The ‘Pomo’ Backlash: Looking at Feminism in the Aftermath of Postmodernism (Part 2)

by Guest Blogger

Guest post by Maggie H.

[This is part two of a two part post. Read part one here.]

There is an over-emphasis on discourse and domination of ‘language’ in postmodern feminist works; this frequently fails to address the central issue of structural male domination over women. There is validity in linking language with power. However, radical feminists have explained where the ‘master narrative’ lies; it is not in women’s accounts of their life experiences. The voices of the oppressed ought not to be deconstructed. It is men who have privilege and the power of naming in a patriarchy (Daly, 1979; Dworkin, 1979), and men like Foucault or Derrida are no exception.

Structural male dominance should adequately be addressed; but Jane Flax (in Thinking Fragments; 1990), for example, would rather use the terms ‘gender’ and ‘gender relations’ than male dominance. She makes the absurd claim that there is a need to find what gender relations ‘really are’, while gender continues to be constructed and enforced by a male-supremacist context. She remains obscure on the reality of sex hierarchy in a gendered society where men dominate women. There is notable reluctance, in Flax’s work, to seriously name the agent for women’s oppression, i.e. men.

Another postmodern feminist, Chris Weedon (Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory; 1987) cannot distinguish radical feminists’ theoretical contrast between sex and gender when she accuses us of believing in a “true essential non-patriarchal femininity” rather than femaleness. Rich (1977) rejected essentialism when she explained that women are socialised to become nurturing. Radical feminists have always made a crucial distinction between femininity and actual biological femaleness, in other words gender vs. sex.

Weedon (1987) also remains undecided on where exactly power relations lie, and eschews naming male dominance and properly identifying whose interests are being served by the status quo. Nicholson (1992) repeatedly use the term ‘sexism’ rather than ‘misogyny’ –which would be more politically powerful. There is some self-policing of language in her work that can be observed in her cautious attitude to the terms ‘mothering’ and ‘reproduction’. The reader can feel that the postmodern ‘feminist’ much more concerned with avoiding ‘risk of essentialism’ at all cost and with intersections of race and class, rather than being concerned with women’s shared experience of patriarchal oppression. In Nicholson’s over-emphasis on language and “the epistemic is political” (p.69), any chance for genuine political feminist analysis gets lost.

Judith Butler’s (Gender Trouble, 1990) analysis of heterosexuality is far removed from Rich’s (‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,’ 1980). Adrienne Rich identified heterosexuality as a patriarchal institution and a primary site for women’s oppression. Similarly to her, Jeffreys (1993) argues that a proper lesbian feminist analysis would constantly address male interests as being served and maintained by heterosexuality. It is therefore true that Butler is not being fair in purporting that:

“Lesbianism that defines itself in radical exclusion from heterosexuality deprives itself of the capacity to resignify the very heterosexual constructs by which it is partially and inevitably constituted.”(Gender Trouble, 1990, p. 128; emphasis mine)

In her focus on ‘gender as performance’, Butler also supports butch/femme roles as ‘transgressive’. In Bodies that Matter (1993), she drew on Lacan and Freud (male thinkers who had been explicitly criticised by modernist feminist) to argue that the phallus is ‘transferrable’ from a post-structural ‘body as text’ perspective. She then devoted thirty-four pages on the “lesbian phallus” and did not offer much hope for us lesbians when she claimed we need “the critical release of alternative imaginary schemas for constituting site of erotogenic pleasure” (Butler, 1993, p. 91).

Surely there is a better alternative to Butler’s phallic recommendations for lesbians; but she cannot envision it since her goal is rather to promote alternatives to traditional ‘rigid’ gendered norms rather than eradicating gender altogether. Butch/femme roles offer nothing revolutionary and what Butler seems to recommend looks very much like a mere ‘copying and pasting’ heterosexual gender norms onto lesbianism. One of the most powerful critics of Judith Butler, Sheila Jeffreys (The Lesbian Heresy, 1993; and Unpacking Queer Politics, 2003) described butch/femme roles as oppressively gendered and suggested that there is a genuine form of lesbian sexuality that exists independently from phallocentric and heteronormative / heteropatriarchal influences –despite a patriarchal gendered culture that continually attempts to chip away at it.

Jeffreys (1993) explained that Butler’s (1990) concept of gender as being socially constructed is not a new one within feminism, as it was crucial to earlier feminist understandings of patriarchal oppression of women. Gender is a social construct that benefits men, and helps them preserve structural power over women. It perpetuates culturally and patriarchally enforced oppressive ‘feminine’ conventions on women. I read Gender Trouble and saw no reference in it to the gendered beauty practices affecting women’s bodies and everyday realities (see e.g. Jeffreys, 2006).

In Susan Bordo’s (2003) attempt to supposedly change women’s realities through text, she chooses to overcome her reason with desires and playful styles, showing how “conditions that are objectively… constraining, enslaving, and even murderous, come to be experienced as liberating, transforming, and life-giving.” (p. 168) In a magic intellectual tour de force, experiences of eating disorders come to be expressed as ‘empowering’. The irrational doublethink and over-emphasis on texts and meaning is rather troubling here. Postmodernism wants women’s desire to trump their reason.

Women, including women of colour, have historically been perceived by those in power as ‘creatures lacking reason’, and postmodern feminism’s abandonment of reason in favour of desire, as Waters (1996) pointed out, may well throw women squarely back in a reification of misogynistic Freudian analysis. Feminist theory that allows desire to substitute reason –and objects to concrete, rational thinking– becomes incoherent. Men and male-identified women have historically been using doublethink and language that distances itself from women’s oppression to belittle or minimise facts about women’s lives around the world (Daly, 1979).

Bordo (2003) appears to be trying to change women’s world through ‘text’, while ignoring the material reality of eating disorders. According to her, female bodies can “now speak of their necessity in their slender spare shape and the currently fashionable men’s-wear look.” (p. 171) The anorectic teenage girl can now use her body to show the ‘strength’ and ‘self-control’. She can empower herself with an ‘androgynous’ slender look that can ‘subvert’ internal contradictions of gender. I remain sceptical that this gender analysis can possibly help change the reality of eating disorders.

Earlier feminist theories of gender as socially constructed (and separate from biological sex), argued it had to be transcended for women to be free (e.g. Ann Oakley, Sex, Gender and Society; 1972). The new postmodern ‘feminist’ understanding of gender is quite different. Now, the biological sex disappears as being itself ‘socially constructed’ (2) and gender has to be ‘explored’ in all its ‘multiplicity’ (Jeffreys, 2003).

Jeffreys (1993; 2006) explained that Butler’s idea that gender is simply a ‘performance’ is completely removed from the context of women’s oppression (Jeffreys, 1993). Gender was constructed as a way for men to maintain power over women. Painful and time-consuming gendered beauty practices affect women’s bodies and realities (Jeffreys, 2006).

Butler’s (1990) gender protection racket lies in implications that gender ‘performances’ which switch gender roles are ‘subversive’ within a supposedly ‘right’ context. Butler’s suggestion that ‘performing’ gender in ways that swap some gender roles for others can be ‘subversive’ in certain contexts shows that she wants to preserve gender rather than getting rid of it. Butler’s vision is short-sighted and offers no real feminist solution to gender. The ‘rigidity’ of gender is not the problem. Butler’s ‘gender-as-performance’ ideology led to a conceptualisation of gender as ‘multiple’ by later queer theorists who purported the existence of many ‘genders’ (Jeffreys, 2003; Wilkinson and Kitzinger, in Radically Speaking, 1996). Bordo (2003) abandons a second-wave analysis of gender to be able to discuss a way to ‘subvert’ traditional norms of femininity simply with alternative ones. Such approaches separate gender from its material foundation in the oppression of women.

Rather than politically attempting to create numerous ways of ‘performing’ femininity and masculinity, radical feminists want gender and its socialisation to be discarded altogether. If gender were to be reconceptualised in terms of conforming to male dominance and female subordination, a better analysis of it would emerge. There are merely various ways in which feminine and masculine behaviours can play out (and these are not always expressed by the usual female or male actors), but only two genders exist. Gender roles are learned and should be eliminated –not just switched or played.

Butler’s perception of drag and unconventional gender role-playing as ‘subversive’ indicate no revolutionary strategy, no matter how many times she argues that such a ‘performance’ (because not acted out by an usual actor according to societal gendered expectations) would apparently reveal the fact that there is no core to gender. Male supremacy is perpetuated not just because people are unaware of the social construction of gender. It is maintained because men benefit from structural power over women (Jeffreys, 1993).

There is no way men would relinquish the sexual, economic, etc that patriarchy confers them once they see men wearing feminine clothes. Similarly, women’s oppression goes beyond having to wear makeup and noticing that drag queens or kings exist is unlikely to help women overcome their socially subordinate status. Moreover, modernist feminist theorists have criticised drag and cross-dressing as merely swapping a gender role for another and stereotypically caricaturing women (e.g. Janice Raymond’s 1994 edition of The Transsexual Empire).

Postmodernism and Butlerian ‘gender-as-performance’ ideology unfortunately spawned what Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger (in Radically Speaking, 1996) called the ‘queer backlash’ against feminism in contemporary culture. Queer culture (and the LGBTQWTF movement) is beyond caring about the sex a person was assigned at birth (either male or female). The only preoccupations of this ‘multiple genders’ Queer culture is the ‘performance’ of various Butlerian ‘subversions’, parodies, gender-bending or mimicries that a purported diversity gender gives them. In Queer culture, celebrities like Madonna or Lady gaga are perceived as ‘undermining’ the supposed rigidity of gender through the display of exaggerated femininity. Performers employ exaggerated use of high heels, makeup and submissive conduct as a form of ‘empowerment’ that is expected by Queer admirers to show casual observers the apparent reality of gender as a ‘performance’ and support Butler’s assertions from Gender Trouble (1990).

Among people who laud Queer theory and cultural practice, as well as Butlerian concepts, Cherry Smyth (Lesbians Talk: Queer Notions; 1992) claimed that Madonna is “…one of the most famous example of queer transgression” (p. 44). Whereas 1960’s-1970’s generation of women viewed patriarchally enforced feminine beauty practices like makeup or leg-shaving as agonizing and time-consuming after earlier feminist analyses of gender emerged, younger women now delusion themselves with perceptions of Queer femininity as ‘transgressive’. At the same time, the socially constructed institution of gender, which maintains structural male domination over women, remains unchallenged (Jeffreys, 1993). There is no doubt that ‘alternatives’ of femininity have been made available to women. However, gender gets reinforced by Queer culture, and it has no interest in promoting an authentic liberation for women from the institutionalised patriarchal bondage of feminine roles.

On a Bully Bloggers’ (2010) post, Jack Halberstam says that Lady Gaga’s sister’s ‘prison yard kiss’ with a female body artist apparently “…reminds the viewer that this is a queer sisterhood, a strange sisterhood and one which is not afraid to flirt with some heavy-duty butch-femme, S/M dynamics.” This is a very bizarre type of patriarchally twisted ‘sisterhood’ being shown here –and it is being displayed on an Internet page that contains ‘softcore’ pornographic portrayals of women as sex objects. Freedom for women has to start with a personal and political rejection of masochism, and of bondage and sadomasochism (Jeffreys, 1993). Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, the butch/femme roles that Butler frequently defended in her works (1990; 1993) are a replica of heterosexual gendered norms. Those roles do nothing to destabilize gender; they only perpetuate it.

Wilkinson and Kitzinger (1996) see Queer theory and practice as gay male-centred primarily concerned with the needs of gay males (and transgendered “male-to-female” individuals) rather than lesbians’. Despite its supposed ‘transgression’, Queer theory is deeply conservative. Gender roles are not discarded; they are merely swapped and ‘played around’ with. Queer politics view transgenderism as ‘progressive’. The vast majority of women-only spaces have now been invaded by people who were assigned male at birth (and thus do not share the same life experience as those who were oppressed as female since birth). This undermined the potential of feminist consciousness-raising spaces for feminists and women (Jeffreys, 2003). Radical feminists have long denounced the medical establishment for institutionalising and reinforcing gender conformity through the promotion of transsexual surgery, or transgenderism, which merely swaps one gender role for the other (Raymond, Transsexual Empire, 1979/1994a).

In the aftermath of postmodernism and Queer theory, gender (which feminists have long sought to eradicate) could well become enshrined in law. The conservative role of queer politics clearly shows itself in the politics of US organisation called GenderPAC, which attempt to legally protect gender roles and identities (Jeffreys, 2003).

Postmodernism (or poststructuralism) along with its offshoot, Queer politics, are antithetical to the liberation of women from male oppression, and there is no adequate feminist goal to be gained in seeking ‘equality’ politics, as Greer (2000) has shown. In her book on feminism after postmodernism, Zalewski (2000) presented a mostly neutral standpoint on postmodernism when comparing it to radical feminism, arguing that there can be qualities in both –that while radical feminism presents interesting perspectives on women’s bodily realities, postmodernism apparently presents some intellectual ‘qualities’ in the academia. I disagree. Postmodernism is a product of male-institutionalised scholarship that does nothing to help women as a sex class.

The academia, with its purported open-mindedness to feminist theory, would have been a good point of departure for feminist consciousness-raising and action, but what happened instead is deeply heartbreaking and disappointing. Mary Daly (in Quintessence, 1998) warned that there had been an unfortunate ‘taming’ of feminist genius in academia. This has partly encouraged radical feminists to choose alternative networks of communication to reach all kinds of women, e.g. online resistance has been a powerful way to bypass academia (like the creation of this RadFem Hub here, for instance). As Carol Anne Douglas said regarding academic ‘feminism’:

“Foucault is “high” theory… Apparently, the works of …Rich, …Daly, …Lorde, …Dworkin, and virtually everybody else who has ever moved women are “low theory”… If that’s the case, then you take the high road, baby, and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland, Peoria, Bangladesh, or any actual place before you.” (Douglas, ‘I’ll Take the Low Road: A Look at Contemporary Feminist Theory’, in Off Our Backs, XXIII (2), 16-17p. 16)

Wild Women(3) will not care whether or not genuine feminist truth-telling pleases men or not. They will tell it as it is, without obfuscating it within complex academic language. Hopefully, the importance of the ‘women-as-a-sex-class’ analysis will soon re-emerge in the next wave of feminism.

———————

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.

Notes:

2. I understand that intersexed people exist, and they should not be forced to fit in a category if they do not want to. However, there is a certain reality commonly shared from birth onwards for people who were assigned female at birth (FAAB, see Femonade, 2011), including some intersexed people who were assigned as such. Moreover, Martha Nussbaum (in ‘The Professor of Parody,’ New Republic; 1999) noted that “[c]ulture can shape and reshape some aspects of our bodily existence but it does not shape all aspects of it… This is an important fact… for feminism, since women’s nutritional needs (and their special needs when pregnant or lactating) are an important feminist topic.” (p. 42)

3. Mary Daly (1998) used the term Wild Women to describe any female who have not been domesticated by patriarchal ideologies, or who are at least eager to break away from them –unlike Dworkin’s (1983) right-wing women, for instance, who attempted to make compromises with patriarchy.

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21 Responses to “The ‘Pomo’ Backlash: Looking at Feminism in the Aftermath of Postmodernism (Part 2)”

  1. Excellent analysis on how postmodernism and ‘queer politics’ operate to hide and simultaneously maintain male domination over all women. Radical Feminists have always insisted on ‘going to the root of the problem’ and naming the problem. However behind all the rhetoric contained within postmodernism is the refusal to name the problem and that is how male supremacist systems are structured and maintained to ensure male socio-political power over women remains unchallenged and unchanging. Queer theory is conservative and traditional and operates to justify male demands and male rights over women.

    Many academic feminists refuse to name the absent agent (male domination over women) and instead focus on abstract claims which has no bearing whatsoever on women’s lived experiences or realities. Women are still a ‘sex class’ within our Male Supremacist Systems and gender is one of the central ways male supremacist system is justified and maintained. Always ask the question – who benefits from the ‘gendered system?’ Answer: men because men created gender and men created the lie they alone are default humans which means women continue to be viewed in relation to men and their claims of being able to define ‘woman’ and her experiences through a male-centric myopic lens.

    ‘Postmodernism is a product of male-institutionalised scholarship that does nothing to help women as a sex class.’ Thank you Maggie for defining what postmodernism is in a short succinct statement. But sadly, many, many feminist academics continue to believe postmodernism provides women with the answer. One important reason why so many feminists refuse to name the ‘absent agent’ – aka male domination over women is because challenging men and their socio-economic power means men will swiftly react to silence and punish the transgressive woman/women. Much easier to appease men and the male supremacist system than speak out and challenge men and their misogynistic claims to know and define ‘women’s reality of living under male supremacist systems.’

  2. Once again a briljant post,Maggie. Well done 🙂

    This makes me realize that i still have so much to read and find out.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Hecuba and Carpenter. 🙂

  4. A THOUSAND THOUSAND thanks. It is so nice to hear other women speak out about what has happened to academic feminism. Its easy to feel like the only one sometimes. Wild Women. Yes. Wild Women indeed!

  5. Brilliantly done, Maggie.

    I particularly appreciate this: “Jeffreys explained that Butler’s idea that gender is simply a ‘performance’ is completely removed from the context of women’s oppression. Gender was constructed as a way for men to maintain power over women. Painful and time-consuming gendered beauty practices affect women’s bodies and realities.”

    This is so obvious; I wonder why mainstream feminists don’t see it! Postmodern/queer politics does not work against the systems of male power; instead, they prop these systems up!

  6. The thing is smash, I think they do see it, which is why patriarchy has so deviously designed a theory to support that so that everyone wins. How does everyone win? Well, patriarchy continues to exert power over women whilst women think they’re doing something about it. Meanwhile nothing changes. So so clever. So so sad.

  7. Hi, Maggie, great essay, so much to say and so spot-on, and thanks Hecuba especially for summarizing so much.

    Academic feminism is so puzzling to me because these are very alert, remarkable women. Why are they advancing a theory of women’s status that is not reality-based? Why not situate their work in women’s lived experience rather than male Freudian-derived theory? What is this, avoiding talking about the conspicuous hierarchy altogether? Your very first sentence, Maggie, points out how “language”, turning every lived experience into a metaphor about speech, has assumed an inordinate importance in feminist academic theorizing. How ironic, when the silencing of women has always been such a florid feature of the System.

    I’ve been studying Catherine MacKinnon’s brilliant 1989 “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”. She of course is a law professor, but here is what she says about academics: “Most of the groundbreaking contributions to feminist theory were made by the women’s movement in the 1970s through practice; some of its insights were published in journals, obscure newsletters, and some books. Major intellectual contributions were made by women based mostly outside universities, women such as Andrea Dworkin, Audre lorde, Kate Millett, and Adrienne Rich…” After acknowledging a few scholarly writers whose work has advanced her own, she states: “Most of these women have been active in the women’s movement as well as in scholarship, and it shows…The fact remains that, even when exceptions like these are recognized, academic reformulation of feminist insights has too often added little of substance.”

    Yikes! “Academic re-formulation of feminist insights!” Nothing original there, and much that is useless wheel-spinning.

    For the remainder of MacKinnon’s groundbreaking work, she ignores academic post-modernism. She distinguishes three other major kinds of feminist theories; liberal, marxist, and…she says in all these theories, the discussion continues to define women as a vicarious class with a social and political status identified only in relation to the individual men to whom they are assigned at adulthood. She says that with marxism, liberalism, and postmodernism, “women as women…were simply unthinkable.” I suppose her theory might be nicknamed “women as women”. I also feel that her book is a blueprint of basic radical feminist theory, and I don’t think she would object to that characterization.

    MacKinnon looks at women as women. What are we, once disengaged or in an independent relationship with men?

    That’s our task to figure out here, it seems to me. We need to understand fully the current structure. We need to weigh and expose the implied and express violence that maintains these jurisprudential and other structures. We need to discuss how to disengage or re-engage on an independent basis. But afterward, we need to understand who we would be as one-half of full-fledged global humanity, and what the consequences would be for humanity.

  8. karmarad,

    MacKinnon has written about postmodernism here: http://www.cflr.org/points.pdf

  9. Thanks, womon, I’ll be curious to have a look at that.

  10. Cool link, WOAJ! I’ll check that essay out.

  11. Very nice and informative essay Maggie! Thank you for always keeping us informed.

    Gender and socialized ‘femininity’ are definitely patriarchal tools to keep women subservient and oppressed. Swapping roles and gender play certainly are not improving our status as women or diminishing our oppression. Postmodernism essentially seeks to encourage women to placate and make concessions towards our male oppressors. Postmodernism really isn’t helpful towards any type of true liberation for women.

  12. wow. well written, Maggie! Thank you

  13. Thanks for posting… It reminds me of what happened while I was at Architecture school. There was something of a ‘takeover’, and we had professors who were experts at postmodern critical theory but had never built a damn thing in their lives and had no practical experience. Everything was about “interrogating language” instead of doing something buildable with any roots whatsoever in reality. Fast forward a few years, our major has the highest unemployment rate of all for fresh grads, while, no surprise, the postmodernist theorists still have their jobs. The gap between the academy and practice grows (who wants to hire someone who studied critical theory for 5 years instead of building?), in my opinion, to the detriment of both the profession and the built environment.

    To make the comparison, feminism needs to keep its foundations rooted in firm soil of the lived experience of women and its walls solidly built from the material conditions of their lives. Like architecture, feminism has moral obligations to the people whom it serves, and can’t abandon this obligation simply to bolster the careers and intellectual exercises of a privileged few.

  14. Thank you very much for your comments, Womyn. 🙂 *hugs to you all*

    By the way, I just noticed: When I’d written this, I’d forgotten a word here, “There is no way men would relinquish the sexual, economic, etc privileges that patriarchy confers them once they see men wearing feminine clothes.” Just letting you know. 😉 Sorry for the other occasional typos in the writing, also…

  15. I checked out that blistering MacKinnon article on postmodernism that womon mentions above. Highly recommended. The situation is that the feminist movement has been divided tremendously by external attacks, not internal divisions as is usually said. As soon as the movement got going and its potential power became apparent, the marxists jumped in to try to appropriate and subsume it. Then came the post-modernists to announce there couldn’t be a movement as the subject of the movement doesn’t even exist (postmodernist academics). Then came the male backlash, trying to separate the mass of women from feminists and demonize feminists. Then came the academic intersectionalists to try to divide women based on their race and class.Most recently, the transgender movement has been used to try to derail women as a discrete group with particular concerns, many of which are biological. It should be noted very clearly that these dividers are all male-dominated.

  16. Thank you, Maggie! You should post more often. It’s so refreshing to read your powerful words after spending so many hours listening to people who seem to truely believe sex doesn’t exist. It’s a case of mass schizophrenia. Anyway, I keep hoping the next wave will come soon to strike bluntly against all this psychosis.

  17. We should design hidden agendas as well for our interests and create interconnected radfem societies all over the world in order to fight patriarchy… after all these academic and political elites that have infiltrated feminism with postmodern liberal bullshit all have hidden agendas and don’t tell us when they conspire in order to fuck our movement up or how much they conspire in order to do so. It must take a lot, I suspect. Of course we wouldn’t have many resources/money/time time to begin with because we’re slaves of the system and they’re not, or at least not as much -just for being a token woman or a fauxgressive man you get a lot of rewards, mostly financial.

    So the radfem resistance groups would start off poor and enslaved but maybe through working together and planning -and yes, conspiring, LOL, that’s what they do after all, why not copy their strategies and turn it against them? and that’s what the suffragettes did, too- we would accumulate a few resources, some money, some sort of media for our political propaganda -this hub and radfem blogs are an example of that. The internet is a good way ’cause it’s free and there is no threat of male violence here, so we should bombard the internet with radfem ideology and debunking of fallacies of postmodern/liberal theory for it to be accesible to all women worldwide. Some of us, depending on our knowledge/careers/abilities/time could specialize and work in different areas or institutions of the P, like the internet, literature, biology, medicine, anti-porn activism, law, politics, media… and subvert, subvert and then subvert some more. Focus on liberating the women and stop caring about men, and help or try to persuade other women to join the cause. I’m hallucinating I know, but if we don’t dream the end of patriarchy who will?

  18. Thank you for this post, which obviously took a lot of time and thought. I have considered myself a radical feminist since the early 80’s, but I got away from reading feminist theory in the 90’s. It just stopped being interesting to me. I put that down to other directions my life was taking me, but I wonder, having read your article, if feminist theory wasn’t moving away from me. I read some more about post-constructionism and post-modernism to follow your article. The words are used so often in so many contexts that it is hard to maintain a grasp on what they mean. They meld into meaning anything at all after awhile, which I guess is part of the design. I tend to think the postmodern theorists have hijacked post-structuralism as well as feminism in using it to shore up patriarchal systems. My understanding of the concept is that it means to defuse power-over structures, not legitimize them. As for the language being hard to understand, I think that’s part of the fascination with post-modernism. It makes people feel smarter to align themselves with something abstruse.

  19. Hi Maggie H.

    Thank you for this essay, You have done a wonderful, fabulous service to the feminist community with this essay! With your straightforward, clear thinking and wonderfully clear writing, with clear references to pomo and rad/feminist writings, you have explained both what the hell the pomo writers were talking about, and figured out how to debunk their mind-bending psuedo-logical statements.

    For years now, I’ve needed someone to explain and deconstruct pomo and queer theory anti-feminist writings, because as someone who wasn’t required to study them much in school, I wasn’t willing to invest my own time in doing so simply to deconstruct them. Part of why they have taken hold so well is that they are so confusingly written, and inaccessibly high-brow, itmakes them hard to understand and to challenge. In fact, it reminds me of the strategies used by cult leaders to draw in new members, and retain them, by using such confusing and esoteric writing and speaking that it befuddles the recruits so they can’t think clearly or argue effectively. It is very disturbing that for all that people complain about this aspect of pomo writing, people have continued teaching these writings. personally, I think if the writing is as inaccessible as the pomo writings are, they should not even be read or taught, because they are inherently anti-feminist. One of the hallmarks of so many great feminist writers has been their accessible style. Jeffreys, Marilyn Frye, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem…Their writings were readable to most women, not just academics.

    But because pomo has been so confusing, and difficult to argue against on those grounds alone, let alone on the concepts the confusing writing is about, many women such as myself have needed a piece such as yours to be able to begin arguing against pomo and the direction Women’s Studies (and anti-feminist”gender” studies) have been going in. Maggie, you have given us the words, meanings, and arguments to begin speaking out against pomo and queer theory (I didn’t even know who might have done any academic critiques of pomo, so thank you for referring me to jeffreys and to womononajourney for sending the link to MacKinnon’s article.

    You have empowered me/us. This is one of the invaluable first steps to our taking back Women’s Studies, feminism, and lesbian communities.

    I encourage everyone here to join me in posting the link to this page to your FB page and elsewhere, sending this illuminating essay far and wide.

    Finally, has anyone created a list of essays or books that are crtiiques of pomo, queer theory, and trans beliefs?

    It would be wonderful to start such a list in comments, here, and have someone make it into a post, so we can start sending that out, too, especially to academics, so they can be empowered and emboldened to start critiquing pomo and offering non-pomo current and past writings that help us actually make sense of our situation.

  20. I thought this was a very helpful account of pomo and feminism. I was interested to see, though, that the critique focuses on North American pomo. There’s a very different flavour to European pomo (for example, it doesn’t seek to depoliticize the way American pomo does), and I wonder if the work of women such as Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva might offer something very constructive to North American radical feminism. Maybe; maybe not… but I do think it’s important to distinguish between theories that depoliticize and theories that are politically engaged.

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