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Feminism and Popular Culture

Feminism and Popular Culture: Investigating the Postfeminist Mystique

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Feminism and Popular Culture
    Book Description:

    When the term "postfeminism" entered the media lexicon in the 1990s, it was often accompanied by breathless headlines about the "death of feminism." Those reports of feminism's death may have been greatly exaggerated, and yet contemporary popular culture often conjures up a world in which feminism had never even been born, a fictional universe filled with suburban Stepford wives, maniacal career women, alluring amnesiacs, and other specimens of retro femininity.InFeminism and Popular Culture, Rebecca Munford and Melanie Waters consider why the twenty-first century media landscape is so haunted by the ghosts of these traditional figures that feminism otherwise laid to rest. Why, over fifty years since Betty Friedan's critique, does the feminine mystique exert such a strong spectral presence, and how has it been reimagined to speak to the concerns of a postfeminist audience?To answer these questions, Munford and Waters draw from a rich array of examples from contemporary film, fiction, music, and television, from the shadowy cityscapes ofHomelandto the haunted houses ofAmerican Horror Story. Alongside this comprehensive analysis of today's popular culture, they offer a vivid portrait of feminism's social and intellectual history, as well as an innovative application of Jacques Derrida's theories of "hauntology."Feminism and Popular Culturethus not only considers how contemporary media is being visited by the ghosts of feminism's past, it raises vital questions about what this means for feminism's future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6742-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Imelda Whelehan

    As I write this foreword I am also preparing a lecture for a Gender Studies course about the legacy of radical feminism. Many of the resources I use to get myself back in the radical feminist mood are ghostly impressions of the past, battered old copies ofMs.andSpare Rib, photocopies of ephemera retrieved from archives and libraries. As I handle them and try to make out the fading print, I am reminded of the originals I copied, themselves ghostly purpled Roneo-ed versions of someone’s hand-typed notes — a form of reproduction common when I was at school in the...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction Wonder Women: ‘All the world is waiting for you’
    (pp. 1-16)

    ‘Wonder Woman for President’. This demand, emblazoned in scarlet above the arresting image of a colossal Wonder Woman storming through main-street America, heralded the arrival in 1972 of a new feminist magazine on news-stands across the United States.Ms.magazine, co-founded by feminist journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, featured articles on abortion, domestic violence, pornography, housework and national politics and represented a vital intervention in mainstream media coverage of the women’s movement by providing an explicitly feminist account of its aims and activities to a mass readership. In providing a link between women’s glossy magazines and feminist political periodicals, the...

  6. 1 ‘Postfeminism’ or ‘ghost feminism’?
    (pp. 17-36)

    A spectre is haunting popular culture — the spectre of feminism. Here the flickering visage of Emily Wilding Davison as she throws herself in front of the king’s horse; there a crepuscular Andrea Dworkin addressing the first Take Back the Night march; behind us the spectral swell of whistle-blowing liberationists storming the 1970 Miss World Pageant in London. Attended upon by such phantoms, feminism is not only in perpetual communion with its past and those who formed it, but also with itself. Certainly, the tendency to Gothicize feminism (and feminists) is an increasingly prevalent strategy within popular and academic scholarship about...

  7. 2 Postfeminist haunts: Working girls in and out of the urban labyrinth
    (pp. 37-70)

    In ‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’ (1927), Virginia Woolf casts an at once enthralling and unsettling picture of the haunted spaces and ghostly presences of the modern city. The pretext for Woolf’s narrator to satisfy her desire to go ‘street rambling’ is the purchase of a pencil – a ploy that signals from the outset an intimate connection between the position of the woman writer and the woman walker (70). In ‘Street Haunting’, the public space of the modern city is cast as a Gothic site of dispossession and dislocation for the female subject who roams away from the familiar and...

  8. 3 Haunted housewives and the postfeminist mystique
    (pp. 71-104)

    Jostled from the feminist stage by the worldly figure of the professional, market-savvy, single girl, the housewife has lingered as a shadowy presence in the wings; relegated to the role of prompt, she has tended to be deployed, within popular and feminist narratives alike, as a reminder to her feminist sisters of everything that feminism is not. As the default model of un-liberated domestic femininity, the housewife has functioned as a convenient cultural shorthand for oppressed womanhood since the first critical stirrings of second wave feminism in the late 1940s. From Beauvoir’s doomed ‘wife-servant’ (473) to Greer’s domestic ‘slave’ (327),...

  9. 4 Who’s that girl? Slayers, spooks and secret agents
    (pp. 105-132)

    ‘It will take a while’, writes Gloria Steinem in the foreword toTo Be Real(1995), ‘before feminists succeed enough so that feminism is not perceived as a gigantic mother who is held responsible for almost everything, while the patriarchy receives terminal gratitude for the favors it bestows’ (xix). Just as Virginia Woolf detected murderous intent in the tormented relationship between the feminist and the housewife, so too is the mother-daughter relationship — that seems always to beset the progress of feminist history — inflected by deadly desire. In an article forHarper’s Magazine, entitled ‘American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide’, Faludi proclaims...

  10. 5 The return of the repressed: Feminism, fear and the postfeminist gothic
    (pp. 133-168)

    As a figure of ‘becoming’, poised to open up different ‘lines of flight’, the girl exerts an electrifying influence over the Gothic text, returning again and again to recharge its old generic circuitry through the galvanic potential of her transitional body. The Gothic itself, of course, also recedes and re-emerges with remarkable tenacity, providing a suggestive site at which feminist anxieties – particularly those which circulate around girlish and womanly bodies – can be symbolized and contested. From Ann Radcliffe’sThe Mysteries of Udolpho(1794) to the dark erotics of shows likeTrue Blood, the conventions of the Gothic have been deployed...

  11. Ghostscript
    (pp. 169-172)

    ‘A question of repetition’, writes Derrida, ‘a specter is always a revenant. One cannot control its comings and goings because itbegins by coming back’ (11; emphasis in original). We have traced in this book the peculiar gusts of amnesia that sweep across the cultural landscape as well as the anachronistic models of femininity that are the lifeblood of the postfeminist mystique. Resuscitating and reanimating images and styles of femininity that belong to the past, the postfeminist mystique speculates readily and obsessively on the death of feminism. But, as Derrida conveys, ‘[s]peculation is always fascinated, bewitched by the specter’ (57);...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 173-184)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-208)