Neoliberalism and post-feminism, are we at a crossroads?

BY LILY GORDON BROWN

Individualism, freedom and responsibility; the social ‘values’ that one may associate with neoliberalism. Although neoliberalism fundamentally focuses on the economic sphere- the ending of protectionism and extensive deregulation- it is equally instructive to explore the sociological principles that the now pervasive ideology disseminates. The idea of the individual is at the centre of neoliberalism, the idea that we are in control of ourselves, responsible for our own freedoms, with the opportunities to dictate our fate without governmental intervention or guidance. Although on the surface this may appear progressive, it has perilous societal implications.

We can explore this in the context of feminism, or rather what can be termed ‘post-feminism’. ‘Post-feminism’ proposes the idea that we have reached a stage in the feminist movement where we have attained societal parity; where women are no longer subjugated and subservient figures. In promoting the achievement of these goals, the movement is in severe danger of becoming obsolete.

The theory of post-feminism is substantiated by notions that many more women now hold positions of power within the workplace, entering job roles which may have previously been impossible; yet does this really signify equality? Yes, it may be correct that a higher percentage of females have had the opportunity to enter work and gain an education; yet this follows only one narrative, most notably a western-centric one. Why should we disregard females across the world who are, to name a few examples, still subject to forced marriage, to sexual enslavement or even issues such as period poverty? Is this the by-product of the global shift toward neoliberalism, toward a growing sense of self-reliance?

The theory therefore appears to be solely focused on economic positioning and sustaining employability. Yet this undermines what broader, more inclusive feminism symbolises, one that fosters solidarity for trans and non-binary, one that supports and embraces all variations of feminisms and one that celebrates all expressions of culture.

By claiming we have entered into a post-feminist society, one perpetuates ignorance, undermines intersectionality (which is on the advance) and silences voices. At the heart of this post-feminist theory is individualism and its inherent links to neoliberalism. It has been so ingrained into our minds that we must act as consumerist individuals rather than as a communal society, we are responsible for only ourselves and the journey of the self is the only one of real significance, this wholly undermines collective action and societal progress. Just because you may not be suffering a particular oppression; does not mean it is not a pandemic elsewhere.

Post-feminism when intertwined with neoliberalism does not always deny that gender inequality exists, yet provides corrupted solutions; encouraging self-sufficiency, emancipation and ‘choice’. Of course, encouraging independence is not wholly counterproductive yet we must acknowledge so many females across the globe are not fortunate enough to obtain this autonomy. We must understand that social inequality (in terms of gender, and many other forms) is systemic and institutionalised, therefore only collective action against these establishments will break the barriers. Support and solidarity for a cause that may not directly impact you helps to further challenge the system and engender social advance.

Yes, it is imperative to recognise and celebrate the progress we have made; there are countless historical figures and events we can underline. However, we must not remain ignorant to how much further we have to go; particularly in the context of inclusionary, intersectional feminism. We need to find new ways to nurture and encourage liberation, whilst undercutting neoliberal post-feminist attitudes. Let us not encourage exclusivity, but instead an all-embracing unified voice.

As Audre Lorde once said: ‘there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.’

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