Anderson, H. 2006. “Performing Postfeminism: Escaping Identity Politics?”

Anderson, Heather. 2006. “Performing Postfeminism: Escaping Identity Politics?” Atlantis 30(2): 114-128.

How do we determine when the use of explicit bodies/sexuality constitutes critiques of objectification – or, if instead it offers a resource for patriarchal co-option (usually expressing some faded message of women’s empowerment or sexual expression)?

Women’s representation within third wave feminism often characterized by the prominence of imagery featuring sexualized women, in an environment that seemingly pushes back from (kx^ or claims the success of, thus irrelevance, of) feminist movements.

“What distinction might be made between the expression of sexual agency, and what amounts to transgressive sexual spectacle? What is effective as critique, or parody, perhaps imagining an alternative position for women, and what is merely sensationalist?” (115).

Postfeminism as defined in contrast to second-wave feminism, labeled “victim feminism;” instead, a “power feminism” based off sexiness, empowerment – which, in ways has presented feminism as “chic, inoffensive and marketable” (115 – see also Steenbergen 2001). Came into vogue in 1980s as political and media figures (Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, Ally McBeal, Sex in the City) offered conservative, individualistic notions of feminism that seemingly returns to heterosexism, traditional gender roles, hyperfemininity, the use of sexuality to gain power, marriage as a key to “successful” femininity, consumerism, and a focus on hypernormative beauty ideals — however, posited by post-feminists as a way to escape the (admittedly-narrow) regiments of second-wave feminism.

Third wave feminism (in contrast to postfeminism) offers critiques of essentialism – of race, gender, sexual orientation – offers insight to ambiguity, multiplicity, hybridization, and rejection of second-wave “sameness”

“Both third-wave feminism and postfeminism focus on individual identity, style, sexual agency and pleasure, but third-wave feminism differs in recognizing that critical attention to the self can contribute to an awareness of how the personal is political. Third-wave feminism differs sharply from postfeminism by undertaking an organized response to enduring ‘privilege and exploitation based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, physical ability, and body shape’ (Orr 1997, 34). Those claiming that women have ‘made it’ are only thinking of the ‘heterosexual, white, able-bodied, well-educated, financially successful, aggressive and overtly sexual women’ that mass-market books and hip TV shows tout as ‘the new faces of feminism’” (116). In ways, claiming that women have “made it” works to marginalize oppressed women even more – by alluding that the individual power and successes of women are a result of the feminist movement, thus, failure is not an outcome of institutional barriers, but personal choice. Casts contemporary feminism as unnecessary, burdensome, offensive, and at times oppressive – as it does not recognize the agentic potential of persons, relegating them into perpetual victimhood instead of empowerment. This breaks down possibilities of feminist action, but, through recognizing continuing inequalities, it becomes grounds for offering coalitional activism (Heywood and Drake 1997).

Are postmodern discourses inherently masculinist? How does the appropriation of feminism by postmodern authors help to collapse feminist ideology and action? In effect, this appropriation radicalizes postmodern though, works to buffer postmodernism from gender critique, and works to silence/marginalize feminism through establishing “indifferent, undifferent difference” (KX’s TERM – you rule, see also Jones 1994).

“A woman’s body is heavily coded: ‘its pre-existing meanings, as sex object, as object of the male gaze, can always prevail and re-appropriate the body, despite the intentions of the woman herself’ (Wolff 1990, 121)” (117).

Claiming/performing excessive sexuality in contrast to a “good girl” image relies on intersections of whiteness and class (Davy 1995) – where consequences (and respectability politics) are not of consideration; the intersections of race/class/gender/sexuality have far different histories, contexts, and outcomes. — “who can demand the right to be ‘bad’ without reinscribing an already naturalized deviance” (Davy 1995, 204).

When women continue to pose for sexualized photoshoots and art, “they’re not reclaiming any of their lost power, they’re simply making it easier for mean to go on objectifying” (Robinson 2002, 28).

“Space must be created within the field of representation for women’s diverse experiences of gender, but these representations must challenge stereotypes of femininity; otherwise, women will continue to be ‘reduced to stereotypes of their ‘sex’ or have imposed upon them objectified fantasies of their ‘sex’ so that they are viewed and treated as unworthy of equal citizenship’ (Cornell 1995, 10)” (124).


Cornell, Drucilla. 1995. The Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography and Sexual Harassment. New York: Routledge.

Davy, Kate. 1995. “Outing Whiteness: A Lesbian Feminist Project.” Theatre Journal 47(2): 189-208.

Heywood, Leslie and Jennifer Drake. 1997. Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Jones, Alison. 1994. “Jemima Stehli: On All Fours Naked in High Heel – A Critical Position?” Women: A Cultural Review 10(3): 28-30.

Orr, Catherine. 1997. “Charting the Currents of the Third Wave.” Hypatia 12(3): 28-46.

Robinson, Laura. 2002. Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality. Toronto: Harper Collins.

Steenbergen, Candis. 2001. “Talkin’ ‘Bout Whose Generation?” In Turbo Chicks: Talking Young Feminisms, edited by Allyson Mitchell, Lisa Bryn Rundle and Lara Karaian. Toronto: Sumach Press. Pp. 256-272.

Wolff, Janet. 1990. “Reinstating Corporeality: Feminism and Body Politics.” In Feminine Sentenced: Essay on Women and Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pp. 120-141.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: