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Abstract

From the Introduction:

When feminism is defined in such a way that it calls attention to the diversity of women’s social and political reality, it centralizes the experiences of all women, especially the women whose social conditions have been least written about, studied, or changed by political movements. When we cease to focus on this simplistic stance “men are the enemy,” we are compelled to examine systems of domination and our role in their maintenance and perpetuation. Lack of adequate definition made it easy for bourgeois women, whether liberal or radical in perspective, to maintain their dominance over the leadership of the movement and its direction. This hegemony continues to exist in most feminist organizations. Exploited and oppressed groups of women are usually encouraged by those in power to feel that their situation is hopeless, that they can do nothing to break the pattern of domination. Given such socialization, these women have often felt that our only response to white, bourgeois, hegemonic dominance of feminist movement is to trash, reject, or dismiss feminism. This reaction is in no way threatening to those women who wish to maintain control over the direction of feminist theory and praxis. They prefer us to be silent, passively accepting their ideas…(T)here has been a shift within the women’s movement whereby critique no longer focuses merely on patriarchal social structures but also on white middle- class women’s perpetuation of them to the detriment of other women and possibly to the demise of the women’s studies movement in its entirety. Such a juncture has created a tragedy like that of the Medusa. In this Greek myth, an originally lovely woman turns monstrous because of her foolish act of aspiring to be a goddess. We see a parallel between this classical myth and the transformations within women’s studies. Facing the Medusa tragedy that has befallen the women’s studies movement due to the hegemonic aspirations of its members is so frightening that to join its ranks or to consider taking on such a movement from within could prove death-dealing. The ultimate fear when facing the Medusa for women’s studies scholars is that they might prove what their male detractors have been saying--that she was a monster all along.

Note on the Author

Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s Studies in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Laura Gillman is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and former director of the Women’s Studies program in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

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