Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Women's Liberation Movement in France and the Origins of Contemporary French feminism, 1944–1981
by Greenwald, Lisa, Ph.D., Emory University, 1996, 270; 3472343
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is an effort to reclaim for history contemporary French feminism, a political movement often associated with literary theory and philosophy. From 1944, when women were granted suffrage as newly liberated France was trying to reinvent itself, to 1981 when Socialists took power after using feminist arguments to attract women's vote, French feminism has played too central a role in the history of France to be examined only for its theoretical implications.

A small collection of women psychoanalysts, novelists, and philosophers who have written about women since the 1970s have been seen by foreign academics as epitomizing French feminism. Yet the women who formed the driving force behind this feminist epoch were often social scientists, teachers, and workers—leftists committed to a materialist critique of society. They were part of a longer tradition, which flourished in the postwar period, and which produced wide-spread social change, revamping the workplace and laws governing everything from abortion to marriage.

Yet the May Events of 1968 triggered a break from the past, and the women's movement split into two separate strands. One became intensely activist and individualist contemporary feminism: hostile to entrenched political power, demanding justice and the reinvention of society. The other became less activist—sometimes anti-activist—and a particularist amalgam of contemporary theory and a metaphysics of the self which distanced itself from feminism.

The history of the French feminist movement is the history of women's claims to the individualism and citizenship already granted to their male counterparts, at least on principle, in 1789. Yet French women have more often donned the mantle of particularism, advancing their contributions as mothers to prove their worth as citizens, than they have thrown it off, claiming absolute equality. The few exceptions, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Andrée Michel, and the activists of the 1970s demonstrate the diversity and tensions within French feminism and its effort to move France from a predominantly corporatist and tradition-minded country to one marked by individualism and modernity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth
School: Emory University
School Location: United States -- Georgia
Source: DAI-A 72/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Womens studies, Gender studies
Keywords: Feminism, France, Women's liberation movement
Publication Number: 3472343
ISBN: 978-1-124-86983-4
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