When we started the ‘Women & the F-word’ project in 2016-17, we were puzzled by, and keen to make sense of, the myriad forms of ordinary, popular resistance to feminism that found expression in women’s voices. Our project was best summarized by two simple questions: why do some women persistently and openly criticize a movement which is readily defined as seeking to protect their rights? And why do so many more, not least amongst our students, express a profound reluctance to embrace this movement as their own? (If you would like to read a fuller version of our statement of intent, please click here)
Our aim was to propose a pluridisciplinary framework through which to analyse the ‘common’ woman’s resistance to feminism by overviewing the persistence and emergence of a number of arguments, set ideas and views, and by comparing the American, British and French contexts we specialize in. Our initial work on these themes led us to conclude that feminism itself was the skein of, or rather site of, its own criticisms and resistance: it has been constructed, shaped and re-shaped through its short history; the very term ‘feminism’ is deceptively univocal, creating multiple layers of misunderstanding, misconstructions, partial and biased versions. What we study, it is now clear, is also related to feminisms’ difficulty to found a common, grounded discourse.
Three years into the project we were awarded funding from the AMIDEX foundation which led us, via the organisation of a workshop, a study day, two slow e-conferences and the outstanding work of four interns (Julie AGU, Amélie BARDIVIA, Morgane JULIA and Romain TORRAS) to identify two specific sites of resistance to feminism which called out for further investigation: the public square and scholarly discourses, particularly medical ones. Almost concomitantly, a worldwide movement emerged, “#metoo”, which made our project both more relevant and necessary. For #metoo saw the resurgence of a certain number of simplifications of feminisms, an even more radical fracture between its proponents and opponents, and once more laid the emphasis on sexuality as a starting point to think about the patriarchal system and relations of power between the sexes. More worryingly, #metoo is often presented in the media as successful, somewhat concealing the persistence of forms of resistance; and despite raging comments on social media indicative that feminist views are anything but consensual. In popular culture, more often than not it seems that now feminism is hype and trendy, as if reservations about the movement itself and/ or other feminist movements did not remain. This became obvious in France for example, when the government expressed their concerns that academics and scholars had brainwashed their students with leftist, so-called intersectional theories. Even so-called post-feminism is conceived as a response to feminism. In short, and to coin a phrase: a spectre haunts our world, the spectre of feminism.