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FAQ: What is “Post-feminism”?

According to Wikipedia post-feminism began in the early 1980’s, though the origins, according to Hawkensworth, seem to be from as early as the 1970’s, when journalists and academics began proclaiming that feminism is dead. The basic idea behind the movement is that feminism has achieved its goals and now it is time to distance ourselves from the movement.

A more complex definition of the movement is somewhat harder to put out, as it seems to mean slightly different things to different people. Indeed, even notable post-feminist figures fall into this controversy. For instance, Camille Paglia, who is widely associated with the movement by both feminists and non-feminists alike, seems to be a post-feminist primarily in the sense that Reinelt puts out in her article, that of “claiming to be within feminism on the one hand and calling for a move beyond it on the other,” rather than because she self-identifies as such. Post-feminism has been positioned as everything from a reclaiming of traditional gender roles, an overt attempt to use the language of oppression to subvert feminism, to a way of depoliticizing feminism in order to bring it to the home (see Hawkensworth’s section on “Evolutionary extinction” for more detail).

No matter what form it may take, however, it is clear that the movement arose out of a backlash against feminism. This backlash is often ascribed to the specialization and splintering of feminism, which is seen by many post-feminists as one of the root causes for feminism’s decline. Regardless of which frame is put on it, though, this backlash carries one primary notion: post-feminism’s rise signals a world “in which feminism has been transcended, occluded, overcome” (Hawkensworth).


Related Reading:

Introductory:

Clarifying Concepts:

  • A more positive look at post-feminism:

    In raising these questions, I am only at the beginning of figuring out what a more positive kind of post-feminist account of religion and family might look like, and so have no compelling summary to offer, let alone a call to a specific research agenda. In my own work, I do want to take some feminist insights for granted. But I explicitly reject the idea that strong feminist critiques have had their day and must now give way gracefully to approaches that favor a consensual and functional, or even communitarian, interpretation of the good society. I am feeling more combative, or at least constructively critical, about theories that neatly divide society into a “public” and a “private” realm, while systematically devaluing those feminine things (religion, family) assigned to the private (cf., Warner 1999). I am not sure where it will lead, but it feels right to begin pushing back the boundaries of post-feminism by asking a different set of questions.

    [Penny Edgell Becker (Sociology of Religion, Winter, 2000): Boundaries and Silences in a Post-Feminist Sociology]
  • Post-feminism as backlash to feminism:

    What the hell is postfeminism, anyway? I would think it would refer to a time when complete gender equality has been achieved. That hasn’t happened, of course, but we (especially young women) are supposed to think it has. Postfeminism, as a term, suggests that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism, but that feminism is now irrelevant and even undesirable because it has made millions of women unhappy, unfeminine, childless, lonely, and bitter, prompting them to fill their closets with combat boots and really bad India print skirts.

    [Susan J. Douglas (Alternet): Manufacturing Postfeminism]
  • Post-feminism as a colloquialism:

    It’s about deeply held political convictions, not to mention strategy. If there’s a wad of people out there extolling postfeminism and meaning “I think feminism is flawed and I’d like to see some goal-shifting, fresh tactics, and revisiting of contentious topics,” this isn’t just an issue of what’s going on in a speech group that doesn’t overlap with mine. It’s about defending feminism’s ground. Feminism is already doing the work that these (as I have come to think of them) non-evil postfeminists think comes with their prefix. And it’s beyond obvious that feminism suffers from its terrible reputation and from the vast misunderstandings that stunning numbers of people still have about it (no matter how many times it happens, I will never, ever get used to being asked if I hate men). I can’t help but see even the non-evil usage of “postfeminism” as a rejection of and attack on feminism, and an implication that the movement is finished. And that means I need to challenge it at every turn.

  • The ambiguity of the prefix “post”:

    I’ve come accross the term used in the way Lurker describes, similarly, in academic circles, and for academic reasons I don’t think anyone should use it. The problem lies in the ambiguity of the prefix “post”, because post can mean since something commenced OR since something concluded. So, while technically a “post-feminist society” could mean a society since feminism began to be an influence, there will always be people who think you mean since feminism ended.

  • tekanji (Official Shrub.com Blog): Feminism is Post-Feminist
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19 comments on “FAQ: What is “Post-feminism”?

  1. Great FAQ, tekanji. The idea that feminism has achieved its goals because equality exists on paper is as ludicrous as the White House press secretary who recently said that the US didn’t have a racism problem (presumably because everyone’s equal on paper).

  2. Synchronicity: guest-blogger Lisa at Feministe has a very interesting post on post-feminism up.
    Hi There. Plus, Postfeminism: Innocuous Descriptive Term or Crock of Antifeminist Poop?

  3. Tigtog: Awesome! Added to the “Clarifying-Concepts” area.

  4. I suppose you could call me a post-feminst in a way. I recently decided not to call myself a feminst any longer, over a certain issue. This is the first time in my life that I felt to do this, all the other post-feminism in the past has seemed to be a bit weak. I’m not saying that I am no longer a feminist, I just am not calling myself one because it identifies me with attitudes I simply can no longer tolerate. I think I’ve been very patient about this, but I feel like it is not going to get better any time soon, so if I separate myself I am helping myself the best way I can.

  5. I recently decided not to call myself a feminst any longer, over a certain issue.

    May I ask what issue that is?

    There’s a lot that other feminists have said that has pissed me off, but I just shrug my shoulders, think that they’re wrong, and either find or write about the opinions that I agree with. What it comes down to is that feminism isn’t a monolithic movement, and treating it as such (or expecting all feminist theory to agree with your opinions) is asking too much of a set of beliefs created by people from diverse backgrounds.

    I mean, if it’s something like, “I don’t believe women should work outside of the home” or something it can’t be helped, but somehow I don’t think that your problems lie with the fundamentals of feminist theory :)

  6. Oh! I forgot to mention that if you actually read enough, you’ll also see that different feminist theories contradict each other, because the feminists who wrote it are coming from different places.

    Which is to say that there will always be some feminists out there who hold opinions that you vehemently disagree with, but chances are there are also feminists out there who agree just as strongly.

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  8. The Feministe link is now 404.

  9. Thanks for the heads-up – the post is still there, but I’ve noticed that their blog renovation has led to a few broken links. Anyway, the new link is here (and I’ll edit the post to fix).

  10. Post-feminism and post-modernism are the bane of my existence. I’m a feminist. I’ve been once since pre-school and no one is taking the term away from me. I think the idea of many different types of “feminisms” is pretty distructive to the women’s movement. Certainly all feminists come from different backgrounds, and face different oppressions, as well as the shared oppression of being born female under patriarchy…but, at the end of the day, I think feminism is about resisting male dominance in the struggle for women’s equality. If something, a particular way of acting or thinking, does that, then it’s feminist. If it doesn’t, it can call itself feminism all day long, but it isn’t…I think all this post feminist, plural feminisms stuff is basically designed to confuse and alienate women from feminism, so that we won’t be able to get anything positive done anymore…and it’s working…

  11. Stephanie, in principle I want to agree with you that feminism is simply resisting male dominance and labels and divisions are useless, but in practice I cannot. For example, there is an enormous difference between the Radical Feminist view that our entire system needs to be re-constructed form the ground up and the Equality (or Liberal) Feminist view that simply changing the laws to make men and women equal is the correct path to equality. As a radical feminist, while I don’t disapprove of creating anti-discrimination laws, I think they miss the point, and simply encourage people to hide their discrimination better rather than teaching them why it happens and how to stop.

    That said, I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy. (I know someone else said this first, but forgive me, I cannot recall who to attribute)

  12. On the subject of words and phrases that are used to distance ourselves from the feminist movement, I’ve actually been thinking recently about that often-reported statement: ‘I’m not a feminist, but …’.

    I say ‘often-reported’ rather than ‘often-used’, because I can’t ever recall directly hearing or reading it being used BY people who are actually saying that they are ‘not a feminist, but …’. Whenever I hear/read this statement, it’s being used by people talking ABOUT people who are supposed to be using it.

    Nine times out of ten, it’s quoted in a third-person sense – in which it is used as ‘evidence’ of how women supposedly reject feminism despite being sympathetic to its overall aims. Occasionally, it’s even used by feminists themselves, either in an ironic sense or when expressing exasperation at younger women’s ingratitude.

    If you don’t believe me, do a Google search of the statement and see what you come up with. Could this be yet another backlash con that we’ve all internalised?

  13. Marian, “I’m not a feminist but…” is fairly popular with young women on YouTube who are posting videos in response to some horrid thing a man did to a woman. From there I got the impression that it was fairly widespread, although I admit most of YouTube is hardly the cream of the crop.

  14. This article is incorrect to suggest that post-feminism views feminism as something worth reacting against. Instead it simply views it formerly useful, but now a foundation rather than a platform.

    Post-feminism is simply the next stage in progress towards a humanity free from the gender binary. This may also be the aim of the feminists I deem allies, but I would argue that we have reached the stage where their methods, their movement, is no longer adequate to the task at hand.

    This is for a number of reasons, the most contentious one being that the success of feminism has left us in a post-patriarchy, where there remain substantial remnants from the system which formerly reigned but the core rudiments (women being denied most forms of employment, any substantial education & right to resist rape regardless of marital status) have been removed.

    In some areas, of course. Elsewhere there is still need for feminism.

    Of course we could have an endless argument over whether that is correct or not. I am certain that the immediate, boilerplate, response of many feminists is that I should read this site’s section on “Male privilege” and develop some self-awareness. But this is precisely the problem: a movement that is so wary of one side of the binary will never achieve its destruction.

    By its very nature that is work which requires both.

    Feminism, both due to its historical nature (misandrist elements were small but highly vocal), its nature and its name, is unlikely to accomplish that level of harmony and thus is unlikely to achieve the only ultimate source of victory over bigotry, the dissolution of gender and the advancement of humanity past that entirely fabricated division and towards true unity.

    • James, your definition of post-feminism is the same as the one I was taught at university (in the early 1990s). In my classes, writers/thinkers such as Julia Kristeva were given as examples of ‘post-feminists’ positing the idea that gender is one of many culturally contructed groups that actually make no sense when deconstructed, and in fact it would be more helpful to approach each person as an individual rather than attempting to group us along lines of gender, race, age, etc etc.
      However, it is a long time since these people put forward those ideas, and since then I believe the phrase has become more commonly used (ie outside academia) and during that time its meaning has changed (or one could argue, it has been appropriated by patriarchy) to mean what other posters have said. That is to say, all the stuff about how we don’t need feminism any more, femininity is empowering, I’m sure you know the kind of thing. As such, I don’t believe it is still valid to use the term with its original meaning, in fact I’d say it’s confusing to continue to try to do so.
      At the same time, feminism seems to have moved closer to the original ‘post-feminist’ discourse (or perhaps it always was there and ‘post-feminism’ was simply mis-labelled?) and the idea that patriarchal privilege is just one kind of privilege created in society by cultural constructions.
      In 1994 I would have described myself and many of the people whose views I agree with, as post-feminist'; now I would simply say feminist, but my views and theirs have not changed.

  15. I used to be a feminist, and now consider myself a post-feminist. I guess I was always an equality feminist, I just want the same rights and rewards as men. But one day I just realized I couldn’t tell the difference between radical feminists and the radical right. The parallels between the two are so pervasive, it’s just very disheartening.

    Now that the radical right has adopted the whole language of critical theory to attack the center, I just can’t listen to either side anymore without feeling like I’m stuck between two crazy and angry people who won’t listen to anyone but the crazy voices in their heads.

    Like I listen to someone like JadeWolf above, proclaiming herself a radical feminist and unwilling to settle for equal treatment under the law, and she kind of scares me. I don’t want to be involved in some massive social experiment to force artificially created gender roles on people. That just sounds horrible.

    Radical feminist draw so much from Marxist theory, seeing everything as this struggle between haves (men) and have-nots (women), and wanting to have a revolution and change everything. Which worked out so well for the Marxists, right?

    It’s not that there isn’t still problems or issues, I just don’t think radical feminism has any solutions for those problems, and I don’t think radical feminism is willing to be self-critical or self-aware at all, just like radical Christianity and radical free marketers, and radical everything else. I’m just tired of radicals. When have they ever made the world a better place?

    Mostly, I just feel like radical feminism is all that is left of feminism. So I’m “post-feminism.”

  16. [...] a type of feminism not addressed by the textbook authors, post-feminism. One definition is provided here. In short, post-feminists assume that the feminist movement (the one characterized by the liberal, [...]

  17. Just thought I better let you know, that you have incorrectly referenced Mary Hawkesworth’s name in your in-text referencing. Both times you have quoted her name to be “hawkeNsworth”.

  18. Hi Sarah. I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say, “I don’t want to be involved in some massive social experiment to force artificially created gender roles on people.” It seems from this that you think that’s what radical feminists want. It’s certainly not what I want. I want to *end* the society that forces gender roles on people, which is what we have now.

    Also, point well taken that revolutions rarely live up to their ideals. I totally agree. But I take the opposite conclusion that you do: because we haven’t gotten it right yet, we need to keep trying! I’d say that the continuation of patriarchy (ie a system of domination and subordination) has been a major cause of the failure of most revolutions to live up to their promises. They end up perpetuating dominance because they don’t break free of patriarchy.

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