Postfeminism is a bit of a funny term. It probably has almost as many meanings as feminism does… ie. a lot. Within the feminist literature I have read, definitions tend to fall into two categories:
1) “death of feminism”, “anti-feminism”, “feminism is irrelevant now”
2) the next stage in feminism, or feminism that intersects with other “post-” philosophies/theories, such as postmodernism, poststructuralism and postcolonialism.
Very commonly, postfeminism is understood as meaning “after feminism”. In the popular media it is sometimes used disparagingly, as if feminism is no longer needed. How many more “Is Feminism Dead?” articles do we need to read?!? And politicians love to get in on the feminism-bashing. For example, John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia once said “We are in the post-feminist stage of the debate”. He reckoned that the feminist battle had been won. Pfft, is all I can say to that. Pfft, Howard, AS IF.
Howard’s use of “post-feminist” is certainly *not* how I understand the term, nor how I intend to use it on this blog. Feminism is not dead. It is very much still needed and very much alive.
But the “after feminism” idea doesn’t have to be seen as a negative. What I like about the idea of postfeminism is that it can help to situate contemporary feminism as a continuation of the long history of the women’s movement.
I use postfeminism in a positive sense. For me it helps make sense of the times we live in. Women and men of my age have grown up after the heights of the “first wave” and “second wave” of the women’s movement and have therefore benefitted from many of the things that feminists fought for in previous generations. (Examples include: women being able to vote and go to university, establishment of things such as rape crisis centres and in Australia, legislation such as the Sexual Discrimination Act. There are many more examples.)
There is also a large body of writing and activism that calls itself the “third wave” of feminism. This stage of feminism began in the 1990s and, broadly speaking, it sought to challenge some of second wave feminism’s essentialist view of femininity. It was also responding to media claims that feminism was dead and no longer relevant to young women.
What I don’t like about the “wave” metaphor is that it tends to pit feminists against one another based on their age. Self-proclaimed second wave feminists make claims about how young women aren’t carrying on the feminist baton appropriately. And self-proclaimed third wave feminists make sweeping claims about what second wave feminism represented, without always acknowledging that it was a very diverse and complex stage in the women’s movement.
So, this is where postfeminism comes in. I don’t use postfeminism to describe the “next stage” or “next wave” of feminism. I use it as a way of trying to understand how feminism is constantly shifting and evolving, without resorting to age-based bickering.
I think I’ll leave it there for now. Postfeminism means more than what I’ve briefly outlined here. The generational debates within feminism were the starting point in my dissertation, so I thought it a useful place to start my postfeminist ponderings online.
 We must keep in mind that these examples are generally benefits for Western women, and that even between Western nations, there are stark differences in things like legislative changes and the types of feminist debates and activism that occur. The wikipedia links above are very US-focused.