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  • Of Bombs, Baking, and Blahniks
  • Lauren Gillingham (bio), Jennifer Henderson (bio), Julie Murray (bio), and Janice Schroeder (bio)

Conditions seem ripe for a totalizing, mythological reading of our moment in history. A finger to the cultural and political winds would seem to indicate strong backward gusts, in the direction of space-times previously passed through. We're thinking of paranoid security regimes, military occupations, bombed and bulldozed civilians, and nuclear "deterrence" strategies. The escalation of anti-immigration and -asylum arguments and the stoking of fears about internal enemies. We read that the U.S. Department of Health is trying to block the World Health Organization from including abortion pills on its list of basic, essential drugs. Meanwhile, our women's bookstores have closed, the cinema is all lacquered hair, pointy bras, and pearls, and Nigella Lawson sells us a vision of the apron-clad, floury-fingered "domestic goddess" on TV.

As numerous cultural critics have observed, the effects of the global restructuring of capitalism have been managed in the West in the past few decades through the collapse of ideological debate into a discourse that recognizes only economic pragmatism and moral differentiations between levels of commitment to putatively shared community values. At times it seems that "the whole world" (in other words, educated middle-class Anglo-America) has traded in ideology for affect—has taken to [End Page 22] reading celebrity biographies and watching makeover and lifestyle television. What to make of this historical confluence of neoconservatism and postfeminism? Has feminism been taking a breather—a pause for critical self-examination, for regrouping, for irony and ambivalence—just at the moment when a wider revolution in social values and interests is being accomplished? Is this breather just badly timed, or is it a product of the wider developments that it is observing?

There is a palpable sense that Anglo-American academic feminism has reached a point of critical and political exhaustion, generated in part by internal conflicts about the founding assumptions of a knowledge project conceived in the heyday of 1960s resistance movements. For many feminist critics, this sense of exhaustion has resolved itself into a language and politics of "fear": variously, of difference, theory, or third wavers' supposed indifference to the political and legal gains of the second wave. For others, the anxiety is rather that academic feminism is still too deeply mired in an uncritical commitment to the false coherency of the category woman, despite decades of feminist critique of identity categories as "fictitious unities" (Riley quoted in Scott 5). In the face of what is regarded as a kind of intellectual paralysis within academic feminism, together with regular media announcements that feminism has outlived its usefulness since women are now free to self-actualize through their paid labour outside the home, one might well throw up one's hands and ask, What are we supposed to do now?

The question posed for this reader's forum is of course open to multiple interpretations. The collective subject—"we"—seems almost a provocation: if feminism has taught us anything it is that one must try to speak in the language of particularity and individual experience. But the term "supposed" is also an interesting choice, for it seems at first glance merely to be asking what "should" we be doing now that feminism has been pronounced dead on arrival? Read in this sense, the question hearkens to a traditional idea of feminism's ethical and political responsibilities, its activist roots, and one might well respond that what "we need" is a new mission statement. Another way to hear the question, though, is as a question about what "people," including ourselves, suppose us to be doing now. What does feminism's public and academic face look like in a socially conservative, heavily militarized political climate, and in the corporate academy? However the question is read, its affective connotations are unease, anxiety, and a fear for the future.

As Robyn Wiegman demonstrates in "Feminism's Apocalyptic Futures," the language of fear supports a range of "apocalyptic" narratives within [End Page 23] feminism that announce its untimely death, with theory, difference, and the third wave often held responsible for its demise. According to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 22-30
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-06
Open Access
No
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