postmodernism and postfeminism

Feminists do not have to choose between feminism and exper – imentalism or postmodernism as if they were unified players in a contest, but rather must face harder questions. (Gordon, 1993: 1 1 1)


his chapter deals with two challenges to feminist sociology which have characterised the past ten to 15 years. One, postfeminism, is a challenge which can be found in the mass media, especially the qual­ity or broadsheet, newspapers. Essentially, it is a claim that the feminist movement of the 1970s has achieved its attainable goals, and has there­fore vanished. The next generation of women, it is claimed, take those advances for granted, and have no interest in campaigning for the unat­tainable. Thus, it is claimed, the 1970s’ women’s movement got the right to contraception, made advances towards equal pay and equal access to mortgages and pensions, put domestic violence and rape onto the political agenda, and opened up many occupations and organisa­tions to women (the Stock Exchange, horse racing as jockeys and as members of the Jockey Club, the Anglican clergy). Women in the 1990s expect these phenomena, and have no interest in campaigning for other goals, such as 24-hour state day care, or wages for housework.

Such arguments appeared regularly in the broadsheets in the 1990s, and produced a feminist response (e. g. Coppock et al., 1995). However, there has not been a parallel sociological debate. There have not been sociologists claiming to establish a postfeminist sociology, there are no books called ‘Postfeminist Sociology’, and no journals of postfeminist sociology. The journals where feminist sociology appears are not car­rying articles saying that feminist sociology is over, and they are not los­ing readers. For the purpose of this book therefore I have not dealt with postfeminism as a sociological perspective. This chapter focuses instead on the intellectual debate that is central to feminist sociology: post­modernism.

Some writers use the term poststructuralism to refer to the French theories now more usually called postmodernism. Butler (1990) and Weedon (1987), for example, invoked poststructuralism. Michele Barrett used the term poststructuralism in her concluding essay in Barrett and Phillips (1992). For the purposes of this book I have sub­sumed poststructuralism within postmodernism. Dorothy Smith (1999: 97) makes the same elision, writing of poststructuralism/post- modernism.