GuestÂ PostÂ by Virginia Konchan
“Feminism isÂ . . . just a gimmick to attract some voters who place gender above any other issue. Respecting the rules of the Money Power during a campaign means toeing the line of oligarchy while in power. Â Â Neither men nor women benefit from this. Â [Hilary] Clinton and her neoliberal allies are hijacking feminism and the rhetoric of diversity.”
â€”Pierre Guerlain, Truthout
“There is no liberation that only knows how to say â€˜I.â€™ Â There is no collective movement that speaks for each of us all the way through.â€
â€”Adrienne Rich, â€œNotes Toward a Politics of Locationâ€
The lampooning of Mitt Romneyâ€™s quip in defense to sexist accusationsÂ (â€œI have binders full of womenâ€), aside, the fact remains:Â the social status of women as â€œplaceholdersâ€ or sex objects in the commodity market is subtended linguistically, and historically:Â Â for a woman to define herself as a subject, not relationally as a wife, daughter, or mother, is to demand a changing of the guards in patriarchal lineage, wherein women are permitted to enter discourse only under the name of the father, or husband, as gatekeepers to signification as well as social recognition. Â This antagonism is explained away by Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek as a means of condemning women so as to control the flow of â€œfeminine excess,â€ threatening to destroy the masculineâ€™s economy of lack (a womanâ€™s performance of these roles for the male gaze or its representative prosthesesâ€”camera, video, canvasâ€”the very source of phallic jouissance).
The prohibition against theÂ a priori existence of women as volitional subjects (reproductive femininity as metaphysical and medical “problems”):Â a black comedy, indeed.Â The inadmissibility of female self-representation unless patrolled by a state-sponsored or private guardianship (marriage) is the subject of Lindy Westâ€™s hilarious riposte in Jezebel to the box-office film â€œLove, Actuallyâ€:Â in Westâ€™s reading, the film accords a â€œ27-word allotmentâ€ of speech to women, which character Emma Thompson exceeds.Â â€œHugh Grant falls instantly in love with Natalie, which is understandable, because she hasn’t yet exceeded her Love Actually attractiveness word quota (Twenty-seven. The quota is 27 words before you become Emma Thompson and must be destroyed.)â€
The 27-word allotment quip, along with Romneyâ€™s â€œbindersâ€ comment, however funny, provide an important metacommentary to post-feminism:Â from gaslighting to statistical disproportions in the workplace and economy (documented at VIDAâ€™S The Count), the gag rule of enforced silence is predicated on the objectification of women (dolls donâ€™t talk, unless manufactured to do so):Â all representations of female subjectivity not in service of the neoliberal male imaginary are aberrant misfires, and their authors must either be conscripted into un- and underpaid care work within the service economy, or (in First, Second, and Third Worlds), literally punished.
Rebecca Walker coined the term “third-wave feminism” in a 1992 essay:Â since then, the Third Waveâ€™s focus on inclusivity has steered second-wave feminismâ€™s struggle against racism, sexism, and classism, toward an active embrace of pop culture and performance, embodied in Eve Enslerâ€™s play and book The Vagina Monologues; the punk rockâ€™s riot grrrls movement; the Guerrilla Girls; singers Madonna, Queen Latifah, and Mary J. Blige, among others, and the women depicted in television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997â€“2003), Sex and the City (1998â€“2004), and Girlfriends (2000â€“08). Â Third Wave cyberfeminists communicate largely through e-zines, blogs, and social media, online feeds proliferating alongside books attempting structural treatments of extant “feminist” aims.Â Â â€œBy about 2000, questions of sexualized behaviour raised debate on whether such things as revealing clothing, designer-label stiletto heels, and amateur pole dancing represented true sexual liberation and gender equality or old oppressions in disguise . . .Â [The Third Waveâ€™s] greatest strength, multivocality, was attacked . . . Third-wavers countered this criticism by stating that the creation of a unified agenda or philosophy . . . was a goal that was not only unrealistic but undesirable.â€Â Â Â Â 
The vision of the Third Wave lay not in economic analysis, or activism, per se, but identity politics:Â Â a privileging of diversity, statistical accounting, and aesthetic hybridity.Â This rejection of hegemonic culture, however, considering that to divide and conquer is a militaristic strategy imposed from without, the absence of a cohesive vision or praxis, like the Occupy Movement, can potentially weaken a movement, returning us to the question of governance (long abandoned as desirable in a pluralistic democracy ruled instead, ironically, not by a free, self-sufficient citizenry but by mass media and neocon war machines).Â Opinions vary on the demarcation between the third and fourth waves of feminism, and what constitutes the â€œfourth wave,â€ internationally:Â the fourth wave, like the second, focuses on legislative rights, and statistical tracking (e.g. The Counting Dead Women campaign) but also online misogyny, economic parity, and, during the years after the 2008 financial crash and the coalition government, activism against loan predation (education, housing, credit cards), unemployment and under-employment, zero-hours contracts, bedroom taxes, damaging rhetoric against immigrants, the disabled and those who need support from the state. This new generation of feminists are tech-savvy and gender-sophisticated, in part due to trans-health initiatives (e.g. the Feminist Womenâ€™s Health Centers in Atlanta) and trans-inclusive organizations like Third Wave Foundation (helmed by feminists in their twenties and thirties). Â â€œReproductive justiceâ€ is an oft-bandied term by fourth-wave feminists, as transgenderism, male feminists, sex work, and complex relationships with the media, spectacle culture, and identity politics structures this aporetic movement.
Anti-essentialism (the recognition that womenâ€™s condition is always at odds with womenâ€™s differences from one another, as well as their social and economic power), has become the backbone of postmodern feminism:Â an academic discipline wherein the idea that subjects (genders, races, and cultures) share intrinsic qualities was exchanged for the â€œneither/norâ€ flux of postmodernityâ€™s memes (multiplicity, catachresis).Â Anti-essentialist feminism acknowledges difference, yet, the ontological disciplines contextualizing personhood (biology, psychology) have become increasingly irrelevant in post-humanist discourse.Â Without the language to mark the difference of oneâ€™s body from other bodies, and the subtle conditions (social and epistemological) governing entry into discourse communities, it becomes impossible to articulate the “difference” between human branding and consumer choice, amid a glut of media blitzes offering opportunities for self-fashioning through purchasing power (the diet, fitness, salon, cosmetic, and retail industries). Â The cults of personality, hipster cool, and “original” ideas: Â priced (commodified), shelved, and sold.
In 2006, and 2008, Toril Moi published two consecutive essays in PMLA, and Feminist Theory, respectively:Â entitled â€œâ€œI Am Not a Feminist, But . . .â€: Â How Feminism Became the F-Word,â€ and â€˜I am not a woman writerâ€™:Â About women, literature and feminist theory today.â€Â According to Moi, postfeminist culture gradually arose after the debates between Peggy Kamuf and Nancy Miller in the early 80s dismantled a coalitional feminism, and womenâ€™s writing and sexual difference as legitimized categories of scholarship and cultural practice.
Poststructuralism also worked to invalidate categories of difference, according to some:Â in the 1981 essays by Kamuf and Miller, and their correspondence in 1989, Kamuf objects to the feminist â€œreduction of the literary work to the signature,â€ claiming an interest in womenâ€™s writing to be simply a feminist version of the liberal humanism Foucault had upended.Â Miller believed that regardless of what Kamuf might consider to be theoretically correct, feminists still needed to work on behalf of women writers, otherwise these women would â€œsoon be forgotten, lost to history.â€Â Â Â By the late 80s, Kamuf (a Derridean translator) had disavowed the word â€œfeminist,â€ as referencing a closed system which inevitably would end up deconstructing itself.Â Miller, conversely, still thought that feminism was politically necessary, but that identity politics had passed.Â The path forward was unclear, and critical theory has since been marked by what Alice Jardine calls â€œnon-knowledgeâ€:Â asignificatory terms (â€œnon-narration,â€ â€œanti-lyricâ€), also in critical race theory and Lacanian philosophy (woman as “pas tout”), rather than an appositive definition of otherness (however unhelpful, as Judith Butler has argued, such resignifications can be, reentering as they do the undertow of negative dialectics).
Liberal and conservative feminists alike have been accused of essentializing the category of women, just as, in race theory, the accusation of â€œconceptual blacknessâ€ counters that of â€œconceptual whiteness.â€Â Neither Kamuf nor Miller exchanged gender-based politics for a class- or race-based feminism, and Marxist feminism dropped off sharply during this decade, though echoes of sociologist Christine Delphyâ€™s manifesto (â€œwomen are a classâ€) reappear today, as women writers move beyond biological and gender essentialism, static genre definitions, and the high theory of Ã©criture fÃ©minine, seeking new access points to postmodern socio-political discourse.Â â€œI am interested here in new thought,â€ says poet Lisa Robertson.Â â€œI am standing dressed in the skin of a sheep or a cow in the occidental forest. My name shall be she to them. It is a shame. It is velvety, voluptuous, and odorous . . . each thingâ€™s hunger is my fate, is universe of the undiscussed.Â Â My name shall be she to them, in grotesque, monstrous, most ancient mixture.Â Â This is a class.â€Â 
Signifiying a movement, in language, or attempting to name a problem, may be recondite, but the struggles for equality, safety and civil rights persist: Â complicity in pop culture through the desensitizations of post-ironic media (parodic and slapstick humor), can discharge tension, grief, paranoia, and shame, but perpetuate the underreporting of gender-based violence (a Daily Beast article states only seven percent of these crimes are reported): Â the moral relativization of crime coupled with the literality of suffering. Â The perpetuation of rape culture will continue for as long as the conversation is one-sided, with rape apologists such as James Taranto, Richard Mourdock, or George Galloway behind the mike (referencing Julian Assange’s sexual assault charges, Galloway argued that if the victim is asleep, it canâ€™t be considered rape: Â â€œThis is something which can happen . . . not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.â€)
If women are only considered as moving parts (domestic workers, mothers, sex commodities) in a post-industrial assembly line, how can they experience themselves, or other women, as agents of their life, bodies, and vocations, unless precedents are set and laws upheld?Â Â Because rape culture, like every cycle of violence, is perpetuated by silence, victim-blaming, and a lack of solidarity, support for women by women can be difficult to find in a culture where the consequences (from social stigmatization to murder) can result from speaking out against rape, misogyny, or hate speech, in, for example, the U.S. Military, where an increase of females in positions of authority has been countered, according toÂ statisticsÂ released by the Pentagon,Â with a sharp increase in sexual assault.
If the most powerful word in childhood and adult development is “no” (determining what one doesnâ€™t want before developing preferential desires), how useful is an arsenal of â€œsafe wordsâ€ in sado-masochistic sexual relations, for a woman who hasnâ€™t internalized her right to negotiate the social contract, see its terms as fluid and not compulsory, or decline to participate, at all? Â Â Conscription into sexual and domestic slavery, as well as non-consensual sex, without language, isn’t, then, a question of complacency or complicity.Â According to Catharine MacKinnon, Noam Chomskyâ€™s â€œmanufacturing of choiceâ€ is the sid pro quo of a womanâ€™s initiation into capitalist relations of gender dominance (â€œmore than one-third of all girls experience sex . . . under conditions that even this society recognizes are forced or at least unequalâ€):Â the manufacturing not just of choice, but desire.Â Robin West agrees, questioning how â€œliberatedâ€ is the seeming assent of 21st century women in coerced embraces of, say, domesticity (kitchen, child-rearing), when there doesnâ€™t seem to exist viable alternatives, an outside to capitalism, or another opportunity for labor. Â Â 
The culture industry makes a killing marketing sadomasochistic violence (from revenge porn to snuff films) as â€œsexy,” pumping out images of men as sexual aggressors tasked with â€œbaggingâ€ â€œhavingâ€ â€œshaggingâ€ or â€œnailingâ€ women to maintain social clout, and women, with demurring until the right suitor arrives, initiating only to risk the stigma of promiscuity were the date or relationship to become violent or abusive beyond her ability to identify (name) or control.Â Celebrities and pop stars also deliver the message not only of consent, but enjoyment in playing the role of the subjugated: Â Brittany Spearsâ€™ â€œIâ€™m a Slave for you,â€ and Gagaâ€™s â€œDo What you Wantâ€ (with my body), as stylized marketing ploys advertising the woman as penitent whore, as in Sade’s Justine: Â a willed, even campy, prostitution of body and self.
The link between the erotic and the pornographic, performed or actual subjection, and pain and pleasure, is not a postmodern perversion, of course:Â George Bataille, more than any other modernist, mourned the impossibility of thinking the un-representable (the â€œholy terrorâ€ as Jacques RanciÃ¨re put it) except by recourse to images of torture and the erotic; Bataillesâ€™ Tears of Eros is a paean to Todestriebe (death drive), the â€œsupreme atrocity of nonbeing,â€ and its transcendence, through art.
If a return to signifying terms (coalitional feminism, eco-feminism, eco-socialism, conscious/creative/cognitive/Bolshivek capitalism) isnâ€™t the answer in resurrecting subject-object relations of mutual acknowledgment and reciprocity, rather than mutually assured destruction or annihilation, can it help? Â The democratic dream of rule by the people or moral majority is myopic, to say the least: Â as Alexis de Toqueville pointed out in Democracy in America,Â representational democracy can easily devolve into mob rule:Â control by the moneyed elite, reducing the â€œotherâ€ to a wage-laborer, or tokenistic fetish. Â Angela Davis argues for the creation and circulation of micronarratives, crucial to providing a dialogic structure for the survival of self, other, and community in protest against historical erasure:Â heterogeneous â€œformsâ€ of representation toppling the vacuous clichÃ©s and rhetorics (boosterism, aesthetic volunteerism) of free market capitalism.Â 
Finding new forms of self-articulation outside of these donnÃ©sÂ (necessary evils?) are key to exiting the maze:
â€œI love [Zaha Hadidâ€™s] little manifesto â€˜Randomness vs. Arbitrarinessâ€™ . . . â€œRandomness in architecture is a visual translation of pure mathematical order and thinking which is guided by logic, whereas arbitrariness has no underlying conceptual logic. . . . A catalogue exists from which they freely copy anything and apply it with little relevance to any situation. But in architecture our responsibilities are far greater: we must create a new dynamics of architecture in which the land is partially occupied. We must understand the basic principles of liberationâ€™ (1982).â€Â 
Questioning the utility of a materialist theory of language, and an aleatory â€œaestheticâ€ as emancipatory, Robertson asks if we could differentiate, though writing, beginning with recognizing the difference between intentional, or intentioned (purposed for an other) forms.Â How else, in other words, to transition from being an occupied â€œsiteâ€ or essentialized collective to a signifying subject, then to recognize chance operations as a means (revolutionary and freeing) yet not a reified end-game in itself? Â Â â€œCould we recognize that arbitrariness is not in itself liberatory? [ . . . ] How could a text partially occupy a site?â€
The actual making of art defies the history of female as muse or amanuensis, whose goal is to accurately translate a male speaker (e.g. Vera Nabakov).Â Mimesis, however, since Homer, can also be seen as a procedural stage or apprenticeship:Â Â Mary Wollstonecraft was inspired by the male-dominated the French Revolution, Simone de Beauvoir adopted Sartreâ€™s phallocentric categories, and John Stuart Mill attempted to provide a structural critique of womenâ€™s oppression.Â â€œThe point is not the origins of an idea (no provenance is pure), but the use to which it is put and the effects it can produce,â€ says Moi. Â 
Alicia Ostrikerâ€™s Stealing the Language, Prosperpine (1820), by Mary and Percy Byshe Shelley, The Speed of Darkness by Muriel Rukeyser (1960), Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law by Adrienne Rich (1963), Plath and Sextonâ€™s archaeo-mythologies, and works by Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Chris Krauss, Eileen Myles, Ariana Reines, Alice Notely, and many others, are powerful revisionist texts. Â In theory, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray have reapproriated Derridaâ€™s writings, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, the literary theory of Harold Bloom, and Helene Cixous, the consequences of what she calls â€œdeath-dealing binary thought.â€
Shock can be used as political tool to anesthetize subjects, so as to smoothly â€œrewriteâ€ narratives of place, origin, and criminal history: Â or erase them all-together. Â During a period of post-9/11 cultural paralysis, this subterfuge began, argues Naomi Klein inÂ The Shock Doctrine,Â with theÂ reappropriation of language, perpetuating the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Â Â Neoliberal aesthetics hasn’t helped, decontextualizing the subject from a frame, leaving said â€œsubjectâ€ vulnerable to packaging and branding, as an vehicleÂ consumption and cooptation in the legacy of Marx (claimed by Stalinist and Maoist rÃ©gimes), Orwell, by neocons, and â€œfeminismâ€ by the Bush administration to justify its wars of choice.
Along with textual revisionism, erasure poetics can also provide a necessary ground clearing for the recovery of place (beginning with, as Adrienne Rich noted, a reclamation of the gendered, racial, scarred, female body by differentiating between “the body” and “my body” as a particularized, specific site) and post-colonial, post-imperialist history.Â Collier Nogues sets her erasure poems in sites of recollection (her childhood spent at military bases in Japan):Â poet Lynn Xu has spoken about her writing as shaped by her childhood in Shanghi.Â Â Erasure poetics (the whiting-out rather than inscribing of the â€œtraceâ€), unlike silence, acknowledges context:Â the self as conceived, stabilized, through mirroring, then made, through overwriting, erasing, or succeeding a precursorâ€™s frame. Â (Derrida rightly citesÂ writing as a â€œperniciousâ€ pharmakon, both remedy and poison: Â as an externalization of experience, writing requires citationality to shore up ethos, and any attempts at inscription, in the technocratic age, prompt issues of intellectual property and copyright, parasitism and plagarism.)
However we choose to reconcile with the paradoxical power and vulnerability of language, speaking cogently (or deliriously, as declared by the censors) is crucial to combat non-economic (sexual violence, sex trafficking, reproductive rights) and economic realities for women in an era of contingent labor (decreased wages and job security, declining living standards, unpaid overtime, exacerbation of the double/triple/quadruple shift â€“ and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households). Â UncriticalÂ consumption of neoliberal cant (brand yourself, or be branded, and buy, or die), using the rhetoric of female empowerment to justify exploitation, feeds, rather than helps dismantle, capital proliferative anti-logic:Â Homo economiusâ€™ dog-eat-dog (Darwinian) “laws,” relegating exiled representations to the margins of the canon as minor or, simple inadmissible, as Â “literature,” both in form (realpoetik vs. corporatespeak), publication, and distribution. Â F@*$ the Bauhaus, in the words of Isa Genzken, German multimedia artist whose works explode notions of scale and perception (the word â€œno,â€ in its most eloquent form).
 Encylopedia Brittanica entry on Feminism, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/724633/feminism
 Toril Moi, â€˜I am not a woman writerâ€™:Â About women, literature and feminist theory today,â€ Feminist Theory, vol. 9(3): 259â€“271, 2008, pg.
 Don Share, reposting of Lisa Robertsonâ€™s â€œDispatch from Jouhet!,â€ Harriet, November 11, 2009.
 Robin West, â€œThe Difference in Womenâ€™s Hedonic Lives:Â A Phenomenological Critique of Feminist Legal Theory,â€ Wisconsin Womenâ€™s Law Journal 3 (1987):Â 94.
 Angela Davis, Truthout, May 6, 2013, â€œRecognizing Racism in the Era of Neoliberalism.â€
 Feminist, Female, Feminine, The Feminist Reader:Â Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism, Eds. Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore (London:Â Blackwell, 1997), p. 4.
Virginia Konchanâ€™s poems have appeared inÂ Best New Poets, The Believer,Â The New Yorker,Â andÂ The New Republic, her criticism inÂ Workplace: Â A Journal for Academic Labor,Â Quarterly Conversation, New Madrid,Â andÂ Boston Review, and her fiction inÂ StoryQuarterlyÂ andÂ Joyland, among other places. Â Co-founder ofÂ Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, regular contributor to The Conversant and, in 2014, Jacket2, she lives in Chicago. Â
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