20 Pages

From Separate Spheres to Dangerous Streets: Postmodernist Feminism and the Problem of Order*

WithElizabeth Fox-Genovese

The postmodernist critique of modernism, upon which postmodernist feminists are increasingly drawing, faults modernism for having cognitively and epistemologically divided the world into dichotomous or binary pairs. For many feminists, as Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell argue, the distinction between an impersonal public and a personal private sphere, with the attendant distinction between public and private interests, has been "constitutive not only of the institutional structure of modern, Western societies but [has] shaped the dominant conception of reason and rationality in them as well." In theoretical terms, the theorists of individualism explicitly imagined the individual as an impersonal entity—a unit of sovereignty and cognition. In the measure that their primary objectives were political, they sought a theory that would justify the representation and protect the integrity of absolute private property. The most visible feminist positions, notwithstanding their persisting differences, have been disproportionately driven by the concerns of single, white, affluent, and well-educated women.