For feminism, the failure of theories of modernity has been their inability to come to terms with sexual difference and to theorise particularity. Yeatman (1993, 1995a) has argued that the impact of postmodernism and poststructuralism has forced feminism to investigate both ‘the genealogy’ and ‘status of oppression as a category of a modern politics of emancipation’ (1995a:45) within a feminist emancipatory framework. She notes that second wave feminism subscribed to an ‘emancipatory politics which made claims to the idea of a universal conception of oppression and “oppressed subject”’. As Yeatman notes, this confirmed second wave feminism’s commitment to humanist values of freedom and equality as ‘inclusive’ of all emancipatory movements. She states that, ‘when working-class, feminist and anti-colonial movements are oriented in this way, they subsume the specificity of their struggles within the general project of advancement of humanity’ (Yeatman 1995a:51).

The interpellation of different groupings (e. g. women, the colonised within the modernist discourses of emancipation, freedom and equality) has had implications for emancipatory movements. Yeatman (1995a:49) notes that struggles by the marginalised for inclusion have resulted in ‘a very high degree of formal inclusion’. Discriminatory discourses ‘against any subject on the basis of characteristics unrelated to capacities for citizenship: sex, religion, ethnicity, race, age, sexual preference’ are no longer tolerated at least within the formal rhetoric of legislation. As Yeatman goes on to note, ‘ours is the age of the formal completion of the modern ideal of a universalistic humanity’. The real implications of this are that exclusionary practices still operate but in more subtle ways, so that, while ‘dominant modes of social participation have been formally opened to the excluded subjects of modernity’, in reality only a minority from marginalised or excluded subject groups find ‘a voice’. Yeatman cites the instance of the acclaimed American writer Toni Morrison, who is an ‘African-American descendant of a plantation slave’. Yeatman comments that ‘Toni Morrison’s status is still marked.. .in a way which indicates she is not fully included within the dominant subject term: she is constantly referred to as a black woman writer.’

Feminism’s recent critique of its own ‘genealogy of oppression’ is frequently cited as a good reason for the transcendence of the modern paradigm and for the emergence of postmodernism. Many have argued that there appears to be a natural affinity between postmodernism and feminism, based on their shared suspicions about the legacy of the Enlightenment. Jane Flax (1987:624) characterises feminist theory as a ‘type of postmodern philosophy’ which joins with other postmodern philosophies to raise ‘important meta-theoretical questions about the possible nature and status of theorizing itself. There are important epistemological and political implications of a postmodern feminism.