A Web Case Book on
Toni Morrison

Feminist Approaches
slave princess
Title Page || Critical Approaches || Essays || Historical Context || Toni Morrison || Case Book Teams

Editorial Review Team for Feminism, Post-Feminism
& Queer Theory:

Joel Booster

Caitlin Hennessy

Sample Essay:

When a Man Becomes a Woman (And Vice Versa)

by Kerry Dueker

Introduction to Feminist Approaches


Feminism is a term used to encompass ideas and theories well beyond what many consider to be the “bra burning” ideals of the oft publicized feminists of the 1960’s and 70’s. Feminism can actually be broken down into three very distinct theories: Feminism, Post-Feminism and Queer Theory. Feminism, probably the most well known of the three often focuses on the numerous ways that women have been excluded, suppressed and exploited. This criticism is feminism in its broadest sense, as it deals with all of the political and social ramifications of sexual repression and how sexuality is dealt with in all areas of our culture. It also touches on masculine roles and sexuality, and includes it in its sense of what defines oppression. Feminism as a broad category of criticism is broken up into three very distinct levels of articulation: French, American and British. The difference between the three, to put it very simply, is that French feminists look primarily at how writers use language to subjugate women under patriarchal stereotypes, while American feminism pays close attention to what the writers are actually saying. British feminists on the other hand take a distinctly deconstructionalist view, looking particularly at what is not said in the text, and what that says about the writer’s intent-- which is often steeped in masculine prejudices. British feminists often take issue with French and American feminists because of their refusal to utilize historical context as a source of social change. These three theories are sometimes combined, and can in some instances be contradictory in their examinations of most text. In any case however, they are three distinctly different ways of utilizing feminist theory to examine literary texts, and other cultural centerpieces.


Beyond feminism, Post-Feminism exists as what is often called the “second wave” of feminist revolution. While the first wave (feminism) amounted to the relative equality of women, post-feminism attempts to deconstruct the establishment responsible for the inequality. Some argue that post-feminism is a kind of “anti-feminism,” as many post-feminists argue against the general view of most first wave feminists that women are “victims.” Additionally, some say that post-feminism contains not only the second wave, but the third wave of feminism as well. Whatever the case, the goal of post-feminism aims at deconstructing the values that separate men and women in the first place. By taking the emphasis away from women as innocent victims who are perpetually oppressed and exploited by patriarchal society, post-feminism looks at the different ways in which these assumptions are incorrect, and counter-productive in helping men and women achieve a diverse sense of equality. Post-feminism tends to be more problematic because it does away with the same assumptions that feminism’s first wave worked to create. Lynn uses the example of pornography, and how first wave feminist would assume that it is automatically harmful for women to be exploited in such a manner. Post-feminism conversely argues against that assumption, asking the question of if women enjoy pornography (watching or doing), is it still exploitive? What happens when women are involved in the writing, directing and producing of pornography? While feminism put women on the offensive against men, post-feminism challenges this idea as unhealthy. In the case of pornography, a post-feminist might decide that men are equally exploited, or that neither sex is exploited. All the while asking the question, why is it exploitive at all?

Queer Theory

While feminism and post-feminism argue for equality between the sexes from the patriarchal society, Queer Theory, a branch off of feminism, argues against the very idea of masculine and feminine. As is with most politically based theories, queer theory becomes tough one to get a handle on, simply because there is no distinct definition of what it is to be a woman or a man. Just as post-feminism grew out of feminism to argue against the dichotomy of man vs. woman, queer theory struggles to debunk the idea of hetero vs. homo. If queer theorists were to succeed in their argument, then feminism itself would become obsolete because in their victory, our society would no longer separate the differences between men and women. While biologically it is still somewhat possible to divide the sexes down to chemical and autonomic differences (although this is still a slippery slope to travel down), most of how our society defines “gender” is based on cultural norms that have developed over time. While feminists would argue against the stigma of little boys playing with dolls because they believe that it is the patriarchal ideal that keeps them from doing so in the first place, queer theorists would argue that it is the division of boys and girls into specific gender roles that creates such seemingly natural opposition to boys playing with previously defined “girl” toys. Do not confuse queer theory as simply gay and lesbian studies, because it goes much further—arguing that there is no such thing as a definable sexuality at all.


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© 2007 English Department, Millikin University