McRobbie, A. 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change.

McRobbie, Angela. 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


  • PF as backlash from 1970s and 1980s feminism, using notions of empowerment and choice to create individualistic discourses as a substitute for feminism. Feminism is constructed in ways through national discourse – comparing Western worlds to non-Western, articulating “freedom” – which, in effect, prevents tangible political action on gender inequality.
  • Rewards of public sphere participation as honor, respect (presumed equality), right to participate in economic exchange, most often as consumers.
  • Challenges DeCerteau (1984) – despite how everyday methods of resistance can be used by marginal people to subvert dominant power structures, this in ways puts the onus on marginalized people to make those everyday resistances more powerful, self-aware (still individual focus, still casts actors as hyper-agentic).
  • Emergence of aggressive individualism, phallic female sexuality (IDK about this Angela)—
  • Women within UK (US too?) live out class positions based on modalities of femininity; glamorizing femininity obscures and fragments class identities, sites of oppression – enhancing meritocracy of body, of public and private spheres.
  • Media dismantling of feminism – not reintegration into private spheres, but noting that feminism is not needed, outdated
  • Disarticulation as feature of “undoing” – the breaking down of RCGS equivalences (-develop)

Post-Feminism and Popular Culture: Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime

  • PF invokes feminism as a success, thus is no longer needed – economic participation and minor social and sexual freedoms should be enough.
  • Power (similar and unlike Foucault) – “is remade at various junctures within everyday life, [constituting] our tenuous sense of common sense” (Butler, Laclau, Zizek 2000, 14).
  • PF framed in a society of multiple messages – increased reliance on gender traditionalism (invocation of “traditional marriage,” sexual purity) as well as increasingly public discourses on homosexuality, sexuality, and kinship.
  • In 1990s, multiple influences offer interrogation to previous feminist discourses – post-colonial voices, post-modern deconstructions of the body, and Foucaultian shift away from traditional sites of power (law, government, markets) to gendered power as interactional, diffuse, and emergent; as well as growth of popularity in feminism and feminist debate within popular media – promoting liberal, rights-based feminism as preferred, instead of radical, social critiques.
  • Casting of female success through media outlets as individual achievement – “good investments”, offered presence of possible social change through autonomous actions – free to work, free to participate – thus, subject to meritocratic evaluation on nothing but one’s own actions.


Feminism Undone? The Cultural Politics of Disarticulation

  • Stuart Hall’s articulation as building bridges between progressive social movements; disarticulation as the process of breakdown of these alliances
  • Duggan (2003): neoliberalism’s infiltration of social and cultural fields transforms the independence and autonomy of the state (toward the individual) into a demand for personal responsibility, individualism. Renders progressive movements anachronistic and outdated.
  • Faludi (1992)’s description of the social and media backlash against feminism – casting feminist stereotypes as asexual, asocial, pro-lesbian, anti-men. However, on another strain, media depictions of feminism almost totally cast feminism as a white women’s movement – little reference to FoC, relegating WoC’s disenfranchisement with race, class, or even worse, personal characteristics.
  • Promotion of “new traditionalism” – a re-emphasis of the domestic, the expressive, the “return” of gender roles, families, etc. This has raced and sexual implications, as the “nostalgia” sought was often white-washed, and constructed femininity in very white, middle class ways – not only reinforced gender subordination, but the re-making of race, nationality, sexuality and class.
  • Giddens, Beck-Gernscheim, and Beck detail the remaking of the self in late modernity, and detail the shifts in production/distribution focus in on the “self-made self” – however, does not approach the gender implications of this, nor the outcomes of social movements, collective action, etc.
  • “[…] re-traditionalisation, is in fact a feature of resurgent patriarchalism, in the guise of the seemingly benign power of unfolding social transformation” (46). […] women are currently being disempowered through the very discourse of empowerment they are being offered as substitutes for feminism” (49).
  • Through “social transformation,” we see increased rights and access offered to gays and lesbians, but through legal modes that reaffirm the importance of “traditional” institutions –marriage, family, etc. This, in ways, offers a mirror-image to tradition, but also works to de-legitimize and stigmatize other gay, lesbian, and queer activism.


Top Girls? Young Women and the New Sexual Contract

  • New consumer markets in “liberated” non-West reinforce postfeminist narrative
  • “The production of girlhood now comprises a constant stream of incitements and enticements to engage in a range of specified practices which are understood to be both progressive but also consummately and reassuringly feminine” (57) – this hinges on the understanding that women have “won” equality, are worthy of government attention (through development program focus), and are now no longer aided by feminist critiques of hegemonic and patriarchal structure
  • The “can do” attitude of the West transcends boundaries, without acknowledging historical or postcolonial barriers to entry. Presumes modernization, development, and access – but who has been traditionally afforded access?
  • Glamorization of the “working girl” in international media/magazines – attainment of “beauty” and norms of femininity are now spread worldwide, and hinge upon class attainment, “modernity,” and access to markets
  • Diffuse power of commercial domain (fashion, magazines, etc.) offers source of authority and standards for judgement and self-creation. “The heightening of significance in regard to the required rituals of femininity as well as an intensification of prescribed heterosexually-directed pleasures and enjoyment are among the key hallmarks of this de-centred Symbolic” (61) – in ways, diffuse media and power systems help to affirm gender expressions and relations, in ways that are centered on individualism – as feminism seems to be related with failure of femininity (and associatedly, heterosexuality).
  • “Patriarchal authority is subsumed within a regime of self-policing whose strict criteria form the benchmark against which women must endlessly and repeatedly measure themselves, from the earliest years right through to old age” (63). Casts bodily maintenance as key feature of femininity, delaying age – promoting participation in beauty economies.
  • Femininity as a masquerade to avert from the masculinity a woman takes on within the workplace. “The [post-feminist] masquerade creates a habitus for women who have now found themselves ensconced within fields of work, employment and public life, all of which hitherto had been marked out as masculine domains. The masquerade disavows the spectral, powerful and castrating figures of the lesbian and the feminist with whom they might conceivably be linked. It rescues women from the threat posed by these figures by triumphantly re-instating the spectacle of excessive femininity (on the basis of the independently earned wage) while also shoring up hegemonic masculinity by endorsing this public femininity which appears to undermine, or at least unsettle the new power accruing to women on the basis of this economic capacity” (66).
  • Whereas fashion and cultural norms promote compliance, this renders patriarchy invisible, as women seem to be increasingly “choosing” to participate in their own subjugation.
  • However, this also offers a racialized component – the absence of non-white bodies in fashion and beauty magazines – offering beauty tips that presume skin type, hair texture, etc. Compliance with beauty norms (and thus norms of workplace professionalism) shies away from incorporating diverse images, recommendations, and expressions, but instead prescribes pathways that are normative to whiteness, solidifying exclusion of POC. However, still expected to act and plan by the prescriptions of post-feminism. “Thus we might say that the post-feminist masquerade re-secures the terms of submission of white femininity to white masculine domination, while simultaneously resurrecting racial divisions by undoing any promise of multi-culturalism through the exclusion of non-white femininities from this rigid repertoire of self-stylling” (70) – however, because along with gender inequality, race inequalities have been “dealt with” in bygone eras, these too are ignored as factors of potential subordination.
  • Due to female success within education, notion of “overwin” in women’s credentialism – because women are “succeeding” in education and other fields, does this overturn other sites of inequality? Who is most often succeeding – white middle class women.
  • Dismantles feminism and collective action as intragender competition becomes “key” to success.
  • Phallic girls: “a young woman for whom the freedoms associated with masculine sexual pleasures are not just made available but encouraged and also celebrated. She is being asked to concur with a definition of sex as light-hearted pleasure, recreational activity, hedonism, sport, reward and status. Luminosity [here, idealization of gender] falls upon the girl who adopts the habits of masculinity including heavy drinking, swearing, smoking, getting into fights, having casual sex, flashing her breasts in public, getting arrested by the police, consumption of pornography, enjoyment of lap-dancing clubs and so on, but without relinquishing her own desirability to men, indeed for whom such seeming masculinity enhances her desirability since she shows herself to have a similar sexual appetite to her male counterparts” (83-84). However, this is a difficult balancing act — between the adoption of servility and hyperfemininity and the phallic girl, reaffirms gender order – yet, challenges notions of powerful women – “feminists” and “dykes”
  • Licensed transgression comes through not gender expression, but through sexual accessibility of men – challenges sexual double standard (as increasing media outlets put forth guidebooks as how to have ‘best sex ever’ – as well as heterosexual/lesbian dichotomies (as women sexualize and have sex with women — but often in pursuit of heterosexual men’s attention or approval). “Female phallicism is as restrictive as the post-feminist masquerade in that its endorsing of licentiousness and bad behavior also ensures that it plays out in a field of leisure activity which assumes a white female subject […] It is one thing for young white women to playfully disrupt the divisions which underpinned the old double standards between the good girl and the whore, but adopting the appearance and the street-style of whore, brings starkly into visibility, the divisions which exist between white privileged femininities and its black and still disadvantaged counterpart” (87) — based on assumptions of hypersexualized (or hypervulnerable) raced femininities/sexualities

Illegible Rage: Post-Feminist Disorders

  • Eating and psychological disorders as not only representations of resistance, control, but indicative of the neoliberal rhetoric of self-discipline, self-creation.
  • Blame of fashion icons for promoting ultra-thin imagery; however, no critique of the consumptive practices that promote the consumption of women themselves (the consumability of fashion as transplanted onto women’s bodies and identities).
  • Normalization of pathological behavior creates a femininity that is flawed, vulnerable, requiring patriarchal direction. At the same time, it can be a place for establishing women’s resistance, connection, subcultural and identity development.

“What Not to Wear” and Post-Feminist Symbolic Violence

  • Classed notions of respectability hinders working and lower class women’s participation in post-feminist discourses about sexual freedom, femininity, social engagement
  • Makeover media demonstrates transformation of “unfeminine” characteristics, bringing them into line with dominant norms of femininity, by policing the often classed “deviations” from consumption-based femininity
  • Work and class become intertwined with beauty and consumption pursuits, particularly as fashion production moves abroad, and globalization of distribution/fashion norms.
  • Making selves over after “letting selves go” –a breach in the everyday and normalized discipline that helps construct femininity; requires external adjustment if internal discipline does not do the trick
  • Classed (Bourdieu) distinction in knowing “what not to wear” and being able to consume the things they should

Conclusion: Inside and Outside the Feminist Academy

  • In use of disarticulation, does not infer that feminism was a singular or unified entity; instead, targets the false unification that media stereotypes perpetrated.
  • Feminist pedagogy and identity important to many students, particularly women – however, why do these highly-successful and intelligent, academically-oriented women shy away from gender activism?
  • “Gender mainstreaming” puts gender, women and identity at the forefront of development programs, legislation, workplace policy — but does this valuation end here?
  • Does third-wave appellation give rise to the assumption that feminist thought and activism is linear? Do the “developments” of third wave feminism break down bonds (here: disarticulate) the lessons and alliances that previous iterations of feminism have offered?


Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Sage: London.

Beck, U. and E. Beck-Gernscheim. 2001. Individualization. Sage: London.

Butler, J., E. Laclau, and S. Zizek. 2000. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality. London: Verso.

DeCerteau 1984 (no cite).

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

Faludi, S. 1992. Backlash: The Undeclared War on Women. London: Vintage.

Giddens, A. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hall, Stuart. (find cite – 1988 or 2003, maybe?)


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