Skip to content

Feminism in a nutshell

March 4, 2013

Happel and Esposito write very clearly, so… their summary of the three ‘waves’ of feminism is as follows:

“There has always been contention within the feminist movement.When feminism is discussed in terms of a historical perspective, the movement is often simplistically divided into 3 waves. Sheila Tobias (1998) distinguishes first wave feminism as the time period 1850–1919 which culminated in women gaining the right to vote. The second wave is often marked by the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique in 1963, and this wave has been deemed in popular culture as the bra-burning time of fighting against the objectification of women (1960s and 1970s). The third wave made claims to be a new generation of feminists. These women had benefited from their grandmother’s and mother’s activism and maintained that, because the political and social climate was different in the 1980s and 1990s than what it was during the 1960s and 1970s, their feminism espoused different goals and expectations. McRobbie (2004) articulates the 1990s as a period where feminists recognized the body as a site of political struggle. There was less focus on institutional apparatuses of power as feminists made claims to body politics. This turn away from political power structures (including patriarchy) has created what has been termed postfeminism. Although this term has wide variation depending upon discipline (and even within discipline),McRobbie (2004) defines postfeminism as:

[‘]An active process by which feminist gains of the 1970s and 80s come to be undermined. It proposes that through an array of machinations, elements of contemporary popular culture are perniciously effective in regard to this undoing of feminism,while simultaneously appearing to be engaging in a well-informed and even well-intended response to feminism.[‘] (258)

Postfeminism suggests that the goals of feminism have been attained and, thus, there is no need for further collective mobilization around gender (Modleski 1991). Women are presumed to be free to articulate our desires for sex, power, and money without fear of retribution. The notion of choice discussed in terms of postfeminism takes the stance that women are free agents in their lives, thus, they are able to make choices free from sexist constraints and institutionalized oppression. The focus remains on the individual (the personal as split from the political), instead of how the individual is located within a heteropatriarchal culture (the personal is political). It is the institution of popular culture that helps disseminate the proliferation of postfeminism’s ideologies (McRobbie 2004). Some popular culture texts deliberately examine the issue of feminism to only illustrate how it is no longer a useful concept and that, instead, women have moved beyond a feminist critique of woman as object to celebrate the notion of choice or of woman as subject (McRobbie 2004). Kinser (2004) claims that a postfeminist discourse is seductive to young women because they can simultaneously acknowledge feminism while [-p.528] expressing relief that the feminist movement is no longer necessary. We must be cognizant of the ways that postfeminism “co-opts the motivating discourse of feminism but accepts a sense of empowerment as a substitute for the work toward and evidence of authentic empowerment” (Kinser 2004, 134).” (pp.527-528)

Ref: Alison Happel & Jennifer Esposito (2010): Vampires, Vixens, and Feminists: An Analysis of Twilight, Educational Studies, 46:5, 524-531

Reference is to: Kinser, Amber E. 2004. “Negotiating Spaces for/through Third Wave Feminism.” NWSA Journal 16: 124–154.

McRobbie, Angela. 2004. “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.” Feminist Media Studies 4: 255–264.

Modleski, Tania. 1991. Feminism Without Women: Culture and Criticism in a “Postfeminist” Age. New York: Routledge.

Tobias, Sheila. 1998. Faces of Feminism: An Activist’s Reflections on the Women’s Movement. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Comments are closed.