What's political about the new feminisms?

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Date: June 2009
From: Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies(Vol. 30, Issue 2)
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Document Type: Report
Length: 13,703 words
Lexile Measure: 1770L

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The "new feminisms": postfeminism, power feminism, third-wave feminism, do-me feminism, libertarian feminism, babe feminism, I'm not a feminist, but ... "feminism."

In this article, I examine these "new feminisms" to argue that they are not simply part of a backlash against feminism but are instead, in many cases, part of an ongoing contest over the meaning of feminism. Critical commentary on new feminisms has often accused this work of conflating consumerism with political action, personal change with political change, and cultural and cosmetic accommodations with economic and political restructuring. (1) While not entirely unfounded, these criticisms undervalue the real contributions some recent feminisms are making to social liberation movements, because these contributions do not easily fit into more familiar models of feminist politics. Rather than dismissing all the new feminisms as media hype or conservative backlash, I prefer to subject them to careful interrogation, not least because in addition to influencing some feminist work in the academy, they have had a far-ranging influence in the political, economic, and cultural spheres.

Most of the new feminisms can be grouped under the rubrics of "post-feminism," "third-wave feminism," or both; these describe a loosely related set of beliefs about the contemporary scope and role of feminism as well as the sites and possibilities for the development and deployment of political agency. Because these terms--post-feminism and third-wave feminism--are often (usually erroneously) used interchangeably, I want to explicate the different meanings of the terms and show how they are related (a shared "girl power" ideal), as well as how they are not (in nearly all other ways). While both are responses to dissatisfactions with liberal, socialist, and radical forms of second-wave feminist theory, they express these dissatisfactions for somewhat different reasons and in different ways, as I will show in the next section of this article. While postfeminism has exerted more political and cultural influence, I argue that third-wave feminism holds the most promise for building on and expanding outward from previous feminist theory and political practice.

Ultimately, my objective in this piece is to answer three questions:

what is political about this work; what is feminist about this work; and what is new about this work?

These questions are important yet fraught with definitional difficulties. Who is to say (definitively) what feminism is? Any definition I provide will both inevitably and rightly be contested by others within the loose amalgamation of people known as the "feminist movement." Feminism has always been many movements working for multiple ends. I neither insist on nor defend a narrow definition of feminism here, but I do assume that "women" and "gender" are two of the central categories of feminist analyses; though "woman" cannot readily be disaggregated from other identity categories, gender as a political organizing principle is central to feminist inquiry and activism. (2) Second, what counts as political? Second-wave feminism criticized traditional definitions of politics for being too narrowly defined and for discounting much of the political work that women engage in. In different ways, postfeminism and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A208178655