Butler, Jess. 2013. For White Girls Only? Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion.

Butler, Jess. 2013. “For White Girls Only? Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion.” Feminist Formations 25(1): 35-58.

Postfeminism as descriptive of attitudes and behaviors of young women since 1980s – PF as privileging white middle class heterosexual subjects; requires more intersectional approach – investigates as how PF discourses reproduces inequalities of race, gender, and sexuality.

Foucaultian power position regarding growth and spread of discourses of sex and sexuality – multiplied and extended power of sexuality, rather than promote/prohibit it. Foucault notes sex is not a source of sexualities, but “a complex idea that was formed inside the deployment of sexuality” (152 here 37). Modern world perceives feminist action as simplistic, unified; however, this ignores the multiplicity of debates and divisions existing within feminist theory and praxis. Feminist sex wars of the mid-1980s debated women’s need for protection against objectification (MacKinnon 1987 – women as constructed as sex objects from start, sexual freedom obscures objectification and naturalizes oppression — heterosexuality is compulsory, therefore women are not only restricted by sexual objectification but compulsory heterosexuality), versus those who noted the importance of women’s sexual liberation.

Anti-porn activists earned support of right-wing moralists; overtaken by debates of censorship – losing interest of younger feminists (see footnote 4). “Pro-sex” advocates demanded feminists move beyond victimization of objectification – how does internalization of victim status create asexual (read proper) places? Instead, sexual rights and freedoms should be explored) –

“Portraying women as victims does not promote a progressive agenda, and denying the real pleasure that many women get from sex seems to dismiss the importance of women’s sexual desires and passions. However, the pro-sex tendency to treat women’s subordination in popular constructions of heterosexuality as a form of false consciousness ignores and obscures the material consequences of compulsory heterosexuality” (39-40).

Shift of markets and politics to post-Fordist, neoliberal practices and thought – promotion of “deregulation, privatization, and withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision” (Harvey 2005, 3 here 40) – requires increased self-reliance, self-governance, individual choice and agency. Use of technology, process, and subjectivities of consumer culture will help the disenfranchised achieve their goals (Grewal 2005) — kx^ whose goals, again?

  • Giddens 1991 and Beck 1992 note that social destabilization construct opportunities for choice and agency; however this increased individualism/autonomy reasserts hierarchies of RCGS and create new modes of power (Duggan 2003; Gill and Scharff 2011, McRobbie 2009).

“Propped up by the (imagined) success of the women’s movement, a sex-positive (and racially exclusive) feminist legacy, and the ever-expanding neoliberal celebrations of autonomy, individualism, and consumer choice, postfeminism surfaces as a more attractive alternative to previous forms of gender politics” (41).

PF coming out of third-wave politics, focusing on inclusivity of race and class – creating comfortable space for young feminists to create feminist identity on own terms; however, often based upon moving away from political activism into spheres of consumerist, cultural activism. Baumgardner and Richards 2000 as examples of “girlie” feminism – consumptive practices of femininity as liberating, breaking down stereotypes of femininity, feminism.

Post-feminist rhetoric not only declares feminism as “over and out,” (Faludi 1991), but also constructs feminism as exhausting, confusing, and paradoxical; also notes the feminist battle as a success – already having achieved gender equity in work, home, and education, celebrating feminism and rendering it irrelevant (Projanksy 2001) – casting feminism as a success casts a narrative where feminism is archaic and irrelevant to modern femininity and women’s issues (Tasker and Negra 2007). PF can act as wide-ranging and versatile due to its seeming removal from political spheres – being heads of state or strippers (Projansky 2001). PF as an “entanglement” of feminist and anti-feminist ideas (McRobbie 2004, 255 here 43), use of individualism as a way to “cherrypick” identities and modes of empowerment.

PF as “a kind of substitute for or displacement of feminism as a radical political movement in which earlier feminist demands for equal rights, collective activism, and the eradication of gender inequality are taken into account and then displaced by the postfeminist ideals of individualism, choice, and empowerment” (44 – see also McRobbie 2009).

PF, feminist problematic relationship with race – both treat race as secondary to gender, despite FOC’s note that race and gender as mutually constitutive – scholars seem to ignore issues of sexuality, focusing on heterosexism as central to reproduction of inequality — JB argues – we have to look at these things as integrated, interrelated.

PF where:

  • implies that gender equality has been achieved and feminist activism is thus no longer necessary;
  • defines femininity as a bodily property and revives notions of natural sexual difference;
  • marks a shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification;
  • encourages self-surveillance, self-discipline, and a makeover paradigm;
  • emphasizes individualism, choice, and empowerment as the primary routes to women’s independence and freedom; and
  • promotes consumerism and the commodification of difference (44, with help from Gill 2007).

Discourses are culturally and historically contextual – offers resources on knowledge that create, define, and offer boundaries to thought (kx^ and action) – Foucault (1978) – power is produced and reproduced through knowledge, and vice versa – dialectical relationship between power and knowledge. PF as a cultural response to feminism – to rework feminism to adapt to cultural, economic, and political changes through individualism – but usurps its power and politics instead.

Discourse produces and transmits power –but also “undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it” (Foucault 1978, 101).

Gill and Sharff (2011) cast postfeminism and neoliberalism as overlapping – undermining notion of social or political to create agentic, self-regulating subjects that promote a transformation and consistent undertaking of self-creation — to present all actions as chosen, rational, intentional.   Consumption marks progressive gender ideals – symbolizing ideologies; modifications of body and fashion are “choices” to engage with traditional femininity.

“Women apparently choose to be seen as sexual objects because it suits their liberated interests” — conflating feminism with femininity, consumption with activism (Goldman, Heath, and Smith 1991, 338 here 46).

THIS: Feminism as displayed through consumer and cultural displays – “Unchained from political activism, postfeminism constructs gender as a consumer product that women can try on- and take off- as they choose” (46). This individualism and “personalized” expression decontextualizes social location and constructs experiences of RGCS as exclusively personal (Gill 2007).


McRobbie (2009) – postfeminism is widespread due to women’s requirement to participate in economic labor markets, helps to secure racial and gender orders – due to visibility of women and POC in public sphere, perception of “success” of political interventions into market – thus making them unneeded (kx^ affirmative action programs?)


Tasker and Negra (2007): “many postfeminist texts combine a deep uncertainty about existing options for women with an idealized, essentialized femininity that symbolically evades or transcends institutional and social problem spots” (10, here 46).


By constructing PF discourses about and by white Western feminists, it ignores and cuts off contributions from FOC and post-colonial feminists – this resecures whiteness as privileged, and gender relations within whiteness as normative; alternatives are Othered, differentiated, specialized. HOWEVER PF discourses, despite not being labeled as such, are not relegated to white feminists – in fact, FoC and celebrities embrace femininity, consumption, independence, choice, sexual freedom through establishing heterosexuality and sexual ambition. Projansky (2001): when WoC are cast in popular culture through PF –they are assimilated and have same rights that white women have offered; ignores intersections of gender and race


THIS: “ Racialized postfeminism does not move very far from bell hook’s assertion that particular forms of cultural engagement merely amount to ‘eating the other’: a ‘commodification of otherness’ in which ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (Springer 2007, 252 – USE!) – Incorporation of WoC does not necessarily disrupt PF, seemingly justifies and reinforces that gender and racial politics of yesteryears are no longer applicable or necessary (Banet-Weiser 2007).




Banet-Weiser, Sarah. 2007. “What’s Your Flava? Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” In Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, ed. Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, 201-227. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards. 2000. ManifestA: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Duggan, Lisa. 2003. The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Boston: Beacon Press.

Faludi, Susan. 1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality: Volume I. New York: Random House.

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gill, Rosalind. 2007. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10(2):147-166.

Gill, Rosalind and Christina Sharff, eds. 2011. New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. 1991. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8(3): 333-351.

Grewal, Inderpal. 2005. Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

MacKinnon, Catharine. 1987. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McRobbie, Angela. 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage Publications.

McRobbie, Angela. 2004. “Postfeminism and Popular Culture.” Feminist Media Studies 4(3):255-264.

Projansky, Sarah. 2001. Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Springer, Kimberly. 2007. “Divas, Evil Black Bitches, and Bitter Black Women: African American Women in Postfeminist and Post-Civil Rights Popular Culture.” In Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, ed. Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, 249-277. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tasker, Yvonne and Diane Negra, eds. 2007. Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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