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Feminist manuals and manifestos in the twenty-first century
chapterposted on 22.05.2020, 13:58 by Jennifer Cooke
‘There is no manual for becoming a woman’, declares Caitlin Moran in How to Be a Woman (2011), a manual on negotiating contemporary womanhood that brims with advice and guidance in digestible lists and anecdotes. Moran’s is one of many in a new, extremely popular, twentyfirst-century subgenre of the ‘feminist blockbuster’ that I am calling the feminist manual. This chapter will be the first to outline the characteristics of the contemporary feminist manual and assess its contribution to feminism in comparison with another feminist form that has seen a recent marked rise, the manifesto, that older, energetic staple of second-wave agitation. Insofar as both manifesto and manual envision the transformative potential of a feminist future, there is commonality but, as I shall argue, while contemporary feminist manifestos envision a collectively achieved radical politics, feminist manuals are neoliberal phenomena where change is achieved individually even when the politics advocated by the writer are revolutionary. These genres illuminate the tension between two different forms of present-day feminism, one that overwhelmingly advocates personal, individual change, as the manuals do, and another that argues primarily for structural and institutional change collectively achieved, as the manifestos declare is necessary.
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