There are some issues with this, not least the pathological forms of identity politics that have become indistinguishable from intersectionality in the eyes of many participants and observers of the relevant debates. What strikes me, however, is how none of these debates are nothing new. Historical debates within feminism since the 60s were characterised by the "classical" distinctions between liberal, socialist and radical feminisms which, in the 80s and 90s, were followed by critiques attacking unconscious 'race', class, cis-gendered, and heteronormative biases, and a valorisation of doubly/triply etc. oppressed experiences of womanhood, are visited and revisited by today's 'third wave' feminism. This is less a 'second time as farce' repetition, even if the chosen venues for such arguments are Facebook and Twitter feeds, and more a cycle reflecting the persistence (or the perception of persistence) of really existing issues.
Without getting into the debates themselves, over the course of the last year my Twitter feed has been lit up by the refusal of a group of radical feminists to admit transwomen access to their events, of apologies for not checking one's privilege, and accusations that powerful white women in the mainstream commentariat use their position to exclude BME women. Go back to 1992 and you would find the same complaints reported in academic overviews of the then burgeoning postmodern feminist scene. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It's important to grasp the tacit theoretical agreements underpinning the disputes in postmodern feminism to have a handle on what's going on today. Contrary to contemporary crude renderings of postmodernism, these were very much concerned with the materially-lived existences of women bearing the marks of multiple oppressions. They were not about denying the possibility of developing sociological knowledge or activist-oriented theory, just sceptical towards what Lyotard called metanarratives. That is overly-simplistic catch-all theories that claim to explain everything, such as neoliberalism, or the Duplo Marxism common to most Trot groups. This is a scepticism that is well-justified considering at best the experience of women, let alone gay women, black women, etc. were dismissed as distractions or, at worst, people-categories to be manipulated and/or scapegoated and/or oppressed.
The tendency of the re-presentation of these debates for the poststructuralist movement among the 90s academy was not so much the under-appreciation of their materiality but the near-exclusive focus on identity. If postmodern feminism accepted the critiques that all three types of 2nd wave feminism with its unconscious privileging of white, middle class, Western women, if feminism then cannot speak for 'all women', who can it speak for and what can it do? One way was to try and find new universals women hold in common (for example, see here). Another option was to take the analytical scalpel and slice deeper into the social relations responsible for disaggregating 'woman', ending up with the distinctively pomo project of trying to destabilise gender relations by showing their discursive roots and free-floating performative character. Another strand still looked at ways of exploring alliances between different groups of women to achieve certain objectives, and to which intersectionality properly corresponds.
However, what is evacuated from postmodern feminism - even though the materiality of oppression is front and centre - is interest. This will be visited again when I get round to blogging about class and intersectionality. It's sufficient to say here that within the terms of postmodern feminism, its disappearance is understandable. With the fragmentation of the unified subject 'woman' who has certain interests vis a vis patriarchy, it follows there are instead multiplicities of interests - some of which might be at odds with one another. There's also the recognition that making assumptions about certain women's interests might actually infringe on hard-won autonomies. Who am I, as a white woman, to declare that the hijab is a symbol of Muslim women's oppression? Who am I, as a straight woman, to cast aspersions on the political strategy of lesbian separatist feminists? Who am I, as a bloke without much of an evening life, to pronounce on the topic of women's interests?
Postmodern feminism dealt with it by not dealing with it. By leaving interest untheorised a thousand relativist flowers bloomed. Those feminists who wanted to build alliances among women were hamstrung because the absence of interest gave no grounds for such an coalition to be articulated. Trying to rally the troops behind Butlerian deconstruction of gender and sex as discursive constructs in specialist journals weren't much of a go-er.
Unfortunately, it's this legacy of postmodern feminism that gets replicated in the social media wars of 3rd Wave Feminism, albeit on a larger, pathological scale. It appears as if convulsed by identity wars, of authenticity vs faux feminism, of privilege vs underprivilege, of contestations of who counts and who doesn't count as a woman. This doesn't preclude participants from shifting wider public debates about the status of women-in-general, or staging high profile stunts, or winning campaigns. Yet for the most part, the ethereality of feminism as postmodern identity politics lends itself well to the public presentation of self social media fosters, of the kind of discursive loop where what is and what isn't feminism is gone over time and again.
Yet the seeds for overcoming this seeming dead end can be found within the impetus that has remade feminism a force to be reckoned with. As the internet generally and social media specifically opened up public life to millions and millions of people, women not only found new spaces to share experiences but found the same old sexist, misogynistic crap had taken up the keyboards too. Remember, oppression (in this case gender) is a social relation and as per the old, traditional ways it defined women as second class citizens, as objects ripe for abuse. Regardless of identity and its nuances, the wave of discrimination that fell upon women - ironically - did not discriminate. The standpoint of patriarchal privilege and power cares nothing for difference among women, save for avenues it can drive cartloads of divide-and-conquer down. The starting point isn't a universalist subject of feminist agency or endless fights over what that looks like, but rather the catch-all negative constitution of woman by those who benefit from it. And what feminism and socialist politics can do.