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The term postfeminism (alternatively rendered as post-feminism) is used to describe

reactions against contradictions and absences in feminism, especially second-wave
feminism and third-wave feminism. The term postfeminism is sometimes confused with
4th wave-feminism, and "women of color feminism" (e.g. hooks, 1996; Spivak, 1999).

The ideology of postfeminism is often recognized by its contrast with a prevailing or

preceding waves of feminism. Postfeminism strives towards the next stage in gender-
related societal progress, and as such is often conceived as in favor of a society that is
no longer defined by gender binary and gender roles. A postfeminist is a person who
believes in, promotes, or embodies any of various ideologies springing from the
feminism of the 1970s, whether supportive of or antagonistic towards classical

Postfeminism can be considered a critical way of understanding the changed relations

between feminism, popular culture and femininity. Postfeminism may also present a
critique of second-wave feminism or third-wave feminism by questioning their binary
thinking and essentialism, their vision of sexuality, and their perception of relationships
between femininity and feminism.

Second-wave feminism is often critiqued for being too "white", too "straight", and too
"liberal", thus resulting in the needs of women from marginalized groups and cultures
being ignored. However, since intersectionality is a product of third-wave feminism, the
references to such as postfeminist are open to challenge and may be more properly
considered feminist.

History of the term

While postfeminism was first used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-
wave feminism, it is now used as a label for a wide range of theories that take critical
approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's
ideas. It may also be used to invoke the view that feminism is no longer relevant to
today's society.[1]

Over the years, the meaning of postfeminism has broadened in scope, encompassing
many different meanings, as is the case with feminism. Within feminist literature,
definitions tend to fall into two main categories: 1) “death of feminism”, “anti-
feminism”, “feminism is irrelevant now” and 2) the next stage in feminism, or feminism
that intersects with other “post-” philosophies/theories, such as postmodernism, post-
structuralism and postcolonialism.

In 1919, a journal was launched in which "female literary radicals" stated "'we're
interested in people now—not in men and women'", that "moral, social, economic, and
political standards 'should not have anything to do with sex'", that it would "be 'pro-
woman without being anti-man'", and that "their stance [is called] 'post-feminist'".[2]
The term was used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism.
Postfeminism is now a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to
previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's ideas.[3]
Other postfeminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society.[4] Amelia
Jones has written that the postfeminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s
portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and were overly generalizing in
their criticism.[5]

The 1990s saw the popularization of this term, in both the academic world as well as the
media world. It was seen as a term of both commendation and scorn. Toril Moi, a
professor at Duke University, originally coined the term in 1985 in Sexual/Textual
politics to advocate a feminism that would deconstruct the binary between equality
based on "liberal" feminism and difference-based or "radical" feminism. There is
confusion surrounding the intended meaning of "post" in the context of "postfeminism".
This confusion has plagued the very meaning of "postfeminism" since the 1990s. While
the term has seemed on the one hand to announce the end of feminism, on the other
hand it has itself become a site of feminist politics.[6]

Currently, feminist history is characterized by the struggle to find out the present
situation—often articulated as a concern about whether there is still such a thing called
"feminism"—by writing in the past. It is here that the meaning of "post" as a historical
break is troubling, for "post" offers to situate feminism in history by proclaiming the
end of this history. It then confirms feminist history as a thing of the past. However,
some claim that it is impossible that feminism could be aligned with "post" when it is
unthinkable, as it would be the same as calling the current world a post racist, post-
classist, and post-sexist society.[6]

The early part of the 1980s was when the media began labeling teenage women and
women in their twenties the "postfeminist generation". After twenty years, the term
postfeminist is still used to refer to young women, "who are thought to benefit from the
women's movement through expanded access to employment and education and new
family arrangements but at the same time do not push for further political change",
Pamela Aronson, Professor of Sociology, asserts. Postfeminism is a highly debated
topic since it implies that feminism is "dead" and "because the equality it assumes is
largely a myth".[7]

According to Prof. D. Diane Davis, postfeminism is just a continuation of what first-

and second-wave feminisms want.[8]

Research conducted at Kent State University narrowed postfeminism to four main

claims: support for feminism declined; women began hating feminism and feminists;
society had already attained social equality, thus making feminism outdated; and the
label "feminist" was disliked due to negative stigma.[9][10]

Examples of postfeminist work

In her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina
Hoff Sommers considers much of modern academic feminist theory and the feminist
movement to be gynocentric. She labels this "gender feminism" and proposes "equity
feminism"—an ideology that aims for full civil and legal equality. She argues that while
the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and
portray women as victims, equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of
feminism.[11] These descriptions and her other work have caused Hoff Sommers to be
described as an antifeminist by some other feminists.[12][self-published source][13]

Some contemporary feminists, such as Katha Pollitt or Nadine Strossen, consider

feminism to hold simply that "women are people." Views that separate the sexes rather
than unite them are considered by these writers to be sexist rather than feminist.[14][15]

Amelia Jones has authored post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980s/1990s and
portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and criticized it using

One of the earliest modern uses of the term was in Susan Bolotin's 1982 article "Voices
of the Post-Feminist Generation", published in New York Times Magazine. This article
was based on a number of interviews with women who largely agreed with the goals of
feminism, but did not identify as feminists.[16]

Susan Faludi, in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American
Women, argued that a backlash against second wave feminism in the 1980s had
successfully re-defined feminism through its terms. She argued that it constructed the
women's liberation movement as the source of many of the problems alleged to be
plaguing women in the late 1980s. She also argued that many of these problems were
illusory, constructed by the media without reliable evidence. According to her, this type
of backlash is a historical trend, recurring when it appeared that women had made
substantial gains in their efforts to obtain equal rights.[17]

Angela McRobbie argued that adding the prefix post- to feminism undermined the
strides that feminism made in achieving equality for everyone, including women. In
McRobbie's opinion, postfeminism gave the impression that equality has been achieved
and feminists could now focus on something else entirely. McRobbie believed that
postfeminism was most clearly seen on so-called feminist media products, such as
Bridget Jones's Diary, Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal. Female characters like
Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw claimed to be liberated and clearly enjoy their
sexuality, but what they were constantly searching for was the one man who would
make everything worthwhile.[18]

Representations of post feminism can be found in pop culture. Postfeminism has been
seen in media as a form of feminism that accepts popular culture instead of rejecting it,
as was typical with second wave feminists.[19] Many popular shows from the 90s and
early 2000s are considered to be postfeminist works because they tend to focus on
women who are empowered by popular cultural representations of other women.
Because of this, postfeminists claimed that such media was more accessible and
inclusive than past representations of women in the media; however, some feminists
believe that postfeminist works focus too much on white, middle-class women.[19] Such
shows and movies include The Devil Wears Prada, Xena: Warrior Princess, The
Princess Diaries, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Another example is Sex and the City.
Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City is an example of a character living a post
feminist life. While her character attempts to live a sexually liberated lifestyle,
Bradshaw is stuck endlessly pursuing the love and validation of a man. The balance
between Bradshaw's independent life as a successful columnist and desire to find a
husband exemplifies the tension of post feminism.[20] Many of these works also involve
women monitoring their appearance as a form of self-management, be it in the form of
dieting, exercise, or--most popularly--makeover scenes.[21] Postfeminist literature--also
known as chicklit--has been criticized by feminists for similar themes and notions.
However, the genre is also praised for being confident, witty, and complicated, bringing
in feminist themes, revolving around women, and reinventing standards of fiction.[22]
Examples can also be found in Pretty Little Liars. The novels explore the complexity of
girlhood in a society that assumes gender equality, which is in line with postfeminism.
The constant surveillance and self policing of the series' protagonists depicts the
performance of heterosexuality, hyperfemininity, and critical gaze forced upon girls.
The materialism and performance from the girls in Pretty Little Liars critiques the
notion that society has full gender equality, and thus offers a critique of

In an article on print jewelry advertisements in Singapore, Michelle Lazar analyses how

the construction of 'postfeminist' femininity has given rise to a neo-liberal hybrid
"pronounced sense of self or 'I-dentity'". She states that the increasing number of female
wage earners has led to advertisers updating their image of women but that "through
this hybrid postfeminist I-dentity, advertisers have found a way to reinstall a new
normativity that coexists with the status quo".[24] Postfeminist ads and fashion have been
criticized for using femininity as a commodity veiled as liberation.[25]

See also
 Angela McRobbie, Professor for Communications at Goldsmiths, University of
 Gender studies
 Lad culture (British)
 Rosalind Gill, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at King's College,
 Womanism


  Cott, Nancy F., The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale Univ.
Press, [2d printing?] pbk 1987 (ISBN 0-300-04228-0)) (cloth ISBN 0-300-03892-5), p.
282 (author prof. American studies & history, Yale Univ.) (book is largely on U.S.
feminism in 1910s–1920s) (n. 23 (at end) omitted) (n. 23 (in full): "23. Judy 1:1 (Jun.
1919); 2:3 (1919), n.p., SL." ("SL" in small capitals & abbreviating "The Arthur and
Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College,
Cambridge, Massachusetts", per id., p. 285 (Abbreviations Used in Notes (Libraries)))).
  Wright, Elizabeth, Lacan and Postfeminism (Icon Books, 2000), ISBN 978-1-
  Modleski, Tania. Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a
"Postfeminist" Age. New York: Routledge, 1991, 3.
  Jones, Amelia. "Postfeminism, Feminist Pleasures, and Embodied Theories of Art,"
New Feminist Criticism: Art, Identity, Action, Eds. Joana Frueh, Cassandra L. Langer
and Arlene Raven. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. 16–41, 20.
 
  Aronson, Pamela (2003). "Feminists or "Postfeminists"?: Young Women's
Attitudes toward Feminism and Gender Relations". Gender and Society. 17 (6): 903–22.
  Davis, Debra Diane, Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter
(Carbondale: Southern Ill. Univ. Press, 2000 (ISBN 0-8093-2228-5)), p. 141 n. 8
(brackets in title so in original) (author asst. prof. rhetoric, Univ. of Iowa).
  Hall, Elaine J.; Rodriguez, Marnie Salupo (2003). "The Myth of Postfeminism".
Gender and Society. 17 (6): 878–902.
  Abbott, Pamela; Tyler, Melissa; Wallace, Claire (2006). An Introduction to
Sociology: Feminist Perspectives. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 9781134382453.
  Hoff Sommers, Christina, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed
Women (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995)
  Flood, Michael (7 July 2004). "Backlash: Angry men's movements", in Stacey Elin
Rossi, ed.: The Battle and Backlash Rage On. N.p.: XLibris, 273. ISBN 1-4134-5934-X
  "Uncovering the Right—Female Anti-Feminism for Fame and Profit". Archived
from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  Pollitt, Katha, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Vintage,
1995) ISBN 978-0-679-76278-2
  Strossen, Nadine, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for
Women's Rights (Prentice Hall & IBD, 1995), ISBN 978-0-684-19749-4
  Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement
Changed America. New York: Viking, 2000, 275, 337.
  Faludi, Susan, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (Three
Rivers Press, 2006)
  McRobbie, Angela (2004). "Post‐feminism and popular culture". Feminist Media
Studies. Taylor and Francis. 4 (3): 255–264. doi:10.1080/1468077042000309937.
  Feasey, Rebecca (7 August 2010). "Charmed: Why Teen Television Appeals to
Women". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 34:1: 2–9.
  Gerhard, Jane (August 2006). "Sex and the City, Feminist Media Studies".
Feminist Media Studies. 5: 37–49.
  "Post feminism in popular culture: A potential for critical resistance?". Politics
and Culture. 2009-11-09. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  "What is chick-lit? | Electronic Book Review".
Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  Whitney, Sarah (11 November 2017). "Kisses, Bitches: Pretty Little Liars Frames
Postfeminism's Adolescent Girl". Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. 36 (2): 353–377.
doi:10.1353/tsw.2017.0026. ISSN 1936-1645.
  Lazar, Michelle (2014). "Recuperating feminism, reclaiming femininity: Hybrid
postfeminist I-dentity in consumer advertisements". Gender and Language. Equinox. 8
(2): 205–224. doi:10.1558/genl.v8i2.205.
25.  "AMERICANA: "A Critique of Post-feminism" by Zsófia Kulcsár". Retrieved 2018-04-17.

 Feminism, Ethics, and History, or What Is the "Post" in Postfeminism? Misha

Kavka Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring, 2002),
pp. 29–44.

Post-Feminism: An Essay

By Nasrullah Mambrol on October 25, 2017 •(0)

It must first be stated that there is no agreement about how postfeminism can be defined and
consequently definitions essentially contradict each other in what they say about the term. At
its most straightforward, the prefix ‘post’ in this context appears to mean ‘going beyond’ or
‘superseding’: it could therefore be seen as a confident announcement that feminism has
achieved its key aims and that there is full equality for all women and a blurring of the
boundaries between traditional ascriptions of gender. Given that a brief scrutiny of our current
social formation does not support this view, we might, however, imagine that a post-feminist
position is one formulated due to dissatisfaction with existing feminist politics and is to be
located in an entirely new area or set of propositions altogether. Part of this dissatisfaction
might be an awareness that even in its heyday, second wave feminism did not achieve its aim
of speaking to the majority of women.

Either of these definitions seems possible and the notion of superseding or going beyond has
been widely utilised in popular culture, and to some extent in academic discourse. Given that
‘feminism’ remains within the term post-feminism, albeit problematised by the prefix of ‘post’,
this illustrates that ‘feminism is portrayed as a territory over which various women have to
fight to gain their ground; it has become so unwieldy as a term that it threatens to implode
under the weight of its own contradictions’ (Whelehan 2000: 78). The ‘post’ is not the end of
feminism: actually feminism is constantly to be picked over only to be rapidly set aside again or
dismissed as old hat. For Myra Macdonald, ‘post-feminism takes the sting out of feminism’
(1995: 100); it removes the politics and claims the territory of self-empowerment.

There are some more complex and challenging definitions of the term and according to
writers such as Sopia Phoca who co-produced an introductory guide to it, ‘post-feminism is
considered as a different manifestation of feminism – not as being anti-feminist’ (quoted in
Ashby 1999: 34) and as being associated with the development of post-Lacanian
psychoanalysis, French feminism and post-structuralist theory, suggesting perhaps a
permanent fracturation between second wave-style personal politics and ‘high’ theory. Ann
Brooks (1997), however, would argue that it is not a question of depoliticising feminism, but
of marking a conceptual shift between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ – from a model based on
equality, to debates around the revivified and theorised concept of difference. For Brooks
the term ‘post-feminism’ ‘is now understood as a useful conceptual frame of reference
encompassing the intersection of feminism with a number of other anti-foundational
movements including postmodernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism’ (Brooks
1997: 1).

Other critics would argue that the ‘post’ prefix added to modernism, structuralism or
colonialism seems to unproblematically connote the ‘going beyond’ both spatially and
chronologically that has occurred in modern theory; yet Brooks asserts that post-feminism
used in this theoretical context signifies feminism’s maturity. She reflects that rather than
‘post’ meaning going beyond or breaking with, in these contexts it means ‘a process of ongoing
transformation and change’ (Brooks 1997: 1). Other kinds of ‘rebranding’ for feminism of
course include the use of ‘third wave’ feminism where again the prefix is used to imply key
shifts in the meaning of ‘feminism’ itself and in this theoretically-informed definition of post-
feminism there might be seen to be common ground between third wave and post-feminism,
although third wavers would certainly reject any suggestion that feminism is over. Brooks
herself acknowledges the way post-feminism is associated with a negative portrayal of
feminism in the mass media – particularly in the way the rhetoric of post-feminism is
summoned in the backlash against feminism (see also Faludi 1992).

One of the reasons it is argued that the move to post-feminism is essential is because of the
influence of postmodern thinking which refuses the ‘grand narrative’ of gender difference,
so that it becomes increasingly impossible to lay claim to the identity ‘woman’, because of
the impact of ‘difference’ theories and the contestation of knowledges about how ‘woman’
is constructed. Ann Brooks’s version of post-feminism puts ‘woman’ under erasure; of course
one could argue that this denies any political agency to a feminist who cannot lay claim to
that identity, ‘modernist’ as it is, suggesting as it does a retreat to the self and ultimately the
individualist framing of identity so favoured by enlightenment liberalism. The category
‘woman’, no matter how unsatisfactory as a means to summon up the wealth and diversity
of women’s experiences and identities, allows at least a space to lay claim to a wealth of
shared experiences (gendered pay differentials, the impact of sexual violence, the
relationship of nation to gender for instance) which permits a collective oppositional
response to injustices against women.

For critics who are still happy to call themselves ‘feminist’ without any prefixes, such a model
of feminism does not readily allow for an acknowledgement of some highly productive shifts in
feminism since the 1970s. Feminist politics has not remained static, and many of the central
issues, so radical in the 1970s, are now accepted as part of mainstream politics. As Sylvia
Walby notes, ‘Who would now call someone who believes in equal pay feminist? Yet before
1975 this was not law and was controversial’ (1997: 163). Rene Denfeld, in her critique of
second wave feminism, The New Victorians, bears this out when she points out that while the
next generation has problems with the epithet ‘feminist’, they have no problem supporting the
principles of equal pay and educational opportunities (Denfeld 1995: 4). For Denfeld this
change from broad support of feminism to scepticism and alienation is a response to a change
in the terms of second wave feminism itself: ‘It has become bogged down in an extremist
moral and spiritual crusade that has little to do with women’s lives. It has climbed out on a
limb of academic theory that is all but inaccessible to the uninitiated . . . feminism has become
as confining as what it pretends to combat’ (Denfeld 1995: 5). Denfeld is pointing to widely
aired anxieties that feminism has become just one more arcane theory – stemming from what
she perceives to be a majority of cultural feminist writers creating and delivering women’s
studies curricula in American universities, containing an alleged anti-male agenda. It is as if she
actually doesn’t want to dismiss feminism but rather to take it ‘back’ from whoever she feels
has stolen it. The irony is that ‘post-feminism’ from both Phoca and Wright’s and Brooks’s
perspective is in many ways just such another ‘inaccessible’ theory for the uninitiated.

Tania Modleski is more concerned that while ‘woman’ is being put under erasure in the
debates about difference, conceptual shifts such as the ‘men in feminism’ debate (a debate
about whether men should call themselves feminists or be feminist critics independently of
women) might make women disappear from feminism altogether. Talking about one particular
anthology of ‘male feminist’ criticism she observes that ‘[i]n an unusually strong post-feminist
irony, the final essay of this volume which banishes women from its list of contributors is a
complaint about the way heterosexual men have become invisible within feminism!’
(Modleski, 1991: 12). Modleski’s dissection of post-feminism in the critical sphere in many
ways anticipates Susan Faludi’s arguments in Backlash where it is the appropriation of the
language of feminism which is seen to be used against itself in popular culture. Modleski’s
combination of questioning theory and using examples of popular film, television and news,
suggests that this appropriation goes much deeper and, she would argue, drives us straight
back to male-centred discourse and critical authority.

There is still the accusation that second wave feminism failed to cede the hegemony of white
middle-class heterosexual women to other groups of women, and there is clearly some truth in
this claim. But nonetheless it is clear that many feminists (particularly at the level of grassroots
politics) did acknowledge the common links between different sites of oppression; and the
growth in political and critical perspectives by women of colour, working-class women and
lesbians suggests that for them the struggle is not over. One can think of key voices in black
American feminism, such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins who emphatically lay claim to
‘feminism’ as a term which still has political resonance, and this suggests that not all
proponents of feminist discourse are ready yet to cede the ground to post-feminism, but
would rather address the gaps, in the belief that there might be some consensus about what
feminism can do.

Ann Brooks (1997) gives a fairly comprehensive account of what ‘postfeminism’ means in a
theoretical context; for those still struggling with French feminism, post-structuralism and
Lacan. Phoca and Wright (1999) offer a crisp and concise account, liberally using illustrations
and graphic narrative. Modleski (1991) and Faludi (1992) offer challenges which provide
illuminating comparison.

Postfeminism vs. the Third Wave

Alison Piepmeier
Riposte to:
Introduction: Waves

Alison Piepmeier examines the differences in postfeminism and third-wave feminism.

In reading the essays on postfeminism in this section of EBR, I’m struck by the
imprecision of the term. Some of the essays - like Stobb’s - seem not to be discussing
postfeminism per se, but just younger feminist negotiations with the conditions of life in
the early 20th century. Others, like Guertin, use the term postfeminism but without a
particular sense of its significance; this piece seems more to be discussing feminism in
general, or perhaps third wave feminism - I find the discussion of cyberfeminism
fascinating, but I don’t buy that it’s equivalent to postfeminism. Helford, Yaszek, and
Mazza seem to be engaging with the idea of postfeminism in ways that I find most
interesting and useful; they’re identifying something other than third wave feminism,
and they’re considering the significance of the “post” rhetoric as it applies to feminism
in an era of backlash.

The term “postfeminism” always makes me wary - it’s a suspect term, a catchphrase
from the early ’90s that was used to suggest that we no longer need feminism, that
we’re past it. I don’t hear it that much anymore, but when I do, it’s often
problematically used in a way that suggests it’s synonymous with third wave feminism.

Now, speaking of imprecise and suspect terms, third wave feminism is right there with
them - it’s a highly contested term that loosely defines a generational and political
cohort born after the heyday of the second wave women’s movement. Although I’ve
edited a collection of essays that both embraces and interrogates the term,Catching a
Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century (Northeastern University Press, 2003)
others - like Bitch publisher Lisa Jervis - have argued that it’s time to get rid of it

The controversies surrounding the use of the term “third wave feminism,” however, are
different from those surrounding “postfeminism.” When feminists debate the third
wave, generally they’re trying to determine if there’s enough of a generational divide
between older and younger feminists to warrant a whole new label. The question seems
to be, have we moved far enough from the social issues that propelled the women’s
movement in the 1960s and ’70s to be able to suggest that there’s a new wave? The
rhetoric surrounding postfeminism, by contrast, tends, as Lisa Yaszek notes, “to
describe the contemporary moment as one in which the goals of feminism have been
achieved” and “to invoke a `blame-the-victim’ mentality.” Often arguments made from
a postfeminist perspective rely on what Elyce Helford identifies as “the belief that
personal choices and `bootstrap’ efforts can bring a woman (and hence all women)
empowerment and equality.” While the third wave says, “We’ve got a hell of a lot of
work to do!” postfeminism says, “Go buy some Manolo Blahniks and stop your

Postfeminism relies on competitive individualism and eschews collective action; it

obscures or makes invisible the many ways in which women are often fearful, subjected
to rape and other kinds of violence, and politically and economically underprivileged.
The third wave, however - in texts from Third Wave Agenda to Manifesta to Colonize
This! - grapples with women’s intersectional identities and demands an end to all the
forms of oppression that keep women from achieving their full humanity.

Postfeminism and the third wave, then, are entirely different entities. Rebecca Walker’s
1992 essay, “Becoming the Third Wave,” articulates these differences powerfully; the
essay documents the virulent and persistent sexism of the early 1990s and calls young
feminists to rally to the cause, and the final paragraph of the essay consists of this

I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.

Reading that always makes me want to make a fist and say, “Hell, yeah.”

So, thirteen years after Walker’s declaration, are we not finally past postfeminism?