There’s a recent feminist slogan that, no matter how staunch my feminist allegiance, always troubles me. You’ve no doubt seen it in one form or another: the ubiquitous “This is what a feminist looks like” emblazoned on posters, memes, and fashion apparel such as t-shirts, onesies, and, heaven help us, even aprons! I believe I understand the laudable intention underlying this message: to demonstrate visually that feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes, genders, and orientations, and to help reclaim and destigmatize the term feminist after decades of conservative backlash. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the many unsettling questions the slogan raises for me:
Why the emphasis on image and appearance? What does it matter what a feminist looks like? Isn’t it a person’s actions that makes them a feminist? Wouldn't a better slogan communicate what a feminist believes in and stands for, the changes a feminist demands and is prepared to agitate for? And why the stress on the singular feminist? What about feminists as a collective?
Bristling. I don’t use this word much, and I definitely do not see it on the page often. Maybe that is why it stood out to me when Carrie Rohman (whose post you can read here) employed it in her keynote at the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in June 2021. It seemed offhand but managed to strike me as significant. Carrie was saying something about how we—women, I think, in the context of her talk, but let’s circle back to this we later—bristle when we encounter familiar but nonetheless distressing articulations of sexism and misogyny in our places of work.
Erica Delsandro’s galvanizing post about the possibilities and limitations of collective feminist bristling helps signal to us all just how much work, and how much care-ful work, needs to be done around issues of gendered disadvantage, and other forms of institutionalized abuse, in our profession. I want to deliberately evoke the tradition of feminist care ethics at the outset of this discussion, in part because my recent scholarly attentions to gendered experiences of ill-treatment and disadvantage in academia may seem a strange departure from my long-standing commitments in animal studies and performance studies.
Margaret’s plea to her somewhat work-phobic younger brother might sound a little odd, since she does not—work, that is. Instead, as she enigmatically puts it in the preceding line, she “pretends” to work, engaging in a host of cultural activities with an energy redolent of work, perhaps, but with few of its economic imperatives. What this strange formulation pretending to work might mean in the context of E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel—indeed, in the context of 1910 more broadly—is one way to frame the question posed by this essay.
The minuteness of her body and the expansiveness of her thought struck some as an odd contrast. In this still, her body crowded by the desk lamp, the large microphone, and the curtains that seem to drift toward her on the window’s breeze, they fuse in one perfect moment (Fig. 1). Mid-February 1994, Rome. She is speaking at the Virginia Woolf Center of the International Women’s House about the convergence of the practice of feminism and the insights of Michel Foucault. Critical of the communion of the “we,” she is taking feminism in another direction, a more theoretical direction, some would say.
When I was in the process of proposing and developing the volume that became Teaching Modernist Women’s Writing in English, one of my peer reviewers noted an orientation towards the celebratory, a somewhat uncritical extolling of the vibrancy of modernist women’s writing. I had found such vibrancy in communities of modernist scholars as I was working on the volume, roundtables and seminars at the annual MSA conference, including one convened in honor of Jane Marcus shortly after her death.
A space for reorienting ourselves as scholars, teachers, writers, and practitioners of interdisciplinary modernist studies to the feminist, to the queer—and also a space for sustained orientation to feminist and queer modernisms.
How many feminist scholars and archivists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? There is no punch line to this set-up. Instead, we have spent the past two years curating a four-disc DVD/Blu-ray set on “Cinema’s First Nasty Women,” a project that features 99 films from over a dozen international archives spotlighting the unrealized histories of feminist revolt and hellraising rebellion.
Wonder Woman controls crowds, stops traffic, and makes all your wishes come true. This is not a description of the comic-book heroine invented by William Moulton Marston in 1941 but of Elsie Lincoln Benedict (1885–1970), who earned the “Wonder Woman” moniker for her self-help secrets and life-changing lectures (fig. 1). Instead of evil supervillains, she battled naysaying and bad habits. Instead of ensnaring the weak with a lasso of truth, she entranced audiences with her unmatched public speaking prowess. Her X-ray vision could diagnose a person with a single glance.
Virginia Woolf records in her diary, September 22, 1925, clarion testimony to the transformational power of the Hogarth Press on her writing life. The avowed feminism of that final sentence has the force of proleptic aphorism; one woman’s victory over a male-dominated publishing industry might well become the rallying cry for later women printers and press owners. But the future-making turn of the last sentence also eclipses the quiet force of the first: Woolf’s lament that she has sacrificed, willingly, her handwriting to the Hogarth Press.