Catching a wave

A few years ago, a student asked a question that stayed with me. She’d been wondering why the reading list for her feminist theory course jumped straight from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) to Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990). What, she asked, had happened in between?

The lives of young women like this student have been shaped in all kinds of ways by what happened in between–the feminist ‘second wave’ of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Yet to most of them it is, quite literally, a closed book. Even those taking women’s studies courses (which were themselves a second wave creation) will rarely have studied its history, or read its foundational texts. What they know about it tends to come either from the general stock of cultural mythology—sometimes historically accurate, sometimes garbled or apocryphal—or from the retrospective summaries in more recent feminist commentary, which are usually very selective, and not infrequently dismissive or hostile.

I decided I wanted to run a course on the second wave, which would give students the opportunity to engage directly with the ideas and texts of the time. The course is now underway, and I’ve started this blog to share what we’re doing with others who may be interested. I’ve posted the course syllabus, with links to the readings that are available online. I’ve also posted a list of further reading. And in the coming weeks I’ll be posting some reflections on a few of the texts we’ve been (re)reading.

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