What is a Woman? A Challenge in Contemporary Feminist Theory


The question: What is a woman? is a crucial concern in feminist thinking and politics. In her classic The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir came to a conclusion that has set the tone for several generations of thinkers: "One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one." 

But what is the meaning of the question today? The feminist movement has sought to make gender irrelevant, but at the same time it seems that it is the very existence of difference and injustice between the sexes that gives feminism its raison d'être. Does the movement without the category of woman manage as its orienteering point? Feminist theory includes both projects that embrace the question and projects that reject it. Despite the criticism that the it sometimes directed at the question as such, this panel argues it should not be left to the side but instead serve as a starting point for a dynamic feminist discussion and reflection. 

The panel includes researchers from the anthology What is a woman? Language, materiality, situation (Daidalos 2021) and taken together the presentations provide a diversity of approaches to the questions that the “category woman” raises. The authors relate to a number of theoretical traditions, including phenomenology, intersectional theory, critical realism, postcolonial theory, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, social reproduction theory and ordinary language philosophy. 


Sara Edenheim is docent in history and senior lecturer in gender studies at the Umeå Center for Gender Studies at Umeå University. Her research is situated at the intersection between feminist theory and historical philosophy with a focus on Swedish 20th century history. She has previously analyzed how normative and deviant gender and sexual identities are constructed in Swedish legislation and government texts and is currently focused on questions about how ideas about the family are reproduced in contemporary feminist politics and research. 

Lena Gunnarsson is an associate professor of gender studies at the Department of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at Örebro University. A large part of her research has consisted of theoretical interventions in feminist debates from a critical-realistic perspective. She also has extensive research experience in the areas of love, sexuality and sexual violence and is currently leading a research project on sugar dating. Her latest book is Samtyckesdynamiker: Sex, våldtäkt och gråzonen däremellan (Studentlitteratur 2020).

Valgerður Pálmadóttir is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Iceland. She received her PhD in the history of ideas at Umeå University 2018 with the dissertation Perplexities of the Personal and the Political: How Women's Liberation became Women's Human Rights. Her research area is political history of ideas and she has mainly focused on social movements and their theories and activities in historical context. Pálmadóttir recently started a research project on women's strikes in Iceland. 

Johanna Sjöstedt is a project assistant at the Center for Gender Studies at Karlstad University. She has degrees in the history of ideas and gender studies from the University of Gothenburg, specializing in feminist philosophy and theory in the perspective of the history of ideas. She has, among other things, published articles about Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir. She is the editor of What is a Woman? Language, materiality, situation (Daidalos 2021) and Feminist philosophy: Time, history, and the transformation of thought (Södertörn studies in intellectual and cultural history 2022). 

Published Sep. 21, 2021 2:37 PM - Last modified Sep. 21, 2021 2:37 PM