The New Feminism

Yay! Girl power!

Read this hilarious article from The Onion, “Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Ever Does.” It neatly sums up all of my feelings on the current national/pop cultural understanding of what feminism is in America today.

Every time a discussion of feminism comes up in any of my graduate courses, I always manage to come off like a caveman jerk as I try to explain how I think that the term “feminism”–much like “punk”–has been completely co-opted by mainstream patriarchal commercial culture, and thus etiolated of life, its original power sucked dry. There is of course an easy solution for this, which involves a re-appraisal of feminist objectives and a general re-education of young girls and boys (okay, easy in theory, not in practice). The concern  in academia with gender studies over the past two decades has done a remarkable job of re-framing the problematics of identity, sexuality, culture, etc. beyond just “women’s issues,” but the trickle-down of second-wave feminism seems to be, well, diluted at best and completely misunderstood at worst . And as recent attacks on Roe v Wade show, these aren’t battles that were neatly finished thirty years ago–there is still much at stake today. Get empowered, yo.

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6 thoughts on “The New Feminism”

  1. to clarify, would you classify Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan as “second-wave” feminists? or would you say that their work has assisted today’s gender studies?

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  2. What the fuck?! I have to “clarify” things now in the comments section?
    Actually, that’s a good question. I think the answer to both questions is “yes.” They embody what the second-wave of feminism was about, but obviously what they did/wrote/created informs the so-called third-wave of feminism (at the same time, I should point out that ideas like Marxism informed the second-wave movement as well as the third-wave movement). I think that the academic/theoretical bent of third-wave feminism–post-colonial studies, queer theory, post-structuralism, etc– seems to be making less of an impact in the popular culture/media than the actions of the so-called second wave movement. My criticism of feminism in the popular media derives from a larger criticism of the entire 60s/70s youth generation, which failed on so many of its promises, while at the same time fucking up the country big-time. I think a lot of the concepts of “female empowerment” that the Onion article satirizes are the rhetorical fallout of the 60s/70s sexual/birth-control revolution…NOW and Gloria Steinem continue to do very important work, I’m not knocking them in any way, let me “clarify,” but I do think that there was a certain failure in the 60s, a certain type of patriarchal culture prevailed in the end.
    Do you remember that scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest meets Jeh-nny at the Capitol? Her hippie boyfriend hits her and then apologizes (Forrest is of course wearing an Army uniform). I think that was a fair critique of 1960s sexual politics. Not to say that women in the 60s didn’t have to fight and risk their lives (just like the suffragettes the century before). But it seems like a lot of really negative ideas about gender roles persist, and are aided/facilitated by popular culture. I’m ranting now. I’m busy, so I’m not going to go back and edit this properly now, or ever, in all likelihood, so I apologize for any mistakes now.
    It’s too bad that that Steinem/Fonda clip on Colbert got pulled from Youtube. Those bastards.

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  3. ok. that’s what i needed. you bring up an interesting point when you compare “punk” and “feminism” – but whereas you say they were both “co-opted” by commercial culture, i say they were both propagated and allowed to remain by commercial culture.

    in the same way that punk was sanctioned by record companies as a means of increasing their own profitability, i think the same could be said of “second-wave” feminism. look at Steinem’s Ms. Magazine and Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” — both creations/works represent milestones of this “movement,” yet are nothing if they aren’t products of the country’s giant, corporate publishing industry.

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  4. and yes, by the way, i’m suggesting that there’s something far more sinister at play than mere brand takeover. it’s a corporate conspiracy, dawg.

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  5. I do love the Onion. I feel empowered just thinking about it.

    The unraveling of Roe vs Wade really scares me. I cannot believe that young women everywhere aren’t lobbying loudly on this issue, especially with the concomitant cutting back on funding for children’s services.

    The article about Orange Alert Sirens had a bite to it, as well.

    Speaking of imminent issue, hope all continues well with you and the potential family!

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  6. Thanks Winifred. I agree that the apathy on the part of young people, particularly young women, surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision that chips away at RvW is scary…but it’s part of a bigger national trend of young people being politically unmotivated. I think of Britney Spears, popping her gum at Matt Lauer, saying that no one should criticize the president. That’s kind of the new representation of “girl power” to me.
    Nick, you say “propagated and allowed to remain,” I say potato.

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