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4 - Sisterhood and Identification

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

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Summary

THE TERM “SISTERHOOD” functions strategically here as a reference to a mythical “1970s feminism.” It connotes a sense of shared political struggle among women, a notion that is not unproblematic but which is nonetheless crucial as a legitimizing and enabling condition of feminism. I have already mentioned claims that certain new-feminist texts ignore differences among women and so unwittingly reproduce hierarchies founded on race, class, and sexuality. This gesture might be strategically essentialist, but it also risks simplifying and reducing female subjects. However, such texts do also gesture toward internationalism and intersectionality. And in any case, the issue of dividedness among women is arguably the more pressing one, as analyses of femininity in neoliberalism, and the literary texts under discussion, suggest. Ahmed's “army of the wayward” appears far from the point of assembly.

Beauvoir wrote in 1949 of the alienation of individual women from each other. How are relationships between women conceived and lived out in the context of neoliberal postfeminism? The nonfiction texts featured in chapter one of this volume note the importance of role models and of stereotypes. Natasha Walter, for example, underlines the significance of stereotypes such as male leader and female caregiver in shaping self-perception and ambition. Representation is key here. Yet in the literary texts I have explored so far, excepting Moran's and Grether's, in which the protagonists find strength in female musical artistes, there is a distinct absence of role models in evidence. The mother-daughter relations featured in these texts are, on the whole, dysfunctional or distant. Appearance causes tensions among women, as becomes even clearer in this chapter. Complex hierarchies and patterns of desire emerge. Such tensions and difficulties are symptomatic and representative of the neoliberal, postfeminist context, as Alison Winch suggests in Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood.

Winch refers to “the complex emotions and systems of control that permeate female sociality in a postfeminist context” (9). In particular, she discusses the feelings of “competition and comparison” that neoliberal popular culture fosters and legitimizes (196). She argues: “technologies of oppression structure the gestures, conversations and interpersonal reflexivity enacted by and between women” (197).

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Willful Girls
Gender and Agency in Contemporary Anglo-American and German Fiction
, pp. 91 - 115
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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