At root of the treatment of Lewinsky, Harding, Hill, and Bobbitt is good old fashioned misogyny, inflected with complicated mixes of racism, exoticism, puritanism, and classism. But that’s also the history of treatment for basically anyone in America. What distinguishes their treatment is its intersection with postfeminism: the idea that began to take hold in the late ‘80s, enduring through the mid ‘00s, that we, as a society, were “beyond” the need for feminism. Feminism had done its work, in other words — Women could have credit cards! There was Cosmopolitan! Women were in the workplace! — and was no longer necessary. In place of feminism, there was “girl power” (think Spice Girls) and “commodity feminism,” e.g. the idea that one’s ability to buy things was tantamount to liberation (see: Pretty Woman).


When we reconsider Lorena [Bobbitt] — and Anita Hill, and Tonya Harding, and Monica Lewinsky — part of what we are reconsidering is postfeminism in general. I remember, when I first learned about postfeminism as a concept, feeling like it had unlocked so much of my youth: Oh, that’s why it wasn’t cool to be a feminist! That’s what’s going on in Pretty Woman! That’s why I never liked the Spice Girls but could never articulate why! That’s why Sex and the City is so ideologically confused!

Anne Helen Petersen on post-postfeminism.

One of those “right in the feels” essays for those of us who grew up female and confused in the ’90s and ’00s…