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1 - Contemporary Anglo-American and German Feminisms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

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Summary

“NIEMAND REDET HEUTE MEHR von Sexismus” (No one talks about sexism these days), Bascha Mika claims. In both Anglo-American and German contexts, there is a widespread perception that feminism has “gone too far,” and that it is no longer necessary. We are living in a time of “emergent retrosexism,” as Alison Phipps puts it. Sociobiological explanations are increasingly proffered in an attempt to naturalize a state of affairs in which issues of power, violence, and money are still very much at play. These observations accord with Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff's description of a contemporary postfeminist sensibility, which involves an emphasis on self-surveillance and self-transformation, a resurgence of ideas concerning natural sexual difference, and a consumerist, commodifying mentality. In line with work by Angela McRobbie, Scharff explains that in a postfeminist climate, feminism is “both taken into account and, simultaneously, repudiated.”

Yet “in spite of it all,” there has been in both German and Anglo- American contexts a boom in nonfiction “feminist” writing, where this descriptor is up for discussion. As we will see, the logic underpinning these texts often relies on neoliberalist individualism and leaves out the messiness of embodied, relational experience that fiction can better evoke. But such writing nonetheless helps clarify the status and concerns of feminism today, as well as the mainstream or normative logic that it attempts to counter. It thereby provides further insights into the “willful” workings of the literary texts under discussion in the four chapters that follow. It also flags up the ongoing feminist activity that both emerges from and counters neoliberalism, in the face of its own impossibility. In Sara Ahmed's 2017 formulation, “Feminism needs to be everywhere because feminism is not everywhere.”

Contexts

On the matter of contextualizing feminist debates, Scharff notes: “The story of feminism is told differently in Germany than in the UK and, in fact, also encompasses the existence of two German states [East and West Germany] until 1989.” As an example of such differing narratives and histories: a significant trigger for the emergence of the “new” feminism in Germany was the public debate on demographic changes, and especially the low birth rate, which in some cases involved blaming feminism and individual women. In the United States and the United Kingdom, such demographic debates have not been so prominent, and the triggers are more multiple and scattered.

Type
Chapter
Information
Willful Girls
Gender and Agency in Contemporary Anglo-American and German Fiction
, pp. 17 - 33
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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