Postmodern Feminism: Definition & Theory (2022)

In Italian, a very informal greeting for a male friend would be “Ciao, bello”(=hello, beautiful) The “o” at the end of “bello” indicates you are talking to one, male person. “Ciao, bella!” would be for female singular, “Ciao, belli!” would be for a group of males, and “Ciao, belle!” for a group of females. If we were greeting a group that included a mix of gender identities, we would greet them the same way as a group of men. In this instance, the female form of language virtually disappears, while language reflecting trans and non-binary gender identities are still commonly overlooked.

This is a small way in which the Italian language reverts to the masculine form, to indicate neutral or both genders.

Postmodern feminism highlights male biases in languages to show us how the inequality between genders is intrinsically linked with the very way we communicate, think and make sense of our world.

In this article, we are going to explore postmodern feminism a bit further in the context of postmodernism and feminism. We will look at its theory, features and what it aims for.

Postmodern feminism definition

Postmodern feminism is a subsection of third-wave feminism, mainly because of its rejection of the universality of the gendered experiences of individuals living in patriarchal systems.

Postmodern feminism is based on postmodern ideas as well as concepts from post-structuralism and French feminism. It understands gender stereotypes to be a cultural construct of patriarchy and aims to de-construct them to liberate individuals to define their understanding of what it is to be themselves.

Postmodern feminism is a branch of third-wave feminism that incorporates the philosophies of postmodernism, post-structuralism, and French feminism. It sees gender stereotypes as culturally constructed through language and aims to de-throne the prevalent patriarchal binary norms, in favour of embracing differences and individual experiences.

Structuralism is a movement that understands culture to be made up of complementary structures defined in opposition to each other and often arranged in a hierarchy. Examples are man-woman; rational-emotional. Post-structuralism rejects the binary view of the world and suggests that history and culture have a big impact in defining each subject.

(Video) Feminism and Postmodernism

French feminism is a branch of third-wave feminism characterised by a focus on philosophy and literature instead of politics. It produced literary works that were metaphorical, effusive and focused on theories of the body.

Take a deeper dive into Postmodernism, another great article available here!

Waves of Feminism

To better understand Postmodern feminism let's have a closer look at Third-wave feminism in context. Feminist thought also has a long history, divided into “waves” to define the key developments.

First and second-wave feminism were the prevailing schools of thought between the late 18th century and the 1980s. They both emerged in what today we define as the Global North.

  • First-wave feminism presents women as equal to men on grounds of their equal ability for rational thought and achieved women's suffrage.
  • Second-wave feminism celebrates femininity and the sisterhood of women as defined by (white) women, and as if they were concepts that were universally recognised. Second-wave feminism centred on fighting for reproductive rights.
  • While riding on the successes of the previous two waves of feminism, Third-wave feminism rejects some of the assumptions of first-wave and second-wave feminist movements, due to the incorporation of the idea of intersectionality.

Such an intersectional approach acknowledges the interplay between gender, ethnic background, wealth, class, sexual orientation and the presence of a disability when considering a person's experience of prejudice and marginalisation.

Intersectionality is the perspective that considers all aspects of a person's identity as intersecting to define their experience of their society.

Postmodern feminism aims

Postmodern feminism aims to dissect the intrinsic societal, cultural and language-based causes of gender inequality.

(Video) Postmodern Feminism : Gender and Performativity

It analyses society, language and written works to identify biases such as the one highlighted about the Italian language.

According to Postmodern feminism, the causes of gender oppression in patriarchal structures are multiple. Examples of these could be the erasure and underrepresentation of gender identities that challenge restrictive gender binaries and norms.

Once inequality is identified, postmodern feminists, aim to challenge these oppressive patriarchal tools. An example of this in action, is generating new ways of being, expressing and behaving which challenge patriarchal gender norms and the gender binary.

Postmodern feminism is sometimes criticised for a lack of a unified, clear solution. Other critics see postmodern feminism as too academic and jargonistic. This means that it risks getting lost in theories and is, therefore, less applicable to a political struggle.

Postmodern feminism theory

“Sex” is assigned based on an individual's external reproductive organs at birth. Whereas, a person's gender reflects how they express their sex through behaviour.

Postmodern feminist theory tells us that both sex and gender are socially constructed through language. Consequently, different societies have different constructs of both sex and gender.

Postmodern feminism also highlights how we create a restrictive gender binary with our language. As result, this trend allows strict gender roles and expectations to proliferate within patriarchal societies.

Gender binary

The gender binary is the classification of gender expression as strictly two, opposite, feminine and masculine only

For instance, some postmodern feminists go further by saying that language was not created by and for women; and that the definition of “female” is not in and of itself, but only in the reflection of what it is to be male. This puts the “female” at a hierarchical disadvantage.

Postmodern feminism criticises this androcentrism and promotes different and subjective ways of expressing masculinity and femininity that go beyond the social constructs.

Androcentrism

refers to the prioritisation of the masculine perspective

(Video) Is Feminism Postmodern?

Judith Butler is a philosopher and gender theorist who developed the idea of gender performativity. This is a concept that implies that gender is both a performance and one that produces a reaction in society. Butler states that gender is a set of actions that comply with societal norms. They also add that:

We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman... We act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or something that's simply true about us, a fact about us. Actually, it's a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start. “1

Features of postmodern feminism

Postmodern feminism, like postmodernism, rejects essentialism and binary oppositions as it sees them as patriarchal constructs that oppress the feminine.

Essentialism: in philosophy, is the view that objects have certain defined features and can only be defined as so. They cannot have any other characteristics.

The postmodern feminist philosopher, writer, poet, and playwright Helene Cixous draws a commentary on masculinity and femininity by analysing male writing and encouraging female writing. She describes male writing as (typically) linear, based on oppositions and lacking gender diversity, as it excludes the body. According to Cixous, female writing should be escapism, which can never be “theorised, enclosed or coded”2. She demonstrates this kind of writing by including many writing styles in her works, from densely theoretical, to slang, from flowy poetry and metaphors to associative wordplay.

Postmodern Feminism: Definition & Theory (1)Helene Cixous Claude Troung-Kgoc CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Postmodern feminism examples

Luce Irigaray is a French feminist, linguist, psychoanalyst and cultural theorist who spend a vast amount of her life analysing literary works from a logocentric perspective.

(Video) Postmodern Feminism

Logocentrism refers to the Western tradition of regarding words and language, and more specifically, written prose, as the best way to express reality.

In Luce Irigaray's main work, Speculum of the Other Woman3, she analysed and criticised the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes Kant and Freud from the perspective of phallocentrism. Phallocentrism is the prioritising of the male perspective when analysing society and social relations.

For example, Freud bases a lot of his psychological development theories on the idea that initially we are all boys, and that girls' development hinges on the trauma faced when they realise they are not boys.

Irigaray studied language deeply, always with a focus on how males and females in expressing themselves, and concluded that in language there are patterns that imply dominance in males and passivity in females.

In the 1960s, she carried out a study on dementia patients to look at differences in language between males and females. She found that while the male patients were still able to articulate themselves with language, the female patients expressed their conditions through their bodies. She concluded that this was because the male patient could reflect themselves in the language (because of the inherent male bias), while the female patients lacked this connection to it.

In later years, her works took a slight change in focus. She wrote a book inspired by yoga, on the joining of the body and the spirit,4 and looked at how men and women could come together and create relationships5 in a more democratic way.

Luce Irigaray is still a feminism activist but refuses to identify with a specific branch of feminism as she thinks that subdivisions contribute to unnecessary competition

Another example of language bias that postmodern feminism highlights is the use of gendered pronouns.

As in the example of the Italian language above, English traditionally uses he/him/his and she/her/hers to talk about masculine and feminine subjects. The LGBTQ+ movement has challenged this strict gendered binary inbuilt within the English language. Additionally, promoting the use of they/their/theirs to more accurately represent, and crucially not pre-determine the gender identity of members of the trans and non-binary community.

Postmodern Feminism - Key takeaways

  • Postmodernism, instead, rejects the idea of an objective, universal truth.
  • Postmodern feminism is a branch of third-wave feminism that sees gender stereotypes as culturally constructed through language and aims to dethrone them in favour of embracing differences and individual experiences.
  • Postmodern feminist theory tells us that both sex and gender are socially constructed through language, and that feminity is at a hierarchical disadvantage in this construct.
  • Postmodern feminism rejects essentialism and binary oppositions.
  • Postmodern feminism is criticised for the lack of a unified solution and for being too academic.

References

  1. Judith Butler Your Behaviour Creates your Gender 2011
  2. Helen Cixous The Laugh of the Medusa 1976
  3. Luce Irigaray Speculum of the Other Woman 1974
  4. Luce Irigaray A New Culture of Energy: Beyond East and West 2021
  5. Luce Irigaray The Way of Love 2002
(Video) Postmodern Feminism

FAQs

What is postmodern feminism theory? ›

Postmodern feminists seek to analyze any notions that have led to gender inequality in society. Postmodern feminists analyze these notions and attempt to promote equality of gender through critiquing logocentrism, supporting multiple discourses, deconstructing texts, and seeking to promote subjectivity.

Is feminist theory a postmodern theory? ›

Feminist Theory: Postmodern

Building on the work of thinkers such as Foucault and Derrida, postmodern feminists advocate an approach to gender issues that emphasizes the constitutive role of discourse in defining gender, sexuality, and the realm of the feminine.

What is the best definition of feminist theory? ›

Feminist theory often focuses on analyzing gender inequality. Themes often explored in feminist theory include discrimination, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, patriarchy, stereotyping, art history and contemporary art, and aesthetics.

What is the relationship between postmodernism and feminism? ›

Post-modern feminism is distinct to the three main strands of feminist thought. Post-modern feminists begin with the assumption that the modernist conception of feminism places overt emphasis upon gender differences between women and men whilst ignoring the differences within each gender.

What is postmodern theory in simple terms? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

What is the main idea of post modernism? ›

Postmodernism rejects the possibility of unmediated reality or objectively-rational knowledge, asserting that all interpretations are contingent on the perspective from which they are made; claims to objective fact are dismissed as naive realism.

Who is the father of postmodern feminism? ›

4. Devise the ways through which social world can be changed (Anonymous). Helen Cixous, Luna Irigaray and Julia Kristeva are the most prominent writers of postmodern feminist philosophy.

Who is the father of postmodernism theory? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

What is an example of postmodern? ›

Postmodern movies aim to subvert highly-regarded expectations, which can be in the form of blending genres or messing with the narrative nature of a film. For example, Pulp Fiction is a Postmodern film for the way it tells the story out of the ordinary, upending our expectations of film structure.

What are the 3 feminist theories? ›

Groupings. Traditionally feminism is often divided into three main traditions, sometimes known as the "Big Three" schools of feminist thought: liberal/mainstream feminism, radical feminism and socialist or Marxist feminism.

Who is the founder of feminism theory? ›

Although writings that could be characterized as “feminist” or embodying the perspectives and experiences of women have appeared throughout time, the history of Western feminist theory usually begins with the works of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), one of the first feminist writers in the liberal tradition.

What is the new definition of feminism? ›

New feminism, as a form of difference feminism, supports the idea that men and women have different strengths, perspectives, and roles, while advocating for the equal worth and dignity of both sexes. Among its basic concepts are that biological differences are significant and do not compromise sexual equality.

What does postmodern mean? ›

Uses of the term

In philosophy and critical theory postmodernity refers to the state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity, a historical condition that marks the reasons for the end of modernity. This usage is ascribed to the philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.

What are the roots of postmodernism? ›

The foundations of postmodernism are thus located in the philosophical currents of anti-foundationalism, anti-essentialism, anti-representationalism, and anti-dualism. Scepticism underlines much of postmodernist thought in that the validity of the roots of discourse is challenged.

What is postmodernism identity? ›

A postmodern society is one in which the identities of the social actors are undergoing constant transformation. Identity then becomes open to contestation as there is no longer any ultimate referent (truth, science, God etc.) to provide universal legitimation.

Who first defined postmodernism? ›

The first signs of postmodernism were evident in the early-20th century with Dada artists who ridiculed the art establishment with their anarchic actions and irreverent performances. The term, however, was not used in the contemporary sense until 1979 in the philosopher J.F. Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition.

Who is famous for his theory of postmodernism? ›

Paul Feyerabend, one of the most famous twentieth-century philosophers of science, is often classified as a postmodernist; Feyerabend held that modern science is no more justified than witchcraft, and has denounced the "tyranny" of "abstract concepts such as 'truth', 'reality', or 'objectivity', which narrow people's ...

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology.

Why postmodern is important? ›

Post-mortems provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. They enable pathologists to obtain a better understanding of how diseases spread. Learning more about illnesses and medical conditions benefits patients too, because it means they'll receive more effective treatment in the future.

What are the features of postmodernism? ›

5 Characteristics of Postmodern Literature
  • Embrace of randomness. Postmodern works reject the idea of absolute meaning and instead embrace randomness and disorder. ...
  • Playfulness. ...
  • Fragmentation. ...
  • Metafiction. ...
  • Intertextuality.
7 Jun 2021

When did postmodernism begin? ›

Postmodernism had begun as a radical fringe movement in the 1970s, but became the dominant look of the 1980s, the 'designer decade'. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration: everything was a style statement.

Who is the most important postmodern feminist theorist? ›

Michel Foucault, one of the leading postmodern thinkers, has emphasized the inadequacies of metanarratives and the need to examine the specificities of power and its relation to knowledge.

Who is the mother of modern feminism? ›

After a decade-long campaign, on Tuesday, Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century British feminist writer and philosopher often regarded as the “mother of feminism”, was honoured with a memorial statue at Newington Green in north London, where she spent a considerable part of her life.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

With the introduction of the use of industrial artifacts in art and techniques such as collage, avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Dada and Surrealism questioned the nature and value of art. New artforms, such as cinema and the rise of reproduction, influenced these movements as a means of creating artworks.

Are we in a post Modern era? ›

While the modern movement lasted 50 years, we have been in Postmodernism for at least 46 years. Most of the postmodern thinkers have passed away, and the "star system" architects are at retirement age. So far, we have not seen thoughts or ideas that announce a change, neither in architecture nor in culture.

What is a disadvantage of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernists contradict themselves. Exaggerate the amount of social change that has happened (Giddens - late modernity) MARXISM-Harvey, Marxism has already explained changes in society and postmodern ideas are not new.

What are the 3 feminist theories? ›

Groupings. Traditionally feminism is often divided into three main traditions, sometimes known as the "Big Three" schools of feminist thought: liberal/mainstream feminism, radical feminism and socialist or Marxist feminism.

What do you mean by postmodern? ›

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.

What is postmodernism literary theory? ›

What Is Postmodern Literature? Postmodern literature is a literary movement that eschews absolute meaning and instead emphasizes play, fragmentation, metafiction, and intertextuality.

What are the 4 types of feminism? ›

Introduction – Feminism: The Basics

There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

Who is the father of feminist theory? ›

Mary Wollstonecraft is seen by many as a founder of feminism due to her 1792 book titled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in which she argues for women's education. Charles Fourier, a utopian socialist and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word "féminisme" in 1837.

Who started feminist theory? ›

Although writings that could be characterized as “feminist” or embodying the perspectives and experiences of women have appeared throughout time, the history of Western feminist theory usually begins with the works of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), one of the first feminist writers in the liberal tradition.

What is postmodern example? ›

Postmodern movies aim to subvert highly-regarded expectations, which can be in the form of blending genres or messing with the narrative nature of a film. For example, Pulp Fiction is a Postmodern film for the way it tells the story out of the ordinary, upending our expectations of film structure.

Why postmodern is important? ›

Post-mortems provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. They enable pathologists to obtain a better understanding of how diseases spread. Learning more about illnesses and medical conditions benefits patients too, because it means they'll receive more effective treatment in the future.

What is another word for postmodern? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodern, like: post-modernism, postmodernist, post-modern, postmodernism, postmodernity, modernity, modernism, , modernist, post-structuralist and post-enlightenment.

Who is the father of postmodernism theory? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

Videos

1. Radical & Postmodern Feminism
(Paul Talks Politics)
2. Understanding Postmodernism - Feminism
(cec)
3. Postmodern Feminism Lecture 17 For CSS Gender Studies
(Waseim Yousaf)
4. Post modernism and feminism
(Alexandra Sugden)
5. Understanding Postmodernism - Feminism- III
(cec)
6. Postmodern Feminism | What does Postmodern Feminism mean? | Learning Funnel
(Learning Funnel)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Nathanial Hackett

Last Updated: 11/11/2022

Views: 6529

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nathanial Hackett

Birthday: 1997-10-09

Address: Apt. 935 264 Abshire Canyon, South Nerissachester, NM 01800

Phone: +9752624861224

Job: Forward Technology Assistant

Hobby: Listening to music, Shopping, Vacation, Baton twirling, Flower arranging, Blacksmithing, Do it yourself

Introduction: My name is Nathanial Hackett, I am a lovely, curious, smiling, lively, thoughtful, courageous, lively person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.