Postmodern Feminism: toward a defense?

I was going to write a paper for my feminist philosophies class on “What is a Woman?” but I don’t know if I’ll really have the time to go into that topic as in-depth as I would like. It’s a near-impossible task, probably.

For Friday’s Feminist Philosophies class, we read about Postmodern Feminism in Rosemarie Putman Tong’s Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Tong writes that

Postmodern feminists, like all postmodernists, seek to avoid in their writings any and all reinstantiations of phallogocentric thought, ideas ordered around an absolute word (logos) that is “male” in style (hence the reference to the phallus). Thus, they view with suspicion any mode of feminist thought that aims to provide the explanation for why woman is oppressed or the ten steps all women must take to achieve liberation. (193)

During our graduate section, my teacher critiqued postmodernism quite harshly as philosophically unsound on two basic premises: 1) they are claiming to not do theory because it is phallogocentric, but in reality, if they are explaining things, then it is theory; and 2) they claim that language creates society, but if our language is phallogocentric, we can’t get out of it — we can’t just create a new language.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it and review the chapter, I don’t think that postmodern feminists are claiming that they aren’t doing theory, but rather that they aren’t going to try to come up with a totalizing theory; they refuse “to develop one overarching explanation and solution for women’s oppression” (193).

Additionally, I’m not sure if I really care for Tong’s discussion of postmodern feminism. She never really gives a good description of what postmodernism is, I think (not that I really have one either). She also only discusses Hélene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva (in addition to Lacan, Derrida, and de Beauvoir). I was somewhat shocked that Judith Butler (and Foucault) didn’t make it into the chapter.

My teacher (and some classmates agree) that postmodern feminism doesn’t offer much practical use. They agree with critics that it is too esoteric and meant for a small audience, that it can be read as essentialist (though arguably, so can all feminist theory), and that it is too wrapped up in play.

I thought I’d do some preliminary research for a possible paper topic on postmodern feminism and its applicability in our material conditions (i.e., how can we use this stuff). Part of this is perhaps that I am enamored with postmodernism and want to defend it, but I think it is also that I want to understand this theory better, and to get a better grasp of it for myself (after all, if postmodernism is passé and bunk, as my philosophy teacher might have it, then perhaps I shouldn’t be so enthusiastic about it).

So, like all college students (and now professors too!) I went to Wikipedia. Wikipedia explains that postmodern feminism’s “largest departure from other branches of feminism, is the argument sex is itself constructed through language” (emphasis added). The article is limited, and in need of an expert (perhaps by the end of the term, I could do that?), so it only offers up two postmodern feminists: Judith Butler and someone new to me: Mary Joe Frug.

I’ve already found some journal articles online, but I think they’ll have to wait until I’m done with a few other papers that are due next week.

This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender, Philosophy 516 Feminist Philosophies (Winter 2007), Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Postmodern Feminism: toward a defense?

  1. Candace Zepp says:

    Hi! I was looking for some new topics to ponder on gender construction and I was directed to your site…I started checking around, and what a collection of thoughts you have on things I feel greatly about! Thanks for keeping all of this in order, I wish I would have thought to do this at the start of my college career, especially in philosophy classes.

    See you in class next week!


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