, and has been adapted for the cinema, radio, opera, and stage. 
It describes a dystopian sexist future in the former United States where women are forbidden to read and hold positions of authority, after a movement called the "Sons of Jacob" has used a staged terrorist attack (blamed on Islamic extremist terrorists) to kill the President and most of Congress, suspend the United States Constitution, and create a theocratic military dictatorship. 
The story is told from the point of view of a handmaid, or concubine, known as Offred, who serves a man called Fred. Although this book is often considered a feminist classic for its criticism of the sexism it depicts, it is worth noting that Atwood recently said (in 2009), "I don't know if I am a feminist." The book also depicts the narrator's feminist mother burning books in a flashback, and warns against anti-pornography feminists aligning themselves with the religious right, since the religious right is against feminism. Atwood also believes that the feminist label can only be applied to writers who consciously work within the framework of the feminist movement.
Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) was an American scholar of Chicano cultural theory, queer theory, and feminist theory.
She is most famous for co-editing This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (1981) with Cherrie Moraga. 
This anthology explores the feminist revolution from the perspective of women of color and addresses the cultural, class, and sexual differences that impact them.  It includes Anzaldúa's speech called "Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers" (1981), focusing on the shift towards an equal and just gender representation in literature, but away from racial and cultural issues due to the rise of female writers and theorists.
She also stresses in her speech the power of writing to create a world which would compensate for what the real world does not offer us. Anzaldúa has introduced the term "mestizaje" to United States academic audiences, meaning a state of being beyond binary (either-or) understanding. In her theoretical works,  Anzaldúa calls for a "new mestiza," which she describes as an individual aware of her conflicting and meshing identities and uses these "new angles of vision" to challenge binary thinking. This "new mestiza" way of thinking is part of postcolonial feminism. In "La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness" (1987), a text often used in women's studies,  Anzaldúa insists that separatism for Chicanas and Chicanos is not furthering the cause, but instead keeping the same racial division in place.
Alice Walker (born 1944) is an American author and activist, as I mentioned before. In 1982 she published The Color Purple, which focuses on the life on black women in the 1930s in the United States, and includes themes of lesbianism and feminism. It is widely considered a feminist classic. 
In this book Walker portrays female friendships as a means for women to summon the courage to tell stories which allow women to resist oppression and dominance. Relationships among women form a refuge, providing reciprocal love in a world filled with male violence. The novel also shows the limitations of gender roles. 
In 1983 she published In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose, a collection composed of thirty-six separate pieces. In this book she coins the word "womanist", which she defines as, "A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mother to female children and also a woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women's culture. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female." This has become a popular and influential concept among feminist women of color.
Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) was an American author. During the late 1970s and the 1980s, she gained national fame as a spokeswoman for the feminist anti-pornography movement, and for her writing on pornography and sexuality, particularly in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981) and Intercourse(1987), which remain her two most widely known books.
In Pornography: Men Possessing Women she argues that pornography and erotic literature in patriarchal societies consistently eroticize women's sexual subordination to men, and often overt acts of exploitation or violence.
In Intercourse, she went on to argue that that sort of sexual subordination is central to men's and women's experiences of sexual intercourse in male supremacist society, and reinforced throughout mainstream culture, including not only pornography but also in classic works of male-centric literature. Dworkin argues that the depictions of intercourse in mainstream art and culture consistently emphasize heterosexual intercourse as the only or the most genuine form of "real" sex; that they portray intercourse in violent or invasive terms; that they portray the violence or invasiveness as central to its eroticism; and that they often unite it with male contempt for, revulsion towards, or even murder of, the "carnal" woman.
bell hooks (aka Gloria Jean Watkins, born 1952) is an American author and activist. She took her pen name, which is intentionally uncapitalized, from her grandmother Bell Blair Hooks. She chose this because her grandmother "was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which I greatly admired." She put the name in lowercase letters "to distinguish myself from my grandmother." Her name's unconventional lowercasing signifies what is most important in her works: the "substance of books, not who I am." 
Her first major work Ain't I a Woman?: Black women and feminism (1981) examines the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women, devaluation of black womanhood, media roles and portrayal, the education system, the idea of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, the marginalization of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism. 
In 1984 she published Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,which confirmed her importance as a leader in radical feminist thought. Throughout the book, hooks uses the term white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy as a lens through which to both critique various aspects of American culture and to offer potential solutions to the problems she explores. hooks addresses topics including the goals of feminist movement, the role of men in feminist struggle, the relevance of pacifism, solidarity among women, and the nature of revolution. 
hooks can be identified in her discussions of these topics as a radical feminist because of her arguments that the system itself is corrupt and that achieving equality in such a system is neither possible nor desirable. She promotes instead a complete transformation of society and all of its institutions as a result of protracted struggle, envisioning a life-affirming, peaceful tomorrow. 
A second edition of this book, featuring a new preface,  "Seeing the Light: Visionary Feminism,"  was published in 2000. 
In the preface to the first edition, hooks, talking about black Americans in her hometown, discusses the meaning of her title From Margin to Center: 
"Living as we did "on the edge" we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked from both the outside in and the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well as the margin. We understood both. This mode of seeing reminded us of the existence of a whole universe, a main body made up of both margin and center."
Note:  Much of the information here is taken from Wikipedia articles.