Postmodernism and Feminism
Ailene Brukman-Stivi Professor: Haim Deuel Lusky Postmodernism and Feminism The question of what happened to feminism during the postmodern times is not easily encapsulated in one phrase or idea as it is actually an amalgam of often purposely ambiguous and fluid ideas.One would have to start researching about postmodernism and what it means, let alone search about the history of feminism and its development.After one would research a little bit about postmodernism he or she would realize the knowledge about modernism is also extremely crucial to understand fully about postmodernism and feminism.
Therefore this writing will conclude a few words about modernism.
How did we as a culture develop into a postmodernist era? And of course how does this era have to do with feminism? This research paper will include different critiques about the subject of postmodernism and feminism as well. Before starting the writing on reviews, critiques and more in depth research of our subject I would like to give a general description, and background research, I would like to start with the two main terms: Feminism and postmodernism. Feminism
Rozen Tali, the writer of the book, What Is Feminism Anyways. Opens her book saying that she never really understood what feminism is exactly. She says people just call her a feminist every time she speaks her opinion about “differentiating her and a floor rag. ” She writes about a sentence that was said in 1913 by a woman, was a British reporter, by the name Rebecca West, saying that if you are waiting for a current and modern definition of feminism, you have nothing to wait for. There is no definition. It is not that a definition does not exist, it exists and that is a for sure thing.
It’s just that, there are so many definitions that there is no specific one. (Rozen) Rozen writes that the word ‘feminism’ actually was born about one hundred years ago. In the beginning this word was used as a medical term for a man that has female characteristics. As time passed the word feminism turned in to a term in the psychological world; also got a negative connotation to it, but this time not a male with female characteristics, but as a description of a woman with male character. Examples of a diagnosis for “feminism” would be like desire to study, courageous, and ambition.
Tali Rozen gives a great example of this psychological diagnosis; thirty years ago, people said about the governor of the state of Israel, Golda Meir, that she is “the only man in the government” and until today the best way to describe a great woman in business is to say “she got balls. ” The reincarnation of the term feminism indicates and highlights the problem of the actual term itself. Not only it was used in negative connotation but also millions in the past and even today have a hard time to define feminism.
In the dictionary feminism is written to be the ideology of the emancipation of women. According to this definition, there is something in common to all the definitions and ideas that is, the one important belief that women suffer from injustice because of their sex. Rozen Suggests that instead of getting confused with the actual meaning of the word we can agree on the definition: Feminism is a theory that is based on the point of view of a woman, and that point of view give new light to knowledge that already exist.
This knowledge could come from anywhere, film, literature, history, everything. But that does not mean that every woman that analyzes a specific subject, is doing a feministic act. To look and analyze something from a woman’s perspective means to put a woman in the center of the discussion. Bottom line is that, the question of what is feminism is not one answer. Rozen asks and answers: is feminism a woman who stands and fight for their right, yes. And is feminism a movement of freedom? Yes!
Is it the history of half humanity? Also yes. And there is much more to what is feminism. Postmodernism Postmodernism represents the converge of three distinct cultural trends. These include an attack on the austerity and functionalism of modern art; the philosophical attack on structuralism, spear-headed in the 1970s by poststructuralist scholars such as Jacque Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze; and the economic theories of postindustrial society developed by sociologist such as Daniel Bell and Alain Touraine. Callinicos 1989) In the book of Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern condition, where he summarized postmodernism as above all maintaining “an incredulity toward metanarratives” (1984:xxiii-iv, 5). Postmodernists, he argues, questions the assumption of the modern age, particularly the belief that rational thought and technological innovation can guarantee progress and enlightenment to humanity. They doubt the ability of thinkers from the West either to understand the world or to prescribe solutions for it.
The grand theories of t past, whether liberal or Marxist, have been dismissed as products of an age when Europeans and North Americans mistakenly believed in their own invincibility. The metanarratives of such thought are no longer seen as “truth,” but simply as privileged discourses that deny and silence competeing dissident voices. (Merchant & Parpart) Michel Foucault, one of the leading postmodernist (and poststructuralist) thinkers, has emphasized the inadequacies of metanarratives and the need to examine the specificities of power and its relation to knowledge and language (discourse. He dismisses “reason” as a fiction and sees “truth” as simply a partial, localized version of “reality” transformed into a fixed form in the long process of history. He argues that discourse- a historical, socially and institutionally specific structure of statements, terms, categories, and beliefs- is the site of where meanings are contested and power relations determined (Scott 1988:36. ) The ability to control knowledge and meaning, not only through writing but also through disciplinary and professional institutions, and in social relations, is the key to understanding and exercising power relations in society.
According to Foucault, the false power of hegemonic knowledge can be challenged by counter-hegemonic discourses which offer alternative explanation of “reality” (Foucault 1972; 1979; 1980. ) The search to understand the construction of social meaning has led postmodernists/ poststructuralist scholars to recognize the contingent of the subject. As Judith Butler points out, “No subject is its own point of departure” (Butler, 1992; 9) Jacque Derrida (1976) emphasizes the crucial role played by binary opposites.
Indeed, he argues that Western philosophy largely rests on opposites, such as truth/falsity, unity/diversity, or man/woman, whereby the nature and primacy of the first term is also superior to the second. These pairs are as embedded in the definition of their opposite as they are I the nature of the object being defined, and they shape our understanding in complex and often unrecognized ways. In order to better understand this process, Derrida and others have alled for the critical deconstruction of texts (both written and oral) and greater attention to the way differences, particularly those embedded in binary thinking, are constructed and maintained (Culler 1982) To conclude, postmodernist thinkers reject universal, simplified definitions of social phenomena, which, they argue, essentialize reality and fail to reveal the complexity of life as a lived experience. Drawing on this critique, postmodernists have rejected the search for broad generalizations.
They emphasize the need for local, specific and historically informed analysis, carefully grounded in both spatial and cultural contexts. Above all, they call for the recognition and celebration of differences, the importance of encouraging the recovery of previously silenced voices and an acceptance of the partial nature of all knowledge claims and thus the limits of knowing. (Marchand &Papart) Postmodernism/feminism Today in the postmodernism era, the women’s identity is not stable, it changes.
Postmodern researchers are against this idea, because the “I” is an autonomic identity that is disconnected from the social conversation. Also feminists and feminist writers, that identify themselves with the postmodernists, are objecting the enlightenment period; because there is an existent subject and because there is a possibility to reach the objective truth through the “bina” and the straight mind. (Zaken) Zaken claims that feminism is actually leaning on postmodern values, and it exists today to breakdown and defragment in a new way the idea or word “the woman. Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. While she did not consider herself a philosopher, de Beauvoir had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory. She had claimed that a woman is not born a woman, she is made a woman. Female traits are built through social influence and not biological destiny.
She sees the social construction of femininity, which in it exists the subject; isn’t she a woman, the woman who thinks of herself as a woman, in a specific situation that her environment creates. A great example is the fact that most girls and boys play with their gender’s toys, girls with Barbies and dolls while boys with trucks and cars. From her article, The Ethics Ambiguity, comes up that women have internalized their gender hierarchy, to the point where it is hard for them to disconnect from their hierarchal position.
Simone de Beauvoir came to a conclusion, in which the female subject had suffered from suppression- the woman is ‘different,’ lower, inferior in relation to men, and because of this suppression, the independence of a woman is destroyed in social situations. With that, there is an argument between postmodernism and feminism, which due to a postmodern claim, that power does not control and there is no axioms like private/public, or motherhood. If there is no category “woman,” then woman can be anything. She is free from the stereotype and the coercing.
That being said, there is no general and unified identity for women. Feminists have responded to postmodern ideas in a number of ways. The strongest opposition has come from feminists working in the liberal (modern) or Marxist traditions, both of which are embedded in Enlightenment thinking (modern era). Liberal feminists, who have been preoccupied with policy formulation and the improvement of women’s statues within the structures of western thought and society, generally write as if postmodern critiques have little or no applicability for their own work.
The possibility of “modernization” and “progress” may be unobtainable and undesirable goals in a postmodern world have rarely been considered by liberals working within these structures. (like World Bank, United Nations, and the International Labor Organization) Mackinnon Catherine’s influence on shaping feminism is extremely deep in the 80s and the first years of the 90s, so deep that the different “post-feministic” currents, in many ways are “post-Mackinnon,” and to be exact, “anti-Mackinnon. ” Therefore whoever wants to become familiar with the feministic thinking there is no better place to do so with Mackinnon’s variables.
The starting point of Mackinnon’s feminism is that the group of women are discriminated against and oppressed by the group of men, which are first and foremost caused by the way sexuality is built by society. According to Mackinnon, sexuality is the subject that its social patriarchal meaning changes the men to be in control and the women to be controlled. Dr Yaakov Gorbitz, in his book, “Postmodernism- Culture and Literature in the End of The 20th Century,” writes on the issue of feminism that modernism and postmodernism needs to remind us of two main phases: the first, the woman who tries to stand and tries to fortify herself against the en. -This is the model where women rebel against men and say we are not going to take of hair from our legs, we will not give you the pleasure of wanting a “feminine” woman. In the postmodern stage the woman understands that the seed of the problem is that she is always looking at herself in relation to men, and contrary to them, and so she says; “I am allowed to put makeup on and take care of my beauty- and not for the man but for me or for my friends. ” When a woman stops being just an opposite model of a man she can internalize some new heterogeneity.
Some feminists believe feminist theory has always dealt with postmodern issues and indeed, has more to offer women than male-centric postmodern writers. Feminist anthropologists, Frances Mascia-Lees, Patricia Sharpe and Colleen Cohen (1989), attack postmodern anthropology for it’s profoundly sexists nature, nothing that studies such as George Marcus and Michael Fischer’s Anthropology as Culture Critique, ignore feminist contributions to the discussion of the “other” and long-standing feminist critiques of Western notions of “truth. ” Michel Foucault
Contrary to liberals and Marxists, Foucault did not see the mechanisms of power in society, as something held by groups or institutions in society, and which does not exist for others; distribution that enables the control of a group of other parts of the society. Foucault referred to ”political power”, as network relationships, imaginary strings interwoven within the community, and he saw no, one dominant factor, such as the state or economic elite. This means that in a society there are power centers that are not subject to economic relations (such as madhouses, for example).
Foucault goes on to argue with the liberals and the Marxists. According to them every relationship, in which forces, is characterized by imposing restrictions and denial of freedoms. He argued that this approach stems from the fact that they recognize the political power with the legal system and enforcement. But for him, it is only one of the forms of expression of political power, embodied throughout history. Foucault examines the relationship between institutions (social) and the body (human). He opposes the very concept of “sexuality. According to him, in the 19th century, when sexuality was taboo, it increased desire to break the taboo and talk about sex, that also created behaviors which were categorized as social deviance. For example, sex between men, were “homosexual. ” This was a setting, which has reference for those people, people who were born different. This is one of Foucault’s contributions to understanding the relationship between sexual orientation and identity. According to Foucault, identity is created as part of a dialogue, in particular power relations in society.
He demonstrates the change in sex ratio from permissiveness of the Middle Ages, where words related to sex revealed associations of “pleasures” and “alliance”, and the language of the 19th century, which has the sex talk not allowed or shameful to talk about. Hence, definitions of “heterosexual” and “homosexuality” are the product of modern times, from the 19th – century. As someone who has studied the sexual discourse in society, Foucault argued that the discourse on sexuality limits and defines the sexual content and created a social pattern. Once we understand how we talk about sex, we understand sexuality.
That is, language reflects the thinking and perception also on sex and sexuality. The mechanisms of power in sexuality, expressed the distinction between what and what is not acceptable in society. Namely, that the discourse on sexuality is a society regime (as expressions of political power mechanisms); language created a situation, when the subject of sex is brought up, the person might feel sinful (sexual). Feeling which helps to suppress the desire for sex, because that person did not want to feel a sinner. The goal behind this repression is, to get the “different” forms of sex out of the people.
That is, except for the non-reproductive sex. The society defines normal sexual norms, from early childhood to old age. Whoever goes beyond the norm, is placed under the situation of the “controlled mechanism” in order to create helpful sexual drive economically and politically beneficial to society. These mechanisms determine what is allowed and what is not right in society and what is wrong. Foucault argued that since the 18th century, the deviation began to violate the law (courts could, not so long ago, to convict homosexuals or partners who betrayed their spouse).
By, new sexual settings, to different sexual behaviors (that were always there but never received cultural significance) changed the face of society. This means social definition creates the identity. The new terms “gay,” “lesbian” and “straight”, are the result of modern discourse, which created categorization and sub-categories of conversation. The term “homosexuality” has two interpretations, one, sexual preference. Second meaning is social labeling. This labeling is the concept of the rule of the person which identifies himself or herself, as ”gay”. That is, each character turns shades of defining sexual identity.
Experts (such as pedagogues, psychologists and psychiatrists), can be social power, which determine the legitimate content – normal and identify the pathological contents of a person. Their power, according to Foucault, is due to their proximity to the dominant group in society, the bourgeoisie and the political elite. Extreme conclusion is that gender regime serves the interests of those groups, and that by using the institutions of marriage and heterosexuality. (Zaken) Conclusion Society is the cause of sexual identity and what makes the difference between sexual orientation, and how we identify who we are; A woman or a man.
But there is change occurring and there could be more change as soon as we, as a society start “unlabeling” and just living with all types of sexual orientation, genders, and labels that are not labeled. This is all through a social process, of course. A note, it is extremely crucial to know the difference between sex and gender, because then we are giving legitimacy to popular belief, commemorating the situation in which women are subject to male social order. This follows the historical tradition of the patriarchal family and society.
This approach considers the biological differences between the sexes, as the distribution of the different roles. In other words, gender inequality is prevailing social perceptions. Ultimately, the goal is to get into a relationship of equality between men and women in society, there would be no more women who are discriminated against on the basis of sex and / or gender. For, as de Beauvoir said, man and woman, depend on each other for sex and continuity of human society. Thus, each and every one will be able to shape their identity in accordance with their wishes and needs, and not according to social codes dictated and dried. ———————————————— ??? ????? Work Cited * Ankersmith, F. R. (1990) “Reply to Professor Zagorin,” History and Theory 29, 3: 275-96 * Beauvoir de Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. 1949. Translated by Bernard Frechten: Citadel Press, 2006 * Beauvoir de Simone. The Second Sex. 1949. Translated by Parshley, Penguin 1972. * Butler, J. (1992) “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of Postmodernism,” in J. Butler and J. W. Scott (eds) Feminists Theorize the Political, New York and London: Routledge. * Collinicos, A. (1989) Against Postmodernism, Oxford: Polity Press. Culler, J. (1982) On Deconstruction: Theory and criticism after structuralism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell university Press. * Evans, Judith. Feminist Theory Today: An Introduction to Second-Wave Feminism. London: SAGE publication, 1995. * Foucault, M. * ” (1972) The Archaeology of knowledge and the Discourse on Language, New York: Tavistock Publications & Harper Colophon. * “(1979) (published in French, 1975) Discipline and Punish, Translated by S. Sheridan, New York: Penguin Books. * ” (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, translated by C. Gordon, New York: Harvest Press. Jameson, F. (1990) Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. * Mackinnon A Catherine, “Sexuality, Pornography and Methods- Pleasure under Patriarchy,” Towards a Feminist Theory of the State, 1990. Translated and Permission of Harvard University Press. Reprinted by Permission of Catherine A Mackinnon, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, Copy Right c 1989 by Catherine Mackinnon. * Marchand H. Marianne and Parpart L. Jane. Feminism/Postmodernism/Development. London: Routledge, 1995. * Mascia-Lees, F. Sharpe, P. and Cohen, C.
B (1989) “The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective,” Signs 15, 1: 394-408. * Palmer, I (1990) Gender and Population in the Adjustment of African Economics; Planning for Change, Women, Work and Development Series No. 19, Geneva: International Labour Organization. * Rozen, Tali. What is Feminism Anyway? And Why don’t we know anything about it. Tel Aviv: Zmora Bitan, 2000. * Scott, J. W. (1988) “Deconstructing Equality – versus Differences: Or the Use of Poststructuralist Theory of Feminism,” Feminist Studies14, 1: 33-50. * Sylvester Christine. Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era.
Cambridge University Press, 1994. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Some western scholars, most notably Marxist reject postmodernism as dangerous and naive (Callinicos 1989; palmer 1990. ) Others , while sympathetic to Marxism, see Postmodernism as an outgrowth of the culture of late capitalism. Fredrick Jameson, for example, endorses an approach which draws on the strength of postmodernism without abandoning political action (Jameson 1991. ) Some scholars find postmodernism’s emphasis on difference and multiplicity useful for their work and not necessarily inimical to other approaches (Ankersmit 1990; Parkash 1990)