Angel in the House
A concept of desirable femininity (from Coventry Patmore's nineteenth
century poem) critiqued by Virginia Woolf who argued for the necessity
of killing this internalised aspect of the feminine for women to
be fully effective. She argued further in Three Guineas that it
was also necessary to kill 'the lady'although even then 'the
woman still remained'. (back to lexicon)
Marxist terminology that theorises the relationship between modes
of production and structures of power. The ideological superstructure
includes religious, political and legal institutions through which
ideology is reproduced and circulated. The base is the economic
system; in capitalist societies it consists of those who own capital
and employ labour (the bourgeoisie), and those who sell their labour
(the working class). The relationship between base and superstructure
is a complex one, both aspects influencing each other to maintain
systems of class power.
Feminist analyses have examined how gender also operates in each
of these categories. (back to lexicon)
Refers to pairs of opposites, such as male/female, white/black,
The French theorist Jacques Derrida has been important for his work
of deconstructing binary oppositions, and has been useful and influential
for feminist theory and analyses.
Derrida argues that language, and culture more generally, is organised
by systems of binary opposites. More specifically, the paired terms
in the binary are not of equal value: one side is usually more 'valuable'
than the other. The masculine is generally invested with greater
value than the feminine; white is a term privileged over black.
Even though the terms exist in a hierarchy, the culturally dominant
side of the binary (the masculine) requires the other side of the
binary (the feminine) to give it meaning. There could be no hierarchy
without the two terms together.
These two points (the dominance of one side of the pair, and the
dependence of the dominant term upon the other term) are important
for analysing and complicating the ways in which patriarchy, whiteness,
or class attain social and political meaning and dominance. Derrida's
work of deconstruction seeks to move beyond the constraints of binaries.
(back to lexicon)
Derived from differre, a Latin word meaning 'to move in two directions'.
For feminist analyses the concept of difference is important on
several levels. In the first instance, difference is important for
recognising the distinction between male and female, or masculinity
and femininity (see also binary opposition). It is the analysis
of the cultural production and manifestation of this difference,
experienced on a range of levels from coporeality, to subjectivity,
to social behaviours, that forms the basis for feminist theory and
politics. Second, an understanding of the operations of difference
is important for understanding the processes of discrimination (sexism
or racism for example), and also in the principle of affirmative
action. Third, difference is important because it begins to recognise
multiplicity over singularity, or binarity.
Difference feminism, particularly associated with Carol Gilligan,
Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray, argues that women
and men should not aspire to the same concepts or constructs of
worth (as in the privileging of rationality for example) but should
be regarded as different but equal, rather than different and lacking.
Difference between women has also become an important concept. The
second wave women's movement from the late 1960s gathered women
together under the common oppression of gender, yet this understanding
of woman failed to take into account the differences of race, class,
sexuality and dis/ability that transect the category of 'woman'.
See différance (back
Where liberal feminists have campaigned for equal rights with men,
assuming similar status in terms of humanity, rationality, and mental
capability (Wollstonecraft, Beauvoir), feminists interested in difference
have recognised, and sometimes celebrated the dissimilarities between
men and women. For example, one of the central differences between
women and men has been perceived as the maternal child bearing role
associated with (and culturally imposed upon) women and the feminine.
Some difference feminists argue that women are 'naturally' more
caring, compassionate, and giving, and should embrace this as a
positive quality, thereby undermining the negative connotations
of femininity under patriarchy. Other feminists have argued that
this simply essentialises traditionally feminine qualities as normal
and natural, leaving no space for resistance to what are perceived
as restrictive feminine roles.
Other feminists of difference recognise that gender roles are constructed
categories, but undertake an analysis of how these differences are
constructed and maintained (Irigaray, Cixous). Rather than celebrating
difference per se, or simply attempting to circumnavigate it, difference
is recognised as socially, politically, ideologically and linguistically
entrenched, and maintained in order to repress women. The category
of woman must be considered with alternative analytical tools in
order to recognise sites of repression, resistance, and spaces of
Difference feminism has been considered problematic in that it considers
woman to be a transcendental category. The category of woman, in
actuality, is intersected by differences such as class, race, ethnicity,
disability and ability, sexuality, age, and occupation. (back
A term coined by Jacques Derrida involving the idea that language
is operates through opposed binaries (difference) and also the deferral
of a definite meaning that can be read/produced.
Derrida argues that différance underpins all language; it
is différance that enables language to have meaning, but
it is also a disruptive element that prevents the arrival at absolute
meaning or truth, resulting in the unfixability of language and
discourses more generally. (back to lexicon)
Desire (i.e. heterosexual desire) is often understood as natural,
whilst same-sex desire is posited as unnatural. In contrast, feminists
such as Adrienne Rich and Judith Butler have argued that heterosexual
desire is a social construct. Rich writes of a regime of 'compulsory
heterosexuality', while Judith Butler refers to the heterosexual
Desire is also particularly important in psychoanalytic contexts,
where desire is understood to be produced in a gap that fundamentally
structures the subject. In Freudian terms, this gap is the realisation
that the primary love object (the mother) cannot be loved due to
the incest prohibition. Therefore the child is forever seeking the
lost love object (especially apparent in unresolved oedipal complexes).
For Lacan, the fundamental gap structuring the subject is the entry
into the symbolic where the child recognises him/herself as distinct
from the world around him/her. The child can never return to this
presymbolic unity. Therefore there is an endless circling of desire
around an unattainable demand. (back to lexicon)
Most apparently 'discourse' refers to a speech act. However, in
current literary and feminist theory the term is most frequently
used in a Foucauldian sense.
Michel Foucault theorised discourse as the ways of speaking about
ourselves, ideas, and the world in general. We can speak about discourses
of sexuality for example, or discourses of the family, or discourses
of gender that circulate in western society. For example, dominant
discourses of sexuality include the understanding of sexuality as
an interior truth of the self, that it is a natural instinct, and
that there is a distinction between normal and perverse sexuality.
Foucault claims that discourses are cultural products circulated
by powerful institutions (such as the legal, political, educational
and social institutions), as well as at the level of the individual.
Thus discourses are important for maintaining systems of power and
Discourses do not simply elucidate an underlying truth or knowledge,
but are actively involved in producing this knowledge. Discourses,
for example, do not simply talk about sexuality, but actually produce
the way it is understood as an inner part of the self, as natural
or as perverse.
Historical specificitythat discourses are produced at particular
times and locationsneeds to be borne in mind in discussing
them. (back to lexicon)
A particular version of feminism that emerged from grassroots activism.
Ecofeminism can take various forms, from an analysis of women's
supposed inherent connection with 'nature', an understanding of
the interconnectedness of 'nature' and 'culture' as opposed to the
rationalist understanding of 'man' as the dominant species, to a
critique of the capitalism and globalisation that perpetuates ongoing
environmental degradation, consumerism, nuclear development, and
colonialism. These factors contribute not only to the annihilation
of ecosystems, but is also part of a broader analysis of the way
in which that which is perceived as feminine (such as 'nature')
is subject to patriarchal systems of power and domination.
See Shiva and Mies (eds), Ecofeminism. (back to lexicon)
Associated with so-called French feminists Hélène
Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, écriture féminine
refers to a specifically women's writing or writing the feminine.
It is characterised by fluidity, fragmentation, and jouissance,
and is also associated with a writing of the female bodyits
otherness that threatens to disrupt to masculine symbolic order
Écriture féminine has been critiqued as being essentialist
and doing little to actually improve the material conditions of
women, especially since it seems to valorise a women's language
that is outside standard linguistic systems and risks remaining
unheard of dismissed as hysterical.
It could be answered that écriture féminine does not
refer to an actual body, but to the way in which phallogocentric
language systems have constructed the feminine body as lacking,
castrated, and other to masculine bodies. (back to
Refers to a system of knowledge, incorporating ways of understanding
and interpreting. A feminist epistemology may emphasise the dominance
of patriarchal epistemology/ epistemologies, and emphasise feminine
ways of knowing and interpreting the world. Some feminists may focus
on women's corporeal difference, others on the political and social
systems that maintain patriarchal epistemologies. (back
Eroticism is frequently defined in contrast with or opposition to
pornography with the erotic often understood to be more feminine
or feminised. The point at which this line is drawn between the
erotic and the pornographic depends upon the feminist theorist's
ethic of sexuality.
Theorists such as Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous
have argued for an écriture féminine, or an eroticism
in language; there is, they suggest, a trace of a specifically feminine
libidinal body in women's writing and language. Their term for the
pleasures of the text, as well as bodily pleasure, is jouissance.
(back to lexicon)
A form of categorisation by way of national, religious, linguistic,
or racial affiliations. (back to lexicon)
A biological category which, as Toril Moi in Feminist Literary
Criticism (see Jefferson and Robey) remarks, is often distinguished
from feminine and feminist. (back to lexicon)
Practices and attitudes considered appropriate for women in the
dominant ideology; socially constructed modes of behaviour associated
with women. These vary between cultures and are modified by factors
of class and ethnicity within cultures. French Feminism as constituted
in the anglophone West can be read as validating femininity and
its attributes over masculinity.
Refers to specific behaviours, practices, and attitudes associated
with women (also referred to as a sex/gender distinction). Many
feminists have argued that femininity is learned behaviours and
practices (Moi), that are enforced by social, political, and ideological
norms. According to this analysis femininity is in no way a natural
or biological fact, but is a construct, a cultural product that
is adopted by women in order to participate in a culture which functions
largely in terms of masculine and feminine binary oppositions.
Feminist theorists have argued that the 'unnaturalness' of femininity
needs to be exposed, and undertake a deconsctruction of the elements
that participate in the construction of femininity (Spivak, Butler,
hooks). This may involve an analysis of the representation of women
in ideological terms, an exploration of the discourses and discursive
paradigms that construct and maintain ideals of femininity, and
an understanding of social and economic factors that maintain the
marginality and lesser status of the feminine.
Femininity is not, however, universally applicable to all women.
In the west, it has particularly been associated with white women
and middle class women. Barbara Christian (1985) highlights the
ways in which particular aspects of femininity are enabled by class
position. Because Black women have frequently been part of the working
class, it is the labour of these women that has also enabled femininity
as a class construct. Sojourner Truth speaking at a women's rights
rally in 1851 also recognises the class and racial biases of conventional
femininity: That man over there says that women need to be
helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the
best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over
mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look
at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered
into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman?
(Conboy, Medina, and Stanbury 1997, 231) Jackie Huggins claims that
a similar construct of femininity functions in relation to Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander women. That Indigenous women, particularly
under paternalistic and racist government legislation, were not
considered 'feminine' is evidenced by the fact that they were expected
to do not only 'women's' but also 'men's' work, such as wood chopping,
fencing, and stock work. Ruby Langford Ginibi's life narrative Don't
Take Your Love to Town documents her own experience of this labour,
its irregularity, low pay, and poor conditions.
While some feminists have pointed to the constructed and learnt
aspects of femininity, other feminists have embraced feminine qualities.
Difference feminists argue that femininity should be recognised
in terms of its differences from masculinity, and should be recognised
as equally valid. Carol Gilligan in 1982 argued for a rethinking
of measures of morality, claiming that women's morality is based
on 'natural' feminine qualities such as compassion and caring, rather
than abstract moral principles commonly linked with so-called masculine
qualities. Some writers associated with what is often labelled French
feminism also tom some extent can be read as arguing this, although
their frame of reference is often strongly that of psychoanalysis
(see Cixous, Irigaray). The school of writing called écriture
féminine however, mobilises this difference as a positive.
Hélène Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa
calls for a specifically feminine writing that can challenge the
dominance of the father's voice.
This stance has been criticised by materialist feminists as essentialist.
See logocentrism and phallogocentrism.
(back to lexicon)
An explicitly political stance committed to the analysis and amelioration
of patriarchy, sexism, and gender. The term feminist is very broad,
and often a site of dispute and debate, thus some feminists choose
to specify types of feminists: for example, liberal feminist, marxist
feminist, poststructuralist feminist, eco-feminist. The sites of
application of feminist theory are also very broad, ranging from
academic analyses to political and social intervention to grassroots
activism. (back to lexicon)
A term coined by Elaine Showalter to refer to the study of women
writers. Gynocritics encompasses a history of writing by women as
well as a study of women's writing in terms of theme, style, and
structure. The study of women's writing not only examined the text
itself, but recognised the difficulty of writing for women in a
largely male-dominated literary and theoretical field, as well as
positing a specifically female literary tradition. (back
This is a process of the maintenance of consent within the state
through the perpetuation of dominant ideologies and social and political
control. (back to lexicon)
The belief in 'Man' as the centre of the universe that particularly
emphasises man's rationality, autonomy, and self-knowledge, as well
as an essential 'humaness' across cultures and historical periods.
In particular, the reason and autonomy of humanism enable man to
discover the truth about the world. Humanism began to displace a
belief in God as the omnipotent centre in the nineteenth century.
Many feminist theorists have critiqued humanism on the grounds that
it maintains a hierarchical distinction between nature and human
(see ecofeminism), and that it posits 'man' as completely in control
of his own actions and behaviours without acknowledging structural
aspects of inequality such as race, gender, or class.
Psychoanalytic and poststructuralist accounts also begin to problematise
the humanist belief in self-knowledge, arguing that the subject
is fundamentally structured by an unknowable unconscious (psychoanalysis),
or that the subject is fractured and always incomplete or in process
(post-structuralism). (back to lexicon)
A cross or mixture of disparate entities. Associated with postcolonial
theorist Homi Bhabha who argues for the potential of hybrid discourses
to subvert dominant discourses.
The hybrid discourse is a vehicle for denied or oppressed knowledges,
as well as a mimicry of dominant discourses.
Identity is sometimes understood as hybrid. (back to
From the Greek word hystera, meaning womb. Hysteria is usually associated
with women, and has been treated by hysterectomy and even clitoridectomy,
see Adrienne Rich Of Woman Born and Elaine Showalter The Female
The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud has been famously associated with
the diagnosis and treatment of hysteria.
Hysteria often manifests as symptoms of illness (a cough, or rash,
nervous tics) which have no physiological or medical cause. Freud
understood these to be a result of unresolved issues repressed in
the unconsciousoften to do with the Oedipal complex.
Some feminists have suggested that hysteria can be understood as
the body articulating that which is otherwise unspeakable, and sometimes
as a form of resistance to patriarchal and heterosexual norms. Other
feminists have argued that this is a very limited form of resistance.
(back to lexicon)
A system of values, beliefs and ways of thinking about the world
and society. The dominant ideology may appear as common sense or
inevitable, and its dominance is thereby naturalised. Ideology reflects
systems of ideas and beliefs that belong to a particular political,
and economic system. Dominant, as well as oppositional ideologies,
can be seen as embodying the interests of particular groups or classes.
See also Hegemony. (back
Refers to the construction and deployment of an identity for strategic
purposes. For example, an identity based on race or class or sexuality
may be used as the basis for collective political action (the Gay
and Lesbian Law Reform Commission is one example of identity politics
Identity politics emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s in response
to the inadequacy of overarching concepts of gender used by the
second wave women's movement to account for oppressions based on
class, race, and sexuality.
More recently identity politics has been critiqued by theorists
who claim that identity politics does not recognises people's multiple
sites of belonging, and the differences between and within people
gathered under an identity.
Furthermore, identity politics supposes a fixed and stable identity
over time; this has been challenged by various postmodern and poststructuralist
theories. (back to lexicon)
The economic or military dominance of one state over another. Takes
a historically and culturally specific form in colonialism. Colonialism
is a form of imperialism shaped by seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth
century ideologies of cultural supremacy, liberal individualism,
religious beliefs, Darwinian evolutionary theory and racism. (back
A term used to refer to indigenous and Aboriginal identity. In Australia,
Aboriginal identity is, for social and legal purposes, generally
understood as a person of Aboriginal descent, and who recognises
themselves as such, and is accepted by an Aboriginal community.
Indigeneity may also understand Aboriginal identity as a spiritual
core, or blood and spirit as Jackie Huggins terms it
in Sister Girl; it is a connection with land, that informs the way
in which culture and society are experienced.
Other understandings of indigeneity can point to the social construction
of 'race' and Aboriginality in particular. It can also recognise
the social, historical, legal and political oppression and institutionalised
racism that has surrounded and impacted upon the lives of, and contributed
to the experiences of indigenous people. (back to lexicon)
Refers to pleasure, and has connotations of sexual pleasure. Jouissance
is multiple, unstable, and cannot be contained.
Roland Barthes argued that the jouissance of a writerly text is
not simply a pleasure, but also has a disruptive potential.
Feminists theorists have understood jouissance in terms of the feminine,
and have argued for the potential of jouissance to both reflect
women's pleasure, and to disrupt the phallogocentric dominance of
a text. (back to lexicon)
The term is derived from Lesbos, a Greek island where the poet Sappho
was reputed to live, and write poetry that celebrated love for women.
Lesbian is commonly understood to refer to sexual desire between
women, however it is also understood to extend beyond choice of
sexual partner to encompass a broader notion of a lesbian identity.
However, the notion of the lesbian as a personage or identity has
only emerged since the late 1800s, where it was used by sexologists
such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis to describe
a sexual pervert or invert (see also pathologisation).
In the bar culture of the 1950s and 1960s, lesbian identity has
often been associated with butch/femme roles; these have in turn
been critiqued for reproducing heterosexual roles (see Joan Nestle
and Sally R Munt for refutations of this argument).
The Gay Liberation movement of the 1960s began to dispute the pathologisation
of this identity, claiming a gay or lesbian identity as normal and
natural. Lesbian feminism furthered this to argue not only for a
distinctly lesbian identity, but to analyse this as a specifically
political identity. It was argued by some lesbian feminists that
sexuality was a matter of choice, rather than a natural given. This
stance was reflected in a paper called The Woman-Identified
Woman written by the Lavender Menace in 1970. This paper argued
that the woman-identified woman is a way of giving sexual, emotional,
and political energy to other women and undermines patriarchal systems
of power. The idea of choosing a lesbian identity also undermines
the notion of a 'natural' sexuality or desire, an argument that
Judith Butler analyses in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter.
Adrienne Rich in 1980 proposed the 'lesbian continuum', according
to which as range of relationships can be seen as lesbian: from
close friendships (such as romantic friendships in the eighteenth
century or Boston marriages in nineteenth century America) through
to sexual relationships.
The woman-identified woman and the lesbian continuum have been criticised
for their failure to account for a desire that is not attenuated
by friendship or political positions. (back to lexicon)
Employed by Jacques Derrida to refer to the primacy or centrality
of the spoken word (logos) in western cultures. Derrida particularly
argues that the spoken word is privileged over the written word
because of its immediate presence (in terms of both the word and
the speaker), whereas the written word undermines the immediacy
of the spoken word and enables the speaker to be absent.
Also connects to patriarchal Christianity in terms of the authority
of the logos: In the beginning was the word. (back
A term which may be applied very broadly to a range of behaviours
and mental states that are considered to be 'abnormal'.
The antipsychiatrists (famously R. D. Laing) from the late 1950s
rejected the medical model of mental illness, and argued that behaviours
understood as 'mad' were in fact a manifestation of social dis-ease
stemming from moral and social relationships and judgements.
Some feminist analyses have reverberations with the antipsychiatry
position, and suggest that women's madness may be understood in
terms of a cultural and social disempowerment of women, or that
a woman is labelled 'mad' when she refuses to conform to gendered
behaviours, or that madness may be understood as a form of refusal
to and resistance to dominant patriarchal systems and values.
Showalter does however express hostility to Langian anti-psychiatry
in The Female Malady in arguing that madness is feminiseda
specifically feminine disorder. Phyllis Chesler was an early voice
in second wave feminisms arging that women's manifestations of what
was categorised as 'madness' differed from men's in being directed
inwards and against the self. (back to lexicon)
A term that is used in several different ways to 1)connote progress
(which means modernity is an ongoing process), 2) to delineate a
specific time period of increasing industrialisation, social change,
and the beginnings of modern day capitalism which feminists have
argued reinforced the gendered public/private divide, and 3) modernism
as an artistic and literary mode. Modernism in this latter sense
tended to disrupt the realist novel, refusing the familiar connection
between literary representation and reality and emphasising impressionistic
or stream of consciousness type writing. (back to lexicon)
A theoretical and analytical approach that refuses an ethnological
approach to the 'other' that has characterised many western feminist
analyses of Muslim women. In contrast to some Eurocentric approaches,
Muslim feminism is not solely concerned with an analysis of cultural
symbols of 'otherness' such as the 'veil'. According to Nahla Abdo,
Muslim feminism should not involve essentialising Muslim women,
their 'racial', ethnic, or cultural difference, but should be problematising
the supposed dichotomy between 'East' and 'West'. Abdo suggests
that this 'alternative feminism involves an analysis of the
actual living reality of Arab and/or Muslim women. It is about turning
Arab women from objects of research into subjects and real selves.
By refusing to sensualize, sexualize or essentialize their subjects,
Alternative Feminists recognize the diversity, dynamic and historical
contextuality of the women they study, research, speak about, or
See Nahla Abdo, Eurocentrism, Orientalism, and Essentialism:
Some Reflections on September 11 and Beyond. (back
The term Other has a wide and varied usage. Most generally it is
used to refer to (what is perceived as) irreducible difference,
such as gender, or race.
In existentialist terms, the other refers to the struggle for subjectivity
between subjects: neither subject wants to be the other, reduced
to the status of object. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is
widely credited with expounding this concept in relation to gender,
arguing that woman is the other of man.
For psychoanalysis, the other is unknowable. Yet it is this unknowable
other that structures subjectivity. (back to lexicon)
Very broadly, this refers to the systems of male oppression of women
through political, economic, social, and discursive structures.
Various feminist positions understand patriarchy in different ways.
A radical feminist analysis understands male power over women as
a universal oppression, occurring primarily through biological sex
and sexuality, particularly the sexual devaluation of women that
has occurred throughout history. A marxist feminist approach may
understand patriarchy in terms of a sexual division of labour that
occurs within class systems. A poststructuralist feminist understanding
of patriarchy could argue that it is phallogocentric language systems
that maintain gendered positions within discourse (see also binary
The problem with the concept of patriarchy is that it is extremely
broad, and therefore can be ahistorical and universalist. That is,
it may not pay attention to specificities of a historical era (what
is considered as gendered oppression may change over time), or may
argue that the same forms of gender oppression occur in the same
ways worldwide. (back to lexicon)
Theories of perfomativity draw on the influential work of Judith
Butler argues that gender is not natural, nor is it inscribed (written)
onto a biological body or blank slate.
Rather, gender is discursively (see discourse) constructed and maintained.
Gender is performed by individuals on a daily basis, and it is this
performance that consolidates gender at a social and cultural level.
In turn, social and cultural understandings of gender direct the
gendered performances of individuals. (back to lexicon)
Used by Derrida to recognise not only a cultural emphasis on the
spoken word (logocentrism), but particularly the gender based power
structures of the spoken word. Phallogocentric language is rule-based,
linear, structured, directive, and assertive.
Feminist theorists such as Luce Irigaray and Hélène
Cixous have sought to consider and theorise a specifically feminine
way of speaking and writing that is fluid, multiple and fragmented
(see écriture féminine
and jouissance). (back
Sexually explicit and arousing material. Pornography is very difficult
to define; it has been, and remains, a site of intense debate. This
debate not only occurs between consumers and producers of pornography
and feminists, but also between feminists.
The 1980s were famously known as the era of the 'sex wars' between
'pro-sex' or libertarian and 'radical' feminists. The radical feminist
argument is that heterosex, and pornography in particular, enables
men to maintain physical and social control over women. Pro-sex
feminists argue that women need to be able to explore their sexuality
and experience pleasure, that pornography can be used subversively
and in play. Other feminists are concerned that if one calls for
the censorship of pornography then this could be applied to other
forms of sexually explicit material (safe sex information for example).
See also erotic.
(back to lexicon)
Attributing the status of illness, disease, or abnormality to a
condition or behaviours which, according to an alternative reading
may be understood as a legitimate but different response to social
and political circumstances, or a valid protest (see
hysteria for example).
See also Madness.
(back to lexicon)
Public and Private
The public/private is an example of a binary that has been utilised
by feminist theorists to analyse the gendering of space.
The private is generally associated with the domestic and feminine,
and the public is a masculine spaceparticularly the spheres
of where decisions are made and laws passed. The legal and governmental
systems are examples of the public sphere.
Thus the binary can be understood as an ideological division that
maintains the marginalisation of women.
The second wave feminist movement coined the phrase the personal
is political, which begins to break down the public/private
divide by bringing the domestic (domestic violence for example)
into the public sphere. (back to lexicon)
Often used to categorise people (especially used by whites in relation
to people of colour) by biological or genetic traits.
Various theorists have started complicating this understanding of
'race' as a self-evident or natural category. Jane Ifekwunigwe in
Scattered Belongings argues that the category of 'race' is residue
of nineteenth century Darwinism, and that in fact there is often
more genetic variation within a 'racial' group than between 'racial'
Scholars have begun to examine the way in which categories of 'race'
are socially constructed to maintain cultural boundaries of otherness,
colonial and/or political dominance (see Gates, Ifekwunigwe). The
construction and maintenance of these boundaries also has ongoing
political, social, and material implications for those people who
are 'racialised'. In an Australian context this has occurred via
the dispossession of land, the introduction of disease and ongoing
state intervention in Aboriginal people's lives (the policy of removing
part Aboriginal children from their families for example, and the
enforced relocation to reserves and missions).
See also Whiteness Theory.
(back to lexicon)
Has several levels of meaning. In the first instance, representation
refers to the way in which meaning is produced by signs. The word
is a representation of an idea or object.
More generally, representation is used to explore how entities (race,
gender, sexuality, class for example) are depicted (positively or
The analysis of representation in texts begins to ask to what extent
representations are a reflection of actuality and to what extent
they reflect and maintain, or even construct, dominant ideological
The notion of re/presentation suggests a conscious intervention
in or subversion of dominant representations or stereotypes. (back
Originally a term that described a genre which told tales of chivalry.
Romanticism also refers to the aesthetic and artistic practices
of eighteenth century thinkers and poets.
Romance novels are currently regarded as popular culture, and are
specifically gendered in terms of a predominantly female readership,
and the gender roles and heterosexual norms that they portray.
The assumption that people marry or form lifelong partnerships as
a result of romantic love is a relatively recent one. In more modern
terms, romance is often associated with love (rather than sexual
desire). This notion of romantic love is a very idealised one (see
the marketing of Valentine's Day for example).
Kate Millett in Sexual Politics defines romantic love as a mechanism
that apparently renders void the woman's class inferiority.
Feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and Shulamith
Firestone in the 1970s have critiqued the idea of romantic love,
arguing that the structure of romantic love entails a woman giving
up her self, and taking on the needs and desires of her male partner.
It should be noted that this also assumes a heterosexual basis for
For further reading, see Janice Radway's Reading the Romance. (back
A term associated with Kate Millett which was revolutionary for
the way in which it explicitly recognised the relations between
the sexes as politicised rather than natural. (back
Feminist theorists may examine silence on three levels; the active
silencing of marginalised persons, groups, or perspectives by dominant
ideologies or oppressive social and political structures examining
what remains unspoken in a text rather than what is explicitly present
or spoken about, and the allusions that may be made to these absences
(for example, the ever present but largely silent presence of Bertha
Rochester in Jane Eyre). Pierre Macherey has also theorised this
in detail for literary production in general.
Silence as strategic, a refusal to speak about that which is unspeakable,
or a refusal to say that which may otherwise be appropriated or
misunderstood. This has sometimes been discussed as a strategy of
resistance by oppressed minority groups (Aboriginal women for example).
(back to lexicon)
Speaking and Reading Positions
Speaking and reading positions refer to the personal, social, and
political framework from which a text is read. On a personal level,
speaking or reading position may be affected by upbringing, personal
experiences, factors such as class, race and gender also impact
upon personal experiences. Social factors may include historical
and geographic location and political climate, which also includes
class, race, and gender. A political speaking or reading position
may refer to an explicitly feminist stance.
In effect these three generally overlap as personal experiences
impact upon political stance, and social factors influence both
personal and political positions.
Some feminist critics explicitly locate their reading position in
relation to a text (i.e. their class, 'race', gender) in order to
acknowledge points of identification and disidentification with
a text, thereby problematising the notion that there is a universal
reading position that transcends differences between readers.
See also Identity Politics and
(back to lexicon)
Employed in two ways, standpoint can refer to a specific women's
way of knowing or epistemology from which dominant ideologies can
be analysed and problematised. This approach is sometimes critiqued
as essentialist. Standpoint may also denote an explicitly feminist
speaking or reading position that asserts the ongoing relevance
and importance of feminism in the face of a perceived poststructuralist
and postmodern fragmentation of coherent notions of knowledge, power,
oppression and subjectivity.
See also epistemology, speaking
and reading positions. (back
Ruth Frankenberg (White Women: Race Matters) has encouraged the
examination of whiteness as a 'race' with attendant cultural and
social specificities. Her argument is that due to the social dominance
of whiteness in western cultures it remains largely invisible and
Some critics have suggested that the risk of whiteness theory is
to yet again realign an analytic focus on dominant values rather
than that which is still marginalised and undertheorised.
See also Race. (back
bell hooks argues for the use of this term in preference to racism
in Postmodern Blackness in Anderson. in Walter Truett
Anderson, The Fontana Postmodern Reader. London: Fontana, 1996.
(back to lexicon)