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Assess ‘postmodern’ feminist approaches to gendered subjectivity.

Assess ‘postmodern’ feminist approaches to gendered subjectivity.

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In order to embark on a discussion regarding 'postmodern' it was important to first take cognizance of the prevailing theoretical framework from which it emerged. From this grounding the essay leads into a critical discussion of poststructuralist theory within the realm of feminism, paying particular attention to the individualised theories of leading feminist thinkers.
In order to embark on a discussion regarding 'postmodern' it was important to first take cognizance of the prevailing theoretical framework from which it emerged. From this grounding the essay leads into a critical discussion of poststructuralist theory within the realm of feminism, paying particular attention to the individualised theories of leading feminist thinkers.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Politics of IdentityPOL520Dr Fidelma AsheAssignment One:6. Assess ‘postmodern’ feminist approaches to gendered subjectivity.
Caireen McCluskeyB0035240317 November 2008
 
In order to fully assess ‘postmodern’ feminist theory one must take cognizance of the prevailing theoretical framework from which it emerged. The “intellectual moment”(Bradley, 2007: 33) referred to as modernity provided the climate in which second wavefeminism developed. In the 1970s these feminists politicised gender and called society’s perception of a gendered identity into question. Previously seen as natural and biologically produced, second wave feminists espoused that gender was in fact a social and ideologicalconstruct, supporting de Beauvoir’s assertion that “one is not born but rather becomes awoman” (de Beauvoir, 1972).A prevalent stream of standpoint feminism emerged around the notion that women shared acommon identity, underpinned by oppression under patriarchal conditions. Radical feminismexplicated an experiential theory of subjectivity, intimating that, due to their confinement tocaring roles, women developed values of love and care and thus the ability to act and think differently to men.By constructing a theory around a perceived common experience, radical feminism definedwhat it is to be a ‘woman’. This generalisation presented difficulties for feminists of ethnicand racial minorities who asserted that the experiential theory was not reflective of their experience of womanhood and failed to take women’s racial and class differences intoaccount (hooks, 2000: 1-3). Radical feminism suffered heavy criticism as the product of white, middle-class, Western feminists conflating “the condition of one group of woman withthe condition of all” (Spelman, 1988: 3). Moreover, in imposing a definition, modernfeminism reinforced existing patriarchal stereotypes, implying that there is some correct wayto be a gendered woman (Nicholson, 1998: 293). Modern feminists essentially rejected theidea that biology is destiny but then developed an account of patriarchal culture whichassumed that masculine and feminine genders would inevitably be built by culture, uponmale and female bodies making the same destiny inescapable.With the break up of the soviet bloc in the 1980s and the subsequent collapse of the Berlinwall, society developed a general scepticism towards meta-narratives with Lyotardadvocating for a complete abandonment of totalising theories. These external conditions
 
catalysed a change in “intellectual mood” (Bradley, 2007: 63) coined as ‘postmodernism’(Lyotard, 1984). Within this political and theoretical climate, poststructuralist feminismemanated. This represented a paradigm shift in feminist thought which promoted self reflexivity and urged feminism to unpick its own assumptions (Bradley, 2007: 60).Influenced by Derridean deconstruction, poststructuralist feminism embarked on a scathingattack of modern feminism and its essentialist views for failing to recognise the “multiplicityof cultural, social and political intersection in which the concrete array of women areconstructed” (Butler, 1999: 19-20, Spelman, 1988).Poststructuralist theorists are highly critical of constructions which purport to impose adefinition of what something is or should be. These theorists challenged the notion thatwomen have a common set of interests and devalued this constitution of womanhood asexclusionary and flawed.The poststructuralist theorist Foucault placed a strong emphasis on decentring the subject andheavily criticised the prevalent binary restriction on gender as a representation of the power regime of sexuality. Butler, an eminent figure within ‘postmodern’ feminism relied onFoucault’s understanding of power to unveil the shortcuts of Anglo-American feminism(Loizidou, 2007:3). Butler asserted that gender is not a fixed or stable category as previouslysuggested and thus “a stable notion of gender no longer proves to be the foundational premise of feminist politics” (Butler, 1990: 5). She condemned any categorisation of identityas normative and exclusionary (Butler, 1991: 160) and therefore predicated that ‘woman’ cannever be defined in a way that does not prescribe some normativity (Butler, 1999: 9).Butler’s “refreshing perspective in feminist thought” (Loizidou, 2007: 4) promoted the ideathat there are in fact no essential attributes of gender, which she perceived as just an illusionmaintained by prevalent power structures.Moreover, Butler elucidated an alternative way of articulating how subjects are formedthrough her theory of gender performativity. This theoretical concept was underpinned bythe notion that “gender is not a stable identity or locus of energy but is instituted through astylized repetition of habitual acts” (Butler, 1999: 179) and subsequently is not something

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