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Then and Now:
A new time for feminism

Kristyn Gorton

Is feminism dead? This question appears on the cover of the 29 June 1998 edition of Time magazine published in America. The article's contention is that today's feminist "want[s] to talk sex, not cents." (Time, 1998). Inside it asked; "Want to know what today's chic young feminist thinkers care bout?" and answers; "Their bodies, themselves" (Time, 1998) which parodies both the distinct lack of bodies on the cover and, intentionally or not, the 1970s feminist text Ourbodies, Ourselves. A linear progression is suggested on the cover, as well as in other media campaigns, which implies that feminism has moved from an 'our' solidarity of the 60's and 70's movement to a 'me' based feminism. In this essay, I would like to focus on why the question on the cover is being asked as well as how the question is answered through the media. This essay will also address the nostalgia that is suggested in the 'looking back' nature of the article. Itself. Discussions on feminism to day often adopt a survey like discourse, glossing over the last two decades off feminist theory in an attempt to 'arrive' at what feminism means today. The historicity this suggests creates friction amongst feminists and postfeminists alike and generates a sense of nostalgia for the 'way things were'.

The nostalgic musings often found in feminist and post-feminist texts are also found in recent critiques of postmodernism. In Frederic Jameson's recent return to culture and postmodernism he laments the "disappearance of a sense of history" (1998, 20) lost as a result of the "perpetual present" and "fragmented time" in a society which, he believes, does not feel an obligation to preserve traditions (1998, 20). The "fragmented time" that Jameson cites is reflected in the 'then' and 'now' of the Time article's layout. Historical time is divided between what happened thirty years ago and what is happing 'today'. The implicit suggestion in that article is that the narrative for women's liberation began thirty years ago, and yet Susan B, Anthony's face on the cover reminds many that the women's suffragette movement occurred decades before Gloria Steinem marched for women's liberation. The cover's line-up suggests a way of reading the history of feminist theory in a linear trajectory, beginning with the struggle for the right to vote and ending with the struggle to balance careers with family life.

On the one hand, the Time article acknowledges an earlier 'beginning' to a feminist theory and yet it locates the narrative of feminism between now and thirty years ago. It suggests that Susan B. Anthony's narrative solely revolved around the vote for women's rights, whereas thirty years ago, American and British culture constructed a feminist narrative which had arguably been replaced by a new narrative, as well as new faces to herald this brand of feminism. The nostalgia that arises in postfeminist and postmodernist critiques, such as found in Jameson's, comes from a frustration that the narratives of thirty years ago are no continuous with narratives today. Implicit in the nostalgia is a frustration that there are not links between 'then' and 'now'. The questions that arise and that will be addressed are: how do we allow for new narratives to emerge without placing them within past and/or future narratives? How does one care about women's equality without nostalgia for or debt to past and/or future narratives?

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