Feminist Confessions, 1959–1974
When second-wave feminism spread across America in the 1970s, it left some women with an acute identity crisis. How did their new, liberated self relate to the one they had left behind? Comparing two performances from 1974—a reading by Anne Sexton of her poem “Self in 1958” and a performance art piece by Eleanor Antin called Eleanor of 1954—this essay shows how two women struggled to span the distance between their pre- and post-feminist selves. These performances (and many like them) questioned the promise of transformation held out by feminist consciousness raising. In consciousness-raising groups, women would confess the truth of their lives and, so they hoped, purge themselves of old pre-feminist identities. Artists like Sexton and Antin instead used art to fathom the gap (and the ongoing connection) between past and present, oppression and liberation.
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