First person narratives and third-wave feminism: raising consciousness or the mother of a guilt trip?
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 20:12 authored by Kath Kenny
More than half a century after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and forty years after Anne Summers’ Damned Whores and God’s Police raised alarms about the levels of prescription drug use among women in America and Australia, respectively, two high profile Australian journalists and feminists, Lisa Pryor and Mia Freedman, wrote personal columns about juggling work and family, and dealing with mental health issues through consuming anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. While second-wave feminists used the personal story form in the practice of consciousness raising, how do these contemporary writers – women who I argue are representative of third-wave feminism – use the personal story form? I argue that the personal story form in these contemporary examples has some parallels with the consciousness raising practice associated with second-wave feminism: it opens up a space for creating empathy and identification, and allows writers and readers to discursively create contradictory and ambiguous maternal subjects. At the same time, I suggest the use of the first person in the mainstream media also exposes feminists to particularly harsh and personal criticisms that appear specifically reserved for women and mothers. I also consider the way the personal voice in these contemporary stories both reinforces post-feminist and neoliberal constructions of women as empowered and responsible for juggling all spheres of life, and tasked with constantly adapting and improving themselves, while – seemingly paradoxically and somewhat contradictorily – simultaneously challenging idealised notions of motherhood through (limited) representations of aberrant mothering.