In many ways Feminist Erasures: Challenging Backlash Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) performs an act of vigilance. Examining the conditions of feminist apathy and misrepresentation in public discourses — precisely in order to disrupt them –the analytical sweep of this edited collection is wide: taking in screen culture, the organization of labour, reports from the frontlines of gender studies classrooms, and feminist protest. Feminist Erasures’ main contribution to the growing field of postfeminist critique lays in its commitment to bringing feminist encounters centre stage. This volume of essays doesn’t just map the ways in which feminism and gender inequalities are sidelined or emptied out in the West; it also tracks how scholars are resisting these moves in their feminist praxis.
The editors bringing this thirteen-essay anthology to life are Kumarini Silva and Kaitlynn Mendes (Mendes wrote Feminism in the News and has a book on SlutWalk coming out in the summer). The contributors are largely early career researchers, with a nice mix of academic-activists in the blend. As an indication of the scope of this book, the largest section of essays is dedicated to ‘Feminism in Popular Culture’, bookended by ‘Teaching Feminism’ and ‘Becoming Mother’ – the latter including a compelling chapter by Silva on the politics of breastfeeding, as mediated through commercial and media discourses. The final section ‘Feminism/Activism’ hones in on the transnational SlutWalk movement with thought-provoking reflections and participant-based responses. While lively reads (and my favourite part of the book), the two essays dedicated to feminist protest in Feminist Erasures, was a start, but we need more. Feminist activism is still largely under-theorized in contemporary feminist scholarship.
The driving argument behind Feminist Erasures is that we live in an era of ‘faux feminism’, where late capitalism makes claims to women’s empowerment so as to commodify and neutralize its power. It’s an ongoing tactic. As the editors write in their introduction, “political discourses join the popular in appropriating the language of feminist liberation and empowerment in the construction of an essentializing feminism that re-marginalizes and domesticates women. That is, in fact, the definition of a backlash culture: a negative reaction to the possibility of progress and/or change” (p. 4).
The main theoretical coordinate for the collection is provided through reference to Angela McRobbie and The Aftermath of Feminism. Arguably, more could have been made of Ros Gill’s postfeminist sensibility. Although strategically, I can see why this might not be the case. Feminist Erasures has a slight manifesto edge to it and the conceptual lines are drawn around ‘erasures’ and ‘backlash’. The postfeminist sensibility speaks more to entangled subjectivities and the central role of neoliberalism in contemporary gender formations. Neoliberalism is tackled in the pages of Feminist Erasures, but primarily in its economic-based form; such as the role of transient academic workers in contemporary higher education and the mystification of structural inequalities in the face of so-much consumer ‘choice’.
Readers of a poststructuralist persuasion might wish to linger a little longer on the idea of ‘erasure’ and ‘backlash’. These ideas certainly have a rhetorical –and material –importance in the face of feminism’s continuing dismantling. But arguably, a ‘backlash’ trope may obscure the forms of pleasure that accompany the commercial-made feminism available for public sale, as well as glossing over how mainstream culture incorporates the ‘feel’ of feminism, if not the explicit politics. McRobbie’s idea of the ‘double entanglement’ may be a handy theoretical rejoinder here.
All in all Feminist Erasure is a refreshing anthology, not least because it carries a strong academic-activist perspective. This book also prompts important questions: how do we theorize attacks on feminism, while also recognizing the new grip that feminism has in the public imagination? Who are the storytellers of the new feminisms, and who are the gatekeepers of the old sexisms? And just how can new affinities be made in the realm of teaching, popular culture, and activism which can bring back a creative, fighting and game-changing articulation of feminism as a collective politics and a collective promise? Feminist Erasures is a thought-provoking partner in these ongoing conversations.