Mary Nyquist wrote:It appears that one can now speak of "third-wave feminism" as well as "post-feminist feminism." Like other labels generated by the historical moment to which they refer, these await a lengthy period of interrogation. But if they should stick, their significance will be associated with the variety of attacks mounted against Western bourgeois or liberal feminism over the past decade and a half. Now, as never before, what has to be contended with - precisely because it has been exposed in the process of contestation and critique - is the historically determinate and class-inflected nature of the discourse of "equal rights." The questions, equal with whom, and to what end? have been raised in ways that have begun to expose how, ever since the early modern period, bourgeois man has proved the measure. They have also shown how the formal or legal status of this elusive "equality" tends by its very nature to protect the status quo.
It hit me because I think in many ways we're still caught up in many of these terms. "Bourgeois man has proved the measure" of the questions "equal with whom" and "to what end?" Yes, and I've fallen in that trap frequently, thinking of equality as extending middle class white men's privileges to others, rather than thinking more seriously about how that concept of equality serves me the most, since it means I'd have to change nothing. Legal questions of equality often falling into discussions that seem to be more about preserving current institutions than recognizing how to change them?
Anyway, just thought I'd share.
The rest of her article struck me as rather dense and technical - if valuable for cutting through some (then) long-held beliefs in reading Paradise Lost. Basically, she argues that much of feminist criticism of PL falls into this trap of trying to make Eve into this independent character who's equal to Adam, but they can only do so by ignoring two contexts: how Milton structures the narrative to make Adam's perspective more necessary than Eve's even as it makes Eve seem at a glance to be equal; how the two sources of the Genesis narrative enable this argument, with one relatively equality-centered source (P) and one explicitly patriarchal source (J). Generally, I think this first paragraph repeats more generally the method of her article: to interrogate the meanings of "equality" earlier feminist critics brought to Paradise Lost.