THE ESSENTIALISING OF A ‘FEMININE OTHER’:. MODERNISM, POSTMODERNISM AND ‘THE FEMININE’
A number of feminist theorists and writers have commented on Huyssen’s work. Probyn (1987:353) claims that Huyssen’s argument is framed around a range of binary oppositions such as high/low and masculine/feminine. Within this framework ‘Mass culture is conceived of solely as the denigrated as is the feminine reader in her affinity with the former.’ Probyn describes this ‘positioning’ of the feminine within postmodernism as the ‘essentializing of a “feminine other”’ (ibid.), and she notes that this ‘particular articulation of “woman-as-other” to postmodernist concerns frequently places women as the last frontier at the end of history’ (Probyn 1987:350).
Morris links the debate more specifically with issues around popular culture. She makes the point that, given
the persistence of the figure of woman as mass culture (the irony of modernism), it is no accident that a debate about a presumed silence and absence of women has already taken place in relation to the work on popular culture that is in turn a component of postmodernism.
She also questions ‘the myth of a postmodernism still waiting for its women’ and makes the point that, as ‘feminism has acted as one of the enabling conditions of discourse about postmodernism’ (Morris 1988:16), it is imperative that postmodernism is framed within feminist discourses and not the other way around.
One feminist whose work is at the intersection of feminism, postmodernism and popular culture is Tania Modleski (1986a, 1986b). Her earlier work (1983) showed a tendency to oversimplify women’s positioning within mass culture. Probyn argues that her later work incorporates a ‘threefold project to bring together the mass, the popular and the postmodern through the passage of the feminine’ (1987:354). This involves ‘a recuperation of mass culture and its pleasures in the pejorative sense through a celebration of the pleasure inherent in the “feminization of American culture” [Modleski 1986b: 163]’ (Probyn 1986a:354).
Elsewhere Modleski draws on the work of another postmodernist writer, Jean Baudrillard, claiming that ‘Baudrillard himself is justifying the masses on account of their putative femininity’ (1986a:49). However Probyn (1987:354) maintains that, because Modleski appears to ignore Baudrillard’s (1983:22) earlier statement that ‘the masses are no longer an authority to which one might refer as one formerly referred to class or the people’, she (Modleski) ignores alternative ‘sites’ for an investigation of the feminine in the postmodern. Probyn notes that Baudrillard can be read positively from a feminist perspective ‘as having raised one of the key disruptions that characterise postmodernist thought: the dissolution of patriarchal chains of reference’ (Probyn 1987:354). As Probyn observes, if class analysis is no longer viable and the masses no longer authoritative, at least as regards a more formal Marxist metanarrative, ‘then gender, freed of the modernist series of oppositions becomes one of the more interesting lines of analysis within the postmodern’ (ibid.).