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Post-structural feminism

Poststructural feminism is a branch of feminism that engages with insights from post-structuralist thought. Poststructural feminism emphasizes "the contingent and discursive nature of all identities",[1] and in particular the social construction of gendered subjectivities.[2] An important contribution of this branch was to establish that there is no universal single category of "woman" or "man" and to identify the intersectionality of sex, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, to name only a few.[3]

Areas of interest

Like post-structuralism itself, the feminist branch is in large part a tool for literary analysis, but it also deals in psychoanalysis and socio-cultural critique,[4] and seeks to explore relationships between language, sociology, subjectivity and power-relations as they impact upon gender in particular.[5]

Poststructural feminism also seeks to criticize the kyriarchy, while not being limited by narrow understandings of kyriarchal theory, particularly through an analysis of the pervasiveness of othering, the social exile of those men and women removed from the narrow concepts of normal.

Leading figures

  • Hélène Cixous argued in her best-known essay 'The Laugh of the Medusa' that writing was more important in the construction of womanhood than biology.[6]

Other significant figures in poststructuralist feminism include Monique Wittig, and Julia Kristeva.[10]

Literary examples

  • The heroine of Nice Work admits that, when younger, she "allowed myself to be constructed by the discourse of romantic love for a while"; but adds that she soon came to realise that "we aren't unique individual essences existing prior to language. There is only language".[11]
  • The heroine of Possession, a novel by A.S. Byatt, more ruefully acknowledges that "we live in the truth of what Freud discovered...we question everything except the centrality of sexuality - Unfortunately feminism can hardly avoid privileging such matters".[12]


Poststructural feminism has been criticised for its abandonment of the humanistic female subject, and for tactical naivety in its rejection of any form of female essentialism.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Randall, Vicky (2010) 'Feminism' in Theory and Methods in Political Science. Marsh, David. Stoker, Gerry. (eds.), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 116.
  2. ^ P. Prasad, Crafting Qualitative Research (2005) p. 165.
  3. ^ Miriam Bernard, Val Harding Davies, Linda Machin, Judith Phillips. Women Ageing: Changing Identities, Challenging Myths. ISBN 9781134657681. 
  4. ^ J. Childers/G. Hentzi, The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 237
  5. ^ Prasad, p. 165
  6. ^ E. D. Ermath, Sequel to History (1992) p. 158
  7. ^ Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (2004) p. 206 and p. 8
  8. ^ G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2003) p. 390
  9. ^ Morris, edited by Rosalind C. (2010). Can the subaltern speak? : reflections on the history of an idea. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231143851. 
  10. ^ Ermath, p. 151-2
  11. ^ David Lodge, Nice Work (1988) p. 210
  12. ^ A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (1990) p. 254 and p. 222

Further reading

  • Linda Nicholson ed., Feminism/Postmodernism (1990)
  • Margaret A. McClaren, Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity (2002)

External links