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The Periodic Table of Feminism
By Marisa Bate
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- ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
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A quirky, intelligent, and stylish review of the feminist movement, told through the stories of standout figures who have shaped it, The Periodic Table of Feminism charts the impact of female leaders from Betty Friedan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Michelle Obama and Oprah.
Using the periodic table as a categorical device, the featured women are divided into “chemical” groups to show how the women and the battles they fought speak to each other across time and geography:
Precious Metals: the face of the movements, like Simone De Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem
Catalysts: Pioneers and fire-starters, like Susan B. Anthony and Sheryl Sandberg
Conductors: The organizers, like Sojourner Truth and Rebecca Solnit
Diatomics: Women working together, like The Spice Girls and The Women’s Equality Party
Stabilizers: Pacifists, like Margaret Atwood, Lindy West, and Eve Ensler
Explosives: Radicals, anarchists, and violent uprisers, like Adrienne Rich and Roxane Gay
Rejectors: “I am not a feminist” proclaimers, like Alice Walker and Sarah Jessica Parker
With clever “top 10” lists — such as Feminists in Fiction, Feminists Before Feminism, Best Women’s Marches, and Male Feminists — plus 120 meme-ready illustrations and inspiring pull quotes, this essential guide to feminism offers courage and inspiration for a new generation.
For all women, past and living, everywhere.
The Periodic Table Series
Periodically, we’re all geeks about the things we love and the Periodic Table series has been created to celebrate this universal fact.
Inspired by The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements*, our experts have applied scientific logic to an eclectic range of subjects that regularly baffle beginners and fire-up fans. The outcome of this experiment is the essential guide you hold in your hands.
Hugely satisfying? Categorically.
* The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements orders all the known matter that makes up our world, from hydrogen to helium, by chemical properties and behavior to give scientists a handy overview of a rather complex subject.
The Periodic Table of Feminism
Feminism is a political, social and philosophical movement that has transformed and revolutionized women’s lives. But feminism is also something else, something harder to articulate. It is a feeling in your gut, in your chest, in your eyes when they sting with hot tears or in your quivering voice in a moment of courage. Feminism is a drive, an energy, a constructive anger, an expression of hope for change, that keeps me, you, us, as it has done for millions of others, moving forward. It is a swell of a heart that is prepared to break for the greater good. Feminism is both a movement and something that can profoundly move us.
But how do you tell the story of feminism? Can you do justice to generations who have built and molded a movement? Can you capture the infinite ways by which women have lived and fought and struggled and won and lost? Can you truly convey where feminism sits in the great political, economic and social narratives of the last one hundred years or so? Ultimately, can you even have a Periodic Table of Feminism?
These are questions I have sincerely grappled with and this is the conclusion I have reached: this is my periodic table—one I want to share with as many readers as possible—but this is a periodic table that I built. It is categorically not the definitive periodic table of feminism. Because to truly understand feminism is to understand that it is not a singular narrative; it is not a dictatorship of behavior and opinions. Yes, there is a certain linear narrative: obtaining the vote; entering Parliament; legalizing abortion; legislating same-sex marriage. But these are facts that help pin down multiple threads of a movement as diverse and different as women. Feminism is a changeable, shape-shifting, transformative political endeavor to make women’s lives better. That mission is the only constant—the method, the expression, the arrangement and the organization is multiple, often conflicting, always hopeful, never perfect.
At the start of this process I had one rule: the women in this book must have actively and deliberately chosen to help other women. There are plenty of women who are feminist icons because of what they have personally achieved and in turn how they inspire the next generation. But in the confines of this book, there had to be boundaries. The women you are about to meet had the intention, the agenda to promote, support and help other women—not by the proxy of personal achievement but as the root motivation of their actions.
After centuries of women’s stories being intentionally forgotten or deemed unimportant, just shining a light on these women’s lives is a feminist exercise in itself. But this table aims to situate those lives within the feminist movement, and also to paint a bigger picture of its place in the world.
Inside the movement, I wanted to track and trace how feminism’s objectives transformed over time, from the fight for legal rights and personhood at the turn of the century to the demand for access to abortion, as well as the intellectualization of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s. I wanted to understand how, as Angela Davis has said, “the project of feminism” changed from issues of white women’s liberation from domesticity and servitude to men to a focus on diversity. I wanted to appreciate how the same movement then gave birth to the anti-academic punk rock rage of Riot Grrrl and the rise of the hashtag warriors of the fourth wave. I wanted to show how, as much as the movement changed, some ideas became foundational. Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born but becomes a woman” in 1949. Her words would echo into the future and we find their relevance time and again across the table.
And what about outside the movement—the external forces that help change those internal discussions and shape feminism? Enlightenment thinking and the French Revolution prompted Mary Wollstonecraft to write what is considered the bible of western feminism. The suffragette movement was born out of an era of industrialization and rising belief in the rights of the underclasses. The political patchwork of the 20th century—fascism, communism, civil war—all played their part in sculpting the fight for women’s rights.
So if you want to understand the political and social makeup of a nation, ask women about their lives. Choice, freedom and self-determination are often the stakes at play for women when political extremities take hold, and their presence or absence reveal a bigger story. Clara Campoamor helped write the Spanish Constitution in 1931, and in turn pushed through pioneering feminist legislation, before the arrival of Franco’s dictatorship forced women’s rights to regress. In the 1960s, Marxist factory strikes in northern Italy encouraged women to campaign for wages for housework—a movement that then spread across the world. At the same time, the civil rights movement burst through a dam that allowed the women’s movements to follow—and as we witness racial hostility in America once again in recent times, we remember that three women created Black Lives Matter. I say this to make the point that the women’s movement is not an isolated incident, as “women’s issues” are often considered to be separate, unique only to women. No. Rather, they are the story of a whole society or a whole nation. They reflect who we all are. I wanted to show this movement—not only as the actions of brave individuals, but as a river flowing through the heart of history, being carried along by the determination of human endeavor, and carrying others along with it, too.
Of course, there is no way that all the women who deserve their story to be committed to paper could fit in this book. This book spans over 100 years and it would be like trying to fit a Tolstoyan epic into a single tweet. Instead, I hope the women I have chosen help to tell the story of many women like them. After all, we know that behind every great man there is a great woman, but what we should remember is that behind every great woman, there’s at least a dozen more. When we do have the privilege of hearing a woman’s voice we must listen, but we must also keep wondering whose voice aren’t we hearing? In light of this I have tried to include the women who are already known heroes—but also introduce the lesser-known pioneers. Look out for the Dutch wonder woman Aletta Jacobs and then commit her name to memory. I have also endeavored to celebrate those fighting oppression and struggles on multiple fronts. As the electrifying Audre Lorde wrote, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” It was Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 who finally gave a name to one of the few things feminism must be: intersectional.
Rebecca Solnit wrote, “Liberation is always in part a storytelling process; breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.” Being able to tell the stories of these women is to give them the value they deserve—even if it’s a value they never knew. We must know these stories because they are part of our stories, too—they inform us of where we’ve been and how we got where we are today. I hope these stories inspire and outrage and set something inside of you alight. I hope you will want to share them and they will propel you to tell your own—with all the courage and conviction and swollen hearts of these incredible women.
How the table works
So what’s feminism got to do with the periodic table? Well, for starters, the language of chemistry lends itself readily to the lives of the women in the table; they are explosive free radicals, conductors and catalysts. They are reactionary, elemental, precious. They come together and create new, incredible things. If chemistry is the science of how things relate to one another and the world around them, then a feminist periodic table seems like a fine fit.
On the table itself, you will find like-minded individuals next to one another, grouped by the nature of their activism and their approach to the movement. Through the table you will see how women’s ideas spoke to one another and connected with each other, across countries and across ideologies and across generations. From the table, you will see the ways in which the movement came together and pulled apart; and the way it was full of individuals who held very different beliefs, yet shared a common goal. The table is not a list of the “best” feminists, but the story of feminism. As Gloria Steinem has said of women and the fight for equality, “We are linked, not ranked.”
The table is also categorized by waves. Caitlin Moran has said we’re “post wave” and Julie Bindel once said, “there’s enough waves in the sea, we don’t need them in feminism,” but it wouldn’t be feminism if everyone was happy. The “waves” are just rough guidelines to help historically shape the periods we’re talking about. Obviously, there aren’t neat beginnings and endings—and plenty of women existed in between the ebbs and flows—but I hope they serve to show a broader sea change, not a precise science.
Finally, this table is just the beginning—it is the front of a march, the voices of those with the loudest megaphones. Follow these women to wherever they take you and then dare to go even further.
1. Bathsua Makin, 1600–1675
The middle-class Englishwoman was part of an emerging criticism of women’s role in both society and at home. In 1673 she wrote, An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentle-women, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues, with an Answer to the Objections against this Way of Education.
2. Christine de Pizan, 1364–1430
The medieval Italian-French author wrote poetry and prose as well as practical advice for women. In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that Pizan is “the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defence of her sex.”
3. Mary Astell, 1666–1731
Often described as the first English feminist, Astell was a writer who argued for equal education opportunities for women and that women were as rational as men. In 1694, she published A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, which included a plan for an all-female college.
4. Aphra Behn, 1640–1689
The playwright, poet and fiction writer was one of the first women to earn a living writing. Virginia Woolf wrote of her, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”
5. Olympe de Gouges, 1748–1793
The revolutionary French feminist and abolitionist published Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen in 1791. She argued for the equality of the sexes and she challenged male authority.
6. Toshiko Kishida, 1863–1901
One of Japan’s first feminists, Kishida gave speeches including her most well-known, “Daughters in Box,” which saw her arrested. Kishida argued that Japanese families were harming their daughters’ freedom.
7. Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi, 1858–1921
Pioneering the Iranian women’s movement, she founded the first school for girls in the modern history of the country. In 1895 she published The Imperfections of Men, considered by some as the first declaration of women’s rights in the recent history of Iran.
8. Marie de Gournay, 1565–1645
“Happy are you, reader, if you do not belong to this sex to which all good is forbidden,” wrote the French essayist in 1622 in her proto-feminist work The Equality of Men and Women.
9. Ching Shih, 1775–1844
A Chinese feminist pirate lord, she rose from prostitute to commanding 80,000 outlaws. Under her rule, rape was punishable by death.
10. Queen Nzinga, 1583–1663
The fearless African queen was the ruler of modern-day Angola and a shrewd international power player.
The First Wave
“Votes for women!”
This was the First Wave’s rallying cry against a backdrop of modernizing industrialization, the spread of liberal ideas and mounting challenges to political and social order.
While we are right to think of the First Wave through a purple, white and green haze, the fight for suffrage was the pinnacle of a wider struggle for personhood; for ownership of women’s own lives and identities; for their voices, ambitions, needs and ideas to be heard and acknowledged.
In this chapter you will meet a generation of “firsts”: radicals, pioneers and visionaries who bravely reimagined what a woman’s life could look like, and did whatever they could to make it a reality.
You will meet women who fought to take legal possession of not only themselves but of their children and money.
You will meet women who fought for access into the realms from which they had been excluded: the worlds of science, law, medicine, government and journalism.
You will meet women who fought to make the lives of their working sisters better, demanding eight-hour days, free education and childcare.
You will meet women who dedicated their lives to making birth control readily available to any who wanted or needed it.
You will meet African-American women, some born into slavery, who understood the intersectional nature of their oppression and articulated it over a century before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term.
And, from meeting these women, you will understand how the tectonic plates of the world shifted from one century to another. From falling monarchs to rising empires, from unification to the growth of fascism and socialism, the world changed and the fight for women’s rights shifted with it.
The women you will meet here are only the tip of a feminist iceberg that began to dislodge patriarchal convention and oppression. History has a nasty habit of forgetting brilliant women, and yet the following pages cannot pay tribute to every single woman who fought to change the world. These are just a few of them, the ones whose stories tell the narratives that shaped this period. The women included here will make your heart race with their dedication, their fight, their relentless vision and their refusal to give in.
Visionary philosopher, writer and teacher UK; 1759–1797
The “mother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote one of the founding western feminist texts, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in 1792.
A passionate call to arms, the short pamphlet demanded women reject the oppressive conventions of society, based on superficial ideas of beauty and femininity, and educate themselves to independence with reason and intellect, traits they had been wrongly told belonged to men, and men only.
It could be argued that the seeds of Wollestonecraft’s feminism were sown in her childhood. As a girl, Wollestonecraft often slept in front of her mother’s door to protect her from her drunk, violent father. She was outraged by the fact her brother spent more time at school than she did, and that he would inherit more. These personal experiences, along with the Enlightenment thinking she was exposed to throughout her life, led Wollstonecraft to believe that only education could keep women safe from the pitfalls and prejudices of men.
So, aged 25, Wollstonecraft set up a school for girls with her sister. During this time, she also made friends with key thinkers of the day, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, no less. Wollstonecraft began to publish her writings later in life, including A Vindication of the Rights of Men, a riposte to Edmund Burke’s damning take on the French Revolution, followed by A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which Virginia Woolf famously wrote inspired new “experiments in living.”
Over 100 years after it was written, this text was used to propel the suffragette movement and it is still published around the world to this day.
Passionate and radical suffragette UK; 1858–1928
Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the British Suffragette movement.
Born in a Manchester suburb to political parents, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, a nonpartisan group that included women of all classes and ages in the struggle for the vote.
The WSPU was born from Pankhurst’s frustration. She could see little progress being made by the constitutional approach of the Suffragists. Instead, Pankhurst believed radical action was needed. Along with her three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, the WSPU decided that they would do whatever it took to achieve votes for women.
They insisted on “deeds not words,” a belief which led them to civil disobedience and vandalism, such as throwing stones through windows and setting alight letterboxes. Pankhurst once said “the argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in politics.”
After numerous arrests, hunger strikes, force-feeding and Christabel Pankhurst fleeing the country, the movement dispersed on the eve of the First World War. Tragically, Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just weeks before the Equal Franchise Act was passed on the July 2, which gave the vote to all women over 21.
The lengths Emmeline Pankhurst went to to reach equality have rightfully earned her a place in history, and in 1999, on the eve of the millennium, Time magazine named Pankhurst “one of the most important people of the 20th century.” Pankhurst inspired countless women when she was alive, triggering the fight for the vote around the world, and she continues to inspire 89 years later, with an urgency that feels relevant today.
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
Daring political prisoner UK; 1872–1913
Emily Wilding Davison’s death—killed as she ran in front of the King’s horse in 1913—has become the ultimate symbol of Suffragette sacrifice.
However, long before that moment, Davison displayed her commitment to the Suffragette cause. She was arrested nine times and force-fed 49 times while in prison—a tactic that became synonymous with the militant suffragette movement.
On the night of the April 2, 1911, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster during the census in order to claim the House of Commons as her residence on her census form and protest the political exclusion of women from voting and from Parliament itself. Today, thanks to the late Labour MP Tony Benn, the cupboard bears a plaque and picture to remember her.
Two years on from this census, on June 4, 1913, Davison was trampled to death by the King’s horse at the Epsom races. For decades, it was unclear whether her death was accidental—a stunt gone wrong, or political martyrdom? (A return train ticket was found on her person.)
In 2013, new technology was able to reexamine the footage from the three surviving newsreels of the race, revealing that Davison had actually been trying to tie a scarf of the Suffragette colors to the King’s horse. It was a tragic accident.
Her death was not in vain; her act has become the ultimate symbol of Suffragette sacrifice.
Relentless fighter Australia; 1827–1918
Henrietta Dugdale was a tireless fighter for women’s rights, helping to make Australia the second country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1902.
In 1884, Dugdale formed the first Women’s Suffrage group in Victoria. However, her campaign really began back in 1869 when she wrote to a local newspaper about the Married Women’s Property Bill: “Some there are who say, ‘If we permit woman to go beyond her sphere, domestic duties will be neglected.’ In plainer language, ‘If we acknowledge woman is human, we shall not get so much work out of her.’”
Alongside this, Dugdale campaigned for women’s dress reform, access to university and education for the working classes. She also called for the eight-hour working day. By 1886, Dugdale’s suffrage group had over 300 members. She was 75 when Australia gave women the vote.
While this was a triumph for Women’s Suffrage in Australia, it’s important to note that it wasn’t until 1962 that Aboriginal men and women were given voting rights.
Parliamentarian Australia; 1869–1949
Vida Goldstein was the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election to a national parliament.
Her first foray into politics came when she helped her mother, an Australian Suffragist, collect signatures for the so-called “Monster Petition” in 1891 calling for women’s suffrage. Although it failed initially, it sparked Goldstein’s interest in the movement. As a result, Goldstein turned down offers of marriage to dedicate her life to the cause. She became one of the leaders of the movement, got involved with workers’ rights via the Anti-Sweating League, founded a newspaper called The Woman Voter, and went to the first international suffrage conference in Washington DC in 1902, where, according to one historian, she was treated like a rock star on arrival.
One of the reasons for the reception was presumably because Australia had just become the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to Parliament on a national basis.
This was Goldstein’s chance and although she was never elected, she ran for Parliament four times in total.
“Nothing was more degrading than for a woman to have to marry for a home.
Love should be the sole reason. Surely those with a brain to think, eyes to see and mind to reason must realize that the capitalist system must cease and a cooperative system prevail in its place?”
- On Sale
- Oct 16, 2018
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Seal Press