Title: What is Feminism? An Introduction to Feminist Theory
Author: Chris Beasley
Publisher: SAGE Publications
In this era where feminism has become a new catchphrase, it is hard to determine what people mean when they talk about feminism. The word “feminism” is spurred here and there, but what feminism? Common knowledge suggests that there are at least three waves of feminism. So, Chris Beasley tries to alleviate our confusion a little bit by authoring a 171 pages book trying to answer the question: “Really, what is feminism?”
Among all branches of feminism that Beasley explains, I am most well-acquainted with radical feminism idea. While reading about radical feminism, I admire the effort that Beasley does by making correlation of every branch of feminism so the readers might highlight what differentiates one feminism from another. Here, she explains that radical feminism and Marxist-feminism share a similar view; that capitalism is the bedrock of patriarchy that oppress women. The difference lies on what oppression predates what; Marxist-feminism is adamant that capitalism predates patriarchy, while radical feminism argues otherwise. The way Beasley explains it makes it pretty much easy on readers to digest.
On the other side, I am worried that Beasley leaves out a lot of important information. In radical feminism alone, there are several keywords that need to be highlighted and are consistent in every radical feminism writing I’ve ever read but Beasley leaves them out. These are women’s liberation, abolition of gender, prostitution, pornography, and surrogacy. It’s also evident that Beasley focuses way too much on comparing radical feminism with other second-wave feminisms such as Marxist-feminism and socialist feminism, instead of liberal feminism with which radical feminism clashes for over years. I then ponder if the lack of explanation in radical feminism analysis alone hints the lack of explanation of other feminisms that I was trying to know.
The consequence of the attempt to simplify such a broad concept of theory is the readers might confuse the lack of explanation of the writer with the lack of the theory itself. Outside of second-wave, third-wave, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and identity politics that most readers who have interest in feminism may have known of, Beasley interestingly discusses the psychoanalytic approach to feminism. This is novel to me. She explains Lacan and Freud methods to feminism in a distinguished section, however, as a person who’s completely alienated from French thoughts, her explanation does not suffice what I need to know from basic. Beasley’s theoretical explanation is really good, but it lacks the elucidation of the feminism’s contribution to the overall feminist theory. Consequentially, the contribution unbeknowst to the readers results in readers failing to weigh the necessity and importance of said feminisms. However, the author may not be at fault, especially if the said theory lacks itself as aforementioned.
The analysis on Freudian and Lacanian feminisms also highlights that contradictory to its general purpose, the book is not for newbie. It felt like we as readers are expected to be familiar with Freud and Lacan’s thoughts prior to reading the book. Being so good at patiently introducing why feminism needs a definition at the beginning, sadly Beasley does not touch this particular explanation. Interestingly, in the subsequent chapter, she patiently delineates Foucault’s thoughts at depth, so the readers understand what part of Foucault’s ideas exactly that she talks about. Still, readers need to understand a bit about Derrida, Foucault, and other classic thinkers before reading this book lest they get lost.
To summarise, What is Feminism? is an admirable endeavour to popularise feminist theory in a simple manner for en masse. Chris Beasley does a generally amazing job there. However, we need to consider that as much as she wants to simplify feminist theory, the feminism itself is complicated and evolving over decades. What is Feminism? is good as a starter, but rigorous reading towards feminist theory is at request if one desires to understand what it actually is.
So, what is feminism? Well, even if I don’t know what it is, I surely enjoy being a feminist.