Feminist Perspectives: "Post-Feminism" As A Cultural Phenomenon

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Feminism is considered to be an ‘umbrella term.’ It comes from women fighting for their stance against patriarchy throughout history. Over time, the term feminism has been divided into waves to differentiate the movements of different years about politics, economics, and gender. The first wave of feminism saw the suffrage movement focussing on equality relating to the right to vote for women. Second-wave feminism revolved around the fight for sexual and reproductive rights, focusing on gender equalities from social and cultural contexts. The third-wave feminism sees us into the present day, which revolves around the idea of post-feminism and gender equality. This essay set out to explore different feminist perspectives, to evaluate how they have become a cultural phenomenon and how the concept of post-feminism is challenged. The concept of feminism revolves around sexuality and gender equality and how women are portrayed and treated. This will be the main context for my essay. This essay will engage not only with primary texts but will assess how post-feminism is considered to be the third wave and how this has become a cultural phenomenon through theorists such as Naomi Wolf. Also using journals and quantitative data analysis, to look at the different perspectives. The main point I will be looking at about feminism as a whole is gender inequality and sexuality and this will be what my essay will revolve around to evaluate if post-feminism is a cultural phenomenon or not.

Since the early 1980s, a new perspective has evolved on second-wave feminism. This is known as ‘post-feminism’, which is also seen as being the third wave of feminism. Post-feminists claim that “no singular perspective on feminism can speak for women across the multiple differences of race.” (Laughey, 2007) However, an opposite view from a post-feminist is that they have a propensity to blame women because what the second wave proposed, hasn’t happened yet. This links to the idea that post-feminism has become a commodity. (Tasker and Negra, 2007) In contrast, post-feminists assume that gender equality has been more or less achieved from the second wave, but as matter of fact, it hasn’t. Natasha Walter produced a statement in which she states, “Everywhere you look, you see individual women who are freer and more powerful than women have ever been before.” (Laughey, 2007) This statement along with Laughey’s statement shows how feminists have different views on the extent to which post-feminism and the third wave have improved gender equality and gender rights. Post-feminism is evident in television shows such as Sex in the City (1998-2004) which have shown that the women within the show can try on identities and adopt them without conforming to feminine stereotypes. (McRobbie, 2004) Despite post-feminism being a popular perspective, it has undergone some criticism which I will go into more detail about later on. Some people believe that post-feminism has just been changed into an acceptable form so that it appeals to women and does not advance women’s position. This shows that post-feminism is a complicated perspective and wave which has evolved to be classed as the third wave. This is because there is not any sign of a fourth wave yet, post-feminism or what is also known as the third wave is still present from the 1980s to the present day which creates a thought as to why it is becoming a cultural phenomenon.

There are many different perspectives on feminism, and they all share the same values and goals on equality between the sexes. They each contain a different look at feminist views and the problems of patriarchy. One form of feminism that I will be looking into is ‘Radical Feminism.’ This perspective typically revolves around anti-pornography campaigns and the concerns they have about the effects the media portrays of sex-role stereotyping, as well as gender equality within the workplace. Andrea Dworkin is a theorist who is well positioned within radical feminism. She is well-known for attacking the pornography industry by claiming it has violated the civil rights of women and this is the reason why they are portrayed the way they are within society. She made a statement in the press, “Men are rapists, batterers, plunders, killers” (Dworkin, 1981) reinforcing what radical feminists stand for and how the media still suggests that women still need men. An alternative radical view is from Liesbet van Zoonen. He wrote a book in which within it he questions “why pornography should be treated as a separate phenomenon, given a wider cultural tradition of representing women as objects of the male gaze.” (Zoonen, 2005) This statement suggests that pornography isn’t the main reason why women are being treated the way they are. The Male Gaze theory within feminism revolves around depicting women in the form of visual arts and literature from a masculine, heterosexual perspective. This theory represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of a male viewer. (Lowe, 2019) There is a theoretical weakness within Dworkin’s theory as it contains an element of the hypodermic needle model. (Lasswell, 1938) This is because of the media effects in which Dworkin assumes that pornography will cause male violence towards women which then causes it to be less convincing to some feminists. This is one of the reasons why radical feminism is one of the least supported perspectives within feminism. It separates from other perspectives as they believe that the problems between men's and women’s roles aren’t caused by women being badly represented, but rather by there being obvious differences between the two genders. As a result of what they believe and think about gender equality, even in the workplace, media and popular culture have helped to reproduce them. However, the underlying cause is considered to lie in essential biological and psychological traits.

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When looking at what radical feminists would say about gender equality, they want to abolish the patriarchy to eliminate male domination and oppression of women in social and economic contexts. This includes opposing the sexual objectification of women and challenging the concept of gender roles. Early radical feminism, rising from the second wave in the 1960s viewed patriarchy as a “transnational phenomenon.” (Willis, 1984) However, moving later on into more of the third wave, politics came from radical feminism and ranged from cultural feminism to more political which placed issues of class and economics, etc on the same level as patriarchy. This reinforces the fact that radical feminism is a cultural phenomenon because it has evolved not just to look at gender roles and inequalities, but sexual objectification, class, and economics which relate to the present day, as well as when the perspective first came to light. Even though it is now the least popular perspective and has fizzled out over the years to become the least practiced perspective of feminism, people to this day still use radical feminism.

looking at another perspective of feminism that is a contrast to radical feminism is liberal feminism. Liberal feminists mainly revolve around the idea of irrational prejudice and stereotypes about what the supposedly natural role of women as wives and mothers account for the unequal position of women in society. Women are considered to be working in traditional female roles such as secretary, nurse, receptionist, or sex object. Liberal feminists argue that society holds the false belief that women are less intellectually and physically capable than men, hence why they are typically in female job roles. This means women tend to be discriminated against because of the job roles they are in. Quantitative data analysis has shown that in media, women are shown to be depicted as a wife, mothers, daughters, and girlfriends; working in traditional female roles. There is also seen by a distinct wage gap in some jobs, which has supposedly been eliminated from society. (Ziman, 2013) However, an example that contradicts this is Superwoman in magazines. They portray her as being an independent career woman, successful wife, and mother, who is still pretty and has kept the body she had when she was younger, even after having children. (Zoonen, 2005) There is a change in media content to allow for the contradiction of discrimination to be seen by some feminists. Liberal feminism, from the late 18th century to the present day has shown that social participation and public life have been denied to women. Mary Wollstonecraft is a liberal feminist who argued that women should be included in masculine projects. She wanted women to get what men had within the same class category in terms of opportunities and social. (Beasley, 2005) A ‘women’s movement was also created by Betty Friedman in 1966 called ‘NOW’, National Organisation for Women, which allowed for a new form of liberal feminism to come through, arguing that despite women gaining more rights, they were still confined to typical domestic roles of a woman. (National Organization for Women, 2019) The movement group ‘NOW’ suggests that post-feminism is a cultural norm because the group is still active to this present day, standing up for women’s rights and gender equality, which means the group has evolved to go along with the changes in years from when it was first founded, to now as cultural and social norms have changed. Liberal feminists believed that if the governance of society was to improve, the attitude towards women would too, and this is what the women’s movement groups were trying to achieve. This benefit would also mean access to education, and career opportunities, particularly for those marginalized in society. In contrast, looking at the workplace, the problem of sexism is thought to be resolvable through legislation being introduced to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Although, the number of female journalists has increased significantly in the US recently. (Zoonen, 2005) This shows that although liberal feminism has helped to change multiple issues within society, it isn’t able to positively impact every part that liberal feminists stand for. In addition, liberal feminism is one of the most significant main strands of feminism. It was seen to be the most dominant during both the first wave and the third wave and overall entails an engagement with the political and legislative process such as the One Billion Rising worldwide movement against violence against women. (Tutor2U, n.d)

When looking at what liberal feminists believe about gender equality, in the context of my essay, insist on freedom for women. Liberal feminism has been the leading form since Mary Wollstonecraft’s call for equality in 1972. Liberal feminism has led to major legislation being passed, guaranteeing women equal rights, education, pay, and opportunity. An example of legislation being introduced that positively affected gender equality is the Equality Act of 2010 meaning you can’t discriminate against characteristics such as age and gender. (Legislation.gov.uk, 2019) However, liberal feminism has been criticized for not recognizing sex and gender differences, suggesting that women should change to succeed. Despite all of this, they believe they want a society where women hold political equality with men. Over the years, looking recently at what has changed within gender equality, liberal feminism has influenced changes in society with legislation to allow for discrimination within the workplace to be eliminated, meaning this has positively impacted how women are treated, even though there are some cases of women working in typically female job roles. Looking back at the context of my essay and the statement I am discussing, liberal feminism is the opposite of radical and is far more credited. This means that because they want to maintain comparable actions and want sexual equality through political and legal reform, this reinforces the fact that post-feminism is a cultural phenomenon because they share similar values and liberals also share more beliefs that relate to the cultural times of this century.

The idea of post-feminism can be challenged by some feminists. The main criticism is that post-feminism commodifies feminism. This means that for example, advertisers will specifically market products to women to sell into their femininity and use their domesticity to sell the products. This is commonly used within advertising for products such as cleaning products. The other key criticism of post-feminism is that it is seen to not advance women’s position, but it is repackaged as an acceptable form of feminism for women and produced back to them, leading them to believe it is true. Tania Modleski came up with a book called ‘Feminism without Women’ in which she scrutinizes post-feminism and suggests the idea that it is a myth. (Modleski, 1991) She is a key criticizer of post-feminism as she discusses the assumptions of post-feminism and argues the values post-feminists claim to promote. This suggests that although post-feminism is widely used to this present day, some feminists criticize how it has become known and how it evolved from second-wave feminism.

In conclusion, looking back at both of the feminist perspectives I have spoken about whether post-feminism is a cultural phenomenon or not, the primary and secondary sources I have used as well as criticisms of post-feminism, support this statement. A cultural phenomenon is when individuals behave a certain way or do something merely because other individuals do as well. The reason why these perspectives sway toward post-feminism being a cultural phenomenon is that post-feminism isn’t just present through film, television, and literature, it is also present through advertising, magazines, music, and political discourse. This shows that as the industry has evolved, through the use of new media and social norms changing, post-feminism has become situated within all types of media, allowing it to change to go along with the social and cultural norms of each of the feminism waves. From the discussion of radical and liberal feminism using different examples and data analysis I used, the evidence suggests that post-feminism is a cultural phenomenon.


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