This book proceeds from a single and very simple observation: throughout history, and up to the present, women have received a clear message that we are not supposed to prioritize ourselves. Indeed, the whole question of "self" is a problem for women – and a problem that issues from a wide range of locations, including, in some cases, feminism itself. When women espouse discourses of self-interest, self-regard, and selfishness, they become illegible. This is complicated by the commodification of the self in the recent Western mode of economic and political organization known as "neoliberalism," which encourages a focus on self-fashioning that may not be identical with self-regard or self-interest.
Drawing on figures from French, US, and UK contexts, including Rachilde, Ayn Rand, Margaret Thatcher, and Lionel Shriver, and examining discourses from psychiatry, media, and feminism with the aim of reading against the grain of multiple orthodoxies, this book asks how revisiting the words and works of selfish women of modernity can assist us in understanding our fraught individual and collective identities as women in contemporary culture. And can women with politics that are contrary to the interests of the collective teach us anything about the value of rethinking the role of the individual?
This book is an essential read for those with interests in cultural theory, feminist theory, and gender politics.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Psychopathology of Selfishness: On Narcissism and Norms of Gender
Chapter 2: The Philosophy of Selfishness: On Ayn Rand and Rational Self-Interest
Chapter 3: The Politics of Selfishness: On Margaret Thatcher and Exceptional Women
Chapter 4: Personal and Professional Practices of Selfishness: On Babies, Boardrooms, and Ballot Boxes
Chapter 5: A Feminist Ethics of Selfishness? Beyond Individualism and Collectivism
Lisa Downing is Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK. A cultural critic of repute, she was the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2009. Downing is a specialist in interdisciplinary sexuality and gender studies, critical theory, and the history of cultural concepts, with an enduring interest in questions of exceptionality, difficulty, and (ab)normality. She is author or co-author of numerous books, journal articles, and book chapters, and is editor or co-editor of a number of book-length works. Recent titles include The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault (2008); Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters (co-authored with Libby Saxton, 2009); The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer (2013); Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (co-authored with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan, 2015); and After Foucault (as editor, 2018). Her next book project is a short manifesto entitled Against Affect.
"This is a startling, trenchant, and original book. It is written with clarity and passion. It shakes up Feminism today in productive and sometimes disturbing ways. Downing’s critical brilliance, command of the material, and uncompromising approach are dazzling."
Emma Wilson, University of Cambridge
"This is a book that will challenge conventional views of feminism, and of various women who have made a significant impact on modern culture and politics. It fills a significant gap in the scholarly literature and is written in a crisp, accessible style that will invite readers from all ends of the ideological spectrum to re-evaluate their own perspectives."
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, New York University
"[this book] is going to be a ‘game-changer’ in feminist thinking... It dialogues with and deconstructs brilliantly French philosophy and ideas on feminism from the previous ‘waves’ to argue that ‘we might adopt the term "self-ful" to describe an ethically aware strategy of self-regard’. The author’s critical readings of images and discourses and well-known critics are razor-sharp and full of insight on how Western societies construct a toxic mix of praise and misogyny towards ‘exceptional’ ‘selfish’ women."
Katharine Mitchell, University of Strathclyde