I'll be a postfeminist in a postpatriarchy, or, Can We Really Imagine Life after Feminism?
I'll be a postfeminist in a postpatriarchy, or, Can We Really Imagine Life after Feminism?
From origin stories to progressive science fiction, Lisa Yaszek studies the changing face of feminsim.
When Elisabeth Joyce first asked me to write an essay for ebr ‘s postfeminist thread I jumped at the opportunity. Although I first learned feminist principles from my parents as a child in the 1970s, and I continue to teach those principles to students in my gender studies classes at Georgia Tech today, I admit that my understanding of the term “postfeminism” has been somewhat hazy. As I began researching this issue and discussing it with my colleagues and students, I realized I was not alone. After all, “postfeminism” seems to be used in even more complex and contradictory ways than “feminism” itself: to herald a new era of (at least theoretical) equality between men and women, to explain the rise of a New Traditionalism that looks much like the old traditionalism of the antifeminist 1950s, to champion the possibility of unfettered individual choice for women outside conventional political categories, to make sense of the diverse needs of women in the integrated circuit of global capitalism, and, finally, to mark theoretical and epistemological shifts in feminism itself. As such, postfeminism seems to be simultaneously elegiac and celebratory, descriptive and proscriptive, a fait accompli and an impossible dream.
My goal here is to begin making sense of postfeminism by mapping out its primary meanings for contemporary scholars and artists. Accordingly, in the first part of this essay I consider the multiple origin stories associated with postfeminism and how they inform the use of this term in three types of critical theory and aesthetic practice: feminist media studies, feminist literary and cultural theory, and contemporary women’s literature. In the second part of this essay I examine a fourth kind of critical and aesthetic practice that has long embraced the tenets of progressive postfeminism: feminist science fiction (SF).
The challenges inherent in pinning down any single meaning - or even several meanings - for postfeminism are perhaps best illustrated by the diversity of origin stories attached to the word itself. My own research uncovered at least seven such stories. The most common origin story posits that postfeminism first appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine during the mid-1970s, where it was (rather prematurely) used to celebrate women’s newfound equality in the public sphere and thus the completion of all feminist reform (Robinson 273). Elaine Tuttle Hansen more specifically claims that The New York Times first used the term “postfeminism” in October 1982 rather than in the mid-1970s (5). Either way, it is interesting to note that Times staff writers seem to be some of the most enthusiastic promoters of conservative postfeminism. For example, Tania Modleski begins her book Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a “Postfeminist” Age with another example from the Times in 1987, and I myself have counted at least half a dozen similar uses of the term in the Times over the past two years. Other sources also date the emergence of this term to the 1970s and 1980s, but attribute its creation to either continental philosophers Maria-Antoinetta Macciocchi and Julia Kristeva or to British theorist Toril Moi (Russo 28; Kavka 29). In both cases, postfeminism is used to “advocate a feminism that would deconstruct the binary between equality-based or ‘liberal’ feminism and difference-based or “radical’ feminism” (Kavka 29). Still other accounts suggest that postfeminism “is foremost - historically speaking - a product of the interventions of women of color into the feminist debate” during the 1980s (Koenen 132). And perhaps the most surprising origin story attributes the term to a mid-1970s New Zealand bumper sticker that proclaimed “I’LL BE A POSTFEMINIST IN A POSTPATRIARCHY” (Kavka 29).
Although most postfeminism origin stories seem to have emerged in response to the revival of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s - making them, in essence, “post-second-wave-feminism” origin stories - at least two other accounts indicate that the term first appeared more than half a century previously in response to first-wave feminism. Following Susan Faludi, Amanda D. Lotz dates the first use of the term to the 1920s popular press, who used it to celebrate the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and thus the “natural” conclusion of feminism itself. Elsewhere, Lillian S. Robinson argues that postfeminism emerged in 1919 when the editors of the American feminist journal Judy rededicated the magazine to “human liberation beyond the now-resolved male-female dialectic” (276). Like many feminists today, then, the editors of Judy saw feminism as a kind of analytic tool that could be applied to a range of social and political injustices beyond those faced specifically by women.
These diverse accounts may not provide us with a single, stable understanding of postfeminism, but they do suggest certain provocative trends in the concept’s history. As both the first- and second-wave stories clearly indicate, members of the mass media tend to use the term in a markedly different manner than feminists themselves. When journalists for The New York Times or People magazine write about postfeminism, they typically use the term in a very literal way: to describe the contemporary moment as one in which the goals of feminism have been achieved. In such accounts, this paves the way for a new era where women can follow in the footsteps of their feminist mothers and tough it out in the public sphere with their male counterparts - or, these same accounts suggest, contemporary women can be “truly” cutting edge and re-embrace older, seemingly simpler and more natural roles as homemakers (Probyn 152). Although this kind of new traditionalist rhetoric emerged in the 1980s in tandem with a more general backlash against feminism, feminist scholars such as Tania Modleski have been quick to point out that the two are not equivalent. If anything, New Traditionalist postfeminism is far more insidious than the backlash against feminism precisely because it “has been carried out not against feminism, but in its very name” (x).
Of course, feminist discussions of postfeminism also tend to cluster around historical periods marked by intense feminist activity. However, rather than using the term to celebrate the completion of such activity, feminists typically use it to assess the current state of progressive women’s politics and to explore how these politics might be modified, elaborated upon, and even expanded in relation to other significant cultural theories and historical events. As such, these discussions mark the beginning of a new cycle of feminist activity. Such activity tends to fall into one of three broad categories: scholarly examinations of gender politics as they are represented in the mass media (what we might call empirical studies of postfeminism); critical elaborations of feminism in relation to other prominent literary and cultural theories (what we might call theoretical postfeminism); and finally, the search on the part of women creative writers for new narratives that make sense of women’s lives beyond those already identified by feminist scholars (what I will call literary postfeminism).
Feminist media studies scholars have long been interested in depictions of women in television, film, and, more recently, on the Internet. Over the past decade and a half, scholars working in this discipline have turned their attention to the explosion of female-centered shows and films that implicitly - and sometimes even explicitly - engage the history of feminism itself. A great deal of this new scholarship is cautionary, exploring how conservative notions of postfeminism and new traditionalism, as they are espoused by journalists working for The New York Times and People magazine, are reiterated in television shows such as L.A. Law and the Star Trek franchise and films, including Thelma and Louise and Sense and Sensibility. As Elspeth Probyn argues, these TV programs and films appropriate the feminist language of choice, shear it of its sociopolitical charge and then “hawk the home as “the natural choice’ - which means, of course, no choice” (152). Thus conservative, media-generated visions of postfeminism are guided by the implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumption that women can’t have it all, that they must choose between: feminism and femininity (Moseley and Read 231); workplace and family (Probyn 147); protest against patriarchy and participation in romance and marriage (Samuelian 46); “crazy” collective political action and “more balanced” individual solutions (Press 11). In essence, then, conservative media postfeminism offers its viewers a depoliticized notion of choice that ultimately reinforces a patriarchal and capitalist status quo.
In the late 1990s feminist media scholars began to explore a somewhat more progressive trend in popular representations of postfeminism, noting that new shows offered viewers more thoughtful assessments of feminism’s legacy. As Rachel Moseley and Jacinda Read argue, such shows “[do] not centre on a conflict between career and personal life, but instead on the struggle to hold them together” (232). Additionally, Amanda D. Lotz suggests, progressive postfeminist shows “explore the diverse relations to power women inhabit” by investigating the impact of race and class on gender and through sympathetic treatments of the search for a suitable sexual partner and the challenges of single motherhood (115). Of course, as even the most ardent advocate of these newer postfeminist shows acknowledges, they are certainly not in the majority, nor are their political allegiances always consistent or clear. Nonetheless, they provide important insight into the diverse ways that feminist ideas are represented in the mass media.
As Lotz suggests in her review of recent media scholarship, critical insights into the progressive possibilities of postfeminist television and film are themselves direct results of new developments in literary and cultural theories of postfeminism. Much like other theoretical “posts,” theoretical postfeminism is not just about what historically comes after feminism. Rather, it encompasses a variety of attempts to identify and critique certain problematic assumptions in feminism, just as postmodernism critiques modernism and postcolonialism critiques colonialism. For example, Bette Mandl identifies two problems that have become central to postfeminist mediations on second-wave feminism: the discursive conflation of women’s community with family (which sometimes created unbearable tensions between self-development and altruistic sisterhood) and an emphasis on the biological homogeneity of all women which failed to acknowledge the specificities of race and class or the possibility of fruitful alliances between women and gays in any sustained way (124, 126). Not surprisingly then, theoretical postfeminists including Judith Butler, Anne Fausto-Sterling, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari ask us to think about sex and gender as “political rather than biological categories” that exist “as a multiplicity of spaces along a line of continuum rather than as a simple opposition” and thus to imagine a new kind of progressive politics “that is pulsional, equivocal, [and] flirtational” rather than unified and universal (Davis 132, 133). For similar descriptions of theoretical postfeminism, see also Misha Kavka’s “Feminism, Ethics, and History, or What Is the “Post’ in Postfeminism?” and Lisa Joyce’s Writing Postfeminism. While Kavka focuses primarily on the impact of continental philosophy on postfeminism, Joyce provides readers with a succinct discussion of postfeminism that seems more indebted to the North American tradition of pragmatic feminist criticism.
Given this emphasis on multiple, denaturalized subjectivities and fluid, nonlinear political strategies, it is not surprising that theoretical postfeminism is characterized by a sustained interest in reassessing feminism through the critical lens of poststructuralist and postmodern thinking. For example, postfeminists often invoke Derrida and Lacan as well as their female counterparts Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray to demonstrate how earlier modes of feminism posited an inevitable opposition between phallocentrism and gynocentrism without acknowledging how the two are bound together by a shared investment in logocentrism. The task for postfeminists, as Diane Mowery Davis sees it, is to recognize this commonality and then to move beyond it by embracing a “third position that is not really a position at all but a perpetual mobility”; indeed, for Davis this is key to the development of flirtational politics (130). For further discussion of the relations between feminism, continental theory, and postfeminism, see also Mary Russo’s “Notes on “Post-Feminism.’” Elsewhere, Anne Koenen argues that some of the most persuasive visions of postfeminism have come from feminists of color such as bell hooks, Barbara Christian, and Gloria Andalzua, who appropriate “male, pale, and Yale” theories about the fragmentation of the subject, the deconstruction of the center, and changing notions of literary canonization, modifying them to “suit the context of the margin and to evade the blind spots of those theories” (131). In the hands of such scholars, postfeminism becomes a crucial means by which to articulate the multiplicity of subject positions that modern women experience - and the multiple ways that they theorize this experience for themselves and others (135).
Finally, theoretical postfeminism provides scholars with an opportunity to rethink feminist praxis in relation to the advanced sciences and technologies that increasingly shape life in a postindustrial era. In 1985 Donna Haraway’s groundbreaking “Cyborg Manifesto” urged feminists to begin seriously considering the promises and perils of a technoscientific culture that reorganizes women’s relations to themselves, their families, and their communities in the name of global capitalism. Haraway’s arguments have inspired an explosion of feminist “cyborg studies” in the past two decades, especially as they pertain to what are sometimes called postfeminist appropriations of electronic writing technologies. Indeed, one of the primary goals of the original ebr postfeminist weave was just that: to show how “women are just as involved in the electronic frontier of the Web as men are” (Joyce, para. 1). Electronic writing technologies have become increasingly central to postfeminist thinking about contemporary women’s writing, I believe, because they seem to be ideal mediums through which to explore the multiple subjectivities and histories that postfeminists theorize about elsewhere. For scholarly discussions of electronic technologies and women’s writing, see Anne Balsamo’s “Feminism for the Incurably Informed” and Janine Marchessault and Kim Sawchuk’s Wild Science: Reading Feminism, Medicine and the Media. For discussions oriented toward a more general audience, see Carla Sinclair’s Netchick: A Smart-Girl Guide to the Wired World and Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future.
Of course, the hope for new narrative forms that adequately capture the diverse experience of contemporary women is not limited to the realm of electronic writing. Rather, it is central to much of the literary postfeminism characteristic of women’s drama, poetry, and fiction of the past several decades. As theater critic Sue-Ellen Case notes, women artists often resist feminism “as an imposition or confinement of their creative processes” (qt. in Mandl 120). Elsewhere, Canadian poet Anne McLean elaborates on this resistance from the perspective of the artist herself, opposing a rich and diverse Western poetic tradition based on “human and self-knowledge” - including self-knowledge about “the worst aspects of what is said about us” - to what she perceives as the “horrifying puritanism” of feminist writing (95). For McLean, this puritanism derives from the feminist imperative to write about just one female archetype, the New Woman, to the exclusion of all other possibilities (96). Here, then, McLean clearly articulates the writer’s concern that feminism might limit her creative possibilities.
So what, then, might come after feminist (specifically second-wave feminist) writing? What might a postfeminist literature look like? Some of the most provocative answers come from Cris Mazza, editor of the popular postfeminist Chick-Lit anthologies (including 1995’s Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction and 1996’s Chick-Lit2: No Chick-Vics). Indeed, Mazza notes that the Chick-Lit anthologies were specifically designed to introduce readers to new women authors who were using experimental narrative forms to depict their hopes and fears “without having to live up to standards imposed by either a persistent patriarchal world or the old feminist insistence that female characters achieve self-empowerment” (104-5). Much like her counterparts in theater and poetry, then, Mazza’s postfeminism is grounded in a specific critique of second-wave feminism as limiting the narrative options available to women writers.
At the same time, Mazza goes beyond her counterparts by specifically describing not just what postfeminist writing reacts against - too many stories about superwomen and too many stories about women as victims - but what it actually looks like:
It’s writing that says women are independent and confident but not lacking in their share of human weakness and not necessarily self-empowered; that they are dealing with who they’ve made themselves into rather than blaming the rest of the world; that women can use and abuse another human being as well as anyone; that women can be conflicted about what they want and therefore get nothing; that women can love until they hurt someone, turn their own hurt into love, refuse to love, or even ignore the notion of love completely as they confront the other 90 percent of life. Postfeminist writing says female characters don’t have to be superhuman in order to be interesting. Just human. (105)
For Mazza and her co-editors Jeffrey DeShell and Elisabeth Sheffield, postfeminist literature might well derive from a specific critique of feminism, but it is decidedly not antifeminist; indeed, it has the honorable goal of turning “laughter at a woman’s concerns into laughter with a woman” (104). As such, Mazza ultimately positions postfeminist literature as an enactment of the utopian longings inherent in the liberal humanist feminism that has permeated much of American history, including second-wave feminism itself: the simple but profound desire to see women as fully developed people. For further discussion of the Chick-Lit anthologies and literary postfeminism see Mazza’s essay for ebr, No Victims: The Anti-Theme, as well as Diane Goodman’s What is Chick-Lit? and Elisabeth Sheffield’s Postfeminist Fiction (both of which are also posted on in ebr). For explorations of postfeminism in other contemporary women’s writing, see Paul Christian Jones’s “A Re-Awakening: Anne Tyler’s Postfeminist Edna Pointellier in Ladder of Years “; Janice Doane’s “Undoing Feminism: From the Preoedipal to Postfeminism in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles”; and Michelle Comstock’s “Grrrl Zine Networks: Re-Composing Spaces of Authority, Gender, and Culture.”
I am particularly interested in Mazza’s comments about postfeminist literature because she provides one of the most extensive discussions of this subject and because as an established author in her own right, she receives a good deal more publicity than her academic counterparts. As such, I believe it is important for us to carefully consider the promises and perils of postfeminism as she articulates it. My first concern has to do with the term postfeminism itself. Given the trickiness of the word - especially as it is bandied about by the popular press and in the mass media - why not simply call this new cycle of women’s theory and praxis “third-wave feminism”? Of course, many postfeminists - including Mazza herself - are beginning to do just that. So why didn’t this happen sooner? The answer lies in the recent history of feminism itself: Discussions of postfeminism began in the 1980s on the heels of second-wave feminism and reached their pinnacle with the Chick-Lit anthologies in the mid-1990s. This is precisely when the phrase “third-wave feminism” first appeared in Rebecca Walker’s To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995). More recently, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards have popularized the phrase in their treatise Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (2000) and in their online work for feminist.org. For such authors, the phrase third-wave feminism is preferable to postfeminism precisely because it invokes the long history of collective feminist action in America, including its continued importance for women in the present and, presumably, the future as well.
My second concern has to do with the way postfeminism seems to invoke a “blame-the-victim” mentality in even its most thoughtful and articulate champions. As Bette Mandl notes, when postfeminist scholars and artists focus their attention on the disappointments of second-wave feminism, they run the risk of simply repeating the rhetoric of the popular press and suggesting that if women have failed to achieve their political goals, it is due to problems inherent in feminism rather than due to the intransigence of patriarchal society itself (124). I found this to be particularly apparent in Cris Mazza’s writing. For example, while I certainly share Mazza’s desire for a new kind of literature that depicts women as more than one-dimensional victims or superheroes, I am surprised by the extent to which the victim-and-recovery theme informs her discussion of Chick-Lit. In essence, Mazza casts the struggle to create the Chick-Lit anthologies as one in which she and a few other brave souls must struggle out from under the oppressive dictates of an overly-idealistic feminism that has become so narrow and prescriptive in its thinking that it has, ultimately, been co-opted into patriarchy itself. Although Mazza insists that she and her cohorts are not antifeminists, then at best literary postfeminism seems to be apolitical and afeminist. At worst, it places creative writers in an adversarial relation to the entire history of feminism.
Of course, the question remains: if Mazza and other literary postfeminists had called themselves third-wave feminists, would anything have been different? I cannot help but think that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. When we think about the long history of feminism as stretching from Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 manifesto “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” to the present, then we are invited to think about our own hopes and fears not just in relation to second-wave feminism but also in relation to the 175 years of feminist activity that precede it. Furthermore, the very notion of feminist waves is fruitful because it encourages us to think about feminist activity as something that changes over time in relation to specific historical and material conditions, rather than as an ahistorical, monolithic movement that is opposed to any kind of innovation or change. I myself would love to know how authors like Mazza see their work in relation to other waves of feminism and feminist narrative practice: how do the Chick-Lit anthologies compare with, say, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, a feminist classic that quietly celebrates the ordinary life of an urban housewife who is neither a superwoman nor a victim? Mazza herself admits that she has had a difficult time explaining the Chick-Lit anthologies to her colleagues in English and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois (108). Perhaps placing them in a larger historical context might have mitigated these difficulties.
Regardless of whether we call it postfeminism or third-wave feminism, the creative writers’ call for new modes of narrative that enable us to see women as fully developed people rather than abstract superheroes or victims is a powerful one. Accordingly, in the final section of this essay I want to consider another area of literary production where authors have been imagining powerful postfeminist futures since the advent of second-wave feminism: in feminist science fiction (SF), especially as it is written by gay and lesbian authors. There are, of course, a number of straight feminist SF authors who also explore the possibility of postpatriarchal worlds, including Octavia Butler (whose Xenogenesis trilogy explores human-alien hybrid families comprised of five parents with three distinct genders), Pat Cadigan (who speculates about the impact of virtual reality on conventional notions of sex and gender in her cyberpunk detective novels), and John Varley (who imagines far futures where men and women use advanced technologies to change their sex and invent new gendered identities on a regular basis). Here, however, I have chosen to focus on gay and lesbian authors because they have used SF to imagine postpatriarchy in some of the most groundbreaking and consistently challenging ways. Much like their Chick-Lit counterparts, such authors offer readers visions of worlds peopled by women (and men) who clearly depart from conventional expectations of sex and gender. They do so, however, by approaching postfeminism itself from a radically different perspective. Rather than asking, “what comes after feminism?” SF authors typically pursue the possibilities inherent in the claim that “I’ll be a postfeminist in a postpatriarchy.” As such, they ask us to think not just within the present moment of incomplete feminist gains but more provocatively, about what might come after the completion of feminist projects and the dismantling of patriarchy itself.
SF is particularly well suited to this kind of speculation because, as SF author and critic Pamela Sargent puts it:
Other literature can show us women imprisoned by attitudes toward them, at odds with what is expected of them, or making the best of their situation in present or past societies…. sf and fantasy literature can show us women in entirely new or strange surroundings. It can explore what we might become if and when the present restrictions on our lives vanish, or show us new problems or restrictions that might arise. (lx)
Sargent’s comments here can help us better understand both mainstream authors’ reluctance to ally themselves with feminist agendas and feminist authors’ interest in popular or paraliteratures. For the mainstream authors, it might well seem awkward to imagine the completion of the feminist project and the emergence of New Women (and New Men!) when trying to represent a world where neither of these events has yet occurred. Conversely, for feminist authors, SF’s insistence on historical mutability and utopian possibility provides an ideal narrative vehicle through which to posit and explore the always necessary and political question, “what comes after patriarchy?” In essence, then, SF is a powerful tool that enables authors of all political persuasions to theorize about both science and society in powerful ways. For further discussion, see Carl Freedman’s Critical Theory and Science Fiction.
And indeed, feminist SF authors offer a surprising array of answers to this question. One of the first and most powerful glimpses of postpatriarchy comes at the very end of Joanna Russ’ science fiction classic The Female Man (1975). Russ’ novel follows the adventures of four women who are all variants on the same genotype living on parallel Earths as they prepare for a cataclysmic event that threatens them all: a final, literal Battle of the Sexes. Joanna, the character who inhabits an Earth much like our own, decides that she can best contribute to the war effort as an author. In a highly self-reflexive move, she then writes a book about four variants on the same genotype preparing for a multiverse Battle of the Sexes that she calls - of course - The Female Man. As Joanna sends her book into the world, she imagines what its fate might be if women win the forthcoming war:
Wash your face and take your place without fuss in the Library of Congress, for all books end up there eventually, both little and big…. Do not get glum when you are no longer understood, little book. Do not curse your fate. Do not reach up from readers’ laps and punch the readers’ noses.
Rejoice, little book!
For on that day, we will be free. (Female Man 213-14)
For both Joanna the character and Joanna Russ the author, a truly postfeminist, postpatriarchal world is one where women will no longer be superheroes or victims (as they so often are in The Female Man itself); instead, it is a world where gender inequity - and stories about it - will simply no longer make sense.
This is not to say that SF authors imagine postpatriarchal worlds as sterile, static places stripped of human desire, but as spaces where the relations between sex, gender, and desire are organized along radically different lines. For instance, as one of the narrators in Samul R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) explains:
In Arachnia as it is spoken on Nepiy, “she” is the pronoun for all sentient individuals of whatever species who have achieved the legal status of “woman.” The ancient, dimorphic form “he,” once used exclusively for the genderal indication of males…for more than a hundred-twenty years now, has been reserved for the general sexual object of “she,” during the period of excitation, regardless of the gender of the woman speaking or the gender of the woman referred to. (78)
Here, Delany articulates insights about the multiplicity of sexed and gendered subjectivities and the mobility of sexual desire much like those offered by theoretical and literary postfeminists. In doing so, he vividly demonstrates how gender may be constituted differently across time and space. Additionally, he suggests that even within a given culture gender may be highly flexible, emerging as it does at the interface of social custom and personal desire.
Although the postfeminist, postpatriarchal worlds of SF are almost always characterized by this kind of gender playfulness and sexual exuberance, they are hardly free of strife. Indeed, the notion of difference within a continuum of sex and gender has become even more central to the current generation of SF authors. For example, Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite (1992) invokes the century-long feminist tradition of imagining an alternate world where all the men have been killed by some natural disaster, thus freeing the women to build a harmonious new society. This tradition is generally thought to begin with Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora: A Prophecy (1881) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915). More recent examples include Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (1972) and The Female Man (1975) and Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (1991). For further discussion of women’s utopian writing, see especially Carol Farley Kessler’s Daring to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women before 1950 and Jane L. Donawerth and Carol Kolmerton’s Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference. Griffith, however, departs from this tradition by depicting the women of her world as deeply enmeshed in complex relations - to themselves and others, to offworld corporations and planet-bound tribes, to families and romantic partners - that continually threaten the survival of all. As one offworlder explains to her corporate peers: “I know these people. Or what they’ve become. They don’t think the way we do - they never did…. Their way of life is dying. They know that. But what they can’t conceive of is that it’s possible to live another way…. It’s almost impossible to understand” (319). And indeed, although some of these women do come to tentative understandings with one another by the end of Ammonite, many others are left out of these new alliances - and the fate of the planet as a whole is still shrouded in mystery. Here, then, Griffith explores both “what we might become” in a postpatriarchal world and, concurrently, the “new problems and restrictions” that might arise when older ones are banished.
In conclusion, postfeminism encompasses a diverse range of attitudes toward the second-wave variants of feminism that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. For the most part, conservative and progressive writers alike have used it to think about what comes after those feminist practices that secured important rights for women in the past but that no longer seem to address the complexities of women’s lives in a technology-intensive era of global capitalism. Additionally, postfeminism can be used to describe the creative output of feminist SF authors who explore the radical, politically charged question of what might come after patriarchy itself. With the increasing popularity of the phrase “third-wave feminism” as a descriptor for contemporary women’s progressive politics, however, it seems that postfeminism is rapidly becoming a term whose time has past. Thus we might think of it as one type of third-wave feminism or even as a way to describe a certain strain of theoretical and literary writing that emerged during the transition from second- to third-wave feminism.
Personally, I welcome this change in terminology. As even the most cursory Google search indicates, feminism is alive and well, especially amongst the young women (and even amongst some of the young men) who populate our classrooms and read our books. In contrast to many of those artists and scholars who have identified themselves as postfeminists, this new generation of media-savvy women and men were born long after the rise and fall of second-wave feminism. As such, they evince almost no nostalgia for the mythic dream of a lost sisterhood that seems to permeate much postfeminist writing, nor are they duped by conservative claims about the completion of the feminist project and the return to gender relations as usual. They are, however, remarkably curious about the past, present, and future of feminism. And I, for one, look forward to teaching it to them. After all, it’s like the sticker says: there will be plenty of time to be postfeminists once we all live in a postpatriarchy.
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