by Jenae Nicoletta
In An introduction to feminism in a postfeminist age, Jenny Coleman argues about the importance of knowing the history of feminism(s). A common philosophy is that we can learn from the past in order to try to predict or guide the future. Therefore, it is important for feminists, and other individuals, to understand feminisms of the past. We can learn from both the achievements and the failures of feminists of the past. It is also important to look back at the past to realize that some of the rights we posses, and we may now take for granted, were not always available to us all. To illustrate this point Coleman states “many young feminists these days are not aware of the fragile nature of the hard-fought gains of their feminist predecessors and, not having experienced any in-your-face sexist discriminations, seem to consider feminism to be old-fashioned and irrelevant to their lives” (3).
Although this may be the case, this means that current feminists must engage a future generation of feminists in a new way. Many young people seem hesitant to label themselves as a feminist due to the stereotypes associated with the term. Coleman claims that many young women “view feminism as: anti-men; anti-feminine; anti-family; over-prescriptive; interfering in private lives; humorless; dowdy and puritanical; and a source of oppression rather that liberation” (10). For example, Coleman defines the term feminism as having “never only been about women’s gains and empowerment, that feminism was about the bigger picture, about social relations and systematic injustices” (3).
While, Coleman points out that feminism is not simply about women, but rather feminism is about equality for all. However, many people associate the word “feminism” with the term “feminine” and therefore mistakenly assume that feminism is only about women. Upon the discovery that feminism is about equity and social injustices, people sometimes find the term feminism to be sexist, as they seem to feel that other gender/sexes are excluded from the term. From a PR standpoint, this is not extremely helpful with the recruitment of future feminists (of all genders).
Even though, it just so happens that women are still considered a minority group when discussing power, this does not mean that all feminist issues exclude other genders/sexes. Therefore, the language that we use is very important. Coleman illustrates the importance of language by discussing the pros and cons of using the term “wave” when referring to different feminist movements over time (5). She states, “by drawing attention to the common themes that unify each wave, the notion of a wave tends to obscure the diversity of the competing feminisms that exist within any given period and the contributions made by more marginalised members of the women’s movement” (5). However, she finds usefulness in the term as a metaphor. As she believes it capture the idea that feminist movements “ebb and flow, rise and decline, and crest in specific historical accomplishments” (5). Thus, finding the perfect term to describe abstract ideas and concepts does not always reach the audience as intended.
I am intrigued by Coleman’s reservations concerning third wave feminism. She originally planned on titling the article “Is third wave feminism feminist?” (11). This portrays her doubt and unease relating to third wave feminist conceptions. She asserts that there is not enough resistance to the individualism, materialism, and consumer culture that we live in. However, she seems to be happy to accept a way in which feminists of all generations may be able to work together to solve the issues of gender, equity, and social justice that link many feminists.
In Fuck You & Your Untouchable Face, Lisa Johnson struggles with her urges and desires that can be viewed as antifeminist. She confides that “one of the hardest things for me to do as a feminist is to admit that in a relationship I willingly, or at least automatically, live within the man’s emotional weather – quiet when he’s withdrawn, ready to talk, fuck, go dancing, anything, anything he wants. I am infinitely flexible” (15). I found this rather compelling because it shows the struggle to unlearn cultural norms. We have grown up with Disney fairy tales, and even though we understand the sexist gender roles and masculine and feminine performativity that can often be found within many of these stories, sometimes we still wish for a Price Charming. We are taught to want certain things. Even when we know we shouldn’t want something, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. In a way, it is almost like an abusive relationship. It’s hard to break a cycle. Not necessarily impossible, just difficult.
I found this struggle very compelling. We can carry a certain set of beliefs associated with feminism; yet, we may still act against them to fill other desires we harbor. I found this to be a relatable subject. However, as I was reading Coleman’s anecdotes concerning her boyfriend, I felt that she was focusing too much on societal pressures. For example, she states “I knew about (and believed) feminist critiques of marriage, and truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could revise it to please us both” (19). She clearly understood these pressures, but she couldn’t deter her desire to conform to those pressures. I think that even when we can deconstruct the society we live in, we still have trouble separating ourselves from the institutions, which form asset of norms that we are expected to abide by. It is also a little unsettling that we can recognize the pressures around us, yet still act in accordance to them with little to no thought. Sometimes it seems like we are programmed to follow cultural norms by default. Acting against those norms seems to take more time and energy. However, that doesn’t make deconstructing such norms any less important.
I was critical of one of the topics Johnson brought up. She claims that there is a problem in which women are unable to talk to men “about or from the perspective of feminism” which “spoils our best relationships” (22). I find this statement to be a large generalization because a) some men are feminists and b) not all women have issues communicating with their male partners from a feminist standpoint. I understand that not all female feminists engage in romantic relationships with male feminists and many women may have issues in discussing a feminist perspective with their lovers/partners and we cannot always help whom we fall in love with. However, if you are unable to talk about a significant part about yourself with your loved one then the relationship is most likely doomed from the start, so can it really be the “best” relationship? That just sounds stressful to me.
Thoughts for the future:
I would like to see a focus the societal facilitation of “rape cultures.” There are still many instances of “blaming the victim” and, of course, blaming the person who forced the sexual assault. However, the problem stems much deeper than the individuals. The problem is societal. We create the concept of rape and society creates rapists. We take preemptive action by providing defensive classes for (mainly) women, yet we do not take action to fix the cultural issues, which allow for rape prone societies. This is not a problem will simply be solved punishing those who commit this physical and emotional crime against individuals. I wish we would focus on the role society plays in rape.