Feminist Lexicon:

“Angel in the House” Base/Superstructure Binary opposition
Difference Difference Feminism Différance
Desire Discourse Ecofeminism
Écriture féminine Epistemology Erotic
Ethnicity Female Femininity
Feminist Gynocriticism Hegemony
Humanism Hybrid Hysteria
Ideology Identity Politics Imperialism
Indigeneity Jouissance Lesbian
Logocentrism Madness Modernity
Muslim Feminism Other Patriarchy
Performing Gender Phallogocentrism Pornographic
Pathologisation Public and Private Race
Representation Romance Sexual Politics
Silence Speaking and Reading Positions Standpoint
Whiteness Theory White Supremacy  


 

“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)

Base/Superstructure
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)

Binary opposition
Refers to pairs of opposites, such as male/female, white/black, rich/poor, reason/emotion.
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)

Difference
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 to lexicon)

Difference Feminism
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 the feminine.
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 to lexicon)

Différance
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
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 matrix.
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)

Discourse
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 powerlessness.
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 specificity—that discourses are produced at particular times and locations—needs to be borne in mind in discussing them. (back to lexicon)

Ecofeminism
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)

Écriture féminine
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 body—its otherness that threatens to disrupt to masculine symbolic order (see phallogocentrism).
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 lexicon)

Epistemology
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 to lexicon)

Erotic
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)

Ethnicity
A form of categorisation by way of national, religious, linguistic, or racial affiliations. (back to lexicon)

Female
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)

Femininity
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)

Feminist
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)

Gynocriticism
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 to lexicon)

Hegemony
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)

Humanism
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)

Hybrid
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 lexicon)

Hysteria
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 Malady.
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 unconscious—often 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)

Ideology
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 to lexicon)

Identity Politics
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 in action).
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)

Imperialism
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 to lexicon)

Indigeneity
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)

Jouissance
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)

Lesbian
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)

Logocentrism
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 to lexicon)

Madness
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 feminised—a 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)

Modernity
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)

Muslim Feminism
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 represent” (390).
See Nahla Abdo, “Eurocentrism, Orientalism, and Essentialism: Some Reflections on September 11 and Beyond”. (back to lexicon)

Other
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)

Patriarchy
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 opposition).
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)

Performing Gender
Theories of perfomativity draw on the influential work of Judith Butler.
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)

Phallogocentrism
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 to lexicon)

Pornographic
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)

Pathologisation
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 space—particularly 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)

Race
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' groups.
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)

Representation
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 negatively).
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 assumptions.
The notion of re/presentation suggests a conscious intervention in or subversion of dominant representations or stereotypes. (back to lexicon)

Romance
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 romantic love.
For further reading, see Janice Radway's Reading the Romance. (back to lexicon)

Sexual Politics
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 to lexicon)

Silence
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 Standpoint. (back to lexicon)

Standpoint
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 to lexicon)

Whiteness Theory
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 unremarked upon.
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 to lexicon)

White Supremacy
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)


 

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