Literature Review: Feminist Activism

This continues a series of posts that, all together, comprise my literature review for my Master’s thesis research.  You can view all of the posts by clicking here.

What follows is a brief section about feminist activism and literacy.  Enjoy!

Feminism has not only produced many varying definitions, but also many varying forms of activism.  In their chapter titled “What Is Activism,” Baumgardner and Richards also work to define what feminist activism is and what it should be.  As with their definition of feminism, they try to take a non-controversial, middle-of-the-road definition of feminist activism.  They write: “Though activism can be grand or all-consuming, it is also as common and short-term as saying “That’s not funny” to a racist joke, “No” to the boss who asks only the “girls” in the office to make coffee, or calling your senator to protest…” (282).  They also give examples of women activists and what they have done to protest the injustices they see.  “What all these feminists have in common,” they write, “is this: they saw an injustice and use their rage to become everyday activists.  One can be an activist with one’s voice, money, vote, creativity, privilege, or the fearlessness that comes from having nothing left to lose” (281).

bell hooks agrees that all forms of feminist activism are important, but stresses that theory is necessary.  She posits that people can talk about their personal experiences all they want – like bloggers do – but that a solid, feminist theory is necessary for any activism.  In her essay titled “Feminism,” she writes: “Personal experiences are important to feminist movement, but they cannot take the place of theory” (32).  This may explain why feminist blogs that take a more analytical standpoint are more successful than blogs that simply talk about personal issues.  She goes on to posit in her essay, “The Significance of Feminist Movement” that feminism and feminist activism within a family structure is incredibly important.  She says that feminism within families that supports “family as a kinship structure that can sustain and nourish people… graphically address[es] links between sexist oppression and family disintegration… and to give examples… of the way family life is and can be when unjust authoritarian rule is replaced with an ethic of communalism, shared responsibility, and mutuality” (40).

While feminist activism can be on any level, and, as bell hooks posits, works best when within a familial structure and can be taught to children within the family at a very young age, activists outside the family must find other ways to spread their feminist theories.  This is where literacy practices come in.  In her article, “‘Substantive and Feminist Girlie Action’: Women Online,” Jacqueline Rhodes writes that “[r]adical feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s poured out ‘temporary’ texts… that were often written collaboratively, distributed collectively and publicly through the magic of mimeography and volunteer effort…” (116-117).  These texts, she goes on to say, parallel today’s cyber-culture in many ways, “not the least of which is the feminist sense of textuality that arises sometimes out of, sometimes in response to, and sometimes in direct contradiction to larger political moments” (117-118) as well as the emphasis on networking texts which creates the possibility for a community of writers calling people into action.

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