In the gender seminar last week, Dr. Schulz discussed cultural effects of social movements, or how female writing and reading as a part of the 1968 Movement has been a source of advancement of women’s rights in Western European societies. To investigate this idea more clearly, Dr. Schulz focused on local feminist movements in Swiss of the 1970s because it was such a multilingual and multicultural society. It made women’s movements dispersed and decentralized due to ethnic boundaries in the 1970s, but it also enabled feminists’ engagements in writing and reading to play an important role in women’s movements in Swiss. Dr. Schulz looked back on the 1968 women’s movements at the time and provided us a valuable narrative of how feminists’ cultural practices of reading and writing can be an important source of change for women’s rights.
Dr. Schulz defines female reading and writing as reading and discussing texts from the feminist point of view. Even though literary work is not written with a feminist purpose, feminist ways of reading literary work can read (taken-for-granted) gendered connotations and be critical of misogyny revealed in in the works. In the feminist ways of reading, Western European feminists in the 1970s focused on contexts being ways of making sense of the texts and sought to break the social contexts the texts are embedded in. This also led to feminist ways of writing in publications in various forms that deliberately overthrow male ways of writing. This was the cultural effect of social movement practices.
The diffusion and development of feminist ways of reading and writing had a strong local character in Swiss in the 1970s. Dr. Schulz focuses on the role of spaces in which feminists can gather and write to make substantive changes such as local community centers, libraries, bookstores, and publishing houses such as EFEF. These places became the locus of research networks and it led to the productive feminist writing practices. According to the presentation, feminists’ engagement via local meetings created a sense of belonging and shared understanding and identities among feminists (who are mostly middle-class white women), and it led to the diffusion of collective interpretation patterns of social order. Text per se may not change the society, but social change can emerge around books by facilitating public discussion.
Feminist reading and writing also led to institutional changes in formal politics. By arguing so, Dr. Schulz proposes to break the stereotype that “new” social movement is weak in explaining cultural phenomena. Union movements are not the only source of changes in formal and institutional politics but cultural practices of female writing also can be one of them. According to the presentation, reading and writing should be considered as a social and political act; culture is not something that people enjoy without thinking any political connotations and implications but should be politicized in constructing our lives.
But, as the publishing industry transform itself to be professional and more strongly centered around profits over time, the publishing industry became less focused on the feminist audience and writers and moved on to the general. Norms about what constitutes good books changed to be based on the principle of the enjoyment of the ‘general’ audience, and it discouraged books written by women. As a result, the diversity of women’s literature and expression was discouraged over time, and active local participation disappeared.
The key takeaways of the presentation were that local literary activities were important in female reading and writing, and the perception of women’s liberation is associated with self-discovery for collective identity formation and politics for substantive changes in women’s rights. To these points, there were lively discussions about the presentation. An important point to note was regarding the relationship between technology and gender movements. The local characters in gender movements may have decreased, but we can still use technology to communicate with each other with less restraint on geographic differences and mobilize efforts for changes via the communication strategy.
Jungmyung Kim is a graduate student in Sociology who studies gender in the workplace and intersectionality.