Cultural feminism! The interaction between culture and activism in the new Women’s liberation movement in Sweden and West Germany

Field: Litteraturvetenskap, genusvetenskap
Project leader: Ebba Witt-Brattström
Starting year: 2009
Project type: Project

As a protest movement, the feminist, non-governmental mobilization and separatist organizing of the Women’s liberation movement of the 1970’s in the Western world was a unique phenomenon. It created a new concept of politics, emanating from the collective explosive force of personal experience. Its ideology was spread and developed by an anti-authoritarian, culturally coded aesthetic practice: activism as culture and vice versa, with an unusually successful recycling of women’s history. In comparison to social feminism, the original sources and modes of expression of cultural feminism are difficult to conceptualize, and therefore relatively little investigated in its contemporary context. The point of departure of this project is that women’s literary history is a basic course in feminist thinking, a field of testing, likewise utopian, and gender relations. In particular during the 1970’s, literature was used as a theory of cognition combining the individual consciousness rising with a collective wish of change. Women’s literature had an important mobilizing function outside the movement, thus forming the core in the cultural counter public sector that arose under the name of women’s culture (kvinnokultur/Frauenkultur) in Sweden and West Germany. My hypothesis is that the appearance of an explicitly feminist, gender segregated counter public sphere promoted the activist aesthetics of cultural feminism. The role of feminist aesthetics in the forming of effective organizations, action groups and a sub culture or an alternative public sphere has not been investigated in terms of political culture. A comparison between a cultural political ”formation discourse” in the Women’s liberation movement in Sweden and West Germany would capture the resemblances (feminism as an international movement) as well as the differences: historically as to the unbroken tradition of equality politics and ”state feminism” (Sweden), and the Nazi heritage with its distrust of the state, and the ambivalent example of DDR:s official “equality politics” (West Germany). The project also aims at contributing to the research of implementing contemporary equality politics in a Baltic Sea perspective, as well as to restore the significance of literary studies to gender theory.