- Introduction:Righting Feminism
In the last few years, we have witnessed a perplexing new trend. Following an extended period in which few high-profile women were willing to identify publicly with feminism, all of a sudden - or so it appeared - many well-known women were loudly declaring themselves feminists, one after the other: from the former president of Barnard College, Debora Spar and the current UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, through internationally popular music celebrities Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé to right-wing populists like Marine Le Pen in France.1 Indeed, Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign was strongly endorsed by liberal feminist organisations, and marked one of the high points of a resurgent feminist agenda in the United States with resonances across the western world. Despite her ultimate defeat, Clinton was nevertheless the first woman in US history to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major national party. Feminism, it seemed, had finally become legitimate in the popular imagination in ways that it simply never had been before.
These public feminist declarations were not the only ways in which a revived feminist discourse began circulating, however. Rather, since 2012 - in both the anglophone world as well as in the west more generally -there has been a virtual explosion of feminist discussion in both popular and mainstream media: from internationally bestselling books, through widely read articles in the mainstream print media to popular television shows. These discussions, framed as inspired by feminism, have been diverse and occasionally contentious, including, for example, how egg-freezing technologies could potentially render talk of women's biological clock anachronistic and whether the casual 'hook-up' culture among women undergraduates on university and college campuses should be considered part of feminism's emancipatory legacy.2
One particularly influential site for the dissemination of this popular feminism has been a new form of feminist manifesto. Two of these - former Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter's 'Why Women Still Can't Have It All', and Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's best-selling Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) - might well be said to have initiated the trend of high-power women publicly 'coming out' as feminists, while serving as a springboard for reenergised feminist debates in the Anglo-American world, mostly around the question of why well-educated middle-class women are still struggling to cultivate careers and raise children at the same time. The success of these manifestos has, in turn, more recently stimulated a publication boom of advice-oriented memoirs and 'having it all' self-help guides for women. In the last two years alone, former Fox anchor-woman Megyn Kelly's Settle for More, Ivanka Trump's Women Who Work, and [End Page 5] Anne-Marie Slaughters' book Unfinished Business have appeared on the literary scene in the US and have quickly become bestsellers, selling millions of copies.
There are two particularly striking aspects of this slew of feminist-inspired books and articles, which, we suggest, require some conceptual unpacking. First, the vast majority of these texts, in one way or another, hold up the notion of work-family balance as a progressive feminist goal. Indeed, 'balance' has been incorporated into the social imagination as a cultural good, helping to engender a new model of emancipated womanhood: a professional woman able to balance a successful career with a satisfying family life.3 Second, the widespread invocation of balance has gone hand in hand with the disappearance of key terms that had traditionally been inseparable from public feminist discussions, namely, equal rights, liberation, and social justice. In their stead, a new feminist vocabulary, one that includes notions such as happiness, responsibility, and lean in, have appeared with increasing frequency.
Simultaneously, in Europe, right-wing nationalist parties, such as the French National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom and the Italian Northern League, have embraced and utilised gender parity to further a racist, anti-immigrant agenda. Furthermore, throughout the 2000s, internationally renowned feminists as well as women in gender equality state agencies (or femocrats) have given rise to a heterogeneous anti-Islam feminist front, which presents sexism and patriarchy...