What is post-feminism and are we experiencing it? One of my favorite blogs, Finally, A Feminist 101 Blog, discusses post-feminism thoroughly in its FAQs. The article on Post-Feminism, by tekanji, explains in part:
“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…
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).”
I suppose whether or not we’re in a post-feminist world depends on who you ask. Second Wave feminists like me, while acknowledging that the tenor of feminism has changed, are hardly likely to pronounce feminism is dead. This is partly because of the way Second Wavers saw the problems of women in our patriarchal society. Some people think that feminism has served its purpose because so many advancements fought for by Second Wave feminists have been achieved.
But there was (and is) more to Second Wavers than meets the eye. We weren’t just fighting for equal opportunities in education, the workplace and in politics. We felt that there was a basic inequality between the sexes that needed to be addressed. We saw men and women as sequestered in their separate worlds and felt that it was important for them to share the same world, within the home and without. While men and women have begun to be comrades in many spheres of life, there are still others in which the gender roles that divide us are alive and well. So, for a Second Wave feminist, feminism is most assuredly not dead. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t need resuscitation.
Third Wave feminists have a more complex terrain to cover. Their battles are not as clearly drawn. They have to fight against the backlash that seeks to diminiss and discredit what Second Wave feminists tried to do. And at the same time they have to come up with their own answers to the post-feminist movement. They know in their hearts that something is still not right between men and women, but they are less likely to blame men and so have no “bad guy” to point to the way Second Wave feminists did when they blamed the patriarchy.
There was a lot of pent-up anger being released during the years of Second Wave feminism. Things are calmer now. Sometimes they are so calm people think there’s nothing going on and that feminism is indeed dead. So younger feminists have to work harder to make their case. They have to convince the world that feminism is still a viable movement. But to do that they have to reshape the discourse.
Post-feminists are not just people who are against feminism. They are also feminists who are post-Second Wave, who are seeking to revive feminism in an indifferent—and a different—world. Sometimes I myself fear that there is no real feminist movement anymore. And maybe there isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t feminists out there, ready to rise up if they can only find a cause to identify with.
It seems vague these days to say that you’re a feminist, because the lines aren’t drawn as clearly as they were forty to fifty years ago. Now the war isn’t just between the sexes, it’s less personal and more political. The war is between those who want all persons to have a chance to reach their full potential and those who have a vested interest in keeping the populace in their places. It’s between the Big Boys and women who are too smart to be taken in by the Big Boys’ promises.
The Big Boys would have us believe that we live in a post-feminist world, that feminism is a non-issue. But feminists know better. We just have to figure out what we’re going to do about it.