Sunday, April 26, 2009

Neoliberalism and Post-Feminism

The Sender article suggested that Queer Eye was potentially subversive in its treatment of white heterosexual masculinity. On page 146, she says that critics of the show failed to see how Queer Eye turned the tables on heterosexual men by forcing them to “work harder, in the ways women and gay men have had to work, in order to get and keep their mate, their job, their class position.” While I take much pleasure whenever the tables can be turned on hegemonic white heterosexual men, I am continually skeptical of situations that use devalued and hence feminized situations, to poke fun at masculinity. Can forcing men to “work harder” in this way really undo what patriarchy has done to instill these ideals in women? Obviously, if you follow the money, the companies that are providing products for this type of consumption are winning, and doesn’t that mean that patriarchy is still in the winning?

It is hard to divorce the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-feminism, especially after reading the Ouellette article. She says that neoliberalism should be understood as the idea that the free market is the best mechanism to organize every detail of social interaction, and the locus of free market power lies in the individual (140). In what ways is this directly related to post-feminist ideology? Did post-feminism and neoliberalism emerge together? Both of these ideologies seem to be of particular advantage to hegemonic masculinity (what a surprise!), because both of them place responsibility for social failures squarely on the shoulders of the individual. I feel like I don’t really need to say how convenient it is for heterosexual white masculinity to have a dominant ideology that blames the downtrodden and marginalized for their plight in life.

A very tricky idea is present in the Roberts article. He says that the goal of the makeover shows, in his case What Not to Wear, is to reveal the more “authentic” self hidden underneath the poorly dressed and inadequately made-up exterior of the participants (237). This idea is problematic for so many reasons. One is because it reinforces the idea that femininity is inherently inferior, and requires constant attention and upkeep. But also because I loathe the word authentic. It’s so subjective and pretentious, and it is so often dispatched by marketers that the word has lost all meaning, if it ever had any. I’m left with the rather hollow feeling that authenticity is inseparable from consumption, at least in the eyes of the mainstream media. We know that authenticity is a mechanism of bourgeoisie class distinction, but what does it say about gender? Is this the fundamental problem of post-feminism? Or, to put it another way, has post-feminist logic managed to solidify consumptionism, sexual objectification, and heteronormativity as “authentically” feminine?

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