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Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers

Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers

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    Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers
    Book Description:

    Since the 1990s, whenReviving Opheliabecame a best seller and "Girl Power" a familiar anthem, girls have assumed new visibility in the culture. Yet in asserting their new power, young women have redefined femininity in ways that have often mystified their mothers. They have also largely disavowed feminism, even though their new influence is a likely legacy of feminism's Second Wave. At the same time, popular culture has persisted in idealizing, demonizing, or simply erasing mothers, rarely depicting them in strong and loving relationships with their daughters.

    Unruly Girls, Unrepentent Mothers,a companion to Kathleen Rowe Karlyn's groundbreaking work,The Unruly Woman, studies the ways popular culture and current debates within and about feminism inform each other. Surveying a range of films and television shows that have defined girls in the postfeminist era-fromTitanicandMy So-Called LifetoScreamandThe Devil Wears Prada, and fromLove and BasketballtoUgly Betty-Karlyn explores the ways class, race, and generational conflicts have shaped both Girl Culture and feminism's Third Wave. Tying feminism's internal conflicts to negative attitudes toward mothers in the social world, she asks whether today's seemingly materialistic and apolitical girls, inspired by such real and fictional figures as the Spice Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, have turned their backs on the feminism of their mothers or are redefining unruliness for a new age.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-78480-2
    Subjects: Film Studies, Performing Arts, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: BAD MOTHERS, ANGRY GIRLS
    (pp. 1-24)

    One of the emotional turning points of the 1997 blockbusterTitanicoccurs soon after the ship’s collision with the iceberg that will sink it within hours. In a scene of escalating panic and chaos, Ruth (Frances Fisher), the mother of the film’s headstrong protagonist Rose (Kate Winslet), urges her daughter to join her in a lifeboat quickly filling with other members of the upper class. Rose is revolted by her mother’s snobbery and yearns to remain with her newfound love Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frisky young fellow traveling in steerage. She pauses, fixes her gaze on her mother, then refuses...

  5. 1 Postfeminism and the Third Wave: TITANIC
    (pp. 25-48)

    One of the most perplexing issues in any discussion of contemporary feminism is why young women disavow a social movement intended to benefit them. In the late 1990s, despite the ascendancy of Girl Culture, feminism became an easy target for women who did not feel that they had benefited from the highly touted economic boom of the decade, and who in fact were working harder than ever to get by, with less time to enjoy the rewards of domesticity and family life. At the same time, while most young women agreed with feminism’s basic principles, such as equal pay for...

    (pp. 49-76)

    Here are a few suggestive tales from American popular culture of the late 1990s:

    In the filmamerican Beauty(Sam Mendes, 1999), Lester Burnham, middle-aged and middle management, throws off the responsibilities of the comfortable life he has come to despise when he begins to fantasize about having sex with his teenage daughter’s best friend. Lester’s rebellion brings about his death, but not before he redeems himself through an enlightenment that is at once moral, spiritual, and artistic.

    InArmageddon(Michael Bay, 1998), an aging warrior faces down both an asteroid headed to planet Earth and a young hotshot with...

    (pp. 77-98)

    Cher, the pretty sixteen-year-old protagonist of Amy Heckerling’sClueless(1995), is a rich dumb blonde who is a mediocre student at best, and is obsessed with the pleasures of fashion, beauty culture, and shopping. A coy daddy’s girl, she pouts and whines when she’s frustrated, and her speech is riddled with girly slang. Her universe is filtered entirely through popular culture: she prefers watching cartoons to the news, and she takes pride in the fact that her mother named her after the legendary goddess of pop schlock and excess.

    This small film, a piece of apparent cinematic fluff, appears at...

  8. 4 Final Girls and Epic Fantasies: REMAKING THE WORLD
    (pp. 99-126)

    For some unruly Third Wave girls, the genres of laughter—the romantic comedies or comedy/melodramas inspired byClueless(1995)—could no longer contain their desire, and the dangers of the world as they perceived it could no longer be represented by the verbal and emotional warfare of Girl World. Film and TV genres hybridized and mutated to accommodate female action figures that kickboxed, slugged, and slaughtered enemies, both mortal and demonic. The romantic comedy/action filmMr. and Mrs. Smith(2005), with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as its sexy, sparring lovers, pushed the limits of romantic comedy by replacing wordplay...

  9. 5 How Reese Witherspoon Walks the Line
    (pp. 127-160)

    Kevin smith, the enterprising creator ofClerks(1994),Mallrats(1995), and other films popular among Generation X males, can’t stand Reese Witherspoon. He devotes a chapter of his bookSilent Bob Speaks—“The Unholy Tale of Greasy Reese Witherspoon” (53– 61)—to his fantasy of egging her house because he finds her insufferable. “ She’sfauxerudite as all hell, and condescending to boot,” he writes (54). He knows this about her because he saw her snub one of his friends, and she appears not to think very much of his work. Not surprisingly, Smith takes an ironic tone, ensuring that his...

  10. 6 Teen–Girl Melodramas: MY SO-CALLED LIFE AND THIRTEEN
    (pp. 161-190)

    Allison anders’s indie filmGas Food Lodging(1992) begins with its young protagonist Shade, played by Fairuza Balk, sitting in the Sunn Cinema, a rundown old theater in a lonely corner of New Mexico. She is alone, and her eyes are riveted to the screen, brimming with tears, as she gazes at a Mexican melodrama featuring the fictional star Elvia Rivera. In voice-over, she describes that whenever Elvia’s films come to town she comes alive, her emotions awakening against the desolation and flatness of her hometown. The scene is a compelling image of cinematic suture and teen-girl cinephilia. Inspired by...

  11. 7 Girls of Color: BEYOND GIRL WORLD
    (pp. 191-226)

    Abc’s ugly betty was inspired by the Colombian telenovelaYo Soy Betty, La Fea(1990– 2001), but for North American viewers knowledgeable about popular culture, the hit series’s most immediate debt is toThe Devil Wears Prada. Beginning with its pilot episode,Ugly Bettymakes abundant references to the film and to other well-known examples from Girl Culture. Betty, a smart but somewhat overweight and fashion-challenged young woman, accepts a job at the fashion magazineMode. There, like Andy inThe Devil Wears Prada, she encounters Girl World, again grown up and camped up. However, she responds to it in...

  12. 8 The Motherline and a Wicked Powerful Feminism: ANTONIA’S LINE
    (pp. 227-254)

    This book has been filled with the voices of unruly girls. FromTitanic to Clueless,Ugly Betty to Thirteen, in comedy, melodrama, and horror, the daughters of the postfeminist era have made their presence felt throughout media culture. However, that has not been so true for their mothers. Reviewing the last seven chapters for the voices of mothers, I hear few rising with unrepentant power. It would seem that Rose’s salvo to her mother inTitanic—“Oh, Mother, shut up!”—magically silenced the mothers who followed, or rendered them unworthy of a sympathetic ear. Recall the mothers ofAmerican Beauty,...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 255-258)

    As i bringthischronicle to its end, I realize there is some unfinished business that still lingers. But first, a few words on how unfinished business haunts most academic work. Feminism has taken us a long way toward recognizing the standpoints from which we make our scholarly claims, and how those standpoints limit the scope and authority of those claims. But we still remain uneasy about revealing thepersonalstakes behind our work—why we’re drawn to one project rather than another, what unfinished emotional business we circle around from the safe distance of our intellects. Whatever gives purpose...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 259-278)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 279-296)
  16. Index
    (pp. 297-308)