The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part Two: Transnational Strategies and the Feminist ‘We’

With this post, Johanna Gehmacher returns to the issues of tradition-building and historicization within women’s movements. Using a book that combined trans-temporal and transnational strategies to legitimise and incite feminist activism in West Germany in the 1970s as a case study, Gehmacher examines the production of meaning within feminist movements and the interconnection between visions and politics of the past, present and future in feminism. Part One of this series can be found here.

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The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part One: Historical Awareness and Political Activism

In the early 1970s, a slim pink book designated as the first issue in a series titled Frauen(raub)druck (Women’s (Bootleg) Print) became a best-seller in the burgeoning women’s movement in German-speaking countries. To categorise the influential publication is, however, a challenging task for more than one reason. Bearing two titles but no year of publication, the book lacks unambiguous and comprehensive bibliographic information.1 Also, the editors remained anonymous, and beyond a connection with the West Berlin Women’s Centre (Frauenzentrum Berlin), it is difficult to ascertain their place in the feminist milieus of the 1970s. But importantly, by linking the movement with two distinct historical and political contexts (early twentieth-century German research on gender roles in ancient societies and 1960s US-American radical feminism), the book raises questions about how to conceptualise historical awareness in 1970s feminism. To better understand the specific relationship between past, present and future the editors imagined, we have to go back to the critical feminist thinking on the production of historical feminisms that has developed since the 1990s.

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  1. For more information on the publication and its historical context, see Johanna Gehmacher, ‘Macht/Lust – Übersetzung und fragmentierte Traditionsbildung als Strategien zur Mobilisierung eines radikalen Feminismus’, in Angelika Schaser et al. (eds.), Erinnern, vergessen, umdeuten? Europäische Frauenbewegungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 2019), 95–123. []

Not your Average National Hero: Scattered Archives and the Women of the Indonesian Anticolonial Movement

In her captivating autobiographical novel Buiten het gareel [Out of Line], the Indonesian author Suwarsih Djojopuspito painted a vivid image of her experiences as an activist teacher during the last few years of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The book, published in Dutch in 1940, tells the story of Sulastri, an idealistic young teacher who runs a non-governmental school for Indonesian children together with her husband, Sugondo.

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The Spaces Between: Interstitial Archives and Childbirth Activism in 1970s West Germany and the United States

Most people who know me will tell you that I enjoy fewer things more than foraging in archives. I have been an archive rat since my days as a researcher on a national historical commission. My love of unusual nuggets (an asbestos sample), dust-encrusted fingers, and the tangible vestiges of previous researchers (documents bedecked in cigarette burns), is even becoming a monograph about one archive and its uses and abuses in the post-World War II era.

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Knowledge Trouble – Practice, Theory and Anxiety in late 1970s Feminist Movements

The British Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) of the late 1970s was marked by intense anxiety and discussion about the status of ‘theory’. At their last national conference held in Birmingham in 1978, the WLM buckled under the weight of a decade of collectively generated, epistemic and ideological complexity, cut across by social divisions of race, sexuality and class. In the aftermath, a radical feminist day workshop was held at the White Lion Free School, London, in April 1979, partly ‘out of a sense of desperation at feeling that none of the most evident and vocal factions at the plenary represented the politics of very many women in Women’s Liberation.’1 The meeting was also an occasion to unpick the movement’s ideological and, increasingly theoretical, density.

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  1. ‘We are the Feminists that Women Have Warned Us About:* Introductory Paper’, in Feminist Practice: Notes from the Tenth Year! (Theoretically Speaking) (London, 1979), 1–4, at 1. []

Conference Report: ‘Archiving, Recording and Representing Feminism: The Global History of Women’s Emancipation in the Twentieth Century’

The second meeting of the International Standing Working Group on Medialization and Empowerment was held virtually between December 10 and 12, 2020. Bringing together 29 scholars from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America, the conference examined the theme of “Archiving, Recording and Representing Feminism: The Global History of Women’s Emancipation in the Twentieth Century.” Drawing from an interdisciplinary methodology, it explored how processes of narrrativization and the cataloguing of knowledge, whether in the media, the archive or in historical practice, have shaped the development and understandings of women’s emancipation. Convened by Christina von Hodenberg and Jane Freeland (GHI London), alongside partners at the Max Weber Stiftung India Branch Office, the German Historical Institute Washington, D.C., the German Historical Institute Rome and the Orient Institute Beirut, the conference forms part of the international research project “Knowledge Unbound: Internationalization, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung” and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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The Allure of the Archive: On Frustration and Comfort in the Historian’s Craft

As an historian of gender-based violence, I’ve often come across things in my archival research that have made me feel uncomfortable, disgusted, upset and so frustrated that I want to tear my hair out. I’ve also read files that have made me laugh, smile and left me feeling deeply proud and grateful to the women who fought to entrench women’s rights and protect women from violence. For me, the archive represents a host of emotional and physical responses. The memories of back aches from long days spent sitting, of drinking terrible (but cheap) machine coffee and the small pleasure that after months of daily visits, the archivists finally remember me as ‘Frau Freeland.’

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The Media, Feminism and Women’s Emancipation: The International Standing Working Group on Medialization and Empowerment

In late 2017, #MeToo began trending on Twitter. Taken up in response to growing allegations of sexual harassment in Hollywood, it quickly became a tangible way for women to show the pervasive nature of gender-based violence and harassment. #MeToo sparked a movement and global reckoning with gender inequality and revealed the mass mobilizing power of social media.

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