“Postfeminism” Backlash Flashback, 1998

Carrie Brownstein. This to me seemed very different in the '90s than...

A Facebook friend of mine just posted a June 1998 Time magazine article called “Feminism, It’s All About Me!,” which declared feminism all but over because of the rise of the “quintessentially self-absorbed postfeminist.”

It turned out this was the very article that went with the oft-cited “Is Feminism Dead?” cover! I had forgotten all about that article, and I don’t think in my radical Mary-Dalyfied state I had ever read it very closely, so it was super interesting to do so this morning (instead of working on my book).

It’s such an epic article! Evidence presented for the death of feminism includes: Courtney Love’s makeover, The Vagina Monologues, Bust magazine, the Spice Girls, Gloria Steinem forgiving Bill Clinton for his affair, Bridget Jones, Katie Roiphe, Rebecca Walker, Naomi Wolf, Alanis Morissette, Elizabeth Wurtzel, “sex-abuse-survivor syndrome,” and especially Ally McBeal.


The author, Ginia Bellafante, suggests that a societal critique is far more important for a feminist movement than focusing on the personal or talking about vibrators. She concludes by favorably quoting “Old Guard feminists” Betty Friedan and Susan Brownmiller describing younger feminists’ focus on sex as “stupid.”

The article’s conclusion: “Is Ally McBeal really progress? Maybe if she lost her job and wound up a single mom, we could begin a movement again.”

Whoa. So much in here.

First off, most intense kicker in feminism media history! Did this article about how modern feminists are awful really end wishing the most visible female professional character on TV would lose her job?

Second: I wonder to what extent articles like this created or fueled tension between the second wave vs. third wave. Women I knew in the supposedly self-absorbed third wave totally read and respected Betty Friedan, Kate Millet, Susan Brownmiller, Luce Irigaray, etc., and joined all-ages groups like Women’s Action Coalition.

But the main thing that struck me reading this now was a memory of being a teenager back in the ’90s, constantly hearing Riot Grrrl dismissed in the same breath as other things that I did agree were lame. Zines were like a lifeline to me back then. The radical feminism of Riot Grrrl seemed like a real way forward. That no one in any position of power noticed, or believed in it at all, but lumped it in with girly, “postfeminist” ills like Ally McBeal (which no one I knew even watched!) was so depressing.

Read the whole Time piece here. And definitely check out the amazing live-chat conversation from 1998 here, in which readers ask questions of the author. Co-chatter Phyllis Chesler attacks the premise of the piece and says hardcore things like this: “I would say that if Monica Lewinsky goes to law school and continues to behave in the same fashion, she will turn into Ally McBeal — obsessed with men and sex and love and short skirts, and not with children being beaten to death in their own homes and not with women losing child support.”


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One response to ““Postfeminism” Backlash Flashback, 1998

  1. Pingback: Links: pubes, ejaculation, sluts & good mothers « Pondering Postfeminism

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