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The female fertility cycle in cross-cultural perspective: representations of menstruation, childbirth, and the menopause in contemporary women’s writing in French

Tomlinson, M. K. (2018) The female fertility cycle in cross-cultural perspective: representations of menstruation, childbirth, and the menopause in contemporary women’s writing in French. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

This thesis examines the representation of the female fertility cycle in contemporary Algerian, Mauritian, and French women’s writing. It focuses on menstruation, childbirth, and the menopause. This study frames its analysis of contemporary women’s writing by looking back to the pioneering work of the second-wave feminists. Second-wave feminist texts were the first to break the silence on key aspects of female experience which had thus far been largely overlooked or even considered too taboo to mention. Over forty years since the publication of Annie Leclerc’s Parole de femme, this thesis seeks to determine the extent to which more recent representations reveal a different perspective from second-wave feminist texts. Second-wave feminist works have been criticised for applying their ‘universal’ theories to all women, regardless of their ethnicity, class, or sexuality. In response to this criticism, this thesis asks as one of its central research questions whether women’s writing in French still represents female bodily experience as ‘universal’. Or, reflecting criticism of such universalising views, this thesis evaluates whether contemporary women’s writing exposes differences between women’s experiences that were overlooked in second-wave feminist texts. The crosscultural and interdisciplinary approach is informed not only by critics of the second-wave feminist movement but also by sociological and anthropological studies which consider how women’s bodily experiences are shaped by cultural context. Contemporary authors whose novels are explored in this thesis include Maïssa Bey, Leïla Marouane, Ananda Devi, Shenaz Patel, Virginie Despentes, and Marie Darrieussecq. This study reveals that each literary culture frames its representation of the female fertility cycle in its own distinct cultural context. Overall, this thesis argues that contemporary women’s writing has continued the challenge against normative perceptions of the body that was originally launched by the second-wave feminists, whilst also illustrating that female bodily experience is diverse.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Waters, J. and Shilton, S.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Literature and Languages
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Modern Languages and European Studies
ID Code:83579

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