The term post-feminism is used in inconsistent ways. For many, it suggests the belief that feminism has succeeded in its goal of achieving equality for women, although many feminists maintain that this understanding implies a satisfaction or even complacency with the male-dominated status quo within society.
One of the earliest uses of the term "post-feminism," was in the article Voices of the Post-Feminist Generation by Susan Bolotin, published in 1982 in the New York Times Magazine. Post-feminism gained greater currency in the last two decades of the 20th century. At first it was seen as "anti-feminist," but later the term was understood as a useful frame of reference that encompasses the intersection of feminism with a number of other movements, such as post-modernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism. Post-feminism represents feminism's maturity into a confident body of theory and politics that represents pluralism and difference. It reflects on its position in relation to other philosophical and political movements that demand change.
The use of "post," as a prefix to feminism, as in the case of post-colonialism and post-modernism, often denotes a complete break in a previous range of relations. In the case of post-feminism, the concept of "post," implies a process of ongoing change and transformation.
The media clearly has a powerful role in framing the popular understanding of post-feminism. The emphasis of much of the popular conception of post-feminism focuses on the attack on some of the most powerful cornerstones of the Women's Movement and, more generally, second-wave feminism. The conceptual reference points of this popular post-feminism are clearly focused on the issue of "women's rights" and equal opportunities and thus on a white, western, middle-class, mainly northern hemispheral, conception of feminism.
This conceptual repertoire provides a useful point of distinction from the way post-modernism is framed within the feminist academic community. Post-feminism as understood from this perspective is about the conceptual shift within feminism from debates around equality to a focus on debates around difference. It is fundamentally about a political shift in the conceptual and theoretical agenda of feminism. This move is about a critical engagement with earlier feminist political and theoretical concepts and strategies that has resulted from its engagement with other social movements for change.
Post-feminism expresses the intersection of feminism with post-modernism, post-colonialism, and post-structuralism, and represents a dynamic movement that is capable of challenging patriarchal, modernist and imperialist frameworks. In this process, post-feminism facilitates a broad-based, pluralistic conception of the application of feminism and addresses the demands of marginalized, colonized, diasporic cultures for a non-hegemonic feminism that is capable of giving voice to indigenous, local and postcolonial feminisms. Post-feminism is about the challenges posed to feminism, with its roots clearly located in the Anglo-American influences that were so powerful in the conceptualization of second-wave feminism.
The mapping of the major moments within postfeminism is complex as well as multifaceted, having significant chronological and geographical distinctions. Many writers, theoreticians and practitioners in the movement write at the point of intersection of a number of theoretical, conceptual and disciplinary influences. Others write out of an experience of the unacceptable face of hegemonic feminism in different cultural and geographical contexts, while some have drawn on a range of debates in the area of cultural theory. What all post-feminist writers, theoreticians and practitioners have in common is an understanding of feminist theory. Some theorists have seen post-feminism as the culmination of a number of debates and fiercely fought arguments from both within and outside feminism.