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Book Review: Wings & Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism

February 15, 2010

This collection of four essays from different female philosophers presents as an introduction to “New Feminism”. The publisher explains that “aspects of the female experience are in the focus of the texts” and by offering a female perspective, the publisher hopes “to encourage women who so far have not thought about writing to hand in their ideas and have them published through [the website].” (The site is published in German and English.)

Excited to read from a female perspective, I was disappointed by all the essays except “The ‘Plath Syndrome’- or Why Intellectual Women Do Not Eat Figs,” by Maria Isabel Pena Aguado. The final essay in the collection explores the frustration of intellectual women. The problem, the author argues, exists because female artists seek to redefine themselves using male rhetoric and constructs, thus trapping themselves and further perpetuating a male world instead of creating their own female experience. Esther, the protagonist of Sylvia Plath’s iconic The Bell Jar, stands paralyzed by choice, comparing each choice (family, travel, work) to a ripe fig ready for her to eat. Unable to choose, she starves to death in the midst of plenty.

“Death occurs because Esther is incapable of finding a language in which to express her own experiences as a woman in a coherent way. […] The Plath Syndrome refers partly to the fact that women have not yet developed their own imaginary- and therefore symbolic- world.”- Prof. Pena Aguado

I would recommend this essay to any woman who also considered herself an artist. Surely anyone who does has struggled to not only marry the two identities cohesively, but to find a voice in a historically male profession. Although I enjoyed the essay, I did not feel that it helped define the “New Feminism” the editor professed it would. The other essays also ignored the proposed theme, which left me wondering why the editor even mentioned it in the first place. The introduction by the editor begins “It is high time for a redefinition of the word ‘feminism’.” Intrigued, I read further although I did not necessarily agree with the necessity of a redefinition. None of these essays redefined feminism. “The Plath Syndrome” at least offered an interesting perspective, but the other three essays left me wondering.

The first essay, “Balancing Feminism. Third Wave as a Lesson on How to be Different” by Bettina Schmitz argues that we must make feminism more interesting but never explains why or how, instead focusing on how to define liberty for women. She then argues for a fourth feminism including religion and spirituality, though it is unclear whether this is to make it more interesting or to simply fill a void.

Hyun-Kyoung Shin’s “The Singing of a Shaman”, the second essay in the series, was the most vague, beginning and ending with a poem and comparing Feminism in Germany and Korea. She begins to discuss western feminism within a Korean cultural context, an idea that would be fascinating had she developed it more. Unfortunately the idea is not thoroughly explored and I am left unsure of the author’s purpose with this essay.

In the third and shortest essay, Elisabeth Schafer discusses “The Double Gesture of Writing”. She defines the double gesture as “a state of both expecting and not expecting the arrival of sense.” She sees women’s writing as “not only a gesture of art, but one of any kind of experience of multiplicity of womanhood within the symbolic order.” I don’t understand this sentiment or its connection to a new type of feminism. True, I am no philosopher, so perhaps the idea goes right over my head. Unfortunately, I found the collection incohesive and disappointing save the last essay.

Interested in reading more global feminist literature? Look for an announcement from GAB on March 1!

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