Postfeminism

Looking up the word “postfeminism” in the sjp.pl (Polish language dictionary), in the column “meaning” we will find the phrase “lack of explanation.” However, this does not mean that other dictionaries are equally neglectful or fearful. The term itself is almost one hundred years old, and it has undoubtedly moved closer to its own definition, although, not everyone is using it freely yet. The period of time when a term is already in use, but it does not fulfill its definition yet, is the most creative time for a given set of problems, because they are not yet a part of the current paradigm, but only a criticism of the one that has faded away, and it is an attempt to change its point of view. The form of such term consists of the fact that it “mixes, but it is not fixed”. This kind of situation usually leaves a lot of space for intellectual or artistic creativity, because the phrases occurring around the given term already have a potential for inspiration, but they still do not have the ability to manipulate our interpretations. Postfeminism is the last stage of the process of freeing a woman from the culture in which she was not considered as a valuable human being. There is hope that this is a step towards erasing the problem and the sign of success. It is unclear, how long this process will continue; however, the changes can already be observed. The new postfeminist situation of women resulted in a different approach to life. Before, women had fought with men for their rights, and now they start creating common rights. The extension of women’s rights has influenced men’s social situation. Granting women’s rights in practice has also turned out to be a change in men’s rights. This is the “post-effect” of every won fight. During the period of extending women’s rights, both sides of the feminist revolution changed, and the existing language of communication, fortunately, came out of use,[1] Postfeminism has established a new language of communication between men and women. The feminism that preceded it existed – without a name – for many centuries. During that “unnamed” period of time, feminism made a lot of important changes: it gave woman a soul, and almost equalized killing a woman with the murder of a man and, to a limited extent, allowed women to acquire an education. These privileges amuse us today with their condescending modesty; however, their range clearly shows that the woman has been drawn from the depth of non-being. The twentieth century was a time when a woman was still a slave of many absurdities. Among others, she had no right to participate in political elections and she was obliged to behave impeccably, because casual sex condemned her sexual purity, which still determined her value. Despite the fact that both these injustices were withdrawn in the middle of the 20th century, they remain present in everyday life. You can still hear that a woman who is having a casual sex is a whore. The same lifestyle makes a man charming in a special way. A woman taking an active part in politics is treated with disregard and a lack of respect. The man evokes serious feelings: respect or irritation. Balzac can be considered to be the precursor of post-feminist attitudes. He noticed the outreach of women’s social enslavement, but he also realised that the problem could not be solved just by granting them rights. An unfair relationship between both sexes has deeply infiltrated them and became natural. That is why he began to make people aware of the scale of that problem. At the beginning of the 19th century, he expressed this thought by the use of his protagonist:

“Civilization deals harder measure to us women than nature does. Nature imposes upon us physical suffering which you have not alleviated; civilization has developed in us thoughts and feelings which you cheat continually. Nature exterminates the weak; you condemn them to live, and by so doing, consign them to a life of misery. The whole weight of the burden of marriage, an institution on which society is based, falls upon us; for the man liberty, duties for the woman! We must give up our whole lives to you, you are only bound to give us a few moments of yours. A man, in fact, makes a choice, while we blindly submit”[2].

However, a lot has changed since then. A woman still has a long way to go to achieve full liberation from the oppression of culture. This means that feminism has not completed its work. Nevertheless, the point it has reached requires changing strategy and, above all, redefining the main goals. So far, the victims have been fighting for their rights. In the meantime, the victims turned into the winners. This new situation obliges us to change the rhetoric and evokes intellectual reflection. Before, it was enough to be determined. Now, you have to understand. Postfeminism aims at discovering how such a horrendous injustice towards one of the sexes could have occurred, what was its reason, and how this scope of enslavement has been achieved. That is only a part of the problems which need to be handled. They have a historical nature and understanding them can, at best, protect us from falling into a similar madness in the future. The most important issues concern the living heroes of this cultural absurdity. Have the victims become depleted or only differently shaped by this long-lasting process of sacrifice? Is Bertrand Russell’s saying that feminine intuition is just the result of thoughtlessness for many centuries – so on – justified and does it really have to be negative? Who lost more “quality”: men or women? Postfeminism aims at answering those questions and many more. Postcolonialism has a similar analytical operation to conduct. In the case of colonialism, we also deal with culturally sanctioned domination, and here the situation also requires the calculation of costs and profits by the perpetrator and the victim. “How did the colonial meeting contribute to the mutual transformation of the colonizer and the colonized? The former history of the confrontation is told anew through the prism of the transactive / transcultural aspect of colonialism.”[3] In postfeminism, as well as, in postcolonialism, the problem is considered – with inevitable abuses – by both parties of the “conflict.” Thus, postfeminism constitutes a challenge for both sexes. No more having to get rid of fierce feminists and pointing out their age and unattractiveness by men. No more holy indignation and blaming men for everything by women. The current level of victory achieved by women already obliges them also to address the demands towards themselves. The old-fashioned fight does not make sense anymore. Especially, since it was never about extermination of the enemy, but about influencing his way of thinking. And this goal has been largely achieved. In the Western countries,[4] the law was changed in accordance with the demands of feminism. The most disturbing evil has been overcome on the surface. The “remaining” problems are hidden: the indulgence towards women, symbolic measures – such as the passing on of names or walking on high heels – maintaining the woman’s dependence on a man, woman’s submissiveness to men’s strength and wealth, the family being woman’s responsibility, prevalence of naturalness of feminine forms in words like “jerk, idiot” (the feminine gender words in Polish) over the words “professor, prime minister” (the male gender words in Polish), and a few others. The “use of force” in those cases is no longer effective, at most, it can induce the other party to pretended correctness. The transition from feminism – a culturally primitive operation – to postfeminism – a complex discourse involving many humanities to its considerations – is the culminating act of the feminist revolution. Both of these stages – like all discourses – are paradigmatic reactions, not descriptions of reality. They are led by the “Zeitgeist whisper”. Nowadays, the decisive elements include: the ethos of a single man, the right to self-fulfilment and encouraging personal development. In the current paradigm, those notions are more important than group ethos, such as family or homeland. It is an ethos originating from European culture, some people perceive it as a culmination of human aspirations, others view it as a decline of moral values. Its position in ethics is irrelevant, but the role it has played in enabling women’s feminist revolution is important. This paradigmatic message was formulated in such a way that the right to self-fulfilment had to be extended to women as well. An attempt of western feminists to get involved in the process has been treated as a continuation of colonial protectionism: “we know better what is best for you.” The discipline of art, which has been supporting feminism for a long time, is also part of this complicated post-feminist discourse. There was a time when art was a battlefield, now it has become an area of “reaching for values.” The inclusion of men into this process, justified at this stage, was also something new. This phenomenon is relatively new and is awaiting its first recapitulation in the form of the problem exhibition. Ane Lan is one of the artists that is engaged in the issues of postfeminist discourse with extreme dedication and pure delight. The world in which he entered – just like the term itself – is not easy to grasp; therefore, you must be extremely skilled to grasp it. Ane, in her art, uses the possibilities and powers of the artistic message for this purpose perfectly. The most important of them are: any fragmentation, showing premonitions in the form of statements, free choice of arguments, lying on the surface and telling the truth underneath, mixing words with the image, action, and sound, and a lot of minor preparations that, in other cases would be considered disqualifying. Art – like any other creative field – has extensive powers to mimic and deform realism, thus delivering an important message. Ane Lan knows exactly how to use all of these elements in order to lead post-feminist discourse. However, he is aware of walking on thin ice. Feminist irritability left behind extensive hypersensitivity to certain comments, especially when made by men. However, Ane Lana’s only concerns are for the clarity of the message, not for the possible onslaught of women. He is looking for the phrases that will not be falsified because of any correctness, and he will not be accused of mockery or irony. To prevent this, Ane Lan decides to have a rather unusual strategy, namely all of the comments are in a form of a song. Sometimes he sings as a man, but mostly as a woman. This strategy allows her to create a certain pathos. His voice is endearingly unprofessional and can be associated with prayer. To make everything sincere and authentic, the artist has become “this” man, and discovered female sensitivity and great layers of empathy in himself. You can see that he reflected on himself a lot before doing this. Ane Lan in his art almost always appears in a feminine disguise, which, however, is not the most important part of the message. The emotions on his face and in his gestures constitute the most important part. In order to avoid acting and artificiality, the artist perfectly mastered a genuine sense of his character. He can awaken different emotional states and different moods. Identifying with a woman, entering a woman’s psyche becomes a specific medium of understanding that always requires at least a partial identification. “In my videos and performances, I try to play the role of a simple-minded artist and shape them romantically as part of a subversive strategy that enforces a political message on an intimate and personal level.” The transformation into a woman allows a man to free himself from the conventional duties attributed to his gender. Ane Lan, in a woman’s disguise, feels free of the restrictions imposed on men. Now he can use arguments dictated by emotions, reveal his spontaneous, “heartfelt” attitude to politics, tradition, and culture. The reactions of men – even the political riot – are soaked with reflection and premeditation, thus moving away from their source. Women’s messages seem closer to the original reaction, which does not mean that they do not have their faults and misinterpretations. A man practicing woman’s argumentation thus suggests her alternative value. It shows that the collision of equal rights of feminine and male reactions can give a much wider view of the problem. One of the valuable aspects of the “post” reaction, the dialectical aspect, is combining contradictions in order to better penetrate the truth. Ane Lan postulates an extension of the socio-political reality view of femininity. Proposing this “new tool”, he conducts a multilateral experiment on its opportunities. In the photographic version of the work, Vesta shows women of various states and religions in “prophetic” attire. Each of these women expresses a different kind of vision, and senses something different. Each of them can transfer some “invisible” elements to the material world. The scope of this message is suggested by the outfit and facial expression. A woman appears here as a special receiver, registering messages that are unreachable on the path of reason. The artist managed to put himself into different states of concentration and enlightenment in a non-ironic way. In this skill, the recognition for the extent of a woman’s gaze can be sensed. The mental expressiveness in these photographs was adequately limited, so that it would not be exaggerated. In this manner — by avoiding the risk of falling into mental tawdriness — the artist could fully publicize the gesture. This is one of the most important skills in art: combining formal limitations and expressive nuances in a graceful way. More shy or shameful artists restrain themselves much sooner. Pompous or mentally ill tawdriness makers do not sense this fine line at all. Vesta shows a wide range of feminine revelations. This is not about supernatural abilities, but about the symbolic underlining of intuitive perception, which can build an algorithm of an event that reasonable thinking cannot deal with yet. This interpretation is suggested by photographs, which are frames taken out of a more complicated video, suggesting a completely different content. The heroines do not find an answer here, they only stare at “something” and ask existential questions about how they are supposed to become themselves: “Which way should I look? What should I see in order to understand? Who is my inner voice telling me where I should go?” Those who knew the answers turned into beings seeking their creator. This work – probably unintentionally – brings forth (like in Woman of the World) a commentary related to the meta-art. This shows how far the integument of the image can influence the course of interpretation. The dialectic nature of a woman’s condition, allowing her to see both strength and weakness in one situation, is an observation that Ane Lana makes in many of his works. The range of female experience is another problem that frequently arises in his works. The characters that the artist brings to life are exposed to very different experiences, forced to play the most unusual roles, and deal with various professions. Woman of the World gives us the possibility to see women from all around the world in their work environment. They look around and unexpectedly find their reflection in an invisible mirror. While “improving” their face, they sing about lust, duty, and name. They have received all these things and they have accepted them as their own. Shy, worried about their appearance, they discover the foundations of identity, behind which lurks the accepted dependence. This work expresses compassion for the woman and, in a poetic way, discovers her enslavement. The work in which compassion definitely prevails is Pacto Femininum. Ane Lan exposes women’s sensitivity[5] and the ability of emotional sensation. In this video, he appears as a man and plays the role of a sensitive narrator. The main characters are delicate and “real” women depicted in dramatic situations: husband’s betrayal, death of a child, mental illness. These sensitive creatures have been subjected to the toughest trials. The expression of pain and despair has been perfectly captured in these rapidly changing scenes. One would assume that these feelings were previously experienced in the artist’s imagination. Another problem that appears in Ane Lan’s work is the woman’s dependence on the context. Behind this lies a wider issue. Men are also subjects or even victims of contexts, but behind them there is a longer tradition of “the right to one’s own identity”. Thanks to that, they have greater determination in the fight against contexts that do not seem to fit into the feeling of their own shape. Women do not really feel this right, and therefore they yield much easier and deeper into contexts, filling themselves with their content and thus becoming it. This is a very delicate problem that postfeminism will have to face. Artistic commentary by Ane Lan takes on the affirmative-cognitive form. His art analyzes the situation of a woman in times of “expanded democracy.” At present, it is no longer enough to “grant rights.” This expanded democracy requires an understanding of the other party, empathizing with the situation, becoming the other person, at least for a moment. In order to do this, the gap between a woman and a man must be eliminated; women’s versatility and their ability to adapt to contexts must be known and women’s helplessness in the face of stereotypes by which she is treated should be experienced. Ane Lan arranges situations, in which he becomes a woman and looks at the world through her eyes. Because there is not only one woman, but there are as many of them as professions, contexts, and fates, so Ane Lan impersonates very different characters. He always does that with a great favour. There is no irony in his works, there is no playing dress-up. There is an authentic need for empathy, a gesture that women hardly ever experienced.

Text: Maria Anna Potocka, © all rights reserved

[1]  This sentence sounds like an accomplished fact, but temporarily it is only a desirable fact.
[2] H. Balzac, Thirty-year-old woman, transl. T. Żeleński-Boy, Czytelnik, Warszawa 1958, pp. 142-143.
[3] L. Gandhi, Postcolonial theory, transl. J. Serwański, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 2008, p. 113.
[4] Countries of other cultures – for various reasons  – have not taken legal postulates of feminism.
[5] Probably similar to his own, because in his case there could be a far-reaching identification.