Postfeminism: What, Why, and How?

Brooke Shapiro is the founder and editor-in-chief of The F-Word Blog. She enjoys listening to 90’s R&B, having spontaneous dance parties, and studying feminism in film.

Editor’s Note: Hi everyone! I’m sorry I’ve been so inactive lately. I took a break for the summer, but I was still writing and I am now ready to start publishing again. This is a piece I began early in the summer while reflecting on the Women’s March. 

The high attendance at Women’s Marches around the world reveals that women’s rights is an extremely relevant and popular issue. However, there’s one problem that’s holding this movement back: it doesn’t have as much male support as it does female. Total and complete progress is unimaginable until we have the full support of men. This raises an important question: what can we do to gain their support?

The main problem lies in misconception- on both ends. Many men don’t like what the feminist movement stands for, or at least what they think it stands for. Some men view feminism as something along the lines of victimhood- women sitting around complaining and pointing fingers at men. Perhaps there are women who do so, but this is certainly not what feminism is intended to look like. A more common view of the feminist movement is this one: it’s not necessary. It’s outdated. And it turns out that they’re completely right.

Well, to a certain extent. But before I explain this, I must provide some background on the feminist movement itself. There are three defined waves of feminism. The first wave of feminism took place in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the goal of opening up opportunities for women, focused particularly on suffrage. Think Seneca Falls Convention and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Some women during this era claimed that women were morally superior, therefore they should be allowed to participate in the civic sphere to improve public behavior and politics.

The second wave of feminism, known as “old-fashioned feminism,” began in the 60s and continued into the 90s. This wave arose in the context of the anti-war and the civil rights movements. This era of feminism was focused on reproductive and sexuality rights. This era was also centered on sameness and equality. It challenged femininity in the traditional sense and objectification of women.

So far, there seems to be a common trend: these movements are targeted at men. These waves are centered on the fact that men limited women. They directly challenge women’s inferior roles in society, roles of domesticity, motherhood, and women as objects. During this era, women, in the simplest words possible, wanted to become more like men. They wanted to play a part in supporting their families economically; they wanted to be involved in decision-making and politics. They were interested in having a role more similar to that of men.

And these waves were rather successful. Though complete equality is not possible, many gender gaps have closed. Look around today. Women and men are more integrated; in schools, in the workforce, in the home.

That’s why a new wave of feminism took shape in the 90s. This third wave of feminism, also known as postfeminism, completely changed the game. This wave was informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. This wave of feminism turned the attention away from men and placed it directly on women. Postfeminism became centered on empowerment, independence, individual choice, consumer culture, fashion, sexuality, and the female body. It’s called postfeminism for a reason. It’s basically saying that the previous waves took care of inequality; now we need to teach women to do something with the opportunities they have.

But it’s also a backlash to feminism; it criticizes feminism’s binary thinking; the idea of “sameness”. Postfeminism says that women don’t need to be like men. In fact, women and men should not be equal in a broad sense, because each individual is unique. Not all men are the same. Not all women are the same.

Postfeminism also criticizes feminism’s attack on femininity. It asks: “Why can’t a feminist be girly and feminine? In order to be independent and empowered, why do I have to be like a man?” The quote, “It’s possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time,” essentially outlines this. With that said, it also criticizes the idea promoted by the second wave of feminism that sexuality (and in a way, objectification) is a negative thing. Postfeminism celebrates sexual pleasure and choice and says that women can be objects if that is what they desire. In other words, postfeminism rejects the notion that in order to achieve girl power, girls must trade in their high heels and lipstick and glamour and sexual appeal.

Now, here is the biggest problem of all. The postfeminist movement began in the 90s- and guess what?- it never stopped! The current wave of feminism is the POSTFEMINISM WAVE. Yet, it seems that no one is aware of this! The main misconception men hold is that they think that we feminists are advocating for the goals and ideas of the second wave of feminism (victimhood, sameness, blame on men), when in reality, we are advocating for the goals of the postfeminist movement. However, it’s not exactly their fault. The only kind of feminism they are ever taught about or exposed to is that of the second wave.

But it’s not just the men that are confused. It’s the women, too. Most women don’t even know what postfeminism is. We call ourselves feminists, when in reality, we’re actually postfeminists. The word “feminism” can be misleading and can give off the wrong idea; feminism could perhaps sound like it’s interested in making women superior or bringing men down.

There’s so many women and men who believe in girl power and female empowerment, but refuse to call themselves feminists and don’t believe in the movement itself. They don’t believe that men and women should be completely equal. In reality, however, those terms are all synonymous. And they’re right, men and women should not be completely equal.

Instead, it should be about equity. Men and women should be afforded the same opportunities. If a woman wants to be able to be in the army, she should be able to do so. And, for the most part, she is. Legally, men and women mostly have the same rights. That’s why a lot of men don’t understand the feminist movement; they think that men and women are already equal, so why are we asking for more rights and equality?

And we’re really not asking for that. What we are asking for is a place at the table. And that happens through opportunity and relationship. The old saying of it’s who you know, not what you know. Women know a lot, but many don’t know anyone at the upper echelons of business, politics, media, etc. Women at the top are starting to extend a hand to those below them, but to make real progress we need men to do the same.

Unfortunately, women are presented as temptresses and not to be trusted. Adam is deceived by Eve. Harry tells Sally that no man can be friends with a woman, attractive or not. Mike Pence refuses to have dinner with a woman without his wife present. My shoulder is too distracting to the males in my class. So women aren’t invited to the hockey game or fishing trip, because that certainly would create suspicions at home. And maybe they are right…history shows us literally millions of instances where women were the downfall of men. But then we hear the phrase “behind every great man is a great woman.” And so the reciprocal is most likely true: behind every great woman would have to be a great man.

So one is left to wonder how exactly a woman is supposed to create a network and a path to the top without male support. Education automatically gives girls a seat at the table, at least in the United States. In high schools and colleges, we are there in equal numbers contributing our ideas. It’s after graduation that the disparity starts, depending on the industry. And it seems that the higher the value of the industry, and the more lucrative the opportunities, the higher probability that women will be shut out.

Rather than blaming men, we need to challenge them. Ask men how many females are in their network and if not close to equal to men in number, why not? But if figures from religion (Adam) , media (Harry), and politics (Mike Pence) categorize females as temptation, rather than seeing everyone, regardless of gender, as unique individuals, then I guess we have our answer.


Lainey Shapiro

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