A Critique of Contemporary Post-Feminist Media Representations

Amna Hafeez Mobeen

The media at present is a web that is bringing the entire world under the umbrella of a homogenised global culture. In this wave of homogenisation post-feminist representation appears to be one of the most freely floating trends visible in the contemporary electronic entertainment media. Post-feminism unlike its previous counterparts has utilised the media rather than collective politicised platforms as tools to spread its message, there is ‘wider circulation of feminist values across the landscape popular culture (Mc Robbie, 2004).

This widely prevalent media trend is in reality the instigation of the hegemonic ideas, that the classical Marxism says, ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force’ (Marx, 1845). The focus of the ruling cultural and media industrialists is to inculcate highly appealing and glamorised aesthetics which curb rationality and sketch the world from an idealist perspective. That reality is the commoditisation of cultures and media icons; which is then replicated in most of the media representations. The idea is to create an illusion which at first reinforces class mechanics and later enchains the masses to idealist bounds that are away from the harsh social nuisances. It is like the ‘escapist entertainment with subtle indoctrination with dominant ideologies’ (Kellner, 1989, 131).

In the 1980s, the wave of post-modernist thought swept within bourgeois feminism and invented fancy theories about feminism. These theories were surrounded around the primary notion of ‘feminist sex wars’ which had an unrelenting fascination with sexual liberty and oppression. The post-feminist wave witnessed a shift away from the centralised power blocks like the state, patriarchy and law to more intimate struggle and success indicators. This was in itself a deterioration from the former feminist movements, which we see penetrating in everyday life and immunising the masses through the popular cultural sites.

The post-feminist representation unlike former feminist struggles strengthen natural binaries between the ‘two’ genders and in doing so it creates disillusioning ideals of a perfectly liberalised woman. Post-feminism is the ‘co-existence of neo-liberal values in relation to gender, sexuality and family life with processes of liberalisation in regard to choice and diversity in domestic, sexual and kinship relations’ which Mc Robbie says as the ‘double entanglement’ paradigm of post-feminism (Mc Robbie, 2004). There is simultaneous acknowledgment of feminist values which promote adherence to the traditional institutions of law, education, media and medicine and the achievement of women in these reflect that the women have been granted liberty and are free. But at the same time it is a displacement of feminism as a collective movement.

There are certain aspects of post-feminist representation that create a deceptive image of female emancipation. Firstly we witness the insistent interest with body is widely dispersed over the popular culture landscape. This sexualised contemporary culture exhibits female body that has the inherent capacity to become the subject and change the gender relations. ‘The new female subject is, despite her freedom, called upon to be silent, to withhold critique, to count as a modern sophisticated girl...There is quietude and complicity in the manners of generationally specific notions of cool, and more precisely an uncritical relation to dominant commercially produced sexual representations which actively invoke hostility to assumed feminist positions from the past in order to endorse a new regime of sexual meanings based on female consent, equality, participation and pleasure, free of politics’ (Mc Robbie, 2004).

Further, the individualistic and disillusioning empowerment paradigm where a woman is able to make decisions about her life is another decadent captivation of the post-feminist representation. ‘Individuals now must choose the kind of life they want to live. Girls must have a life plan. They must become more reflexive in regard to every aspect in their lives, from making the right choice in marriage, to taking responsibility for their own working lives, and not being dependent on a job for life’ (Mc Robbie, 2004).

Moreover, the need for self-surveillance is created within post-feminist culture which centres on the premise of constant benchmarking and makeover paradigm. This is further coupled with the race of consumerism as reinforced in most of the advertisement and other media representations that represent the ideal woman as physically attractive and socially docile woman who is always an emblem of success as she maintains constant standards of morality and beauty. ‘Individuals are increasingly called upon to invent their own structures. They must do this internally and individualistically, so that self-monitoring practices replace reliance on set paths. Self-help guides, personal advisors, lifestyle coaches and gurus and all sorts of self-improvement television programmes provide the cultural means by which individualisation operates as a social process’ (Mc Robbie, 2004).

These modern yet decadent struggles restrain a woman’s intellectual abilities and leave her to embark upon ideal standards of beauty. The popular contemporary media representations ranging from cooking shows, fashion shows, soaps and films represent ideal women as glamorous and free women or a domesticated wife or mother. This depiction of women lies on the grounds of making her subservient to the ruling order, where women are to be kept away from economic and political processes. This flight away from the economic and political struggles is the first fatal move that oppresses women under the patriarchal order. As Engels had rightly said, ‘To emancipate woman and make her equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labour and restricted to private domestic labour. The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time’ (Engels, Origin of the Family).

Lenin had long before foreseen sexual freedoms would become the primary mode of analysis for feminists. Post-feminist upsurge has successfully sidelined the Marxist-Leninist conception on the woman’s question as a struggle connected with the proletarian movement. These feminists do not wish to challenge the capitalist system and the reforms they work for benefit middle-class and aristocratic women, who are concerned with private property rights, far more than general emancipation of the working-class or peasant women.

The post-feminist media culture represents women’s emancipation in individual capacity, in terms of personal liberation and independence. But does exhibiting women’s body in a ‘liberal’ manner or women having the right to make decisions about their personal lives really counts as women being emancipated? The contemporary media representation of women in popular entertainment programmes sadly represents the free and liberated women in this manner but this shamefully hides the actual question pertaining to women’s emancipation.

The contemporary post-feminist representation that claims to be over and above the former feminist movements is in reality further more repressive and subordinating for the women. It is an illusion in the face of independence and mockery in the name of liberation. This post-feminist wave is even more reactionary than its former petitioners. There is more intense effort in this struggle to keep women away from the political platform. The more individualistic indicators of success notified the more discouraged becomes the concept of collective consciousness. Hence, the collective call for the emancipation of women becomes none other than an illusion in the present day world.


Kellner, Douglas (1989) ‘From Authentic Art to the Cultural Industries’ Critical Theory, Marxism and Modernity Cambridge: Polity, pp 121-140.

Mc Robbie, Angela (2004) ‘Post-Feminism and Popular Culture’ pp. 254-263 in Feminist Media Studies 4(3) Routledge.

Marx, Karl (1845) ‘German Ideology’ (1868) ‘Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirne’: Progress Publishers.

Online article: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ch02.htm

Note: Amna Hafeez Mobeen is a Teaching Fellow at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. She takes courses in Gender and Media and Gender in Films.

Click here to return to the September 2014 index.