Post-Feminist Puritanism: Teaching (and Learning from) The Lowell Offering in the 21st Century

Sara Appel

Abstract


Based on an analysis of classroom discussions and online reading responses, this essay explores how an all-women group of University of Pittsburgh undergraduates responded to The Lowell Offering, a collection of writings by mid-19th century women textile workers. While Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg equates “leaning in” to claim one’s place in the male-dominated corporate world with youthful feminist success, what to make of the inspiration these ambitious women students found in puritanical representations of self-sacrificial factory girls? Far from being a sign of substantive progress in women’s rights, the author argues that the “post-feminist” discursive environment shaping these students’ sense of themselves as twenty-first century women workers is rather a symptom of the mutually reinforcing relationship between neoliberal market imperatives and traditional femininity.


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References


Eisler, Benita, ed. The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (1840-1845). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. Print.

hooks, bell. “Rethinking the Nature of Work.” In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1984. 96-107. Print.

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.

Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.




DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2015.138

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Copyright (c) 2015 Sara Appel

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ISSN 1941-0832 (online)