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Conceptualizing Postfeminist ‘Signifying Space’ and Gender Performance: A Representation of Women Empowerment and Gender Equality


Conceptualizing Postfeminist ‘Signifying Space’ and Gender Performance: A Representation of Women Empowerment and Gender Equality

Sahabuddin Ahamed

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English and Foreign Languages

Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya

Chhattisgarh, India



This paper analyses the interrelated phenomenon of postfeminism and its pervasive notion of gender “performativity.”It also explores the key turns in postfeminism with its most focus on the subversion of the discursively gender performance and on women’s empowerment. Though the earlier feminist’s concerns about empowerment and gender were limited to certain impulse of liberation, the post-feminists are highly associated with a more permanent identity and representation. It is often seen that though women are given some empowerment but not in its fullest implementation even today. For this reason, the process of women empowerment with its emerging need is very important to those signifying strategies by which women contribute to their liberation, rights, well-being, achievement, and multiple political identities. Due to discursive nature of gender roles and empowerment, the female subjectivity needs much more focus on gender equality and empowerment at regional, national and international levels. These factors have been a great concern to recent feminists who attempt to challenge the strong patriarchal values while struggling for achieving more humanitarian goals for themselves. Such problem requires an advanced and holistic approach to enable women to empower themselves, to take necessary measures in securing their status and contribute to their all­-round development.


Keywords: postfeminism; empowerment; gender equality; resistance; performativity

“There is no being behind doing, effecting, becoming; “the doer” is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything”—Friedrich Nietzsche

“To accept the phallus, as the representation of the law of the father”—Toril Moi

“All feminist criticism is in some sense revisionist, questioning the adequacy of accepted conceptual structures”—Elaine Showalter


Postfeminism is an interdisciplinary field and a more debatable area in relation to gender equality and women empowerment. Unlike the first flowering appearance of radical feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, postfeminism develops into a more distinctive discourse whose ideas and goals challenge the most dominant assumptions regarding gender and sex. Though earlier feminist movements succeed in establishing domestic rights and raising consciousness about women’s positions in public life, their works show some limited progresses. By the 1990s, feminism forms a new turn in viewing women’s relationships with different existing factors that still dehumanize their selves and status. Such kind of transition in feminist thought of what is often termed as post-feminism. Postfeminism goes beyond earlier feminist approaches because of their limited aims and essentialist and universal ideas to the issues of gender and sexual identity. Postfeminists are more interested in women’s issues in their everyday lives with its fullest improvement and progress. Contemporary feminists, though having different cross-cutting ideologies, are more concerned to transform society, to bring about gender equality with the aims of securing different aspects of women empowerment. Women’s full attention to the issues of equality and empowerment lies in their demands of human rights, paid employment, higher positions, status in society, representation of women’s experience, legislative transformation, equal citizenship, political participation, eradication of violence against women, creation of women’s signifying space, women’s education, leadership, and individual identity.

To subvert all stereotypical assumptions regarding gender equality and women empowerment, postfeminists develop a desire to escape all discursively constructed notions of gender and sexual identity and also construct a counter-discourse of multiple subjectivity and unstable nature of all gendered and sexual identities. Through these activities they reflect a fluid identity of womanhood and the issues of individual identity, equality and empowerment. They constantly attempt to go through a process of radical change of becoming rather than being by making a poststructuralist approach to the female identity and by questioning the ideological mechanism through which sexual and gender identities are regulated by historical subject positions and by destabilizing these identities. For this reason, they stress the idea that the subject or identity is not essential feature of human existence rather they are the materialization process under the shadow of ideological discursive formations. It is the unequal ideological power relations of patriarchy that enables them to produce and determinate a subjective position within a given form of social construction. To feminists gender and sexuality are not regarded as essential aspect of individual identity but rather as social and cultural constructions regulated by linguistic turn.

Feminists are very skeptical about sex and gender issues. Gender or sex is the product of the socialization and materialization process of gender itself institutionalized in the ideological discursive formations of patriarchy. Gender is performative in the sense that the gender hierarchy and its performative modes of production are materialized through the practice of the discursive modes. They develop a critique of gender identity with an emphasis on the process of materialization of female body on which the oppressive patriarchal power relations base. The most important implication of this insight is that they are defining and redefining the pathways to articulate a more subversive feminist discourse in which a female can find her own way of fulfillment by exploring and evading the rigid systems of patriarchal discourse. Apart from gender performance, what women need more to consolidate is their individual identity where an individual can mingle in a “free play” of identity that can transcend time, space, socio-political and socio-cultural asymmetrical power relations. They create a symbolic space where a woman finds an equal opportunity of law and protests against discrimination while developing multiplicity of female expressions, experiences and values. Unlike more subjective and privileged position, this sort of monumental space is an appropriate medium of female resistance and expression. Being opposed to traditional egalitarian feminist approach, it is a symbolic space where all women can work together irrespective of caste, color, class, society, religion, or any biased or backed nature by this counter approach. By challenging and subverting all negative stereotypes (women as emotional, passive, other, feminine, irrational, and nonentity) and discriminations against women and within women, empowerment through poststructuralist framework would be a gateway for the construction of women identity, equality, and their representation in all spheres of life. Furthermore, women empowerment and gender equality will be established when there is the presence of awareness, revival of tradition, participation, provisions, and construction of female discourse. It is the immense hope for women to gain and exercise all kind of advantages like their male counterparts in their lives that will ultimately lead to women empowerment and equality.

First Wave Feminism

The first wave feminist criticism developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe and America. It was in many ways a liberal and reformist feminism that sought to have equal rights, individualism, enfranchisement, political participation, female property and maturity, reformation, and access to public realm. During the Women’s Rights and Suffrage movements and after, the first wave feminists wanted a number of gains by establishing a separate tradition of female space that they cling to the linear time and history. Their attempts were to connect themselves with the essentialist experience and universal nature of female identity. Even they wanted to neglect their cyclical time and maternity and celebrated the logical values of rationality by clinging to the metaphysics and symbolic order regulated by a state in her making of ideological discursive patterns.

In her book A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf insists that women have been subjugated to the symbolic expression of male logos and also show the lack of women’s rooms and women’s social and financial independence. She perceives that literary canon is male-dominated and unsuitable for women, and the stereotypical images are imposed over them by canon formation of male writers. Her perspectives were against the rigid Victorian notions of pure, unselfish womanhood, against the conventional female themes, female identity and female sexuality. She argues that women’s literary tradition would be distinct in relation to men’s and explore women’s experience by dismantling the fixed gender norms between masculinity and femininity. Woolf further points at women’s material disadvantageous position in comparison to men, women’s absent from history, literary tradition and advocate for women’s liberation, education, socio-economic opportunity, women’s experience in art and literature, and focuses on “androgynous” mind of “man-womanly” and “woman-manly,” and “creative, incandescent and undivided” (106).She emphasizes the possibilities of women’s liberation and change from patriarchal norms:

Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s’ chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own. (116-117)

There is a danger in the modes of liberal feminism, especially in its limitations of individualism as it draws its impetus or identity from structural function of patriarchy, essentialized category of women, and an insertion of women into masculine subjectivity through equal rights which have the effect of retaining social progress of symbolic order that reinforces category of men and women and masculinity and femininity. Therefore, it does not reveal a fluid and intersectional female gendered identity but a bias nature. It is ethnocentric in nature, predominant in developed countries and does not address the problems of women of developing countries. 

Second Wave Feminism and Women’s Body

The second wave feminist criticism developed from the late 1960s. It has two distinct traditions of Anglo-American and French feminist movements. It was a much more radical feminism in turn with the publications of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), Mary Ellmann’s Thinking About Women (1968) and Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics (1970), Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) and Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1972). The second-wave feminists uncover and critique the cultural construction of women as object, other, while men as subject, self, and stereotypes of passive, inferior and subordinate femininity and strong, rational, active masculinity created by patriarchal vales and systems. In her work Simone de Beauvoir discloses how the biological concept of sex (male, female) is expanded in “androcentric” ideology of generating gender distinction—masculinity and femininity: “One is not born, but becomes a woman.” In The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan expresses dissatisfaction and despair of women because of the patriarchal values that affect and confine female security and happiness. In Sexual Politics, Kate Millet reveals the asymmetrical relation of power and misogyny of male authors in a male dominated society that manipulates power and perpetuates phallogocentrism in all spheres of life. Some of the key elements of this feminist criticism are: rejection of symbolic order, women’s difference, women’s specific cultural practices as opposed to men’s, gender equality, awareness of contraception, sexual politics, sexual liberation from reproduction, radical and revolutionary change, personal is political, temporality, separatism, essentialized femininity, women’s own spaces, rejection of linear space, and establishment of matriarchy.

The above-mentioned elements can also be found in the tradition of Anglo-American gynocriticism of Elaine Showalter and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubarand French feminism of Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray. In her seminal essay entitled “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness,” Showalter develops women’s specific cultural framework dealing with the writing and literary tradition of women and celebration of women’s sexual differences in their literary imagination, styles, genres, themes, structures, and analysis. She focuses on the specificity of women’s own ideological space as reader—“feminist critique” revealing “feminist reading of texts…images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions and misconceptions about women in criticism, and women-as-sign in semiotic systems” (333). By “feminist reading” she emphasizes how a feminist specific tradition can contest and displace the male-dominated systems and retain the continuities in women’s literature. In The Mad Woman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubardraw on the anxiety and contradiction of female psychological state that affect women writers in the nineteenth century resulting from the androcentric ideology. The book shows the unconscious female voice offering the linguistic and cultural stereotypes of irrational, outside, displaced female body and of protesting against the exclusion and suppression of the body from the rational mind (associated with masculinity).Therefore, American feminism, based on distinct women’s experience and literary tradition, comes under the charges that it fails to challenge the idea of the dominant subject position and its linkage with canonicity. Although American feminist criticism challenged inequality, discrimination, stereotypes, sexual bias in its liberal and radical mode, it clings to the essentialized feminine subjectivity, orthodox universal unity of binaries of men and women, and representation of texts in the continuities of mimetic criticism. It is highly ethnocentric and does not address other ethnic, marginal and minority groups.

In contrast, having influenced by psychoanalysis and poststructuralism, French feminist criticism focuses on the distinct theory of gendered language what is termed as ecriture feminine(language associated with femininity)which has its source in the female body. As anti-essentialists, French feminists challenge Lacanian phallogocentric view of language, gender and identity that seek everything through binary oppositions and associated with phallus, masculinity and rationality. Such phallogocentrism acts as logos or truth and source of all asymmetrical power relations imposing on females the stereotypes of other, irrationality, body, passive, object, subordinate, nonlinguistic, displaced and nonentity. Julia Kristeva rejects linguistic imposition and masculine superiority that offers women no space within the symbolic order. In contrast to the symbolic order under which women live and speak, Kristeva posits the “semiotic” representing a trace of pre-Oedipal signifying desire centred on the mother-child relation. Like Lacan’s Imaginary stage, Kristeva’s “semiotic” irrupts into the symbolic order and disrupts the phallogocentric discourse with the possibilities of multiplicity, fixity and diversity inherent in linguistic structures and in the female bodies and experiences. The semiotic also refers to the non-symbolic aspects of language, such as rhythm, sound and tone.  However, it is not inclusively female prerogative rather an alternative female space. The French feminists associate writing with female body from where they are dispelled and to which they would turn. To them the body acts both as a metaphor of subject and a site of sexual pleasure or of jouissance in language and writing in order to subvert and disrupt the symbolic order. In “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Helene Cixous reflects on the female body and its affinity with female writing while disrupting the rigid symbolic discourse of male reservation and female silence:

Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve-discourse, including the one that laughs at the very idea of pronouncing the word “silence,” the one that, aiming for the impossible, stops short before the word ‘impossible” and writes it as “the end.” (886)

Therefore, the theories of French feminists come under charges that they were essentialists and separatists in their views of language, gender, and sexuality because of their categorization of man and woman and mind and body.

Third Wave Feminism

The third wave feminist criticism emerged in the mid-1990s and began in the USA. It can often be seen in antithesis to post-feminism as it is a continuation of second wave feminism and a reaction to second wave feminism. The term was first popularized by Rebeca Walker in her essay “Becoming the Third Wave” (1992). In Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories (2009),Genzand Brabonstate that although it developed as a political movement with affiliations to second wave feminists, it contrasted with the postfeminists who were divided between the politically Riot Girls and the fashionable Spice Girls (156). Though based on the principles of second wavers, third wave feminists had politically and culturally different views focusing on a more contradictory and diverse nature of gender and identity grounded on poststructuralist framework. Like unstable nature of linguistic signs that has no fixed meanings and no similitude between words and things, they embraced heterogeneity, diversity, plurality, fluidity and flexibility in their discussion of gender, identity and sexuality that go beyond categories of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Moreover, their approach was more assertive, inclusive, intersecting, contesting, individualistic, diverse, and multiplicity. Influenced by postmodernism, third wave feminists define and redefine their positions within shifting time and nonlinear space of history celebrating difference and diversity—ambiguous in nature. The third wave feminists embrace multiple personalities, fragmentation of selves that do not hold on unified or seamless sensibility like the complex and ambiguous poststructural stance inherent in language always in the free play of meanings. They create and practice a new theoretical space that complicates women’s identity and gender rather than unifying it celebrating anti-essential feminine sensibility and eschewing the utopic vision of perfectly egalitarian society or the individualism. Even, they critically engage with popular cultural forms such as information, media, television, music, films, fiction, internet, and blogs. For them, this provides a space of empowerment and a space of difference from the second wave feminists.

Postfeminist Concerns and Women Empowerment

Although founded on mainstream feminist concerns, contemporary postfeminists are in some sense beyond limits of feminism, and are more unorthodox, provocative and radical (in the sense of change, complexity, multiplicity, and deconstructiveness of their identity and sexuality found in theatrical performance and parody of taking drag while imitating and performing the construction of natural category of sex and gender and cyberfeminists) intertwined with contemporary conditions of contradiction and ambiguity. Its main focus is on liberation and representation of women’s diverse experiences that contest the restricted views of women which have historically subjugated by patriarcy. Postfeminists are more than individual and inclusive and contestant and independent in their approach to gender and identity issues. They act as a neoliberal force in the changing cultural and political scenarios that posit destabilized concept of gender and diversity with an emphasis on self-empowerment and splitting identity seeking in all spheres of life. In “The Myth of Postfeminism,” Hall and Rodriguez illustrated the four claims of postfeminism—“overall support, pockets of antifeminism, irrelevance, and “no, but… “feminism” (881). Among these four ethos ‘“no, but…” feminism” shows a growing concern among postfeminism that refers to a new version of feminism whereby women do not to be labelled as feminists, but they still support feminist goals of gender equality and empowerment (883).Postfeminists, including Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous, Judith Butler, Angela Carter, receive impetus from the poststructuralist and postmodernist view of identity what they demand is a more flexible and intersectional identity and their representations in all sphere of their lives. They are very critical about the restricted views of women which has retained and exercised by patriarchal subjective position. Their struggle for gender equality that has evolved into a powerful movement subverting all discursive forms of patriarchy and a predominantly misogynistic society. To be fruitfully empowered women have developed an agenda for victims of sexual assault and more opportunities for women and men to focus on the injustices, prejudices, discriminations, violence, and sexual stereotypes against women in a society. The issues what they emphasize much more are gender equality, difference, resistance to oppression and suppression, tolerance towards sisterhood, multicultural sensibility, fragmented subjectivity, fluid identity, anti-essentialized female experience, political stance, nonlinear space, mingling, dialogic, and ambiguous continuity and change together.

Towards the end of the twentieth century the concept of women empowerment has been a global phenomenon with its multi-dimensional nature of development and progress. It has undergone a vast transformation from a limited or narrow welfare approach to gender equitable approach. To achieve the intended goals, the process of women empowerment aids women to continue resistance and gain power and control over the dominant ideologies and discourses. Women empowerment is a process of all kinds of major transformation through which women can gain power, exercise choices, control over the factors which directly or indirectly affect their lives, make self-confidence and contribute to progress-oriented approach. It is a pathway to lead women to their growing intrinsic understanding of their ontological existence, needs, positions, creativity, dignity, representations, equality at global, national and regional level. As Medel-Anonuevo fairly states that women empowerment “enables the person to gain insight and have an awareness of what is undesirable and unfavorable about her current situation, perceive a better situation, the possibilities of attaining it and realizing what is within her reach and what she could do to get to a better situation” (25).

Postfeminist ‘Signifying Space’

In her critical essay “Women’s Time,” the most effective strategy what Julia Kristeva appealed to contemporary feminists was a “signifying space both corporeal and desiring mental space” (33). It is a space where the earlier and later feminist concerns would be interwoven with each other in the “same historical time” (33).There would be no the very dichotomy of man/woman, day/night, white/black gendered identity space, aggressive and murderous forces among feminism, backed power, power mania, disruption from within feminism, problematic nature of difference, risk of violence, socio-symbolic constructions, and separate feminist movements. Indeed, the space acts as a new theoretical space for the present moment in which monolithic or dualistic concept of gender, identity, and sexuality is challenged. It is immensely important for the newest generations of women to assume the role of multiple female expressions and to confront the task of reconciling female issues with historical time. Whereas earlier first and second wavers cling to equality and difference, this space is utopian in some sense as it is centred on difference, broad-based, and multiplicity of female subjectivity. It is a more progressive approach derived from Derridean “free play” of meaning challenging the very traditional notion of fixity as the subjectivity of man or woman is generated in language and never offers stable position or meaning. It is a space of free and fluid identity transforming and changing itself. It can be seen as an attempt to bring about harmony and reconciliation, the singularity of each person and the multiplicity of every person’s identity. Thus, such a convincing approach will help women to take part in constructing pluralistic identity and in destabilizing discursive and scientific events of the historical time position based on enlightened modernity. It is a way of undoing totalization process which has the effect of essentializing gender identity into the categories of masculinity and femininity.

Gender Performativity

Another distinct postfeminist concern about gender equality is that how gender is constructed only to essentialize the sex or gender distinction as being natural. How is gender performance legalized into the established masculine-designated subject positions through an extension of the effects of the socialization and materialization process of gender category? Questions concerning about identity and gender have been an integral part of feminism that critique social power relations of symbolic representations and cultural embodiment in constructing and regulating gendered identity and subjectivity. In Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler, ant-essentialist, develops the notions of “gender performativity” and “gender performance.”In the former she elaborately discusses gender that is not a natural category into which one is born but a matter of performance, not what one is but what one does.


In Bodies That Matter, she illustrates that like sex and gender, the body “is productive, constitutive, one might even argue performative, inasmuch as this signifying act delimits and contours the body that it then claims to find prior to any and all signification” (6). The body is constructed in the symbolic space of the discursive norms that name it and regulate it:


The symbolic is understood as the normative dimension of the constitution of the sexed subject within language. It consists in a series of demands, taboos, sanctions, injunctions, prohibitions, impossible idealizations, and threats—performative speech acts, as it were, that wield the power to produce the field of culturally viable sexual subjects: performative acts, in other words, with the power to produce or materialize subjectivating effects. (70-71)


In terms of performativity, all aspects of femininity are re-inscribed in discursive patterns that compel forcible citations for the constructed subject rather than offering ontological existence. Butler (Gender 10) stated that “gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a previous sex (a juridical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established.” For this reason, according to her, there is no distinction between sex and gender, as both are given gendered categories, in which through gender the discursive practice on a “natural sex” is repeated and produced. This production of body or sex as the pre-discursive ought to be understood as the effects of the apparatus of cultural construction imposed to maintain the norms of heterosexuality designated by gender itself. The body is only a passive receiver of the cultural impression constraint by language itself. In her account gender hierarchy and its performative mode of production (i.e. materialization of gender and female body as performance) is done through the discursive practices. She (Gender 12) further argues that “‘the body’ appears as a passive medium on which cultural meanings are inscribed or as the instrument through which an appropriative and interpretive will determines a cultural meaning for itself.”


Gender Gap

Another significant concern about gender equality is gender gap. It is a gap between men and women across social, cultural, political, economic, and intellectual attainments. The reasons for this gap are the established biases that are repeated or symbolic acts or traditional stereotypes. In so doing, generally women are more deprived of their equity in various domains of their lives. It is the unequal distribution of life improvement factors such as health, education, economics, and politics between men and women. Apart from the developed countries, the gap is very wide open in most of the developing countries especially in the field of politics and economics. There would be immense possibilities of better economic attainment if gender equality is implemented.       

Discrimination and Violence against Women     

The symbolic function of socio-cultural construction of gender identity has become very explicit through different forms of discrimination and violence against women. Discrimination and violence against women are main barriers to women empowerment and gender equality. They are many in forms and biased in nature. However, they often go unnoticed and unresolved. In every field of violence wherever in the world, in general, women are often seriously affected. This has been done to them through the historical process of exclusion, bias, forcing, restraints, sexual stereotypes, exploitations, displacements, slavery, superiority, misogyny, entertainment, inequality, privileged authority, and unjust punishment. Generally, women are victims of domestic violence, gender-bias violence, economic exploitation, and exclusion of political participation practiced by individuals, organizations and enterprises. Thus, the “United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women” defines violence as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprived of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

Different Aspects of Women Empowerment

As an umbrella term, women empowerment comes in turn to all round development of women. This multidimensional approach, which has its origin in feminism, emphasizes the importance of the interrelationship between gender equality, economic growth, and the attainments of all human development indicators. There are different aspects of women empowerment. They are as follow:


It refers to a change of perception about oneself. At this level, women have awareness of her position, dignity, respect, personality, responsibility, visibility and individuality that will ultimately lead them to think empowerment. Through an intrinsic self-confidence and an inner transformation one can approach to overcome all external barriers or discriminations to gain empowerment.


The societal aspect emphasizes that women can involve themselves in articulating individual as well as collective consciousness against the false value systems and patriarchal ideologies prevalent in society. To ensure their values and societal relationship, women can transform traditional gender norms and work through democratic principles. If women build a positive image in a society and recognize their contributions to all spheres of their lives, this act would be more helpful in securing their rights, development, equity, and empowerment. 


The economic element shows that women have access to and control over economic resources that can ensure their economic autonomy. Apart from some Western countries, in most of the developing countries women are financially very poor. Lack of economic opportunity is the most common barrier to women’s progress and advantages. If the economic component is fulfilled it would precisely lead women to better productive activity, utilization, transmission, autonomy, and empowerment.


The psychological aspect shows that women can act at both personal and societal levels to improve their individual status and the society in which they live. It is a growing intrinsic consciousness to bring about a change in the society. 


Women’s political participation is another significant aspect of empowerment. Women have the ability to participate, analyze, organize, and mobilize for social change in and development. At this level, the important issues to be measured are female voting percentage, presence in administration, seats in parliament, female role in decision-making policies, and female development. The report of the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force notes that gender equality and empowerment cannot and will not be achieved without the female leaderships to create policies for social change: “without access to resources and opportunities, both political and economic, women will be unable to employ their capabilities for their well-being and that of their families, communities, and societies” (32).


Education is the most important aspect of all progress and empowerment. Though the literacy rates and enrolment have gradually been increasing over time, the overall performance of women is not satisfactory yet. The issues of female literacy rate, drop out, enrolment, stages of education help women measure educational opportunities and take necessary steps for their improvement.   


This area shows that job opportunities and earnings are more likely to empower women if they go through appropriate environment and make decisions about their own earnings. Education and household structure play a key role in affecting women’s financial autonomy.


It refers to the psychological processes of gaining control over one’s body and sexuality and the ability to protect oneself against stereotypical sexual violence in the empowerment process. Its main focus is on control through intellect and how to eschew violence.


Poverty and lack of sufficient nutrition are the ground reality of life in the Third World countries for the vast majority of women. There is a need to focus on infant mortality, maternal mortality, health facilities, life expectancy, contraceptive use and nutrition levels of women. However, there is an essential need to invest in securing women’s health.


Women’s less exposure to media secures their disadvantageous position in relation to men with regard to empowerment. They need more active participation in media in order to use this as a medium of exposition and assertion of their world along men.

Women’s Studies and Activism

To be more aware of their conditions and to develop universal sisterhood and consciousness, women need to form the study of women’s writing and literary tradition of what Elaine Showalter termed “gynocritics.”They need to share new knowledge with different organizations, practitioners, academics, teachers, and the general public. They should promote general awareness and practical strategies for gender equitable education through a series of seminars, conference, workshops and a range of book publications. It would be more invaluable for females, if gender study is taught as a part of syllabus in from the lower classes. Reviving the canonical tradition of female writing that has been a greater concern for feminists must be preserved. To make women empowerment more unified, advanced, active, and adventurous, the discipline of women’s studies is very important at academic as well as at non-academic levels. Such an attempt needs cooperation and self-empowerment in order to articulate, revive, preserve, and disseminate those issues related to female identity and equality.

Challenges to Women Empowerment

There have always been challenges for the progress of women empowerment in the feminist discourse itself. Third world feminism (synonymous with post-colonial feminism)  emerges during the 1980s as a distinct category oriented against mainstream feminism, because third world feminism’s categorization of “othering” and marginalization in the mainstream feminist discourse which has ethnocentric tendency and essentialist view in its separation from black feminism and third world feminism. Though based on liberatory experience, awareness, common goals of opportunities, equality, empowerment, addressing silent or oppressed subject and sexist stereotypes, mainstream feminism does not cope the multiple experiences of third world feminists who are triply colonized in colonial society, postcolonial society and their own society. Despite the charge of undermining and dividing western feminist tradition, third world feminists receive impetus from the mainstream feminism and envision their goals of exploring female experiences, empowerment and equality.

Developing countries are not yet free from traditional biases or stereotypes through which the status of a woman is dehumanized and subordinated. In many ways it is often seen that patriarchal society is more biased in favor of a male child in the belief that the male child will inherit the clan. Another attempt is attributing essentialist nature to women which decides the role of women as natural. Women are still marginalized in patriarchal society which operates through the concept of “phallogocentrism” that is associated with masculine and symbolic meaning. There are many constraints including poverty, lack of awareness, lack of support, lack of job opportunity, lack of money, lack of inheritance, illiteracy, prudish participation, threat, violence, less media exposure, and lack of courage to confront the situations or claim their rights. 


Last but not least, females are always stereotyped everywhere, shown as an object of desire; less are talked about their individuality, equality, and empowerment. Postfeminism is not a discourse, rather it is a task for females to discover how females can become individual and ask for right to live and think freely. It is the bold assertion of the sexuality and there should be the liberation of an individual being from the very discursive function of gender and sex.

              It can be said that various regional, national and international conventions, organizations, provisions, and laws are to be framed to empower women against discrimination and marginalization that exist at every level of society. In most of the developing countries women are poor and underprivileged. A few women are engaged in services and other activities. They need a more human and bottom-up approach for their development in economic, social, cultural and political spheres. Truly, the women in the developing countries need to be empowered but it is not possible without their own understanding of the reasons of their disempowerment and the realization of their position and collective strength in which the essence of empowerment lies. There is also a need to break a number of real dichotomies affecting women. Women need to stop the undesirable, to transform biased practices and create new visions. Mere access to education, employment, and development cannot help them in the process of empowerment. It requires a positive approach to their all-round development in a given society.

              To promote gender equality and empowerment, the women’s issues must be implemented accordingly. It cannot be possible unless women can come with awareness and help to self-empower themselves. By challenging and subverting gender bias and unequal discursive power relations women can gain power, visibility of their representation in all spheres of their lives. However, to conclude, it can be said that more work needs to be done at every level to create an atmosphere of positive attitude and collaboration.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith.Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex.’ Routledge, 2011.

---. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Taylor and Francis, 2006.

Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa,” translated by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, Summer, 1976, pp. 875-893.

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. United Nations,1993, projects.iq.harvard.edu/violenceagainstwomen/publications/declaration-elimination-violence-against-women-0.

Genz, Stéphanie, and Benjamin A. Brabon. Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories. Edinburgh UP, 2009.

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