Title: New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity
Editors: Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff
Star Rating: * * * ½
Genre: Gender/Feminist Studies
NOTE: A review copy of this book was provided by Palgrave Macmillan
New Femininities is a collection of essays discussing the difficult subject of shifting femininities through an intersectional lens. From conversations about obligatory pregnant beauty to the gendered challenges arising in the realm of technology and social media, this is a very broad set of writings trying to make sense of the different ways that femininity is expressed in our contemporary society. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and talk about feminisms and femininities as they are lived all over the world. Using postfeminism, neoliberalism and subjectivity as interpretative lenses, this is a complex and nuanced addition to feminist literature.
One of the first things that I should touch on in this review is the book’s use of postfeminism. When I was originally offered a copy of New Femininities, I was wary about whether or not it was something I wanted to read because of its use of this concept. With a bit of research, however, I determined that this was not another volume of essays telling me that feminism was over and true power was to be found in embracing my inherent femininity. Instead, this book engages with the concept of postfeminism on multiple levels. The editors acknowledge that the term is often used by those who wish to undermine feminism, but they also use it to refer to an era of internal feminist conflict and external backlash, as well as several other definitions and possibilities. Not every feminist reader is going to approve of the authors’ use of postfeminism to frame their work, but I wanted to make sure that for those who were on the fence about picking up this book understood that this is a progressive feminist collection despite what problematic associations the title may imply.
In terms of content, I really enjoyed the incredible variety of perspectives on femininities. This was not a collection filled with just white, North American scholars from the best institutions; there were contributions from women all over the world, and from a number of ideological standpoints within the feminist community. By reading, I learned about aspects of feminism and femininity that I had never heard about or even considered.
This volume will also be particularly interesting for feminists who spend a lot of time on the blogosphere as the authors address many contemporary issues that I haven’t seen discussed in academic literature all that much before. For academics who need to be careful about ensuring that they have traditional scholarly citations in their work, this is a great book to check out if you’ve been stuck when it comes to finding articles on modern femininity.
Finally, while I am not going to get into a full feminist commentary on the content of the articles, I would like to mention that I really enjoyed the pieces on beauty standards during pregnancy by Tyler, and on skater girlhood by Currie, Kelly, and Pomerantz. There were also some articles that I didn’t like, some I even disagreed with, but with twenty different pieces from around the world, almost any feminist is bound to find something thought-provoking or helpful.
The Bad (Or at least the things that will turn some readers off)
New Femininities has two prefaces and an introduction before readers even get to the first essay. This is definitely the mark of an academic book, and while this is certainly not a “bad” thing, it is a fact that should be noted since there are many readers who are not fond of academic pieces. On the other hand, for those who avoid complicated volumes filled with multi-syllabic words, this was not an overly tough book to get through. While the language is definitely scholarly, it is still understandable to those with a basic understanding of the language used in feminist theory. Furthermore, the editors took time to define their central concepts in the introduction, and this makes it much easier to understand the points that all of the essayists were trying to make. While I have read more engaging academic material before, I was very impressed with the readability of these essays considering how many international authors were included, and I felt that this was a reasonably accessible book.
One thing that I did find disappointing with the volume was the fact that several authors gave definitions of third wave feminism that I felt were incomplete or unfair. Third wave feminism was sometimes presented as frivolous and only individual-focused. Not to say that the criticisms are entirely invalid, but third wave feminism is much broader in scope than “I-choose-my-choice” feminism, and neglecting to recognise the contributions of women of colour pushing for intersectional feminism in the third wave really weakened some of the arguments presented. While I understand that it is difficult to accurately define and contextualise the complications of third wave feminism in a short article, I think that it’s important for authors to be careful when using definitive and generalising language for a deep and difficult concept that they can’t give much space to in their work.
New Femininities is a book full of diverse ideas and perspectives on what being feminine can mean, and it will be an interesting and valuable read for those who engage in gender-based studies. While it is an academic book, it’s not an overly complicated read, and it brings into the academic sphere some very new and relevant ideas and studies. A definite recommend for the scholarly-inclined!