Postmodern feminism explores the idea of gendered writing and rejects those concepts. Postmodern feminism can be broken down into postmodernity and feminist theory. Postmodernity traditionally refers to the social, political, technological, and economic changes that have led to a globalization and mass culture (Laughey, 2007). Feminism studies refers to the diverse ideologies and understanding of gender and womanhood that broadly look to understand and address the inequality between the sexes (Laughey, 2007). Postmodern feminists aim to establish how language can be a divisive and an overarchingly sexist factor, since it was never created for women (Tong, 1998). They also reject classically traditional feminist thought and values, with some key members going as far as to reject the term “feminist” (Tong, 1998). Postmodern feminists contentiously reject the idea of essentialism or the belief that there is an inherent difference between men and women (Tong, 1998). Postmodern feminism plays into deconstructing the patriarchy and the systematic values it furthers (Tong, 1998).
When dealing with gendered language, postmodern feminist scholars interreact with the texts of Jacques Lacan and his theory of the Symbolic Order. The Symbolic Order is the theory that when young children learn language they will have to submit to the Order so they can follow linguistic patterns of society (Tong, 1998). By doing this, the child will eventually speak the language of the Symbolic Order. Since the Symbolic Order regulates society through the regulation of individuals, individuals constantly use the language and perpetuate the standards that define gender roles and other social roles (Tong, 1998). Through the three steps to join the order and be a part of society, children must reject their mothers and turn towards their fathers, who they identify more with, however this transition is only suited towards boys and does not let girls engage throughout this process (Tong, 1998). Lacan’s Symbolic Order then classifies that women are unable to speak and be members of society because they cannot make this transition (Tong, 1998). Therefore, women are not linguistically a part of their own society, meaning that they are automatically placed secondary to interact within their own society.
Postmodern feminists like, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva use the ideas of the Symbolic Order and relate theme to the gendered language postmodern feminism deals with. For example, Luce Irigaray looks into the Symbolic order and Freud by distancing their masculine philosophical thoughts in order to liberate the feminine (Tong, 1998). Irigaray examines how everything that is known to women is from a masculine linguistic point of view. This understanding of the feminine reasserts the masculine system and its singularity (Tong, 1998). Expanding off that Irigaray touches base on the idea speculum to clarify the sameness that is used with Freud and Lacan. Irigaray argues that the speculum is based around how men are unable to discuss and define women because the “masculine discourse has never been able to understand woman, or the feminine, as anything other than a reflection of man, or the masculine” (Tong, 1998, p. 202). Men cannot do these processes because women are reflections of the men rather than a separate entity of a women (Tong, 1998). Julia Kristeva, like Irigaray, argues with Lacan’s theory of the Symbolic Order; however, her critique focuses on rejecting feminism. Kristeva, importantly rejects the idea of masculine or feminine identification of the Symbolic Order, understanding that different genders can exist and operate under masculine and feminine norms (Tong, 1998).
Postmodern feminism’s rejection of gendered language is becoming more and more applicable to society. Gendered language is common and can often go unnoticed when it is not searched for. It can also be associated with the pronouns that individuals are labeled by in society. As pronouns fall into the masculine (he) or feminine (she) of society they tend to also be defined by the masculine binary established in the Symbolic Order. Furthermore, as more individuals are identifying as nonbinary, they are therefore rejecting the masculine or feminine binary that is established by the Symbolic Order by not relating to a specific gendered identifier. Many languages already use this practice with pronouns. Though gendered pronouns do not directly tie into the ideas of postmodern feminism, they both to an extent question the idea of gendered language and how it effects a society’s language.
Gendered language is pervasive in society beyond the confines of postmodern feminism. Usually it is seen with greetings or addressing large groups at once. Often greetings like “Hey guys” give gender to a group of people that similar to that of the reality. This practice is notable through, YouTube video greetings. Certain YouTubers have gained notoriety through their gendered greeting like Shane Dawson and James Charles. Dawson has opened up his videos with the phrase “Hey! What’s up you guys?” (Kweeny Kween, 2018) giving a stereotypically masculine gender to the audience. However, on the other side of the binary is James Charles’ greeting, who starts off his videos with the phrase “Hi, sisters!” (Brenden, 2017). Charles has even gone on to dub his audience as the sisters because of his repeated use of the phrase. Even though Charles’ greeting is a more noticeable gendering because its stereotypically feminine gendering, both these factors are lost to the idea that both Dawson and Charles have wide and diverse audience. Gendered language is so common that it is almost unnoticeable at times.
Postmodern feminism still carries an important role in society for breaking down the boundaries of sexism and patriarchal values. That being said, critics of postmodern feminism believe that the writings and the theorists focus too much on the academia of postmodern feminism rather than being applicable to society (Tong, 1998). Additionality, postmodern feminist writings are sometimes viewed as being opaque just for the sake of being opaque (Tong, 1998). The concerns with postmodern feminism, ultimately expand beyond the rhetoric of language and how it is used as a way to repress women and looks towards other systematic and social repressors that are prevalent in society. Though postmodern feminism is crucial to breaking down this language and undermine how patriarchal concepts effect language, many have issues with the theories.
Brenden. (2017, November 11). Every Single Time James Charles has said “Hi sisters” for One Minute Straight [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wmyn_q2YjoA
Kweeny Kween. (2018, April 15). The Evolution of Shanes’ “Hey What’s Up You Guys, Yes” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjdLz0ISvSs
Laughey, D. (2007). Key Themes in Media Theory. London: McGraw Hill.
Tong, R.P. (1998). Feminist Though (2nd ed.) Colorado: Westview Press.
Written by Ruby Baden, 2019