Topic 5 Post-modern feminism

Post-modern feminists also express their opposition to the perception of the single female category, first in the context of structural theory and then in the context of post-structural theory. Post-structural feminists believe that the presentation of women as a one-dimensional category leads to the perception that there is an archetype of woman, resulting in a “gender essentialism”. However, this creates the risk that the female identity is considered stable, and the experiences and interests of all women are common (Tsaousi-Hatzi, 2015).

In particular, structural theory feminists focus on the power relations that the system itself organises between women and men but also between women and others. According to these, women in political or decision-making positions operate by male rules and are the exception. Most women will continue to provide free or low-paid and low status work. The category “women”, the theory of feminist constructionism points out, is an “imaginary category”, the construction of which serves the liberal capitalist system and the middle bourgeoisie (Thompson, 2003, p. 33). In addition, the theory of structural feminism considers that the equality of women should be achieved in the context of the equality of all individuals, including gays and lesbians, people of colour, men and women with other abilities, the working class, and all marginalised groups.

Their significant educational contribution is to focus on values and achievements that are outside the liberal ideology and are ignored by the dominant system. In addition, they suggest emphasising the exploitation of women’s labour, as well as women’s emotional labour for commercial gain or the exploitation of women by women. They believe that it is necessary for education to make the different female experiences obvious and not to present the ideals of privileged women as universal. This is the only way education will be able to deal with the systems (female or male) that contribute to the maintenance of oppressive and unequal relations in society (Thompson, 2003). Otherwise it indirectly reproduces the existing inequalities.

Thompson (2003) states that while structural feminists believe that power relations operate in a pattern that maintains inequality between dominant and subservient groups, post-structural feminists view power relations between individuals as fluid and ever-changing. Influenced by Foucault’s theory, they understand the concept of power as something that is not owned by a certain group (for example, men) but is found in the interactions of individuals, where each individual exercises and accepts power.

Post-structural feminism, which prevailed at the end of the third feminist wave, emphasised mainly deconstruction as a political act and power relations in the field of education and school. Within this context, feminists argued for the approach of education through sociology and for the deconstruction of dualities and dichotomies that are presented as natural, such as: mind / body or male experience / female experience. They pointed out the need to consider dualisms and dichotomies as discursive practices, which delimit human experience and prevent change.

In terms of education, as Thompson (2003) points out, it is difficult to deal with the way children ‘see’ these differences as children ignore information that does not match the way they have organised their world. To illustrate this difficulty, Thompson (2003) cites the following example: A teacher went with her young students to a hospital, where they met a female doctor and a male nurse with whom they discussed their work. Returning to school and discussing their experiences from this hospital visit, most of the children reported meeting a male doctor and a female nurse, while a number of them reported that the doctor and the nurse they met had lied to them. The way the children organised their experience matched the discourses and narration they were familiar with. So, they reinterpreted their experience to fit a story that made sense to them. Therefore, for post-structural feminists, one cannot work within the patriarchal system and at the same time hope for change. To challenge patriarchy, we must create rifts through new spaces, even instantaneous ones, to construct new meanings. Challenging traditional roles presupposes another narrative in society and education.

Through the concept of Foucault’s critique, post-structural feminism enabled another narrative that could lead education to change. This change can be achieved, according to post-structural feminism, here and now, by challenging all that has been given to us as natural. What is needed, then, is to challenge the existing gender conditions both in school and in society. In this way, we will be able to lead ourselves to new relationships between the sexes that we may not have even imagined   (Thompson, 2003).