Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Wave

What Is Not Post-Feminism?
Some Questions and Problems
by Lonely Christopher

Feminism is a problem of the discursive relationship between theory and praxis. Feminism is simultaneously an academic/theoretical grammar and a sociopolitically applicable ideology. There’s much confusion about what being a feminist means right now; the concept oft languishes as an empty signifier mouthed weirdly by women stuck between third wave and post-feminist perspectives --- those of no wave. Where does the deconstruction of essentialisms become the eschewing or even denial of an affirmative and required praxis of and for contemporary women? Feminism: is institutionalized (theory divorced from praxis in academia), becomes a museum piece (in Brooklyn, where the feminist wing of the museum was founded a year or so back), gets erased by poststructural pluralism, (and/or) just sounds dirty because it can’t cohere as a system sufficiently balancing the pragmatic and existential. What does it mean for a male to identify as feminist or to write about feminism (the latter happening here)? How much room has been made for minority perspectives or is the problem of petit-bourgeois feminism, of a possible feminist hegemony, a bad framing device? Has second wave activism been too eschewed or is it poststructural subjectivities that have been overly ignored? Does a multiplicity of feminisms strengthen feminist thought/praxis conceptually or obliterate all efficacies? How much feminist discourse is today still articulated using the vocabulary of the second wave and does that make such discourse outmoded? bell hooks, decades ago: “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression.” Where does Butler’s subsequent gender confusion and performative play fit in an oppositional/corrective conception of praxis-based feminism? Where fits art and thought designed to critique and explore rather than directly promote change? What is feminism without the concept of change, without being synonymous with the transformative influence of praxis? Is continued social change resulting in the promotion of women “more feminist” than Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” or isn’t the distinction between activism and art so clear? If, according to the “post” model, feminism is no longer relevant as a contemporary rubric, what now? There probably isn’t more feminism after post-feminism. The problem with post-feminism, its failure, is that is not so contemporary as premature. As a theoretical and socially inapplicable model, post-feminism reads okay as a subset of another post-positioned idiom (postmodernism?), but maybe it negatively closes discourses that should stay available so as to acknowledge the work remaining for change-oriented praxis. Perhaps it’s similar to pushing a post-gay perspective in a sociopolitical context of widespread inequality and subjugation (today, still). When somebody playfully says, “You’re here, you’re queer, get over it!” one wants to tersely respond, “You get over it!” The argument against oppression is declared falsely efficacious, allowing the problem to go on underhandedly. Is this the case with feminism? to what extent? These problems, arising decades ago and remaining unresolved, are some qualities of the no wave that troubles the idea of feminism as a coherent logic. Is this really all just about power or, if not, what else (and how much else)? Christine Wertheim recently writes: “The Subject of History may be dead, but all of the […] others⎯the women, blacks, the queer, and the poor⎯in whom power never resided, still don’t have their share of discursive space.” When does anti-essentialism end up privileging the sneaky normative that refuses being argued out of domination of power relations and ideological discourse? This is nothing more than a recital of problems and questions; unknown is how many questions are rhetorical and how many pertinent but unanswerable. The only likely conclusion in this context is that what and how feminism is represent problems to be addressed, positively, as points of centrifugal departure.

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