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The term postfeminism (alternatively rendered as post-feminism) is used to describe reactions against contradictions and absences in feminism, especially second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. The term postfeminism is sometimes confused with "4th wave-feminism", and "women of color feminism" (e.g. hooks, 1996; Spivak, 1999). However, by definition feminism strives for gender equality, whereas postfeminism must in some way move past or "transcend" the absolute need for gender equality – something which neither theorists' definition does.
The ideology of postfeminism is often recognised by its contrast with a prevailing or preceding feminism. Postfeminism strives towards the next stage in gender-related societal progress, and as such is often conceived as in favor of a society that is no longer defined by gender binary and gender role. A postfeminist is a person who believes in, promotes, or embodies any of various ideologies springing from the feminism of the 1970s, whether supportive of or antagonistic towards classical feminism.
Postfeminism can be considered a critical way of understanding the changed relations between feminism, popular culture and femininity. Postfeminism may also present a critique of second-wave feminism or third-wave feminism by questioning the second wave or third-wave's binary thinking and essentialism, their vision of sexuality, and the perception of relationships between femininity and feminism.
Second-wave feminism is often critiqued for being too 'white', too 'straight', and too 'liberal', and resulting in the needs of women from marginalized groups and cultures being ignored. However, since intersectionality is a product of third-wave feminism, the references to such as postfeminist are open to challenge and may be more properly considered feminist.
History of the term
While postfeminism was first used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism, it is now used as a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's ideas. It may also be used to invoke the view that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society.
Over the years, the meaning of postfeminism has become broader in scope, encompassing many different meanings, as is the case with feminism. Within feminist literature, definitions tend to fall into two main categories: 1) “death of feminism”, “anti-feminism”, “feminism is irrelevant now” and 2) the next stage in feminism, or feminism that intersects with other “post-” philosophies/theories, such as postmodernism, post-structuralism and postcolonialism.
In 1919, a journal was launched by which "female literary radicals" stated "'we're interested in people now—not in men and women'", that "moral, social, economic, and political standards 'should not have anything to do with sex'", that it would "be 'pro-woman without being anti-man'", and that "their stance [is called] 'post-feminist'".
The term was used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism. Postfeminism is now a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's ideas. Other postfeminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society. Amelia Jones has written that the postfeminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and were overly generalizing in their criticism.
The 1990s saw the popularization of this term, in both the academic world as well as media world. It was suddenly seen as a term of both commendation and of scorn. Toril Moi, a professor at Duke University, originally coined the term in 1985 in Sexual/Textual politics to advocate a feminism that would deconstruct the binary between equality based on "liberal" feminism and difference-based or "radical" feminism. There is confusion surrounding the intended meaning of "post" in the context of "postfeminism". This confusion has plagued the very meaning of "postfeminism" throughout the 1990s. While the term has seemed on the one hand to announce the end of feminism, on the other hand it has itself become a site of feminist politics.
Currently, feminist history is characterized by the struggle to find out the present situation-often articulated as a concern about whether there is still such a thing called "feminism"-by writing in the past. It is here that the meaning of "post" as a historical break is troubling, for "post" offers to situate feminism in history by proclaiming the end of this history. It then confirms feminist history as a thing of the past, as something that we know to have existed because we can now say it no longer does. However it is impossible that feminism could be aligned with "post" when it is unthinkable, for example, that we would today speak of living in a post racist, post classist, and post sexist society.
Ultimately, postfeminism aims to help situate contemporary feminism as a continuation of the long history of the women's movement.
The early part of the 1980s was when the media began labeling teenage women and women in their twenties the "postfeminist generation." After twenty years, the term postfeminist is still used to refer to young women, "who are thought to benefit from the women's movement through expanded access to employment and education and new family arrangements but at the same time do not push for further political change", Pamela Aronson, Professor of Sociology, asserts. Postfeminism is a highly debated topic since it implies that feminism is "dead" and "because the equality it assumes is largely a myth".
Examples of postfeminist work
In her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina Hoff Sommers considers much of modern academic feminist theory and the feminist movement to be gynocentric. She labels this "gender feminism" and proposes "equity feminism"—an ideology that aims for full civil and legal equality. She argues that while the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and portray women as victims, equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of feminism. These descriptions and her other work have caused Hoff Sommers to be described as an antifeminist by some other feminists.
Some contemporary feminists, such as Katha Pollitt or Nadine Strossen, consider feminism to hold simply that "women are people." Views that separate the sexes rather than unite them are considered by these writers to be sexist rather than feminist.
Amelia Jones has authored post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980s/1990s and portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and criticized it using generalizations.
One of the earliest modern uses of the term was in Susan Bolotin's 1982 article "Voices of the Post-Feminist Generation", published in New York Times Magazine. This article was based on a number of interviews with women who largely agreed with the goals of feminism, but did not identify as feminists.
Susan Faludi, in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, argued that a backlash against second wave feminism in the 1980s had successfully re-defined feminism through its terms. She argued that it constructed the women's liberation movement as the source of many of the problems alleged to be plaguing women in the late 1980s. She also argued that many of these problems were illusory, constructed by the media without reliable evidence. According to her, this type of backlash is a historical trend, recurring when it appeared that women had made substantial gains in their efforts to obtain equal rights.
Angela McRobbie argued that adding the prefix post- to feminism undermined the strides that feminism made in achieving equality for everyone, including women. In McRobbie's opinion, postfeminism gave the impression that equality has been achieved and feminists could now focus on something else entirely. McRobbie believed that postfeminism was most clearly seen on so-called feminist media products, such as Bridget Jones's Diary, Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal. Female characters like Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw claimed to be liberated and clearly enjoy their sexuality, but what they was constantly searching for was the one man who would make everything worthwhile.
In an article on print jewelry advertisements in Singapore, Michelle Lazar analyses how the construction of 'postfeminist' femininity has given rise to a neo-liberal hybrid "pronounced sense of self or 'I-dentity'". She states that the increasing number of female wage earners has led to advertisers updating their image of women but that "through this hybrid postfeminist I-dentity, advertisers have found a way to reinstall a new normativity that coexists with the status quo".
- Angela McRobbie, Professor for Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London
- Gender studies
- Lad culture (British)
- Rosalind Gill, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at King's College, London
- Cott, Nancy F., The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, [2d printing?] pbk 1987 (ISBN 0-300-04228-0)) (cloth ISBN 0-300-03892-5), p. 282 (author prof. American studies & history, Yale Univ.) (book is largely on U.S. feminism in 1910s–1920s) (n. 23 (at end) omitted) (n. 23 (in full): "23. Judy 1:1 (Jun. 1919); 2:3 (1919), n.p., SL." ("SL" in small capitals & abbreviating "The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts", per id., p. 285 (Abbreviations Used in Notes (Libraries)))).
- Wright, Elizabeth, Lacan and Postfeminism (Icon Books, 2000), ISBN 978-1-84046-182-4
- Modleski, Tania. Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a "Postfeminist" Age. New York: Routledge, 1991, 3.
- Jones, Amelia. "Postfeminism, Feminist Pleasures, and Embodied Theories of Art," New Feminist Criticism: Art, Identity, Action, Eds. Joana Frueh, Cassandra L. Langer and Arlene Raven. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. 16–41, 20.
- Aronson, Pamela (2003). "Feminists or "Postfeminists"?: Young Women's Attitudes toward Feminism and Gender Relations". Gender and Society. 17 (6): 903–22. doi:10.1177/0891243203257145.
- Davis, Debra Diane, Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter (Carbondale: Southern Ill. Univ. Press, 2000 (ISBN 0-8093-2228-5)), p. 141 n. 8 (brackets in title so in original) (author asst. prof. rhetoric, Univ. of Iowa).
- Hoff Sommers, Christina, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995)
- Flood, Michael (7 July 2004). "Backlash: Angry men's movements", in Stacey Elin Rossi, ed.: The Battle and Backlash Rage On. N.p.: XLibris, 273. ISBN 1-4134-5934-X
- "Uncovering the Right—Female Anti-Feminism for Fame and Profit". Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
- Pollitt, Katha, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Vintage, 1995) ISBN 978-0-679-76278-2
- Strossen, Nadine, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights (Prentice Hall & IBD, 1995), ISBN 978-0-684-19749-4
- Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York: Viking, 2000, 275, 337.
- Faludi, Susan, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (Three Rivers Press, 2006)
- McRobbie, Angela (2004). "Post‐feminism and popular culture". Feminist Media Studies. Taylor and Francis. 4 (3): 255–264. doi:10.1080/1468077042000309937.
- Lazar, Michelle (2014). "Recuperating feminism, reclaiming femininity: Hybrid postfeminist I-dentity in consumer advertisements". Gender and Language. Equinox. 8 (2): 205–224. doi:10.1558/genl.v8i2.205.
- Feminism, Ethics, and History, or What Is the "Post" in Postfeminism? Misha Kavka Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 29–44.