13.1.3 Diversity Politics through Postmodern Feminisms

Dr. Jackie F. Steele

Contemporary debates over the paradoxical nature of equality and difference have been re-articulated to unleash a third current within feminist theory mobilized behind a normative commitment to diversity that moves strategically beyond the duality and tired binary logic of sex/gender altogether. Focused on complicating the circular debates around equality and/vs difference, this current postmodern feminism invokes a strategy of displacement of the categories of sex/gender as the foundation of human intelligibility. This strategy aims to unleash the inherent diversity of humanity that is masked by hegemonic understandings of sex/gender as a natural and foundational element of the bodies of women and men.

Whereas equality and difference feminist constructivism look to understand how men and women become masculine and feminine subjects, deconstructivist feminism invokes the Foucauldian notion of discourse. This approach within feminist theorizing is interested in the relational construction and deconstruction of gender through power, language or discourse and situates sex/gender in a relational dialogue with a broader mapping of diverse corporeality. In this logic, gender is both “the material effect of the way in which power takes hold of the body and an ideological effect of the way power ‘conditions’ the mind” (Squires, 1999, p.64). In this context, “gender becomes a fundamentally political category” (Squires, 1999, p.60) that no longer presumes sex to be foundational, nor posits a causal connection between sex and gender, however culturally elaborated.

If the meaning of femininity or masculinity are empty of any set meaning, they need not be restricted to the material bodies of the female or male sex. They only exist in relation to our ideas about binary assumptions about femininity/masculinity. The argument follows that female/male, feminine/masculine take on meaning within a specific historical context, society, and linguistic naming within that history/culture. This opens up the possibility for those ideas to be changed and deconstructed to allow for a different idea to emerge. For those pursuing a diversity politics through postmodern deconstructivist feminism, the preferred strategy is one of displacement of the hegemonic “norm” against which minoritized bodies have been defined. The goal is to deconstruct the discursive regimes that work to gender (race, disable, other, subjugate, colonize, etc.) subjects as a means of legitimating their exclusion from symbolic cultural positioning in normalcy, respectability, authority, and excellence. For example, Kristeva argues that femininity has no substantive content and is simply “that which is marginalized by the patriarchal symbolic order” (Kristeva, 1997, p. 248).


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Jackie F. Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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