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Postfeminism (sometimes stylized as post-feminism) is a reaction against some perceived contradictions and absences of second-wave feminism. The term postfeminism is commonly called "4th wave-feminism", or ‘women of color feminism’ (e.g. Hooks, 1996; Spivak, 1999) as it focuses on smaller problems on the grounds of equality to men. Postfeminism was historically used and sometimes is used today to pose a contrast with a prevailing or preceding feminism. Post-feminism strives to be the next stage in progress towards a society/culture that is free from the 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. Postfeminism is a critical way of understanding the changed relations between feminism, popular culture and femininity. Postfeminism can be considered as a critique on second-wave feminism because it questions the second wave’s binary thinking and essentialism, its vision on sexuality and its perception of the relationship between femininity and feminism. In a postfeminist society, every woman would recognize her own personal mix of identities. Second wave feminism is often critiqued for being too ‘white’, too ‘straight’, and too ‘liberal’, which consequently results in the needs of women from marginalized groups and cultures being ignored. Postfeminism would like to include and address the needs of those in the minority. Postfeminism, also linked with post-structuralism and postcolonialism not only critiques the modernist aspect of second wave feminism, but also challenges imperialist and patriarchal frameworks.

History of the term

Postfeminism was first used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism. It 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 post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society.[1]

Over the years, postfeminism has come to have almost as many meanings as feminism does. 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.'"[2]

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.[3] Other postfeminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society.[4] 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.[5]

The 1990s saw the popularization of this term, in both the academic world as well as media world. It was suddenly saw 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.[6]

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.[6]

Ultimately, postfeminism aims to help situate contemporary feminism as a continuation of the long history of the women’s movement.[7]

Characteristics of Postfeminism

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."[8]

According to Prof. D. Diane Davis, postfeminism is just a continuation of what first- and second-wave feminisms want.[9]

Postfeminism encourages women to define femininity for themselves. It deals with issues meant to limit or oppress women. It seeks to break down gender roles and stereotypes. Oppression comes from defining gender roles. Postfeminism celebrates sexuality and says that women can be empowered through working in the sex industry - strippers and adult film stars. In addition, in the era of postfeminism, gender is seen as being less rigid, and more fluid. Women can wield sexual power. Post feminism is fueled by advances in abortion, employment, and fertility laws. Postfeminists believe that traditional feminism perpetuates the idea of women as victims, whereas postfeminism concentrates on furthering the idea of empowerment, the celebration of femininity, freedom of choice, and liberation.

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.[10] These descriptions and her other work have caused Hoff Sommers to be described as an antifeminist by some other feminists.[11][12]

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.[13][14]

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.[15]

Susan Faludi, in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, argues that a backlash against second wave feminism in the 1980s has successfully re-defined feminism through its terms. She argues 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 argues that many of these problems are illusory, constructed by the media without reliable evidence. According to her, this type of backlash is a historical trend, recurring when it appears that women have made substantial gains in their efforts to obtain equal rights.[16]

Angela McRobbie argues that adding the prefix post- to feminism undermines the strides that feminism has made in achieving equality for everyone, including women. Postfeminism gives the impression that equality has been achieved and that feminists can now focus on something else entirely. McRobbie believes that postfeminism is 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 claim to be liberated and clearly enjoy their sexuality, but what they are constantly searching for is the one man who will make everything worthwhile.[17]

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."[18]

See also


  2. 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)))).
  3. Wright, Elizabeth, Lacan and Postfeminism (Icon Books, 2000), ISBN 978-1-84046-182-4
  4. Modleski, Tania. Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a "Postfeminist" Age. New York: Routledge, 1991, 3.
  5. 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.
  6. 6.0 6.1
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  9. 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).
  10. Hoff Sommers, Christina, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995)
  11. 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
  12. "Uncovering the Right—Female Anti-Feminism for Fame and Profit". Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2007-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Pollitt, Katha, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Vintage, 1995) ISBN 978-0-679-76278-2
  14. Strossen, Nadine, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights (Prentice Hall & IBD, 1995), ISBN 978-0-684-19749-4
  15. Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York: Viking, 2000, 275, 337.
  16. Faludi, Susan, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (Three Rivers Press, 2006)
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  18. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).

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

Further reading

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