My Feminist and Cultural Theory course has thrown up some interesting questions for me about my feminist politics. There's a hell of a lot of material on the concept of postfeminism, how it's interwoven with neo-liberalism, in particular, a UK-centric Blairite focus on 'women's issues' and makeover culture (particularly 'symbolic violence' to women in makeover shows like What Not To Wear or the more odious 10 Years Younger as a metaphor for postfeminist values.
My tutor (who writes primarily on postfeminism and pop culture) and I have been at loggerheads over the definition of postfeminism and related issues for the past couple of weeks, and I do not see that changing. She defines postfeminism as a culture in which feminism is acknowledged and credited, but largely discarded in favour of a more individualistic 'choice' orientated politics coupled with some pre-feminist values that are established as being part of that 'choice' (see the popularity of self-identified postfeminist Laura Doyle's book and accompanying self-help movement Surrendered Wives). She refers frequently to a backlash against feminism in popular culture and the media - particularly the resurgence of the New Lad in the mid-90s, the accompanying ladmags (which also reduce masculinity to something pretty damn degrading), ever-present criticism of women who think they can 'have it all', and etc.
Me? I'm not so sure. My first question was really to express confusion as to what kind of feminism the backlash we're talking about is rattling against. Are we talking the second wave? Her response wasn't clear. I asked questions about the Third Wave - which I suppose I count myself as being part of (post-Butler/queer-informed feminism, I guess) and how 'we' differ. I suppose what irritates me most about the term and its implications is, as my tutor described, a notion that we're the naughty bad gals undoing all our elders' good work.
Calling oneself a feminist, in this place, at this time, is not always easy. Most of my friends refer to themselves as feminists, support feminism, understand feminist values, that a feminist does not automatically = dungarees wearing hairy man-hater (though I'm pretty lazy about shaving and fuck it if my (well, if they're male - never had a female partner who gave a damn, interestingly enough) sexual partner is has a problem. what preening are they pressured into doing, ffs?), generally pretty Sexism Aware types. But there's still aggression towards feminism, still an assumption that men and women are two entirely different species. There's usually a way to blame feminism for most of society's ills.
But still, what this postfeminism is 'post' is unclear to me. Is being not-entirely-anti-sexwork post-feminist? Or being not-at-all-anti-SM? Or, indeed, as my tutor put forward last week, not entirely anti the commercialisation of sexuality? I still see a way through. I'm not entirely negative about feminism's future in the West. Most of that lies in claiming agency for what we do, the choices we make - still seeking radical changes in gender politics. Not always easy in the face of our older feminist aunties telling us we're wrongwrongwrong and that we're not radical enough, but important to me all the same. While I'm no Andrea Dworkin I'm no Camille Paglia, either. I don't see feminist empowerment as being as simple as being female and doing something that makes me feel good, secure or validated.
I don't think the state of contemporary feminism is 'post'. In truth, I hate the fucking term. But if not, where, then, are we?