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What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? The feminist movement has a long and rich history, but is its time now passed? This edited collection is driven by the question, why is feminism viewed by some (we would add a majority) as outdated, no longer necessary and having achieved its goals, and what role have the media played in this?



Introduction: The Politics of Being a Woman

1. Introduction: The Politics of Being a Woman

We are feminists because we believe that feminism still has a political role to play in today’s society.
Heather Savigny, Helen Warner

The Politics of Politics in Popular Culture


2. Seen and Not Heard: The Popular Appeal of Postfeminist Political Celebrity

This chapter aims to contribute to the wider debate outlined in this book and conducted in the world beyond about the nature of contemporary feminism by looking at the politics of being a woman in electoral news coverage. Despite news coverage being an aspect of formal politics, the chapter focuses not on formal political actors (women politicians), but on political leaders’ spouses who despite having no role in the political process nevertheless received unprecedented levels of attention during the most recent UK election. The spouses of politicians have maintained some presence in political campaigns in British politics throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The 2010 UK general election was particularly interesting in this regard because it marked the first time when these unelected women received a higher proportion of electoral media coverage than women candidates (Harmer, forthcoming). Scholars have often attributed the attention paid to politicians’ spouses as a consequence of increased attention on the private lives and personalities of political leaders (Langer, 2011; Stanyer, 2013). Although the spouses of political leaders are not necessarily political actors in the traditional sense, this chapter will demonstrate that the newspaper coverage of the 2010 election served to cast them as political celebrities who were intended to appeal to women voters.
Emily Harmer

3. ‘Honour is everything for Muslims’? Vendetta Song, Filmic Representation, Religious Identity and Gender Politics in Turkey

Although feminism and feminist media studies have, for some time, recognised the plurality inherent in the concept of Woman (as cut across by, for example, ethnicity, class, sexuality and more recently age), it has also been the case that those popular and academic conceptions of post-feminism have privileged the white heterosexual woman. In this regard, the ongoing discussion of difference (in this respect religion, nationality and gender politics) remains crucial in interrogating what the ‘politics of being a woman’ means across different national and political contexts. In all parts of the world women are tortured and murdered in the name of ‘honour’; the practice of female genital mutilation in the name of tradition takes lives; attempts to ban abortion continue; women’s bodies are sold and women are abused within everyday contexts. Different cultures, religious practices, and traditions impose different meanings on the idea of womanhood. The politics of being a woman shifts from one practice, one culture, and one nation to another within a global context. This chapter contributes to the related discussions by focusing on religion and gender politics in Turkey in the context of filmic representation. Films and women’s cultural production makes these issues visible and allows them to travel across the world. Women’s (and at times men’s) identities and bodies are violated in reality.
Eylem Atakav

The Politics of Politics: Role Models


4. ‘I’m a Free Bitch Baby’, a ‘Material Girl’: Interrogating Audience Interpretations of the Postfeminist Performances of Lady Gaga and Madonna

In postfeminist society it is suggested that women have ‘made it’; that emancipation has been achieved. Machin and Thornborrow (2006: 187) refer to contemporary representation of women to articulate this premise, arguing that in western societies, compared to 40 years ago, discourses perpetuated by the media represent women as having personal and sexual autonomy. I argue that, despite offering women a greater extent of cultural visibility, contemporary representations of female identity are still highly regulated. Similarly, much of the existing literature that challenges the ideals of postfeminism presents women as cultural dupes, seduced by an attractive mediated guise of liberation (Coppock et al., 1995; Rojek, 2001; Taylor, 1985; Wykes and Gunter, 2005). While it is vital to understand what the cultural industry does to people, interrogating the images and ideals they present us with, I argue that it is equally important to acknowledge what different people do with the products of the cultural industry. As indicated throughout the collection, this book addresses the question of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, and this chapter acknowledges the everyday actions of women as sites of vital political action, interrogating how they rationalise the complex images of ‘liberated’ postfeminist women offered to them.
Oliver Brooks

5. ‘A Place for Talking about Female Stars’: Exploring Versatility, Femininity and ‘Fantasy’ in Mother-Daughter Talk on Film Stars

‘Now I ask you, what teenager wouldn’t love to have a feminist mother standing over her shoulder while she watches TV, pointing out how the show perpetuates stereotypes about girls being narcissistic twits obsessed only with personal relationships? (Douglas, 2010: 7)’
Sarah Ralph

6. ‘Where Do You Go after Bridesmaids?’: The Politics of Being a Woman in Hollywood

For some, 2013 was heralded as ‘The Year of Women at the Box Office’ (Fallon, 2013), igniting ‘A Female Revolution’ (Silverstein, 2013) that has well and truly smashed the celluloid ceiling. With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen, Gravity and The Heat featuring in the top 20 grossing films of the year, many critics have suggested that female led projects have been released from their ‘niche’ status as ‘women’s films’ and welcomed into the mainstream. Yet, those of us with slightly longer memories might recall 2012 crowned as the year that ‘Hollywood Women Unite[d]’ (Harris, 2012), or 2011, as the vanguard in the ‘new feminist revolution in Hollywood comedy’ (Bradshaw, 2011), or 2010 and Kathryn Bigelow’s academy award for best director as the historical landmark that promised greater visibility and opportunities for female practitioners. Indeed, if one were to search thoroughly enough it is likely that film journalists could find evidence of a burgeoning equality within the film industry for every passing year. Yet, as this chapter argues these relative successes remain the exception, and that the ways in which they are constructed in the press prevents the ‘female revolution’ from gaining momentum. Despite the use of feminist rhetoric, their coverage in the popular and trade press reveals longstanding cultural anxieties and ambivalence towards women, success, feminism and Hollywood cinema.
Helen Warner, Heather Savigny

The Politics of Being a Woman in ‘Real Life’


7. ‘I’d Rather Be Peggy than Betty’: Female Audience Responses to Mad Men

The music starts and a graphic animation of a businessman enters an office. Suddenly everything starts to dissolve: the man loses his grip and starts falling from the top of a skyscraper. The fall is accompanied by the abundant adverts covering the building. Most of them are women’s products and tell us about a powerful, new target: the new woman. After all, these are the sixties, and the times, as everybody knows, they are a-changin’. So the man falls and nothing seems to stop him. But relax — we are told. The freefall was just a bad dream; suddenly the man is again in his office, relaxed, smoking a cigarette. After some episodes enjoying these opening credits, the audience will recognise Don Draper, creative genius of fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper, as the man who falls and then lights a cigarette as if nothing had happened. And viewers will learn that the fiction is taking them to a time when the reign of the white male is still in force. That is what Mad Men, successful AMC historical drama, is about: the joy of the white male hegemony just before its decline. Or to put it in other words: the fun display of bad habits, negligent parenting, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and many other vices of the time.
Katixa Agirre

8. Girls and Cultural Consumption: ‘Typical Girls’, ‘Fangirls’ and the Value of Femininity

In recent years feminist commentators, girls’ studies scholars, parents and guardians have discussed the choices offered to girls with both hope and despair. It seems it is either a great time or a dire time to be a girl. Following the success of twitter campaigns such as #lettoysbetoys, toy aisles across Britain are being ‘de-gendered’, and the success of girls’ engineering toys such as GoldieBlox show the increasing range of roles girls now have access to. However, despite these successes writers such as Orenstein (2012) (amongst countless other online commentators) have expressed dismay at the increased ‘pinkification’ of girls’ cultural lives (even GoldieBlox foregrounds pink and princesses for example). From this perspective, the chasm between what boys can be and what girls can be is as wide as ever.
Victoria Cann

9. Conclusion: Politics beyond Media and Popular Culture — I am a Feminist Because… A Manifesta

The roots of this book lay in our desire to ask questions about why some people just didn’t seem to ‘get’ the continued need for a feminist project, and/or were seemingly happy to deny its achievements. Michael Buerke was recently quoted in the Radio Times saying ‘If you got the job in the first place mainly because you look nice, I can’t see why you should keep it when you don’t… As the wonderfully acerbic Anne Robinson said, ‘The viewers don’t want to watch ugly’ (cited in Collier, 2014). When mainstream journalists can make comments in mainstream magazines or when women such as Caroline Criado-Perez can be subjected to death and rape threats for her campaign to get women on bank notes, then we know that there is something wrong. To think about this our ontology led us to look at the structures around us, in particular those structures that influence and shape the ways in which we think about what the world looks like. In turn, this led us to a focus on the media and the ways in which women are presented and re-presented in a variety of mediated forms. These re-presentations, we argue, embed, contest and are negotiated within existing power structures, and as such, are a site of politics. As has been suggested, much mainstream media coverage can be viewed as postfeminist, taking feminism into account, while rejecting it (McRobbie, 2004) and at the same time, inviting the audience to do the same.
Heather Savigny, Helen Warner


It was no accident. The stigma attached to feminism, as a concept and a movement, didn’t happen by mistake. Feminism challenges privilege and profit — fighting back and vested power interests are challenged. Over the past three decades, feminism has been effectively tarred and feathered; paraded around town as some embarrassing little fad from the seventies. If the ‘f word’ did appear in the headlines it was generally to remind us that feminism was ‘dead’ or unnecessary. And so the lie that equality between women and men had been achieved was successfully sold. The catastrophic effect was to sever many women and girls from the political project to end the daily harassment, belittling, silencing and violence that so many experience.
Kat Banyard


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