Postmodern feminism

Postmodern feminism might have began somewhere in the early 1980s with the coinage of the term post-feminism which in fact looks critically at the various feminist theories of the past especially from the second wave of feminism. It also coincides with the third-wave feminism which began in the yearly 1990s. Postmodern feminist thought challenges and avoids the essentialist definitions of femininity that was propagated during the period of modern feminism. Modern feminism worked with the existentialist view on women which establishes the argument that “one is not born a woman, but becomes one" and thus here the focus is on the social and cultural construction of women by the system.

On the other hand postmodern feminism tries to break away from this thinking which overemphasized the experience of upper middle-class white women in America. According to the thinking that originates in post modern feminism "woman" is a debatable category, complicated by class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other facets of identity and therefore gender is performative based on our natural heterosexuality rather than socially or culturally constructed. This argument leads to the conclusion that there is no single cause for women's subordination and no single approach towards dealing with the issue.

Based on the above principle postmodern feminist thought addresses broad range of issues related to gender based bias and discriminations. It tackles global issues such as rape, incest and prostitution and culturally specific issues like female genital mutation in some parts of Africa to infanticide leading to murder of the girl child before birth in some parts of Asia and glass ceiling practices that impede women’s advancement in developed countries. Postmodern feminism has in fact tried to understand that how gender inequality interacts with other issues like racism, homophobia, classism and colonization to produce and establish a “matrix of domination” by the patriarchal society.

Postmodern feminism cannot be considered as some sort of monolithic entity which is purely based on generalizations. Postmodern feminist thought is highly individual oriented and it relates to specific issues of women in a particular culture and society. Today women might broadly agree to the goals of feminism that is gender equality and end of gender discrimination but they might not identify themselves as traditional feminists.

Postmodern feminism is therefore experience oriented and women participate in the movement purely based on their practical personal experience in life and that is one of the reasons why the core identity of feminism has to be highly elastic. Postmodern feminist thought represents an incredible diversity of individual lives. Often a woman who otherwise won't align herself with feminism will seek it out when she is confronted with an abusive relationship, or if her boss is paying her less than her male counterparts, or, on a positive note, if she needs credit to start her own beauty salon.

Further women who identify themselves with postmodern feminism are not tied up or concerned with just one issue. They might align themselves with the self-determination and human rights implicit in feminism, but they also organize their life around race, religion, or class, rather than solely around gender. They might also be involved with other social justice movements, environmental movements, peace movements, human rights movements and cultural movements like the hip-hop.

Further to understand postmodern feminist thought in detail we need to study the following topics in depth

1. French feminism or post-structuralist feminism
2. Postmodern feminism as a construct from postmodern theories and post-structuralist theories

Postmodern feminism should look at issues from the principle that “women are people” and in this context it should propagate views that unite the sexes with equality of gender and liberation of the individual rather than accept views that separate the sexes. Postmodern feminist thought should move away from being labelled as misandrist in disposition. In fact gender feminism which is one of the main tenants of postmodern feminism should help it work for gender equality through "equity feminism" which is an ideology that aims for full civil and legal equality among genders. It is far better and liberating than the premise where women are always portrayed as victims needing preferential treatment.

Article by Sanjay Nair


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