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Single Women in Popular Culture demonstrates how single women continue to be figures of profound cultural anxiety. Examining a wide range of popular media forms, this is a timely, insightful and politically engaged book, exploring the ways in which postfeminism limits the representation of single women in popular culture.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
Since the mid-1990s, the heterosexual single woman has been hyper-visible in Western popular culture. As the first generation since feminism’s second-wave moved into their 20s and 30s, a purportedly new subjectivity for women appeared to be gaining cultural currency in Western media culture. Indicative of this trend, Sex and the City seemed to celebrate the single woman of a certain demographic (white, financially secure, and heterosexual). She also appeared in popular fiction and film in the form of the loveable, scatty Bridget Jones and other similar ‘chick lit’ heroines. More recently, newspaper articles coining new labels for the single woman have been appearing with increasing regularity. Single women have variously been cast as ‘freemales’, ‘TWITS’ (teenage women in their 30s), and let’s not forget that offensive age-specific appellation for mid-life women who date younger men: ‘cougar’. As a consequence of the intense public focus upon her, the ‘Single Woman’ has even been pronounced a ‘cultural obsession’ (Dux & Simic, 2008, p. 77). Rather optimistically, I would argue, some critics have celebrated this as evidence of a ‘new cultural affirmation’ of being single (Macvarish, 2006), designating the current epoch ‘“the singles’ century”’ (Budgeon, 2008, p. 301). Indeed, the transnational proliferation of the ‘SYF’ (Single Young Female), an economically self-sufficient subject with extensive consumer clout, is said have heralded a ‘New Girl Order’ (Hymowitz, 2007). In this book, acknowledging the competing, contradictory discourses around women’s singleness in popular culture, I interrogate such academic and popular claims about this supposed new cultural acceptance and celebration of singleness for women, attending to both texts that continue to position women’s singleness as an aberration and others that attempt its refiguration.
Anthea Taylor

1. Theorizing Women’s Singleness: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism, and the Politics of Popular Culture

Abstract
Single Women in Popular Culture presumes that popular media forms help provide the narratives through which we come to constitute ourselves/are constituted as subjects. In the case of single women, such texts work to profoundly mediate women’s understanding of being single (as they do other modalities of difference). When invoked in the public sphere, the idea of singleness appears with startling regularity as a problem to be rectified, despite concurrent depictions of (certain forms of) singleness as a permissible type of prolonged adolescence. In terms of how women’s singleness is discursively constituted there is, therefore, a tension. At times the single woman appears to be celebrated — within specific temporal limits and for particular commercial purposes — and at others she continues to be pathologized, seen as a lamentable product of the pervasive feminist rhetoric that encouraged women to pursue independence and autonomy at the cost of a husband and, perhaps more importantly, a nuclear family.1 Arguably there is nothing new about the single woman being a problematic figure in mainstream media culture and in Western discourse more broadly; currently, however, she is made-to-mean in a number of competing ways that speak to broader changes in how women (and indeed feminism) are being figured in so-called postfeminist media culture.2 How do such intensely contradictory discourses operate alongside each other in various sites of popular culture? What is sayable about women’s singleness, and by whom? What kinds of single women — in terms of age, race, sexuality, and class — are granted visibility? What ideological purposes do these representations serve? And how — and where — are they being contested?
Anthea Taylor

2. From the Second-wave to Postfeminism: Single Women in the Mediasphere

Abstract
In this chapter, as a way of contextualizing the more detailed textual analysis in those that follow, I provide an illustrative snapshot of how single women have been figured in the Western public imaginary since the early 1960s. Though by no means an exhaustive account, I attend to key texts, including newspaper articles, books, films, and television, with the most significant cultural reverberations from over the past 50 years.1 As Betsy Israel remarks in Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century (2002): ‘More so than any other living arrangement, the single life is deeply influenced — haunted may be a better word — by cultural imagery. And the single woman herself has had a starring role in the mass imagination for many years’ (2, original emphasis). It is the various ways in which this ‘starring role’ has been played, especially over the past two decades, that concerns me throughout this chapter and indeed this book. Commencing my analysis with the present, and engaging especially with journalistic constructions of women’s singleness from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, I work backwards to consider some of the most prominent single women in Western popular culture’s history. I do this as a way to disrupt the common teleological narratives of progress that often mark critical discussions of how single women, and women more broadly, are represented in media culture. Often embodying precisely the types of feminine subjectivity for which feminism fought (independent, financially autonomous, ambitious, sexually fulfilled), the figure of the single woman, as I have suggested, is a key nodal point in the increasingly complex interactions between feminism and popular culture.
Anthea Taylor

3. Spinsters and Singletons: Bridget Jones’s Diary and its Cultural Reverberations

Abstract
Feminist commentators have emphasized the regularity with which figures like Bridget Jones (along with those from Sex and the City and Ally McBeal) feature in critical engagements with the single women of postfeminist media culture, noting in particular how this functions to elide other forms of difference and femininities (Gill, 2007). My own choice to focus predominantly on Bridget in this chapter, however, results from the way she continues to culturally reverberate, especially in contemporary press engagements with the ‘problem’ of the single woman. By looking not just at the original novels featuring Bridget but at the ways in which she came to subsequently circulate, taking on an independent symbolic life beyond the pages of Fielding’s original texts, I am able to consider the cultural uses to which the text (or, more aptly, its heroine) has been put. As it is often seen as the genre’s ‘ur-text’ (Ferris & Young, 2006, p. 4), this chapter initially contextualizes Bridget Jones’s Diary within the chick lit genre, before offering a detailed engagement with Fielding’s text (and, to a lesser extent, its sequel and film adaptations), and how its heroine has come to mediate public constructions of women’s singleness from the mid-1990s to the present.
Anthea Taylor

4. Desperate and Dateless TV: Making Over the Single Woman

Abstract
While much critical attention has been directed towards well-known televised single women, such as those from Sex and the City, this chapter instead turns to single women in another form: reality television programmes geared towards single women’s purported desperation to be otherwise. To challenge claims that women’s singleness now enjoys a widespread form of cultural legitimacy it has not previously, there is no more obvious textual site than that of so-called ‘dating’ reality television. In this chapter, after commencing with a brief engagement with an Australian version of this style of television, The Farmer Wants A Wife, the centrepiece of my discussion is the American series, Tough Love, after which I move on to consider the most high profile of this genre, The Bachelor.1 A number of the observations made here about these particular shows and how they work to position single women are generalizable, applicable to this form of reality television as a whole (if not to popular culture more broadly). It is in such programmes that the single woman-as-lack becomes most evident and men, in apparently limited supply, become conceptualized as ‘prizes’ for which women must quite literally compete. That is, as outlined in previous chapters, a viable postfeminist subjectivity for women is presumed to be contingent on the search for, and attainment, of a man — a desire thoroughly normalized through these narratives.
Anthea Taylor

5. Self-Help and the Single Girl: From Salvation to Validation

Abstract
In line with the previous chapter, my focus here is on how another set of popular texts seek to transform and regulate — in often conflicting ways and for different ideological purposes — the single woman. Here I consider a number of self-help and conduct style manuals directed towards single women produced in the 1990s and 2000s. This subgenre of self-help writing, corresponding with increased numbers of singles, appears to have experienced a boom over this period. Self-help can lead readers, as Micki McGee argues, ‘into a cycle where the self is not improved but endlessly belaboured’ (2005, p. 12). This chapter asks if such manuals simply promote such labour on the single self as a means to secure the other; that is, it examines the degree to which they participate in constituting the single woman as a problem (either individual or social) that needs to be remedied. If self-help’s purpose is apparent self-correction, as a number of critics have emphasized (Kaminer, 1992; Rimke, 2000; McGee, 2005), what is it about the single woman that needs ‘fixing’? Within these therapeutic discourses, what kinds of single selves are considered ‘healthy’, or indeed ‘unhealthy’ (Hazleden, 2003)? That is, what type of (postfeminist) selfhood is permissible for the single woman? What kinds of behaviours require modification, how and why? Through their prescriptions, such texts seek to bring into being particular gendered single subjects and it is the discursive processes, and the politics underpinning them, through which this is achieved that concern me.
Anthea Taylor

6. Blogging Solo: Women Refiguring Singleness

Abstract
In this final chapter I turn my attention to the blogosphere as a potentially oppositional field where the dominant meanings around singledom can be contested, negotiated, and rewritten. The single women blogosphere can be seen to challenge the texts and forms previously addressed in two key ways. Firstly, by providing counter-narratives to those that position singleness as a problem to be rectified; secondly, many of these blogs do not appear marred by the postfeminist (and indeed neoliberal) logics that characterize the media forms considered in previous chapters. That said, as in these earlier examples, there are actually a number of competing discourses about women’s singleness in the blogosphere — including blogs that presume women’s desperation (especially those in their 30s and 40s) to be otherwise — that must temper any simplistic celebration about how it is used. There is a clear distinction between what can be called dating singles’ blogs, which centre on how to find (and secure) a mate, and those considered here. That is, the blogosphere is not a priori oppositional or progressive as far as single women are concerned. As Graeme Turner argues, ‘there is nothing inherent in these technologies which privileges the liberal, the tolerant or the progressive in terms of the opinions they carry’ (2010, p. 140).
Anthea Taylor

Backmatter

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