Feminism/s in power: Rethinking gender equality after the second wave

Ann Shola Orloff, Talia Shiff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In recent decades, it is possible to point to a new and evolving debate among analysts of sexuality, political economy, and culture, focused on the implications of feminism's changing relations to institutions of state power and law in the United States. According to these analysts, to whom we refer as the critics of feminism in power, the alliances formed between some feminists and neoliberal and conservative elites, coupled with the installation of feminist ideas in law and state institutions problematize the once commonly held assumption, shared by second-wave feminists, that all women, regardless of differences in social location, face certain kinds of exclusions. With women entering formal positions of power from states to NGOs to corporations, this assumption cannot stand. Critical analysts of feminists in power insist that we consider the implications of advancing a feminist politics not from the margins of society but from within the precincts of power. They shine a light on a change in feminism's relation to institutions of state power and law as reflected in new political alliances forming between feminists and neoliberal and conservative elites, and the political and discursive uses to which feminist ideas and ideals have been put. Building on work on inequalities and hierarchies among women, these critics take up specifically political questions concerning the kind of feminist politics to be promoted in today's changed gendered landscape. Perhaps most notably, they make explicit a concern shared by radical political movements more generally: what does it mean when the ideas of those who were once considered political outsiders become institutionalized within core sites of state power and law? At the same time, the very broad-brush narratives concerning the cooptation of feminism by neoliberalism put forth by some of these analysts could be complemented with historical and empirical research on specific instances of feminism's reciprocal, though still unequal, relationship with neoliberalism and state power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-134
Number of pages26
JournalPolitical Power and Social Theory
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Feminism
  • Law
  • Neoliberalism
  • Politics
  • Power
  • State


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