The ‘Pomo’ Backlash: Looking at Feminism in the Aftermath of Postmodernism (Part 1)

by Guest Blogger

Guest post by Maggie H.

Poststructuralism, also referred to as postmodernism (1), has been majorly influential on recent feminist theory, especially within the context of Academia. This is an analysis and a critical assessment of postmodern ‘feminism’ from my own radical lesbian feminist standpoint. I will first highlight some key issues coming from the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970’s (i.e. background on feminism, as it looked like before postmodernism). I will then look at the academic feminist theoretical postmodernist turn of recent years, and later point out to Queer culture as an offshoot of postmodernism. I will also explain why postmodernism is seriously antithetical to the goal to eradicate the oppression of women, and conclude with hope for resistance. This essay is also the result of a research into postmodern feminism that I had been doing for University. Here, I analyse some postmodern ‘feminist’ works.

The 1970’s Women’s Liberation Movement grew out of grassroots female-only organising against patriarchal oppression, feminist consciousness-raising groups, other inspiring liberation movements and the struggle against the male-identified sexual revolution of the 1960’s ( as explained in D. Bell and R. Klein eds., Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed, 1996; and in A. Dworkin, Right-Wing Women, 1983). The women’s movement was built upon gathering many women’s accounts of their experiences of the reality of male domination (see C. MacKinnon, Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues, 2006).

Consequently, a political radical feminist analysis emerged –identifying women as a sex class, oppressed because of their sex in a patriarchal society (see A. Koedt, E. Levine and A. Rapone eds., Radical Feminism; 1973). This theory was predicated upon real, experienced issues that were affecting women’s lives. As one of the manifestos of that time declared:

“Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.” (Redstockings Manifesto, in R. Morgan ed., Sisterhood is Powerful; 1970: p. 533)

A sex class system was thus recognised (see K. Millett, Sexual Politics; 1970), and the primary goal of Women’s Liberation Movement was for all women (across race, class, ethnicity, etc) to unite together in political sisterhood and work towards the eradication of this system (Koedt et al, 1973; Morgan, 1970).

A central emphasis of Second-Wave Feminism (which is still very much present in radical feminist politics today) was placed upon the liberation of women from patriarchal oppression, rather than ‘equality’ (Greer, The Whole Woman; 2000; Koedt et al, 1973; Morgan, 1970). Radical feminism sees liberation as being the ultimate goal for all women. We argue that what is most politically important is to liberate all women from all different sites of oppression and shapes that patriarchy takes. Various sites of male oppression of women include, for instance (though not limited to), traditional sex/gender roles, compulsory heterosexuality, culturally enforced ‘feminine’ beauty practices, the pornography and prostitution industries, and reproductive technologies.

In the 1980’s-1990’s, there came a well-documented backlash against radical feminism, the Women’s Liberation Movement and against a strongly women-centred Women’s Studies in the Academia. Academic feminist theory increasingly distanced itself from politics and became more deconstructionist (as explained in Bell and Klein eds., 1996), and postmodernism gradually took over academic feminism (source: Marysia Zalewski, Feminism After Postmodernism; 2000).

In Bell & Klein eds’ Radically Speaking, Kristin Waters explained that feminism provides theoretical and analytical tool for gender-based analyses for many academic fields, but postmodernism started co-opting feminism. A plethora of predominantly male writers (such as Foucault, Derrida, Freud, Nietzche, Lacan or Lyotard, etc) colonised the bibliographies of the earliest postmodern ‘feminist’ writers, suggesting that this new type of supposedly smarter and more intellectual kind of feminism was principally influenced by male institutions and scholarship –as further explained by Renate Klein and Joan Hoff in the same (Radically Speaking) book.

In the process of what Hoff called the ‘phallic drift’ that poststructuralism is, intellectual academic women unintentionally forgot to form great communication with other women. Post-structuralism also emerged at a crucial moment in women’s herstory, just as second-wave feminists were being able to communicate with women across classes, races, etc and trying to create a newly unifying language. Waters agrees that postmodernism appeared as oppressed people were “gaining a voice and political momentum” (p. 285). Then, a newer generation of academic women came along. They revered male philosophical thinkers and were claiming that they could use male-centred theories to transform women’s history.

In her boundary article ‘Feminism and the Politics of Postmodernism’ (1992). Linda Nicholson (a postmodern feminist) names the work of several male thinkers at the start of her article, but she is a philosopher and her background is unlikely to be previous feminist movements. In The Lesbian Heresy (1993), Sheila Jeffreys remarked that postmodernist writers like e.g. Diana Fuss tend to analyse things like gender and sexuality in Foucaultian terms, and male authorities may shape those theorists’ worldviews. Fuss had included nineteen works by Derrida in her bibliography, and her starting point was not 1970’s feminism.

In her book Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body (2003), Susan Bordo suggests that “Developing… [postmodern] discourse requires reconstructing the feminist paradigm of the… 1970’s, with its political categories of oppressors and oppressed… a feminist appropriation of some Foucault’s later concept can prove useful.” (p. 167). She wants feminists to listen to men and appropriate their works, thereby implying men supposedly ‘know better’ than those feminists of the 1970’s. Suggesting that men know better than women about female experience is so reminiscent of some old-fashioned misogynistic ideology. Furthermore, why would women, including lesbian and feminists, use the work of a gay man who barely noticed women in his theory and whose insights on the social construction of sexuality were preceded by lesbian feminists’? (see Jeffreys, 1993)

Elisabeth Grosz, in Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (1995), admitted that there was apparently an intellectual constraint on developing a women-centred theory in the academia, and reluctantly suggested that male-supremacist models of theorising were preferred for academic acceptance (as Klein,1996, also pointed out).

As Canadian radical feminist Somer Brodribb was analysing the works of prominent postmodern male academic thinkers, she courageously declared:

“The rule is that only man may appear as woman… This is his narcissistic solution to his problem of the Other. But… to create her in his image, he must be able to take her image, educating her to sameness and deference… And I have to make arguments that sound extravagant to my ears, that women exist, that women are sensible… And… to speak against masculine culture is so uncultured.” (in Nothing Mat(t)ers: A Feminist Critique of Postmodernism, 1992; pp. xvi-xviii)

With its obsession with deconstruction, postmodernism presents no threat to structures of male dominance. After radical feminist theory arose from grassroots accounts of male violence against women, experiences of violations of bodily integrity, etc and a commitment for women to unite against patriarchy, postmodernism has been working on undoing our theory. It opposes ‘metanarratives’, rejects a universalised ‘women’ category (e.g. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble; 1990), and tries to undermine the sex-based class analysis of the Women’s Liberation Movement. However, there must be a concrete political subject to speak for in feminist politics as women are defined in the context of their sex within society.

Oppressed groups need a basis for political action in order to defend themselves. Women need to be visible if we are to further our interests. We have historically been invisiblised. Even bell hooks (in Yearning, Race, Gender and Cultural Politics; 1990, p. 24) argues for postmodernism to recognise the existence and involvement of women of colour in theory-writing and art production.

To radical feminists, women must work together towards the elimination of all social divisions amongst women, not by rhetorics of intersectionality (e.g. like in Lena Gunnarsson’s journal article, ‘A Defence of the Category Women;’ 2011). Rhetorics of intersectionality do not recognise sexism as underlying all forms of oppression. Contrary to popular myths, radical feminism has always included writings from women of colour (and sometimes non-Western women) in its anthologies (e.g. Bell and Klein, 1996; Koedt et al, 1973; Morgan, 1970). When feminists sincerely identify patriarchy as the main enemy, they will not be tempted to support detestable hierarchies among women (as explained by Denise Thompson in Radically Speaking). I thus disagree with Linda Nicholson (1992) when she suggests that opposing ‘totalizing perspectives’ (p. 59) can be a politically useful. What about a unifying analysis of male violence against women, for instance?

Katja Mikhailovich (in Radically Speaking, 1996), a PhD student who was working in a rape crisis centre, tried to find a new political contribution to dealing with violence against women in studying postmodern feminist works. She could find none to share with her colleagues in women’s services. She described the postmodern fragmentation of women into differences and deconstructional analyses as unable to provide a framework for examining gender-based violence or validating women’s experience of it. Deconstruction of truth about women’s embodied experience of violence is precisely what happens in courts of law, where many victims get blamed and shamed.

Postmodernism, as established by Foucault and Derrida, rejects the notion of universal truth, objects totalitarian concepts of truth and sees oppression in terms of multiplicity. I see this as a mechanism by some academic elites for preventing a positioning of sex-class consciousness amongst women. Mikhailovich (1996) agrees that there are many differences between women, but she rightfully says that difference is simply a part of various life experiences and that should not stop it from being used as a way of connecting and uniting for women.

Waters (1996) explains that radical feminists have a rather pragmatic approach to identity politics. All women are recognised as oppressed on the basis of sex and encouraged to unite against this, but there are also male-created differences between women (e.g. race, class, education, etc) that are very real (Koedt et al, 1973, p. 309).

There are some exceptions to rejection of the category ‘women’ by feminist academics. Some encourage at least a moderate use of the category ‘women’. For instance, Gunnarson (2011) at least admits that:

“… there was something quite disadvantageous about all women’s lives and that this something had to do with their being women. […] Thus, stating that women share a common position as women is not the same as maintaining that women are the same.” (pp. 32, 33)

Nonetheless, Gunnarson (2011) still maintains the use of what she calls ‘strategic essentialism’ (p. 30), leaving the existence of women as a sex class divided and questioned. Clearly, there are many forms of oppression in a capitalist, patriarchal society; however, postmodernism claims relativism. Postmodern feminism tells us “it is not quite like that”; that women’s reality is multiple, that things can happen by chance, that there are different points of view (Gunnarsson, 2011), that oppression is “semiotic” (Brodribb, 1992), and so on. Postmodern theorists write to confuse readers into not perceiving their own material oppression.

Radical feminists engage in materialist critiques, denouncing existing oppressions –to be perceived and abolished. We are women who talk about real, material oppressions of women (e.g. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 1979). Postmodern ‘feminist’ authors ignore such concepts, stating that history is discourse, and interpersonal relations are ‘performance’ (as in Butler, 1990).

The postmodern project contributes to the erasure of the female biology (as written about by Charlene Spretnak, in States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age; 1991). At least postmodern feminist Jane Flax (in a Signs article, ‘Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory;’ 1987) still admitted “…there are anatomical differences between men and women” (p. 636). However, Judith Butler (in Gender Trouble, 1990) denied that there was such a thing as the female sex or biology, and claims that it is ‘essentialist’ to say so. Yet women’s bodies are a central target for patriarchal oppression (Rowland and Klein, 1996, in Radically Speaking). The atrocities done to women in the real world damage their bodily integrity.

In her book Of Woman Born (1977), Adrienne Rich had warned that female biology tends to be denigrated and ignored by patriarchal thinking, as this is not something that can be experienced by men. Rich argued that female biology had to be reclaimed, outside of the realm of gender roles, and had to become viewed in a more positive light. Janice Raymond (in A Passion for Friends; 1986) had repeatedly denied that radical feminists are ‘biological determinists.’ Women are not ‘naturally’ nurturing, etc but there are certain reproductive capacities in the majority of female bodies (Daly, 1979), hence women are defined and oppressed as a sex class by our ability to bear children. Menstruation, pregnancies and lactations are a core reality to many women’s embodied experience (Spretnak, 1991). Yet within the realm of patriarchal postmodernist scholarship– these bodily phenomena –because they exist outside the male embodied experience, just disappear into ‘texts’. Women’s experience no longer matters.

The fact that women’s bodies are being dehumanised through their interpretation as ‘texts’ (i.e. the pomo ‘body-as-text’ ideology) in postmodern feminist thinking shows that this theory is so far removed from the reality of women’s lives. According to Renate Klein (1996), postmodern feminism invisiblises and symbolically ‘dismembers’ women through theories of disconnection and dissociation.

This is particularly visible in the work of the pro-prostitution postmodern writer. Shannon Bell (in Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body; 1994) conceptualises the flesh-and-blood human female body as an object –‘referent’. The rewriting of the ‘prostitute body’ entails a positive framing of prostitution through discussing how prostituted women “inscribe their own bodies in diverse and contradictory ways…” (p. 4). The ‘prostitute body’ no longer has any inherent meaning. Prostitution is not seen as exploitation or sexual violence against women by johns and pimps here. Those forms of abuse do not inscribe themselves onto her body or experience. Instead, the prostituted woman is portrayed as ‘choosing’ to feel empowered by her role. Once again here, the subordination and abuse of women in prostitution becomes invisible.

This is reminiscent of the fragmentation of prostituted women’s minds that Melissa Farley described (Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003), after doing a large-scale and cross-country research on prostituted women. Farley explained that the abuse the majority of women experience in prostitution and pornography is so unbearable that prostituted women have to compartmentalise mentally, fragment their minds from their bodies to be able to survive the brutal commodification and violation of their flesh by the sex industry. Postmodernism, as a form of academic dissociation from reality with a ‘body as text’ analysis, feeds into similar mental fragmentation.

In the name of postmodern writing, women’s bodies are reduced to ‘texts’, body parts and denied real humanity. This shows a split between academic feminism and political feminism. Even Marysia Zalewski (2000) could not come up with a concrete explanation of the postmodernist approach to reproductive technologies. By denying the reproductive capacity of women as a sex class, by denying that women’s bodies are real –physical flesh and blood (not ‘texts’) that can be harmed– postmodern feminists are unlikely to recognise reproductive technologies as invasive procedures and escalation of violence against women (as documented by Gena Corea, in 1988). Nor are they likely to recognise pornography as male hatred of women (as documented by Dines’ Pornland, 2010; Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1979; and Jeffreys’ Industrial Vagina, 2009) or feminine beauty practices as harmful, patriarchally institutionalised practices (Jeffreys, 2006). I seriously wonder how postmodern ‘feminists’ would conceptualise women’s experiences of female genital mutilation in the so-called ‘third world’?

The constant postmodern prioritising of style over substance is another attempt to ‘feminise’ feminism, i.e. tame it with vague and obscure texts wrapped up in a seductive style, creating a diversion from the lack of concrete substance. When feminism becomes too femininely ‘polite’ to address real issues, and too ‘stylish’ to reach women who are outside of complex academic readership, it is unlikely that it will stir up women to passionate political anger and rebellion. Instead, what remains is a form of academic dissociation that attempts to irrationalise feminism. Let me examine central tenets of postmodern ‘feminism’. As Kristin Waters pointed out:

In a post-modern world, theories become discourses, words become signifiers; both books and bodies become texts to be read, studied, and dissected, criticisms become deconstructions; and people and groups become fragmented selves, reason becomes desire, and substance becomes style.” (Waters, in Radically Speaking, 1996, p. 285; italics in original)

There is a rational goal in identifying common interests and shared experiences between women, but since postmodern ‘feminism’ favours desire over reason and denies there is such a thing as truth, its analyses stick to the sphere of the theoretical and never moves beyond this.

[This is part one of a two part post. Part two will be appearing shortly.]


Maggie H. is a lesbian feminist and a separatist. She frequently reads the Radical Hub, and has commented here before. She is a sociology student in the School of Social and Political Sciences at University in the UK. She has taken a temporary break from radical feminist blogging (during her studies), and plans to come back to the radfem blogosphere under a different screen-name after graduating.


1. I use the term ‘postmodernism’ more frequently than ‘poststructuralism’ in this essay because, although some poststructuralists do not like being called ‘postmodern’, postmodernism is the broader term that encompasses both the postmodern arts & culture and postmodern theory (or poststructuralism). Therefore, to me, poststructuralism basically is another name for postmodernism as a theory. According to Linda Nicholson (1992), ‘poststructuralism’ is more often used in the context of literary analyses while ‘postmodernism’ is preferred in the realm of social and philosophical theory.


19 Responses to “The ‘Pomo’ Backlash: Looking at Feminism in the Aftermath of Postmodernism (Part 1)”

  1. What a great post! Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your work, Maggie 🙂

  2. Hi, Maggie, what a great pulling-together this is of writers worth reading in this area, as well as your own illuminating critique. Thank you! I ask myself, how can so many talented and educated feminists have gone so astray? Reading Butler, I feel the presence of a powerful intellect working with the wrong premises. I think part of the problem may be that just at the time women were finally being considered for tenured positions in English and other departments in some numbers, postmodernism was the fad, and there was no interest or grant money available for other theoretical work on feminism. This is a reality in general in academia — a “sexy” theory sweeps an academic discipline and suddenly all the new PhDs are working in that area, because that’s where the jobs and money are found. Another example is in Physics, where for years if string theory wasn’t your research interest you would find it a lot harder to be hired. So some of this is survival. The problem is, when you follow Lacan’s Freudian logic into feminist issues, you find yourself arguing increasingly specious stuff. You sound nuttier and nuttier, as with Butler’s notion that women don’t exist as a single biological class.Maybe all that can be done is to wait it out for a few more years. I think Postmodernism has already attenuated drastically and I look forward to its departure.

    There is also the problem of the general walling-off of academia from the rest of society, as you point out, especially considering the increasingly incomprehensible academese these folks are compelled to write in. Academia is such a huge institution that they spend their lifetimes writing books for each other and forcing their students to read them, wasting an amazing amount of intellectual energy. And there is the reality that theoretical work outside academia is correspondingly denigrated.

    So the academic feminist theorists are walled off, the Marxist feminists have to keep a low profile in capitalist countries and are led by men, the liberal feminists keep plugging along with their work to reform from within, and the radical feminists cut through the knots and push ahead. The splits aren’t good for feminism, since they aren’t amicable, but they are understandable and we have to work with the situation as it is.

  3. I’m finding this fascinating, Maggie. Being a bit anti-academia (actually anti-patriarchal establishments) I never really paid any attention to the whole pomo thing, but now I understand why so many of the “third wavers” and “Queers” sound like they’ve been smoking methamphetamines!

    Bodies as texts?! Wha?

    Very much looking forward to part two.

  4. Thank you very much, Womyn, for your feedback. 🙂 Thanks to the Hub owners for publishing. 😉

    *Hugs* Sea and Smash.

    Karma- I agree with everything you said here, incl. academic women walling themselves off from the reality of our social world. It’s mainly because it is “trendy” and “stylish” that pomo theory has gained so much fame within Academia. I wouldn’t mind so much if that kind of ‘feminism’ wasn’t the norm in Academia, but it IS the norm over there. And often that is the only kind of ‘feminism’ that so many, many young open-minded female students are being introduced to. Mindbinding young women with such debilitating theories is absolutely awful. Most of Academia’s feminist reading lists are rife with postmodernism. I really wish your hopeful thought that postmodernism may be dying out soon was true, but things certainly did not look that way during this very scholar year at my University. Judith Butler is still being considered an “awesome feminist theorist” in sociology and feminist studies in Academia, and postmodernism itself is still being seen as “great” by both male and female lecturers there; this is VERY worrying. 😦 I did read Butler’s book Gender Trouble, btw, to analyse it (along with some more of Butler’s works), and I swear, what the hell (?), the woman is on acid or what?! She also writes her absurdities in totally obscure academic language (which I could understand as I’m being fed this sort of rubbish everyday in Academia, but I doubt people outside Uni can understand it). That said, I’m sure that one day (like you say) postmodernism will eventually die out, and of course I’ll be partying when it does! 🙂

    Sargasso Sea- Thank you. Yes, postmodernism is what contributed to both Queer ideology and ‘Third-Wave’ feminism, spot on.! Yes, I swear that in Academia (when you are actually in there) you can very easily notice that most of the feminist lecturers there do not believe that biological women exist (they even hate female biology being mentioned to them), and many of the writings those feminist lecturers are advocating on their reading lists are saturated with that ‘body-as-text’ ideology, I kid you not. They really DO believe that sort of shit, I swear. It’s so scary! They’re so much dissociated that they have forgotten that women actually exist. Postmodernism is a dangerous form of academic PTSD (sayin’ this in a symbolic way but you get my drift 😉 ). I was glad to have at least, last semester, one of my female lecturers in feminism who actually was a Second-Waver –a very small exception, I tell you (but she’d told me that, yes indeed, she acknowledged that female biology does exist; it was so refreshing compared to what the rest of the academic feminists there were saying on the subject)…

    Everyone here- Please stay tuned for Part Two. It will be on:

    – the ‘body as text’ analysis as applied to postmodern theorising of eating disorders (scary);

    – the over-emphasis on criticising the use of language and a wrongful use of theory on language and power within pomo thinking;

    – postmodernists’ mixing up of (fucking with) notions of gender & sex, esp. Butler’s ‘gender-as-performance’ theory; and

    – Queer culture as an offshoot of postmodernism, and its ‘multiplicity’ gender protection racket.

    So stay tuned. Thanks for appreciating my work. If anyone wants to talk about criticisms of postmodernism, I’m here. 😉

  5. Excellent piece! I never really thought about the link between third-wave “feminism” and postmodernism. Fortunately postmodernism seems to become more and more “outmoded” – at least in the visual arts afaik, these seem to become more focused on “essential” stuff/matter.

  6. This is well done and quite fascinating.

    What I remember of the academic institution response to feminism was to create “Women’s Studies” departments. At that time I realized that was the first step in walling off women, but the crumbs were taken by “Women’s Studies” academics and they created their academic domains.

    I worried at that time that feminist issues should have been incorporated into core subject matter, not walled off in Women’s Studies department that could then get cut when times were tight.

    Hindsight is 20/20, yes?

    I absolutely love the “multiplicity” gender protection racket, can’t wait to hear more! And, Thanks for wrapping the porno thinking angle, I’m way on board with you there and elated to look forward to Part II.

  7. Superb work Maggie! I look very forward to reading Part II…

  8. This is great. Thank you. Can’t wait for part two. 🙂

  9. Absolutely love this. Thanks so much. Long ago considered myself a “pomo-feminist”, yet constantly fought with myself. (I was a huge Butler fan – studied postmodern “feminist” philosophy in college and graduated with a sense that there was nothing left to fight for, and at the same time everything. Not articulating myself well. It was an argument I could/can not put into words, and I am thankful that you have given this frustration a voice that I can understand when I could/can not even articulate these ideas to myself. Great post. I am so glad I found this group of women. I am so inspired with what I have read these past few days perusing the hub. (So much love.) Thanks to all of you. Stoked for part II!

  10. Thanks for your comment regarding how you feel as a former pomo fem, Wetake. It gives me hope. 🙂

    (sorry, I apparently had to log in WordPress to post this comment)

  11. I love this, i really do! Still a bit new to all of this, and it’s a big journey for me.
    I’ve read a lot, books ,articles etc.
    Well done! 🙂

  12. Thank you for this post, Maggie. I deeply enjoyed reading it.

    I did want to comment on this part, “I seriously wonder how postmodern ‘feminists’ would conceptualise women’s experiences of female genital mutilation in the so-called ‘third world’?” I’m surprised you haven’t come across academics who support FGM as a culturally specific practice. They are out there, and I’m willing to bet there are more of them than there are ones who are willing to support the grassroots women’s groups fighting FGM. Equality Now has said FGM is the one form of female-specific violence they are most hopeful about getting rid of.

  13. I am interested in this angle on feminism and postmodernism, but at the same time, I find myself feeling a little skeptical with this particular article. It strikes me as very vague and a lot of terms or ideas in it ill-defined. E.g. “With its obsession with deconstruction, postmodernism presents no threat to structures of male dominance.” What is deconstruction? What relation does it have to male dominance? The author does not tell us. (Yes, I know what deconstruction is, but my point is that the author is not arguing for her vision of a specific relationship between it and male dominance, merely asserting that it is one in which male dominance is unthreatened). I also feel that some of these works are misrepresented or thrown together in ways that aren’t appropriate, e.g. Foucault and Derrida did not co-establish something called “postmodernism.” They are very different thinkers. I’m not pretending that I don’t see similarities or that they cannot be coherently put into a sort of timeline together, but, again, I feel like the author of this article is sort of asserting that and making very broad statements that elide differences between thinkers and between poststructuralism and postmodernism, and I think that has important effects on this argument and how it can be made.

    I feel like there are some very broad, possibly misleading strokes being made there. For instance, poststructuralism doesn’t entail a lack of ethics and end to positioning ourselves against oppression. Some– especially the kinds that have filtered down into pop culture at large– forms of postmodernism are especially stupid and dangerous in that they reduce the complexity of certain poststructuralist critiques of structuralism to reductionist one-liners that allow the usual people– women and others– & their concerns to be pushed aside and ignored, allow a blind lionization of things like “multiplicity,” “free play,” “transgression,” etc. But some of the thinkers listed are hardly simplistic and sloppy, whatever else they may be. I agree with an earlier commenter that, Judith Butler, for instance, has an exceptionally sharp mind and this comes through in her writing very clearly. I don’t agree with everything she writes at all, but she’s no idiot or dupe (I also don’t think the author presented a fair reading of what Butler means by “performance”). I honestly don’t know how we can, btw, still be on about Butler (or any theorist)’s “difficult language.” No, that language is not accessible to all people. I don’t think that is a legitimate reason to stop it any more than the fact that the language of astrophysics is not accessible to all people should stop astrophysicists from doing their work and writing the way they do, especially when writing to a largely academic audience. (Butler herself wrote a response to accusations that her language is “too difficult,” which if you’re interested you can google,”A Bad Writer Bites Back”)

    All that said, I definitely (again) am interested in this view on things, especially the ways in which feminism was “absorbed” into academia, perhaps in ways that neutered or altered it significantly. I don’t know a ton about that history and would love to learn more. Also, perhaps, commentary on the shift from “women’s” to “gender studies.” I’d love to hear in a later part or in comments what the author things about this whole “kyriarchy” (as terminology) business in fun-fem land, and more on the question of what the concept of “intersectionality” really offers (or obscures) when used as a tool in feminist analysis.

  14. also, Butler has backed off of her position in Gender Trouble against universality, and has in her later work endorsed the idea that there are ways of “seeking recourse to universality that are quite important and necessary.” This is just one theorist and one issue, and that alone cannot “take down” the argument of this article, and isn’t intended to. I hope only to suggest that the treatment of theorists and poststructuralism in general may be slightly under-nuanced in this article.

  15. Swizzle- I meant the deconstruction of the ‘women as a sex-class’ analysis that is so dear to radical feminism of course; this is what postmodernism wants to deconstruct the most, and it’s dangerous. When you cannot understand that women are being oppressed as a sex class around the world, then you are not female-identified and your theories present no threat to male dominance whatsoever –this is what I mean by ‘deconstruction’.

    I still believe that Butler’s earlier work is harmful and certainly antithetical to the liberation of women.

    As for my views on postmodernism, well, it’s based on what I understood from studying postmodern ‘feminism’ at Uni. I have not read every single pomo work to form an opinion on all sorts of works from postmodernism. But the kind of postmodernism I studied (which is mainstream postmodernism) is the most common form that is presented in so-called feminist classes in Academia, and I know the basic tenets from postmodernism: these politics are fundamentally antithetical to the liberation of women. That’s the most important part that womyn need to know, I believe.

  16. I also feel that some of these works are misrepresented or thrown together in ways that aren’t appropriate, e.g. Foucault and Derrida did not co-establish something called “postmodernism.”

    No, Foucault et al perhaps themselves rejected the term ‘postmodern’. However, they still are THE men who are responsible for bringing about postmodernism’s takeover of Academia. As Mary Daly said in Quintessence when talking about postmodernism as a form of ‘mindbinding’ and ‘taming’ of women’s genius in academia, “…there is a total erasure of responsibility for the atrocities performed through such (sado-academic) rituals. The men who colonize the pages of “post-modern feminist writers” appear to be absent from the scene of the crime, and some even repudiate postmodernism itself… The goal of reinstating men as the colonizers of Feminist knowledge was achieved [refering to Christine Delphy’s piece on “French feminism.”] And that is one true story of contemporary erasure of responsibility for atrocities against the minds of women in academic circles.” (pp. 140-142, Daly, Quintessence)

  17. No, that language is not accessible to all people. I don’t think that is a legitimate reason to stop it any more than the fact that the language of astrophysics is not accessible to all people should stop astrophysicists from doing their work and writing the way they do, especially when writing to a largely academic audience.

    Just read this and had to comment: there seem to be quite some academics who cannot deal with the way post-modernist writers present their theories and analyses. Even in academia you have to write in a way that does not needlessly complicate things. Now Butler deals with philosophy where people might be more used to reading her jargon. However, when the post-modernist tradition spread out to the more empirical social sciences, i.e. sociology & political science, it obviously didn’t go over that well. For example, I can remember a special post-modernist edition of a journal being sent back by a well-regarded political scientist who said it wasn’t written in English.

    Also, the revolutionary impact of much of what goes for post-modernism is basically nil if you take it seriously. I read an analysis of the construction of security and the practical take-away was that we should make people see the constructedness of the phenomenon and hope that they change their behaviour. You can already see how non-revolutionary this might prove: first, because many people already see that it’s a construct but are not interested in changing it and two, because the population at large doesn’t understand you when you write in such a manner that only the academic can make sense of it.


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