The notion of a ‘post-feminist' time began in the 70’s or 80’s. Around this time journalists and academics started to exclaim that feminism was dead: the movement had achieved its goals and it was time for feminism to stand down. As Hawkensworth wrote back then, the essence of the post-feminist era is a belief that we live in a world “in which feminism has been transcended, occluded, overcome."
Pop Culture & Post-Feminism.
There has been a resurgence of a 'post-feminist' era in the last few years. North American media outlets have consistently told us that we live in a society where we have achieved gender equality and feminism is passé. In 2003, Business Week described girls as “building a kind of scholastic Roman Empire alongside boys.” In 2007, a New York Times story documented a handful of high achieving and confident girls who grew up “learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to.” In 2015, The Spectator published an article titled “Feminism is over, the battle is won. Time to move on.”
The idea of a ‘post-feminist’ world has also been fed to us through pop culture. Wonder Woman, Sheryl Sandberg, How To Get Away With Murder, Beyoncé. Beyoncé can bang out a killer worldwide tour while pregnant – women can do anything men can! Shonda Rhimes consistently puts diversity first in her casting, so everyone is afforded the same opportunities in Hollywood! Sheryl Sandberg was the COO of Facebook, so the glass ceiling is broken!
Based on what we read, watch or listen to, it seems as though the world is peachy keen for women and girls.
No, We Do Not Live In A Post-Feminist World.
In her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin argues that things are great for women, perhaps even better than for men, and feminists are simply holding on to a grudge. Rosin cites numerous examples to illustrate how the lives of women have improved: we make up the majority of college students, we are taking hold of the pharmaceutical market, and sexual assault rates have decreased.
This is true, things are on the rise for women. But while we may make up a larger portion of the work force, we still don’t have equal pay. And while sexual assault may be less prevalent, 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Even though there are more female than male college graduates, women only make up 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
We also can’t forget that things are on the rise for some women. A key fact that Rosin left out. Just because the middle class white woman is now a partner at her law firm, doesn’t mean that such a climb to success is as plausible for a trans woman or a woman of colour. The fact that some women have gained success, does not mean that success is viable for all women.
What Rosin is essentially saying by arguing that feminism is dead, is not that life is good for women, but that life is good enough. That demanding more is just greedy. That 80 cents to the dollar is something we should live with. That reproductive rights don’t need to be our choice. That getting the degree but not the job should be acceptable. Life is better for women, Rosin says, and apparently that is good enough.
Yes, We Still Need Feminism.
Bottom line: legal equality doesn’t guarantee social equality. Just because a woman can apply to the same job as a man, doesn’t mean she won’t be passed over due to sexist stereotypes. We may be able to run for office, but an experienced, competent woman will still be defeated by a narcissistic bigot. I may be able to buy a membership to a racquet club, but as a woman I am much more likely to be sexually assaulted on my way home from my squash game.
Time and time again, around the world we have witnessed that laws do not eliminate cultural traditions, patriarchal perspectives, racist stereotypes or reactionary business practices.
The irony is that self-identifying feminists, or those who need feminism the most, have never said that sexism is a thing of the past. It is the men, the white women, the people living in their ivory tower. When members of marginalized groups share a lived experience, people shut them down, dismissing their stories as untrue or exaggerated.
Sexism Starts in School.
Professors Pomerantz and Raby, conducted a six year study in Ontario aimed at dissecting the media’s coverage of the so-called alpha girl. They interviewed 57 girls between the ages of 12-18. Contrary to popular media, these girls dealt with countless micro aggressions and many overtly sexist comments. For example, when trying out for the basketball team, 13-year-old Rory was told to “go back to the kitchen” by her male classmates.
What is more concerning, is how hesitant the girls were to call out boys for their sexist behavior. They reported not wanting to appear bitchy, outspoken or unsexy. Speaking out projects the image of a feminist, and no one wanted to be associated with that damaging label. Being a feminist implies you’re a prude, a man-hater and a bitch. As a teen girl, it’s much cooler (read: safer) to laugh it off.
Furthermore, black girls experience sexism differently than their Latina, Asian, or white counterparts. A Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality study found that black girls are suspended at higher rates than white girls and are also disciplined more harshly. Lance Hannon, a sociology professor, stated, “When a darker-skinned African-American female acts up, there’s a certain concern about their boyish aggressiveness, that they don’t know their place as a female, as a woman.”
Despite the fact that we are fed cultural messages that women and girl now ‘have it all’ and can be the ‘alpha-female,’ sexism persists. Not only does sexism still exist in the workplace, politics and Hollywood, but it also exists in our schools, amongst our children.
Post-Feminism is a Construct of the Patriarchy.
Journalists have exclaimed that the world is a just place for women and we can celebrate this wonderful paradigm shift. Yet, feminized peoples have rebutted this notion with lived experiences and academics have produced statistic after statistic and countless studies proving this is not true. Unfortunately, North Americans have chosen to believe the journalists over those directly affected by the patriarchy and those academics studying it.
Why? Well, the idealist in me thinks perhaps people believe the former because it is a much rosier reality than the latter, and everyone wants to live in a happy world. But the realist in me knows that this is just a way for those who benefit from the patriarchy (knowingly or otherwise) to uphold the paradigm.
By declaring that men and women are equal, thereby making feminism unnecessary and outdated, they paint feminists as over reactors; the killjoys who complain and challenge for no reason. Saying we don’t live in a sexist society demands that we don’t need feminism. The simple declaration of an expired movement creates the idea that feminists are just trying to create conflict. Those of us who insist on calling ourselves feminists must be bitter man haters. Why else would we promote a movement that is no longer needed?
The notion of a post-feminist world is inherently sexist. It is a blatant negation of the lived experiences of feminized peoples (or a woefully misinformed perspective). To declare that something is unnecessary because it does not directly affect someone is a privilege. While a man may say that sexism has been eliminated because everyone can legally pursue the same career, many women know this is not their reality. A white woman may say that feminism is irrelevant because she has the same opportunities as her male counterparts, but women of colour are not afforded this luxury.
Pushing a 'post-feminist' world goes beyond ignoring a perspective or deeming it insufficient evidence. It blames. As Dorothy Chunn notes, the notion has a “blaming narrative” that admonishes feminists for continuing to make demands even though we’ve achieved gender equality. It blames women for being unreasonable; for asking for more when society has already given them so much.
A post-feminist era is a societal statement placing expectations on a group; not a reaction to that group telling society their situation. It is someone saying that because they do not experience this problem, the problem must not exist at all. It is someone refusing to look under the surface to confirm if their statement is true. It is ignoring those who tell them that there is a problem.
This goes beyond simply being blissfully ignorant (a privilege in and of itself), but extends to actively denigrating the lived experiences and perspectives of feminized peoples. A post-feminist world tells people to ignore ‘crazy, radical feminists’ and accept that society is a good place for everyone.
Professing A Post-Feminist World Is Damaging.
Despite empirical evidence or accounts of lived experiences, the notion of a post-feminist world and an unnecessary feminist movement has persisted. More than 45,000 people, have liked the Facebook group for Women Against Feminism. A 2016 Harvard Public Opinion Project Poll of Americans ages 18-29 found that 50% of those surveyed supported feminism, but only 37% of women actually identified as a feminist. Jessa Crispin’s book Why I Am Not A Feminist condemned the movement and argued it had become a way for people to brand themselves or a popular commercial premise.
These developments show that many people outright reject the movement, and also highlight the pervasive problem of the “No, but…” feminism where people adhere to the feminist principles but not the movement.
Why does this matter?
First, when we declare that feminism is irrelevant and reserved for ‘radical man hating women,’ we make fighting for gender equality unsexy. We give gender advocacy a negative connotation. We dub feminists as undesirable. This deters many people, especially young women, from identifying as feminists or fighting for its goals of equity. Girls would rather laugh at an offensive joke or pass up trying out for the sports team rather than paint themselves as a difficult feminist.
Second, when we tell people we have achieved gender equality we make people believe that they are being hypersensitive when they experience legitimate acts of discrimination. If a girl is led to believe society treats everyone the same, what is she to think when she is told that she shouldn’t join the math club? That girl will believe that she simply isn’t good enough, or it is in fact biology that dictates boys are better at math.
Third, such a statement undermines the entire movement. If enough people say we are living in a post-feminist world, and enough people are convinced of that, then we are left with what we have today: most North Americans believing feminism does more harm than good. Exclaiming we have an expired feminism teaches others that the movement exists to further the goals of women seeking a matriarchy or to coddle whiny women with a victim complex. If women don’t face discrimination, then the movement has no legs on which to stand.
No Proof in The Post-Feminist Era.
The irony of all ironies is, of course, that people are met with harassment and discrimination for the simple act of identifying as a feminist. If that isn’t proof that we are far from a post-feminist world, I don’t know what is.