Monday, September 6, 2010

How Did We Get to Post-Feminism Before Arriving at Post-Patriarchy?

image of t-shirt is from here
(Note: Mildly revised on 3 Dec. 2011 ECD.)

I've listened to enough about post-structuralism and post-modernism and a few of its spokes-euro-men to know that labeling something as "post-" doesn't mean "after" as much as it means "inclusive of a critique of". So post-modernism isn't simply a period of time that is no longer modern, but it is a period in which modernism becomes identifiable as a philosophical-cultural-political set of ideologies, values, and conditions set into society but shaken into awareness of what it does through post-modern cultural and social-political analysis and activism.That most critiques are well-contained, "discursively", by and within the Academy is a major problem to me. And, that it is too often raced and global elites who comprise the authors of the new Canon, is also a serious concern.

France's white gay male philosopher of social power, Michel Foucault, conceptualised the episteme, which, as I understand it anyway, refers to the body of knowledge that is knowable at any given time, in any given era. So, for example, it is common among those of us who critique patriarchy to note when reading a man's sexist writings, "Well, he didn't live in a time where a feminist critique of patriarchy existed so he wouldn't be likely to even know how deeply patriarchal ideologies, values, and conditions were shaping his own work." There's an assumption there that without critiques of the societies we live in, we are limited in what we can do about their oppressive elements and practices, in part because we can't adequately name them. Naming "patriarchal harm and atrocity" as such, is terribly important if we're going to try and stop it.

What often turns out to be true, however, is that there were various forms of what is now called "feminist" consciousness and critique in those times that men wrote their sexist work, but the men never bothered to care enough to read or listen to the women speaking out.

I offer the above only to say that I get that "post-feminism" isn't, strictly speaking, "anti-feminist" although from my own perspective it is functionally and effectively anti-feminist. This is to say, post-feminist authors don't identify, generally, as anti-feminists. But the lack of sustained attention of what to do to challenge and end patriarchal hierarchies and harm, shifting instead to focusing on the problems of feminism, means that patriarchy is allowed to live another day, year, century, or millennium, assuming capitalist patriarchies don't murder all Life on Earth in the mean time.

What some post-feminists I'm aware of seem to want us to believe is that post-feminism is feminism with a perspective on and more expansive critique of itself--of feminisms of the past and perhaps also the present. What is, for me, tremendously problematic with this view, is the assumption that feminism has ever existed in any linear fashion, within one cultural tradition, as one thing, or as one main trunk with a few major branches, all of which can be discussed in a few volumes of academic writings, organised neatly into chapters covering various periods of time, so that "We know where we've been and where we're going" in this project of "making a better feminism".

I'm summarise my problems with such a view.

Feminism isn't one view, one perspective, or one movement.

It doesn't exist in one culture, one era, one society, or, even, in one hemisphere of the globe. Even social change movements termed "Radical Feminist" aren't one thing, arrived at by a few key activists collectively agreeing on the point of view they'll all promote. White women such as Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Mary Daly, Robin Morgan, Andrea Dworkin, Janice Raymond, Sonia Johnson, and Catharine MacKinnon NEVER got together ever, and never agreed on what "The [White] Perspective" on patriarchy ought to be, or, even, that there was only one kind of patriarchy. Some of those white women agreed on some things. And during that time there were many activist women of color doing work on multiple fronts, not *just* on issues impacting *only* women which doesn't make that work "non-feminist" unless you define feminist work as focusing only on women. But what if white women's activism only focuses on white women, ignoring or marginalising the oppressive realities women of color live with that are more complex if only because women of color are oppressed by three groups (men of color, white women, and white men), not one? Is that work "radical"? Who gets to decide the answers: only elite academics?

Even if we pretend a lot of those white women did agree with each other, they could only, at best, represent U.S. liberal white feminism or U.S. radical white feminism. Because prior to and concurrent with white feminism were other feminisms within and outside the U.S., many of which were and are far more radical than the U.S. middle class white kind is capable of being. Black feminisms including Womanism and economic justice work that wasn't always identified as "feminist" even while being led by Black women directing focused campaigns against male control of them and their housing, Indigenous feminisms which aren't always called "feminism", Latina, Asian, and Arab feminisms aren't part of "the Western Academic Canon" of the radical feminism that is white but dares not speak its color.

Andrea Dworkin, for one, was quite critical of any white feminism that didn't have consciousness about and a radical critique of how whiteness and class privilege impairs feminist revolutionary action and theory. Too many other white feminists, and most white anti-feminists have seemed to me to be content with ignoring, invisibilising, or denying the whiteness, Westernness, and  class privilege of their work, and "other-ising" the work of feminists of color.

For me, for some time, radical feminisms of color have been "feminism" with white feminist perspectives informing and adding to those views, NOT the other way around. I don't--any longer--see radical white feminism as THE radical feminism which must be contended with, or addressed, or placed front and center in any and every discussion about feminism. I deeply appreciate Patricia Hill Collins work Black Feminist Thought for not believing such intellectual and activist work has to be posited only or primarily as a response to white feminist thought.

Now, if feminists do this, can you even imagine how wrong patriarchs are about feminism? They're so very wrong about it that they seem quite content to promote "all feminism" or "all radical feminism" as about twenty "misandrist" quotes and trying to convince the readers of YahooAnswers and other discussion sites that "those quotes" are the heart and soul of feminism, without ever noticing that the quotes are wrong, from fiction, or, at least, ALL WHITE.

A crucial shift in feminist movement was when the U.S. Academy decided Women's Studies meant primarily studying feminism, not critiquing patriarchy. I remember the shift. The U.S. Academy has never been particularly interested in promoting anti-patriarchal activism, especially radical, revolutionary activism. The Academy may, from time to time, be content to study some contained era of activism organised around a particular issue, such as achieving the vote for women, often giving it a numbered "wave". But where in the Academy are the courses teaching women, men, and the rest of us how to actively resist patriarchal atrocity and work to overcome its institutions, systems, and interpersonal ways of being?

This isn't to say that feminist theorists and activists ought not be self-critical. It is to say they're rarely to never UNcritical of their own feminisms. Imperfectly, like every other theoretical framework or ground of activist resistance, feminism, as a response to patriarchal abuse and ideology, has maintained a critical perspective both on patriarchy and on itself. Unlike patriarchs. The anti-feminist dudes pretend to not notice there is such a thing as patriarchy and are far too often politically determined to make feminist movements seem absurd and unnecessary so that boys can still be men in the most masculinist sense.

Antifeminists' most common mistake (or conscious conceit) is to posit "Feminism" or "Radical Feminism" as one thing. The one thing they often assume it is is white.

Where post-feminists can sing in harmony with anti-feminists is in pretending that things like "colonised women of color's critique of racist patriarchy" hasn't been occurring all along. Historically and presently, radical women of color's work is not primarily something that has emerged in response to white women's feminism (that left women of color out). If professors in the Academy want to pretend that feminism was initially white and only then came under appropriate scrutiny and critique from women of color for making white women's views central to the analysis of "woman-in-patriarchy", well, they can do it. Within some white-majority and white-dominated communities, this did occur: women of color did challenge white writer and activists. But their anti-racist feminism didn't only exist to challenge white women; it has also challenged white men and men of color too. Feminism's various roots and branches, past and present, have always resided and strengthened in populations of women of color. Whether or not the racist elites of various Academies wanted to pay attention to those political activists and social analysts is another matter.

For a far more elaborate discussion of post-feminism and post-patriarchy, see this:
I'll be a postfeminist in a postpatriarchy, or, Can We Really Imagine Life after Feminism?
Lisa Yaszek


Cygnus said...

Thank you! Your blog is helping me stay sane as I am surrounded by anti-woman, anti-feminist, anti-lesbian nonsense in the queer community, all of which is presented as "radical." Thanks again.

Julian Real said...

Hi Cygnus,

I'm glad to know that is the effect for you of my writings here.

It's so sad how maligned feminism, radicalism, and lesbianism have become, including in many queer places.