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Study Notes

Post-modern Feminism

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

Post-modern feminism is distinct to the three main strands of feminist thought. Post-modern feminists begin with the assumption that the modernist conception of feminism places overt emphasis upon gender differences between women and men whilst ignoring the differences within each gender.

Post-modern feminists also claim that gender is largely developed from a discourse that we learn to adopt over time. Gender is therefore neither natural nor innate. Instead, gender is constituted by the way we talk, create images and present ourselves to others.

Another key element of post-modern feminism is the claim that patriarchy operates differently due to the social characteristics of women. The nature and extent of patriarchy is therefore different for a middle-class white woman than a poor black-woman. This view is framed within the concept of intersectionality which seeks to examine how biological, social and cultural categorisations interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels. It is a framework which enables us to identify how systemic injustice and inequality exists on a multitude of levels.

Given the sheer diversity within feminist thought, it may well be appropriate to use the term feminisms (Coffey, 2004). At the very least, we should be careful to avoid generalisations when considering the ideology of feminism. It is also debatable to what extent feminists speak for women. The American academic Camille Paglia is a particularly forceful opponent of feminism. Paglia believes that feminism has generated a sense of victimhood that does not apply to all women. From a similar angle, Christina Hoff Sommers adds that modern feminist thought often holds an “irrational hostility to men.” She therefore claims that contemporary feminism is overtly radical and therefore disconnected from the lives of everyday women.

Finally, it is worth reminding ourselves that many women do not class themselves as feminists. Perhaps the most famous line of argument here derives from the first female Prime Minister of the UK who boldly declared “I owe nothing to women’s liberation.” It is a view which perfectly encapsulates the conservative strand of thought amongst women who have smashed through the glass ceiling with no outside assistance. They have merely shown themselves to be outstanding at their jobs and better than any comparable man. As such, it may be enough to adopt a ‘pro-women’ stance rather than labelling oneself as a feminist. This argument is particularly persuasive for those who feel the term itself carries a certain degree of ideological baggage. At the very least, it must be recognised that the issues facing women are different to previous waves of feminist thought. It also reflects a recognition that some objectives of the women’s movement have been achieved.

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