A home of one's own

As Feminist Review celebrates its 100th issue, Mary Evans assesses its lasting contribution to academic debate

April 12, 2012

One of most important works of feminism in the 20th century was Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas (1938), written by an author who had not experienced any of the academic pressures and constraints to which the current editors of Feminist Review - now celebrating its 100th issue - have been subject. But in that journal, first published in 1979 and edited (then as now) by a collective, the voice of Three Guineas lives on: a voice certain of the value of both identifying and defeating various forms of gendered privilege.

The voice of Feminist Review is not, however, that of an individual and so these birthday greetings must be directed to the passion and dedication of individuals, collectively brought together, that have made the journal possible and provided a home of welcome and light in the sometimes unwelcoming arena of academic publishing.

One of the many ways of thinking about a journal as a "home" is that "home is the place where they have to take you in". This does not mean that Feminist Review has taken in all and sundry but it has allowed the disputes and differences that are characteristic of many homes.

Out of those early disputes came the titles of two articles that invoke the reasons why people might have wanted to go home to Feminist Review. One is "Psychoanalysis: Psychic Law and Order?" (1981) and the other, "Wiping the Floor with Theory: a survey of writings on housework" (1980). Both hyperbolic and playful titles suggest the vitality of the journal, one of the reasons why it is still being read. They also suggest an acute awareness of both the value and the fragility of the theoretical; an awareness that is all the more to be celebrated in the context of present-day constructions of the needs of the marketplace as both definitive reality and definitive knowledge.

How is this happy and essential situation of resistance achieved? I would argue that it is because (and this, I suggest, has to be connected critically to neoliberal ideas about the origin of motivation) people do their best work when they care about that work and see that it might contribute to the good of others. The issues that the journal has consistently cared about are issues of various global forms of exploitation, forms of human misery and disadvantage that affect far too many people, of different races, sexualities and ethnicities. The word "class" has never disappeared from Feminist Review into the intellectual mire of neoliberalism, and in retaining it the journal has been able to maintain a timeless relevance that disciplinary journals with a greater vulnerability to the seductions of fashion have been unable to match.

But that last sentence touches on two other strengths. First, the journal publishes what it believes to be of intellectual and political merit - and not what might fit in with the various expectations of over-policed academic disciplines increasingly strangled by exercises such as the research excellence framework. Second, and very closely related, is the equally REF-resistant policy of interdisciplinarity that Feminist Review pursues. In that other process of academic law and order - what is described as "benchmarking" - interdisciplinary work (despite occasional pious notes of support) is inevitably marginalised. But Feminist Review has remained committed to the idea that what matters for debate and discussion are issues and questions, even if those questions sometimes cross the boundaries of academic disciplines and seem to involve too many different subjects and contexts.

In the context of assertions about the "death" of feminism, it is useful to refer readers to the photographs published in the first edition of Three Guineas. They portray the powerful of 1938 as entirely male and as remarkably similar to the powerful of 2012: a vivid reminder of the value of Feminist Review's independent voice and of its refusal to endorse dubious assumptions of change.

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