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Feminist Erasures presents a collection of essays that examines the state of feminism in North America and Western Europe by focusing on multiple sites such as media, politics and activism. Through individual examples, the essays reveal the extent to which feminism has been made (in)visible and (ir)relevant in contemporary Western culture.



Introduction: (In)visible and (Ir)relevant: Setting a Context

1. Introduction: (In)visible and (Ir)relevant: Setting a Context

We are feminist scholars and educators who live on opposite ends of the ‘pond.’ We are also, when not writing and teaching, mothers, partners, daughters, sisters, and friends to a myriad of people in our lives. Our own experiences as women who work, in a conventional sense, and then work as gendered beings provide a foundation for our approach to this book. We fully recognize the burdens our gender places on us; at the same time we acknowledge the many opportunities that feminism has given us. The historical struggles of the feminist movement have given us the tools, the means, the legislature, and the social context to thrive in the ways that are important to us in our personal and professional lives. In keeping with this, the diversity of this book reflects the many spaces that women occupy and perform gender, and the ways in which these performances translate to cultural norms and conventions about being female.
Kumarini Silva, Kaitlynn Mendes

Teaching Feminism


2. CEOs and Office Hos: Notes from the Trenches of Our Women’s Studies Classrooms

An increasing trend on US college campuses is that of the CEOs and Office Hos party theme, whereby men show up ‘all cleaned up and in a suit’ and women dress in their most ‘scandalous secretarial undergarments’ (‘CEOs and Office Hoes’ 2011). As with any form of popular culture, students engage with this manifestation of unequal gender roles in a variety of ways — some with passive acceptance, some with ironic play, others with distaste and rejection. However, considering the range of issues young women continue to face on college campuses and beyond, including sexual violence, racism, class and sexuality anxieties, and body image concerns, it is unsettling that female students are attending parties that suggest, among other things, that they are not ‘CEO material.’
Sara T. Bernstein, Elise M. Chatelain

3. Suture and Scars: Evidencing the Struggles of Academic Feminism

Our personal experiences as emerging scholars1 shape the contours of this chapter. What began as a conversation many years ago over a cup of coffee has become a deeper reflection, channeling the various opinions and feelings of our graduate cohort,2 and presented here as a first iteration that attempts to make sense of these shared experiences. The validity afforded to drawing from our ‘personal experience’ has itself long informed feminist modes of meaning-making: we have learned to value the personal as political, to find our voice, to enunciate, and also to acknowledge the limitations of our point of view. Because an important part of our training as feminist scholars has been to locate relations of power, this reflection has meant locating ourselves within a complex network of agents, to willfully complicate, rather than reduce the complexities of, the issues with which we are confronted. The feminist struggle is ongoing, and at once internal, structural, and institutional.
Andrea Zeffiro, Mél Hogan

4. Feminist Erasures: The Development of a Black Feminist Methodological Theory

Within the social sciences, and particularly in political science,1 feminist methods and theory are seen as valuable only within its own disciplinary boundaries, and limited to its own departments or program, often named women’s studies, gender studies, and/or feminist studies. While the move within the academy to formalize the study of women, gender, and feminism is an important one,2 these disciplinary boundaries unfortunately have the result of rendering the study and practice of feminist intellectual work invisible to the rest of the academy. Too often, feminist theory and methodological practice is only carried out by one or two female academics within individual departments, and these academics also happen to be connected with various iterations of women’s studies departments, centers, or programs. As a result, feminist discourse is often absent from broader discourses within the larger academy, which is rife with methodological habits that fail to adequately measure and assess the lives, habits, and politics of marginalized populations at large. Contextualized within this broader condition, this chapter argues that feminism should have an important role in the methodological conventions of the social sciences, especially political science. More specifically, the chapter contends that black feminist theory should be more fully incorporated into the discipline of political science because it specifies how political scientists can better study populations on the margins of American society.
Alexandra Moffett-Bateau

Feminism in Popular Culture


5. Illegible Rage: Performing Femininity in Manhattan Call Girl

In her book chapter ‘Illegible Rage: Post-feminist Disorders’ Angela McRobbie (2009) suggests that young women in Western societies are routinely addressed by government and media bodies on the understanding that gender equality has been achieved and that there is no longer any reason for any form of organized feminist movement. Yet, as she argues, this equality appears to have been mysteriously achieved without real change to patriarchal structures in society. Equally mysteriously, women appear to suffer from a new range of normalized pathologies that are understood as simply part of being ‘female.’ Body issues, selfesteem problems and anxiety about achieving certain markers of femininity such as marriage and motherhood are all understood to some extent to be a part of ‘normal’ contemporary young womanhood. There are a range of therapies, self-help guides, and forums — such as advice pages in women’s magazines that respond to these pathologies in place of feminist critique — which set new norms and values for young womanhood and reinforce young women’s beliefs that there are no radical alternatives. As McRobbie states: ‘the attributing of normative discontent to young women has become a key mechanism for the production of sexual difference, it provides a vocabulary for understanding the female body-ego as prone to anxiety, as lacking in certain respects, as insufficient to self-esteem’ (2009, p. 98).
Katherine Hindle

6. Empowered Vulnerability?: A Feminist Response to the Ubiquity of Sexual Violence in the Pilots of Female-Fronted Teen Drama Series

This chapter emerges from a striking observation: in stark contrast to male-fronted or ensemble-based teen series, female-fronted programs commonly feature representations of sexual violence in their initial episodes. This recurring trend occurs in US and British teen series spanning a 15-year period, including My So-Called Life (1994–95), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), Veronica Mars (2004–7), Hex (2004–5), and The Vampire Diaries (2009—present). However, although much contemporary feminist scholarship engages with many of these female-fronted series, their ubiquitous representations of sexual violence have been largely overlooked. This omission is surprising given the pervasive anxiety that surrounds the sexualization of young girls in contemporary popular culture more widely. Instead, feminist teen television scholarship tends to focus on autonomous viewing pleasure and the representation of individual heroines in isolated programs (particularly Buffy), making it ill-suited to say anything broader about men, masculinity, and gender relations. More importantly, the relentless focus on isolated heroines means that the more urgent goals of feminism — such as eradicating gendered inequality and male violence against women — slip from view. This chapter addresses this critical neglect, interrogating how sexual violence functions narratively and ideologically in these series’ pilots.
Susan Berridge

7. Against Conformity: Families, Respectability, and the Representation of Gender-Nonconforming Youth of Color in Gun Hill Road and Pariah

In 2011, the Sundance Film Festival featured two films portraying queer youth in New York City. Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, Gun Hill Road (2011) was marketed as ‘the story of a family in transition’ featuring ‘a young man exploring his sexuality in an intolerant and judgmental world and his exploration’s impact on his relationship with his parents and himself’ (‘About the Film’ 2011). Set in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, Dee Rees’s Pariah (2011) tells the story of Alike, a 17-year-old African American woman who ‘is quietly but firmly embracing her identity as a lesbian’ and is ‘especially eager to find a girlfriend’ as she navigates her parents’ strained marriage (‘Story’ 2011).
Natalie Havlin, Celiany Rivera-Velázquez

8. Women, Gender, and the Financial Markets in Hollywood Films

In Boiler Room (2000), a group of loud, young stockbrokers sit at a bar teasing and joking. One of the jokes is about a feminist submitting to the man: ‘why did the feminist cross the road? To suck my balls.’ This joke illustrates a popular belief that the financial industry is a male-dominated environment. In The Associate (1996), a middle-aged, old-fashioned secretary vents to an African American female executive that Wall Street is a sexist place. She says, ‘[t]he women’s movement, it didn’t make it to Wall Street.’ The executive replies by saying that her achievement is not a result of affirmative action, but of hard work and talent. The financial market is assumed to be a place where anyone — men and women, wealthy and poor — can succeed if one is hard-working, persistent, and money-minded. Given the two contradictory beliefs about the industry, we apply a feminist political economic perspective to analyze how the financial industry is represented in Hollywood films. This approach examines a gendered production, distribution, and consumption of goods and resources. It also critiques how ideology is used to stabilize the unbalanced power relation between the two genders (Lee 2011).
Micky Lee, Monika Raesch

9. Gladiator in a Suit?: Scandal’s Olivia Pope and the Post-Identity Regulation of Physical Agency

The US television drama Scandal (2012-present) provides a rare feature in American television: an African American heroine wielding considerable political clout as the series’ protagonist. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a clever, driven, and highly successful crisis manager whose clients include politicians, businesspeople, and others with deep pockets and powerful allies. A self-professed ‘gladiator in a suit,’ she fights political battles for her clients and friends with fierce determination. At the Pope and Associates crisis management firm, Olivia surrounds herself with a team of law and intelligence specialists who assist her in spinning public relations stories, covering up accidental deaths, and brokering clandestine negotiations. Each episode revolves around a crisis while introducing numerous other complications — all with the lead gladiator charging the way. The series is brimming with melodrama, intrigue, and, yes, numerous scandals encircling the first black female protagonist in a US television drama in nearly 40 years (Vega 2013).1
Jennifer McClearen

Becoming Mother


10. Got Milk?: Motherhood, Breastfeeding, and (Re)domesticating Feminism

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex that ‘Woman has ovaries, a uterus: these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature.’ She went on to note that while women are often critiqued (and ridiculed) for thinking with their ‘glands,’ that ‘Man superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it’ (p. 27). At that time, Beauvoir’s reflections — that women’s biological functions and reproductive practices were being translated into social conventions about femininity and the feminine — were met with considerable criticisms, and little support. More than 60 years later, the value of her observation is much clearer, especially as women continue to be the ‘second sex’ within patriarchal social, economic, and political structures that govern much of the globe. Cultural tropes that reinforce women as more emotional, more impulsive, and therefore in greater need of domestication, have long been critiqued by feminists, but continue to thrive in contemporary US culture. This is in spite of the great strides made by feminist activisms, especially in the last 40 years.
Kumarini Silva

11. Running Mother Ragged: Women and Labor in the Age of Telework

In February 2013, the CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, declared an end to telework — or the ability to work from home — for her employees. Mayer, who left Google for Yahoo! while five months pregnant, famously announced that she only required two weeks of maternity leave before returning to work. Mayer also built a nursery in her office for her new-born son, and has a nanny on site to help with childcare; the irony was not lost on her employees. In a Daily Mail article from 26 February, an employee asked what would happen if his wife brought their son to work at Yahoo! and set the baby up in the adjacent cubicle (Larson & Peterson 2013, p. 1). Mayer can afford to work from home because she simply built her house into the Yahoo! offices. Lisa Belkin, a columnist for The Huffington Post, accused Mayer of being out of touch with the needs of working mothers, and of being stuck in the past when she ended telework (Belkin 2013). In another article called ‘The New Mommy Wars’ (2013) Joanne Bamberger of USA Today alleged that Mayer had launched ‘the latest salvo in the war on moms. The amount of household help they (wealthy female executives) can afford to manage their family lives isn’t a reality for the vast majority of women and never will be.’
Eric Lohman

12. Infertility Blogging, Body, and the Avatar

Blogging is now considered to be a widespread and lasting phenomenon and yet, with some notable exceptions, critical reception has been limited by several factors. Geert Lovink (2008) notes the tendency of scholars to presume that ‘blogs have a symbiotic relationship with the news industry,’ and he argues that in order to provide a more comprehensive assessment of blogging this must be countered. For example, he suggests that ‘it would be important to dig into the rich history of literary criticism and see how blogging relates to diary keeping’ (p. 6).
Rosemary Hepworth



13. SlutWalk, Feminism, and News

In January 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti addressed a small group of York University students on campus safety. Prefaced by the statement, ‘I’m told I’m not supposed to say this,’ he went on to advise that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized’ (Kwan 2011). While his intentions might have been to protect women, his comments that ‘slutty’ women attract sexual assault perpetuated the long-standing myth that victims are responsible for the violence used against them. In response to PC Sanguinetti’s comments, a group of local women translated their concern into political activism. Three months later, the first SlutWalk took place in Toronto, attended by thousands. By the end of the year, SlutWalks were organized in over 100 cities in 40 nations, mobilizing tens of thousands of women, men, and children.
Kaitlynn Mendes

14. A Critical Reading of SlutWalk in the News: Reproducing Postfeminism and Whiteness

Since its inception in April 2011, SlutWalk has exploded from a Toronto-based protest into a global grassroots movement against victim-blaming through virtual activism and traditional media coverage. Because of the unprecedented mainstream visibility of SlutWalk, I argue it is a key site of analysis for understanding the place of feminist politics and protest in Canadian culture. Drawing on the theoretical and methodological tools of feminism and cultural studies, this chapter presents some key findings from a contextualized reading and discourse analysis of the representations of SlutWalk across Canadian print, radio, and televisual media during its first nine months of press. I begin this chapter by describing my experience at SlutWalk in Kingston, Ontario on 9 March 2012; this narrative serves as an entry point into a discussion about my rationale and research methodology. Then, with reference to key excerpts and trends, I demonstrate how the media oversimplified both the problem of slut-shaming and the politics of SlutWalk primarily through a visual whitewashing of solidarity, victimhood, and resistance. I argue that the media spectacle surrounding SlutWalk is premised on an unmarked white positionality that renders invisible the experiences of people of color and essentializes gender differences.
Lauren McNicol


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