Postfeminisms: Feminism, Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms

Ann Brooks

My initial attraction to Ann Brooks' Postfeminisms: Feminism, Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms was its title -- particularly the pluralized postfeminism. Why had Brooks selected the plural form as opposed to the singular? Was this another text bemoaning the end of feminism or one that was claiming intellectual space with other "post" discourses? How would Brooks disentangle postfeminism from its association with anti-feminism (articulated by first-wave U.S. feminists as early as 1916 [Cott, 1987]). Would it be appropriate reading for an undergraduate course I teach on gender in popular culture? Moreover, does Brooks provide a compelling enough argument for feminism to, yet again, be modified?

Indeed, Brooks addresses these questions on the first page. She acknowledges the negative associations of postfeminism and tries to disentangle it from this history. For Brooks, postfeminism intersects with other "anti-foundationalist movements including postmodernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism" (p. 1) and "post" "implies a process of ongoing transformation and change" (p. 1) (sometimes these terms are hyphenated by Brooks and other times they are not). Moreover, postfeminisms "facilitates a broad-based, pluralistic conception of the application of feminism, and addresses the demands of marginalised, diasporic and colonised cultures for a non-hegemonic feminism capable of giving voice to local, indigenous and post-colonial feminisms" (p. 4).

The book is divided into three parts to justify and reveal the usefulness of postfeminist analyses through postmodernist feminist forays into cultural studies. The first part, "Challenging and Fragmenting the Consensus of the `Second Wave,' " explores the interrogation and disruption of second-wave feminism from "inside" and "outside" feminism. In the second part, "Feminism's `Turn to Culture' -- A Paradigm Shift in Feminist Theorising?," Brooks describes the various epistemological, Foucauldian, and psychoanalytic intersections with feminism, postmodernism, and post-colonialism. The third part, "Postfeminism and Cultural Forms," focuses on cultural forms in the academy, popular culture and representations, media and film theory, and sexuality, subjectivity, and identity. In each of these parts, Brooks demonstrates the ways in which postmodern feminists have engaged with these issues and the complexity that emerges from these analyses.

Brooks finishes her book with an extended discussion of the postmodern feminist discourses of Madonna and reveals the importance of fragmented, contradictory, and complex readings of race, gender, and sexuality. While I appreciated the review of this scholarship, I expected and wanted more analysis. Could Brooks apply these insights to other cultural producers? How do we understand "post" Madonna cultural producers and activists such as Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey, Cassandra Wilson, and the new generation of "third-wave" feminists?

As Brooks states in her introduction, "postfeminism can be understood as critically engaging with patriarchy and postmodernism as similarly engaged with the principles of modernism" (p. 1) -- I would like to know when feminists have not been critically engaging with patriarchy? Moreover, how do postfeminisms make this debate more complicated and what does it mean for feminist activism?

I appreciated Brooks' definition of postfeminism and her ability to describe various feminist positions engaged with postmodernism. However, I was not convinced that postfeminist analyses move us any further from feminisms' Anglo-Saxon origins and I wondered where queer theory fit into her position. In the end, Brooks' analysis does not provide a convincing argument for shifting these kinds of inquiries from its current location in postmodern feminism to postfeminisms.

While the book was largely descriptive, relied heavily on quotations, and did not critically assess the material reviewed, it could have a place in undergraduate teaching. If you are looking for a text that identifies some of the postmodern feminists' scholarship in the area of cultural studies, Postfeminisms: Feminism, Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms could provide your students with an entry point into these debates.

References

Cott, Nancy. (1987). The grounding of modern feminism. New York: Yale University Press.



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