“m/f sees its work as a contribution to the development of political and theoretical debate within what is loosely called the Women’s Movement. Any political and theoretical argument which places itself within the Women’s Movement commits itself to a concern with what is specific to women. But some theoretical formulations of women as a specific social group entail positions which we must disagree with. One such formulation is in terms of essential femininity. This can take two forms; either the idea of transhistorical oppression of women at all times, or the idea of an ‘original’ femininity which is repressed or suppressed. Another approach is to assume that women are a social group, but one whose history has been suppressed. The reinstatement of this history is then assumed to a sufficient political practice.
In other words the concern with what is specific to women both provides moments of political unity and at the same time operates to obscure very real political issues. The unity of the Women’s Movement lies in the belief that the sexual division of labour between men and women, as it is constituted at present, has profound and adverse effects on the social position of women. But attempts to consider sexual division from within existing political and theoretical frameworks cannot provide the analysis which is needed.[…]
We are interested in how women are produced as a category; it is this which determines the subordinate position of women. Some feminists have taken up psychoanalysis as providing an account of the process of the construction of the sexed subject in society. This is seen as important because it is with the construction of sexual difference and its inscription in the social that feminism is concerned. But psychoanalysis has had little to say on the relationship of this construction to particular historical moments, nor the effect that considering the historical moment might have on psychoanalytical theory itself. Thus psychoanalysis is not a sufficient theory for understanding the construction of women as a category.[…]
We hope that m/f will be open to questions which will advance theoretical and political considerations of women today. m/f places itself as a predominantly theoretical journal and we believe that at this moment this work is of major importance for feminism. But we also believe that a politics cannot be read off from theory and that theory can never be a substitute for politics. One of our foremost aims therefore will be the development of a theoretical debate on women’s politics; a debate which must take place in relation to existing socialist and feminist politics.”
Selected Subject Headings
- Castration anxiety
- Child psychoanalysts
- Coming out (sexual orientation)
- Dialectical materialism
- Feminism - political aspects
- Feminist theory
- Motherhood - psychological aspects
- Muslim women - civil rights
- Pornography - social aspects
- Premenstrual syndrome - social aspects
- Psychoanalysis and feminism
- Rape - philosophy
- Repression (psychology)
- Sex and law
- Sex differences (psychology)
- Sex discrimination against women
- Sexual division of labor
- Socialist feminism
- Women’s rights
With a title primarily standing for masculine/feminine, m/f: a feminist journal appeared in a heady time in which readers wondered if this oblique title could also mean Marxism versus feminism, mother versus father, or even, if it could be a coded reference to Michel Foucault.
That time was the late 1970s, a time in which a serious reworking of feminism was taking place; m/f’s irruption was intended by the initial editors--Parveen Adams, Rosalind Coward, and Elizabeth Cowie--as a hopeful intervention to ”advance theoretical and political considerations of women today.”
The phrasing is interesting, theoretical and political, because if m/f continues to be of interest today it is precisely for its against the grain desire to dispel the myth that politics and theory could not, and should not, be mixed; the-then prevalent debate among Marxist feminists was embarked on the analysis and destruction of capitalist patriarchy and had no time for theoretical filigree, especially if psychoanalytical.
m/f set out to challenge this and other assumptions, which, according to them, implied a paralyzing essentialism. In Chantal Mouffe’s words, “all the different versions of the theory of capitalist patriarchy presupposed a unitary phenomenon of "women’s oppression,” which was considered to be the effect of a cause that had to be explained by a theory. These versions implied both the existence of a pre-given unitary subject “woman” already available to be oppressed through various mechanisms, and a unity of subjects, “women.” m/f opposed this essentialism.”
This timely intervention took the form of an austere journal published in London, small in size and with few layout fancies, but for the cover’s color variations; nine issues were published between 1978 and 1986; when Rosalind Coward left the journal after the second issue, Beverley Brown joined the editorial team, which continued to publish some incisive joint editorials and to include “analyses of the production of sexual difference in all social practices where the distinction between masculine and feminine existed as a pertinent one, including economic, cultural, political, and legal practices as well as in the family and the specific domain of sexuality.”
Due to the overarching conceptual concerns listed above, the journal was compelled to use a variety of analytical tools, a multidisciplinary approach if you will; yes, psychoanalysis was preeminent, but also a post-Althusserian critique of Marxism, as after all, m/f's project was aligned with feminist socialism. This politically loaded combination of theoretical frameworks produced a journal in which an essay like Is the Oedipus complex universal? can be found next to another text dedicated to Women and Shi’ism in Iran, or legal analysis like Rape: sexuality and the law. That’s a stimulating combination, but there were many others. Family and the role of “women” in them was a sustained interest and it was approached from a variety of perspectives: legal, social, psychoanalytical, economic as well as artistic, as Documentation VI: pre-writing alphabet, exerque and diary from Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document was also published in m/f pages.
Kelly's was not the only artistic intervention in the journal, as other artistic practices espousing psychoanalytical and conceptual frameworks were included; for example, we can find Silvia Kolbowski in discussion with Jane Weinstock as well as Kolbowski's project Model Pleasure, Part IX, a review of London's Institute of Contemporary Art important exhibition Difference: on representation and sexuality, and a series of essays dwelling on psychoanalytical readings of mass media and film, not dissimilar to those appearing in a somehow germane project like the North American Camera Obscura.
Despite the fact that most of the historical or legal analysis essays published focused on Britain, of particular interest to us is the British-French connection: Julia Kristeva thought is dedicated no little space, as well as an interview; Foucault's books are reviewed twice, once by Raymond Bellour, and m/f's pages gave space to the translation of a dossier from the French journal L'Ane on "The mother and the unconscious."
As a testament to this short-lived but dense project, a book was published in 1990 collecting the collective editorials as well as a generous selection of essays; this compendium also includes reassessments of m/f's legacy. It is only by noticing the proximity of the date of the journal's folding, 1986, and the publishing of this edited volume, 1990, that one can understand the political urgency felt by the editors and contributors in keeping m/f's theoretical premises alive, as to quote again Mouffe, if m/f “made a general theory of women's oppression a thing of the past,” in 1990 she writes “essentialism takes more sophisticated forms today, but it remains the backbone of feminist discourses.”
In 2015, we live in a world in which those concerns have lost none of their urgency as there’s a definitive return to essentialist and identitarian positions, what could be thought as a nationalism of the self; but in the present, a project like the one espoused by m/f should have to contend with a changed epistemological landscape which includes an all-pervasive technological apparatus that has complicated and enriched the formation of subjectivities, and importantly, the conversation has been augmented by the participation of women from all around the world and those previously absent from these debates within Europe and North America.
This is good news, as it enriches the premise that “the articulation between feminism and socialism had to be the result of specific alliances, not the necessary effect of a common cause;”faced as we are with a mercurial expansion of the social and psychic contexts to be considered, an almost infinite number of specific alliances can and must be forged in order to continue the gigantic task of striving for liberation.
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Parveen Adams, Rosalind Coward, and Elizabeth Cowie, “m/f,” m/f (London), no. 1 (1978): 3-5.
Chantal Mouffe. “The legagy of m/f,” in The woman in question: m/f. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990, p. 3.
Rosalind Coward, “Letter of resignation,” m/f (London), no. 3 (1979): 4. An excerpt from the letter: “I have resigned from the editorial group of m/f because of the way decision-making and production came to be organized. As a result inconsistent and contradictory decisions were made. In this context some material was commissioned for the journal whose emphases seemed to undercut the project of m/f as I understood it.”
Mouffe, ibid., p. 4.
In a 1984 interview to Adams and Cowie, the later states: “… our perspective, as we stated in the first editorial, was socialist-feminist.” Mieke Aerts and Saskia Grotenhuis, “m/f: interview 1984,” m/f (London), no. 11-12 (1986): 5-14. The interview is also reproduced in The woman in question, pp. 345-356.
 The woman in question: m/f. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990. Besides all the journal’s editorials and an edited selection of essays that appeared in the m/f, the book includes introductions by Chantal Mouffe, Constance Penley, and Joan Copjec, as well as a postcript by Rachel Bowlby.
Mouffe, ibid., p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 3.