'This is not what being a woman means': female identity in American narratives from 1960 to 1970
The project will examine literary representations of the female consciousness in American prose narratives of the 1960s. Addressing the different iterations of female identities and feminist politics in light of broader social and philosophical contexts, the thesis will ask the question as to what strategies are employed by patriarchal assertions of power in order to limit the capacity for self-expression and actualisation allowed to women. The issue of female representation will be analysed through the lenses of three fundamental thematic concerns: traditional semiotics as a means for the reinforcement of patriarchal oppression, the physical space (the home, the city, the office) and the ways it reflects and upholds the limitations posed on female bodies, and the idea of ‘intersectionality’ as fundamental to the process of female liberation. These factors will be explored in relation to their effect on the definition of roles available to female characters within the different social milieux of the narratives in question. Canonical understandings of second-wave feminist practices–as presented, for example, in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963)–will be challenged to account for the diversity of experience and backgrounds that characterise the lives of intersectional female identities, and the effectiveness of different liberation strategies will be measured against the notion of female desires and self-expressive practices. The texts analysed in the thesis will seek to represent female characters that, consciously or unconsciously, strive against the multiple power centres that are aligned to exercise often violent and abusive control over the ways in which female identity is acceptably allowed to develop, and to offer a reflection on the consequences that derive from defying standardised gendered behaviours. Each in its own individual manner, the five novels and one memoir that make up the body of this research will offer insight into the combination of forces that play a part in shaping avenues of female social participation, at the same time as they attempt to allow a glimpse into the different ways in which the women in these stories seek to construct forms of autonomous identity beyond gendered, racial, economic, and social stereotypisation.