1) McRobbie constructs postfeminism as term that indicates (1) feminism’s successful completion and (2) a newly structured utopia wherein the ascertaining of personal empowerment is wholly achievable. McRobbie charts this development across eras: first, how notions of personal success intrinsic to second-wave feminists intrinsically identified an “end-point” for feminist goals; second, to embodiments of that perceived success conjuring images of feminism’s completion; third, to the disavowal/rejection of feminism resulting from its completion; fourth, the ideological formation of postfeminism, which relies on neoliberal ideals of actualization via self-management, consumerism, and self-starterism. McRobbie’s project, and her engagement with the term “postfeminism,” is to unpack and define the ideologies that fill the gap left by feminism’s disavowed by postfeminism.
Banet-Weisner engages the term "postfeminism" to cite the definition from McRobbie's article specifically, which she largely agrees with and tries to expand. Similarly to McRobbie, Banet-Weisner argues postfeminism is the "'undoing of feminism'...by appearing to participate in an inclusion of feminist ideologies" (204). She invokes McRobbie's definition to apply it intersectionally to race and ethnicity, drawing a comparison between the popular misnomers of "postfeminist" and "postracial" society. She argues definitions of both of these terms "are framed around generational differences" (204), but that in contemporary society they are tied by neoliberal commodification of both feminism and ethnicity. Her overarching question: if race and feminism are represented as commodities "in precisely the mainstream [they] were meant to challenge, can we still talk about [them] as political?" (208).
Butler historiographically situates views of postfeminism as either a linear continuation of earlier feminist moments (beginning with prefeminism, then feminism and now postfeminism), a rejection of feminism (most specifically the essentialist ideology of second-wave feminism), or a sex-positive ideology. She then explains how each of these ideas is a misreading of feminism, either due to pure misunderstanding and mischaracterization, or incomplete historicization. She posits that postfeminism includes
“one or more of the following characteristics: that it
1. implies that gender equality has been achieved and feminist activism is thus no longer necessary;
2. defines femininity as a bodily property and revives notions of natural sexual difference;
3. marks a shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification;
4. encourages self-surveillance, self-discipline, and a makeover paradigm;
5. emphasizes individualism, choice, and empowerment as the primary routes to women’s independence and freedom; and
6. promotes consumerism and the commodification of difference” (44).
In this definition Butler seems to take a broader approach that earlier conceptions of postfeminism avoided, possibly for the purposes of either rejecting/marginalizing the concept or to be more specific in a sea of unmoored discourse. This allows for a more respectful tone about the squishiness of the frequently non-verbal discourse and its chaotic omnipresence. It seems Butler is quite interested in post-feminist media, be it outwardly ironic or frustratingly un-self-aware, and her definition allows her to pull specific useful elements from such texts.
“It was, in a sense, taking feminism into account by showing it to be a thing of the past, by provocatively “enacting sexism” while at the same time playing with those debates in film theory about women as the object of the gaze.”
This is the fundamental conception of post-feminism as a cultural discourse according to McRobbie. Post-feminism demonstrates a sort of ambivalence by citing feminism as a referent (indeed as one that may have been necessary for women to gain prominence in society), yet dismisses it as a concern of the past, one which is passe and, for lack of a better term, uncool for a modern, self-assured woman.
“There is a quietude and complicity in the manners of generationally specific notions of cool and more precisely and uncritical relation to dominant commercially produced sexual representations which actively invoke hostility to assumed feminist positions form the past in order to endorse a new regime of sexual meanings based on female consent, equality, participation, and pleasure, free of politics.”
Here McRobbie brings in notions of “coolness”. Post-feminism, in its discourse with the gains of feminism, relegates feminism to the past and thus relegates it as uncool. Post-feminist media (in this case, a provocative billboard) is in a discourse with assumed feminist positions, if only to antagonistically mock the perceived constraining nature of feminism and create a distinction between sexism and a detached, ironic “sexism” that allows the advertisers to engage with explicitly sexist iconography while shielding themselves from criticism with ironic distance.
“With the burden of self-management so apparent, Bridget fantasies tradition.”
Self-management is one of the fundamental principles of post-feminist neoliberalism according to McRobbie. Chronic dissatisfaction, too, is a theme that crops up frequently in these post-feminist texts. In the case of Bridget Jones, the burden of post-feminism is such that she transports herself to an idealized vision that feminism dictates (according to the post-feminist discourse) is verboten and outdated, without the burden of self-management and self-reliance. And yet, this scene itself is highlighting feminism’s passe nature, leaving a generation of women socially empowered, but perpetually dissatisfied (according to the post-feminist media).
“Postfeminism, understood in this manner, is thus a different political dynamic than third wave feminism, which is positioned more overtly as a, kind of feminist politics, one that extends the historical trajectory of first and second-wave feminism to better accommodate contemporary political culture and the logic of consumer citizens. Postfeminism, on the other hand, is as McRobbie puts it, "feminism taken into account," a process in which feminist values and ideologies are acknowledged only to be found dated and passe and thus negated.” (206)
In this aspect, Banet-Wieser clearly establishes the difference between third-wave feminism and postfeminism. Both reject the work of first and second-wave feminism, but using McRobbie, she notes that postfeminism simply dismisses the work as “old.” The values of feminism are simply seen as part of the generational transition that is losing its power. The postfeminist value is not as much entirely rejecting those elements but taking them as simply part of a sphere of cultural values without resonance.
“Words such as identity and multiculturalism, in the 1980s, code words for race; in the early-twenty-first century, these same terms are code words (especially for the consumer market) for "hip," "urban," and "cool." Race, like gender, as a political identity has been appropriated (at least in part) in the dominant culture through the brand identity of the urban and postfeminism. Within this context, I do not want to romanticize a definition of politics as something stable and immediately meaningful-or, conversely, to vilify brand identity as exclusively superficial and ephemeral — but I do want to shift the cultural frame through which youth empowerment is understood.” (215)
Here, Banet-Wieser sets up the relationship between post-feminism and post-racial, in which the crucial political salience of the discourses are neutralized in a capitalist appropriation. In part, she uses the historical mode of the 1980s related to race to imply a similar change in discourse in how postfeminism co-opted feminist politics in the 1990s. Banet-Weiser makes a careful distinction, however, not to entirely attack this position but show how this is part of a generational shift related to brand identity becoming the dominant mode of a younger generation in dominant culture.
“Yet in programs such as Dora the Explorer, which confront stereotypes as they simultaneously reformulate them for a shifted market, the stereotype that is reconstituted is one that is not necessarily intended for an ethnic niche market but is meant to appeal to a broader (more "global") audience. Using this strategy, Nickelodeon can claim that the network is committed to diversity despite the fact that this progressive ideology works as a more general market imperative. This strategy works hand in hand with postfeminist politics, where Dora, as a strong, smart, female character, is clearly a product of a culture that recognizes the importance of "positive" gender representations yet does not call attention to any kind of feminist politics other than the politics of representation. Thus, the challenges to dominant stereotypes that Dora the Explorer poses are framed within normative social conventions so that the challenge is contained and made palatable for a media audience.” (222)
Banet-Weiser’s summary of Nickelodeon’s strategies related to feminism and racial politics in Dora the Explorer demonstrates her argument of how elements of the discourse become culturally appropriated elements that have become political neutral. She notes how Dora both acknowledges both feminism and cultural representation as essential to its success, but notes how these are simply “stances” the show uses as part of its brand, a way to become palatable for larger audiences that works in producing the post-feminist and post-racial discourses—they elements are not denied by simply made as a set of options a show can take without any political resonance.
“While neoliberalism is neither universal nor homogeneous in outcome (see Dubal 2010; Ong 2006), the shift to neoliberal forms of governance in the West nonetheless provides fertile ground for the development of discourses that emphasize consumer citizenship, personal responsibility, and individual empowerment. It is within this complex social, cultural, economic, and political environment that postfeminism emerges as a contemporary gender ideology. Propped up by the (imagined) success of the women’s movement, a sex-positive (and racially exclusive) feminist legacy, and the ever-expanding neoliberal celebrations of autonomy, individualism, and consumer choice, postfeminism surfaces as a more attractive alternative to previous forms of gender politics.” (41)
One of the key elements of Butler’s reading of postfeminism is framing and defining exactly what is meant by neoliberalism. Neoliberalism as its developed as a dominant discourse has emphasized the individualized element of the consumer. Thus, when understanding postfeminism not as a direct response to second-wave feminism and only in conversation with the history of feminism, but as an alternative made out of part of the fact that neoliberal discourses as a new mode of discourse.
“Postfeminism, as I understand it, is not (just) a resentful retaliation against earlier generations of feminists, nor is it (just) an empty celebration of feminine consumption. It is not that young women have suddenly retreated into a space of “traditional” feminine domesticity, nor is it true that they have somehow accepted gender inequality and women’s objectification as inevitable. The “post” of postfeminism does not signify feminism’s death. Rather, postfeminism becomes a kind of substitute for or displacement of feminism as a radical political movement…Rather than defining postfeminism as simply linear, backlash, or sex-positive or as a quasi-politicized subjectivity akin to third-wave feminism, a more productive impulse is to analyze it as a complex, broad, and increasingly hegemonic ethos, sensibility, or discursive formation.” (44-45)
One of the key parts of this quote is for Butler to establish postfeminism a discursive formation as opposed to simply its classification as simply anti-feminist. Instead of viewing postfeminism as a natural backlash against feminist ideals, she simply sees it as a growing alternative discourse that displaces its political valiance. While third-wave feminism clearly engages with second-wave feminist ideals, postfeminism is simply a larger cultural discourse that thus allows it to seep into larger consumer discourses that feminism could not with larger, less concrete ideals than complex set of discussions that incorporate a range of women’s issues that are not just inherently in conversation with second-wave feminism.
“Clearly, the versatility of postfeminism functions as a double-edged sword with regard to women of color: on the one hand, it allows nonwhite women to participate in its deployment and enjoy its rewards, albeit in narrowly circumscribed ways; on the other, it works to conceal the underlying power relations that reproduce hegemonic ideas about race, gender, sexuality, and class. And, just as it does for white women, postfeminism requires its nonwhite participants to reject political activism in favor of capitalist consumption and cultural visibility.” (50)
One of the key parts of Butler’s reading of postfeminist is to not assign it as entirely lacking intersectionality. However, what she notes that because of its function within the neoliberal sphere, the choices allow for women of color but only within a certain sect of spheres that ignore the various hegemonic power relations that postfeminism fails to recognize. Thus, women of color are not entirely excluded, but they must conform to postfeminism’s white ideals in order to enjoy its very narrow rewards.
3) In this scene, we see Meredith and Christina discussing male impositions of monogamy, complaining that the men in their lives are behaving like “1950s debutantes”. Both of these characters are engaging with Butler’s notions of post-feminism (following Gill), specifically her third and fifth points that it “marks a shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification” and “emphasizes individualism, choice, and empowerment as the primary routes to women’s independence and freedom”. The women discuss their discontent with the expectations of monogamy placed upon them by the men in their lives. This scene, in another era, would be a place where their mutual choice for sexual independence would be judged in negatively. Instead, within the context of the show, this is seen as an empowering discourse, one in which the women find self-actualization and agency through their own sexuality and their own independence. The scene is superficially apolitical, yet suggests deeper political on reappraisal.