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Post-“Wave” Feminist Practice: Capturing Feminisms Through Oral History

Fri, October 10, 3:45 to 5:15pm, Madison Concourse Hotel, Floor: 2, Conference I


The “waves” metaphor has provided structure to the history of feminism since the fourth quarter of the 20th century. Today, many scholars of feminism find that the “waves” metaphor shadows more than it reveals, believing it fails to capture the complexity and diversity of how issues of gender have coalesced to both limit and enable women of various races, ethnicities, classes, and backgrounds through U.S. history. This paper explores how the feminist practice of oral history may be employed to illuminate the social construction of feminism. The definition of feminism has changed throughout the 20th century, and oral historians must grapple both with the meaning of gender activism in various time periods, as well as the influence of current understandings of feminism as they interact with individuals’ memories regarding such activism. As one subject stated, what was feminism, “before we used the word ‘feminism?’” Considering “feminism” as an object of social construction, this paper considers how oral history may be used both to recover the feminist activism between the “waves” of the women’s movements, and how historians can apply feminist notions of study to oral history practice.