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Appears in Collections:eTheses from Faculty of Arts and Humanities legacy departments
Title: Blurring the binary: positioning postfeminist texts and contexts
Author(s): Genz, Stephanie
Issue Date: 2004
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This dissertation has grown out of the contested theoretical and popular debates surrounding postfeminism. The postfeminist phenomenon has confounded and split contemporary critics with its contradictory significations, its definitional ambiguity and its pluralistic outlook. Commentators have applied a number of preconceived frameworks and classifications in order to define and categorize postfeminism. They have claimed the term for various and even oppositional understandings and appropriations that range from a backlash rhetoric, Girl Power to poststructuralist feminism. As I intend to show, these interpretative schemes have often been upheld at the expense of postfeminism's paradoxical multiplicity. In the following, I contend that postfeminism cannot be discussed as an easily identifiable, singular and totalizing movement and, instead, it illustrates a methodological crisis that exceeds the logic of non-contradiction. In fact, I argue that postfeminism blurs the binary as it depicts the struggle between previously antagonistic stances and establishes a non-dualistic and ambiguous in-betweenness. My analysis seeks to counter the critical need for categorization and question the continued insistence upon an either/or structure. I will explore the gap between binary formulations as a locus of difficulty and a potentially productive space for a new understanding of postfeminist theory and practice. The dissertation is divided in three parts that position, contextualize and textualize postfeminist discourses. The first part aims to provide an overview of the postfeminist landscape, introduce a new postfeminist strategy of theorization and depict the various manifestations of postfeminism. I suggest that postfeminism cannot be conceptualized with recourse to simplistic definitions and epistemological foundations as it represents a 'shaky ground', a site of contest and revision that eschews monological thinking. I put forward the idea of a contextual definition of postfeminism that takes into account its thoroughly situated nature and its relation to other discourses and theories. Postfeminism exists both as a theoretical and popular movement, combining a range of viewpoints from conflicting sources. It is steeped in the language and principles of feminism, patriarchy, postmodemism and the media, creating a multi-dimensional postfeminist context that depolarizes and incorporates seemingly incompatible opposites. In this way, postfeminism exploits and expands the discursive junctures to posit its own pluralistic propositions. It effects a double movement whereby it manages to reinforce as much as subvert the presuppositions that inform its emergence. I assert that postfeminism is characterized by a paradoxical stance that intermingles complicity and critique by undercutting their mutual exclusivity. Postfeminism's complicitous critique always works within conventions in order to undermine them and, thus, it cannot be appropriated to a single and non-contradictory theoretical position. On the contrary, postfeminist theorizing walks a tightrope between subversion and conformity, whereby it relies on a process of resignification to re-contextualize and re-employ the norms of power/discourse. Part two of the dissertation takes up the idea of postfeminist contexts to situate postfeminism in the intersections of feminism, postmodemism and popular culture. I examine the interactions between these discourses as wen as their internal complexities in order to highlight the flexible and dynamic relationships that give rise to postfeminism. I argue that postfeminist meanings are context-specific and have to be reassessed continuously with regard to their discursive surroundings. At the same time, I insist that postfeminism cannot be subsumed and arrogated into easily distinguishable categories of feminism, popular mainstream and postmodem theory. Postfeminism is located in the ongoing struggle between and within discourses and it cannot be reduced to a distinct unanimous position. Thus, I resist a static contextualization that seeks to immobilize and finalize postfeminist locations and I declare that the postfeminist landscape is a complex and paradoxical field of convergence where feminism, postmodemism and the media are brought into contact and conflict. Moreover, I maintain that these postfeminist 'origins' are themselves areas of contention and dispute rather than unified and coherent monoliths. Postfeminism emerges from the heterogeneous links and contradictions within and between discursive fields, emphasizing the diverse and multiple ways in which discourse is reproduced. The dissertation's third section considers textual representations of postfeminism and in particular, it focuses on the figure of the 'postfeminist woman' who has variously been described as a backlash anti-feminist, a sexy 'do-me feminist', a Girlie feminist etc. I contend that the 'new woman' of postfeminism rearticulates the tensions between feminism, femininity and femaleness as she adopts a non-dichotomous and contradictory subject position that transcends dualities. She is characterized by a desire to 'have it all' as she refuses to compromise on her joint aspirations for public and private success, feminine and feminist values. I discuss diverse manifestations of the postfeminist woman, exemplified by the Singleton, the Cinderella and the Supergirl who blur binary distinctions in their quest for a pluralistic and utopian wholeness. I suggest that these postfeminist women seek to negotiate the conflicting demands of heterosexual romance and professional achievement, feminine embodiment and feminist agency, female passivity and masculine activity. They inhabit an ambiguous space that holds together these varied and even antagonistic stances and they endeavor to reconcile their incongruous multiplicity. In fact, the postfeminist Singleton, Cinderella and SupergirI lack a harmonious inner balance and they are marked by struggle rather than resolution. Their attempts to cross the dualism and occupy an in-between space are presented as hazardous and perplexing, potentially alienating them from their social and emotional contexts. These postfeminist heroines epitomize postfeminism's frontier discourse that understands heterogeneity as an explosive and strenuous combination of contradictory beliefs, theories and practices.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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