Archive for the ‘Cultural Studies’ Category

Yoof revolution and the Doc Martens boot

March 7, 2011

(Docs image from redserenade's flickr)
[image source]

Long time, no write. I’ve been away for a variety of reasons but I really should get back to writing here regularly.

It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, so there’s an awful lot I could write about regarding the state of feminism. However, I’m currently researching and writing a short piece about Dr. Martens boots (strangely enough, in relation to feminism), and I’m on a deadline, so I can’t blog much at the moment.

Just quickly, though, in the spirit of revolution, I want to share a video with you. I found it via the Dr. Martens website – so in many ways it is marketing material. But it actually traces the history of Docs in a really cool way. It’s a fantastic brief history of youth counter-cultures (working class, skinhead, punk, grunge, etc) over the last 50 years.

Check it out! (Runs for about 9 minutes):

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Digital makeovers for “Aussie mums”

September 1, 2010

The following is based on a paper I gave at this year’s AWGSA conference in Adelaide.

“Mum 2.0”: Gender and generation in the new media landscape

While waiting for a bus not so long ago, I noticed an advertisement with the headline “Mum 2.0”. It featured a large photo of a mobile phone, and underneath the tag-line read “Does your mum need a digital makeover?” Having recently completely a doctorate that, in part, examined the mother-daughter debates within feminism – I’d been thinking and writing a lot around issues of ‘gender’ and ‘generation’. I’d also been thinking that I’d like to do some research in the field of new media. This advertisement caught my attention because of the way it played into gender stereotypes and set up a generation gap. But it also grabbed me because it quite neatly tied together my older research interests with some of my new ones.

On closer inspection of the billboard, I noticed it was a Telstra advertisement for a competition to win a mobile phone. But ‘What is Mum 2.0 supposed to mean?’, I thought to myself. And what the hell is a ‘digital makeover’?

The ad can be read as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek twist on the now banal, almost meaningless phrase “Web 2.0”. It both draws on our communal understanding of Web 2.0 to mean the “next generation of the internet” and throws in new generalisations about generations of women. This ad plays into the sexist idea that women are technologically illiterate, suggesting mothers are often un-cool and that they need help navigating this strange new digital landscape in the form of a “makeover”. And of course, there are the allusions to the traditional meaning of makeover as a physical transformation involving cosmetics and a new hairstyle. Women are never good enough – they need help. This time mothers are to be made-over with the latest consumer gadgets and some lessons in how to be more tech-savvy.

This Telstra billboard and the related Mum 2.0 website raises a number of questions about the way women are positioned within ‘new media’ spaces, particularly the way a particular type of “motherhood” is constructed.

The Telstra bus-stop ad was a competition to win a new phone. It was tied in with a broader advertising campaign called “Digital Mum”. The accompanying website has a section called “Dob in your mum”. It says, “Mum starting to become part of your online social network? Give her a crash course in tech etiquette and dob her in for a digital makeover.” The campaign encourages people to ‘dob in their mum’ for the chance to win a free phone, and at the same time your mum will also be offered free online lessons in how to use social networking sites like Facebook. So it’s not just about selling mobile phones, but about ‘educating mothers’ about proper online etiquette.

The website also includes six short video tutorials, hosted by YouTube, that were designed to teach ‘mum’ how to use Facebook without embarrassing her teenaged children and without making a fool of herself online. These brief tutorials are fascinating and quite funny because they ‘act out’ scenes from Facebook in real life. Each clip is hosted/narrated by Australian comedian Tim Ross (better known as Rosso) and feature a white middle class suburban family: mum, dad and three teenaged children.

As Rosso points out in the introductory clip, “We’ll teach you lessons other people have had to learn the hard way: The etiquette of social networking. We’ve brought an online family into the real world, so getting up to speed won’t take long.”

Introductory video:

There are six video lessons all up, but the following two clips are my favourites:

Lesson 4: Joining a Group

I love this one because it helps to highlight the generational specificity of popular culture (ie. one of my the main themes of my thesis). A mother is seated in her daughter’s bedroom with her daughter’s friends and they’re all wearing “I heart Edward” t-shirts, referring, of course to the vampire heart-throb of the moment.The joke comes from how uncool the Mum is as she tries to get in on the Twilight fandom action. While she attempts to mirror what the young women are saying in the Edward fanclub, it backfires because she doesn’t quite “get it”. She uses the wrong lingo and she embarrasses her daughter. Rosso helpfully suggests: “It’s important to connect with your kids online, but give them some space. And be yourself.” Thanks Rosso!

Lesson 6: Privacy

Lesson number six warns ‘mums’ about privacy online, and that they have to be careful who they add as a friend and who has access to photos. The family are seated around the table having dinner. A strange man is in the house peering inside the fridge and nosing around the framed family photos on the mantelpiece. The father and the kids are confused and ask who he is. The mum replies “Oh, that’s Jacques. I met him years ago when I was backpacking. He asked me to add him. I couldn’t say no”.

The strange man joins them at the table and starts speaking inappropriately in French to the mother. Rosso’s voiceover warns about adding people from your past to Facebook and suggests adjusting your privacy settings so that not everyone has access to your profile and photos. This one is really interesting as it ties into wider concerns about online safety and privacy, especially since Facebook is rather notorious for dubious privacy policies.

According to a media release on their website, Telstra commissioned a nationwide study last year that surveyed 1200 “Aussie mums”. It says:

Despite Aussie mums’ desire to use social networking sites to stay connected with their family, their children don’t see these sites as a way of connecting with their parents. Children over 16 years old are most likely to decline friend requests from their parents to avoid the embarrassment of baby photos and grammar corrections ending up on their homepage.

Telstra Brands and Marketing Communications Executive Director Amanda Johnston-Pell said, Aussie mums are online and using social networking sites, however there are definite fears and insecurities about how to approach their own kids online and what acceptable etiquette in this space is.

“Following on from our ‘Call Mum’ campaign, we have launched a new program to help mothers up-skill in the social networking space to stay in touch with their family online with our new program called Mum 2.0,” Ms Johnston-Pell said.

“Online social networking is quickly becoming the norm for staying in touch with family and friends and the Telstra Mum 2.0 free of charge program is here to help Aussie mums make sure they never lose face online.”

Telstra State of the Nation report revealed nationally:

* 81 per cent of Aussie mums have fears and insecurities about their use of online social networking.
* 61 per cent of Aussie mums use Facebook regularly – 47 per cent of these mums use it daily and 14 per cent use it at least once a week
* 65 per cent of Aussie mums contact their immediate family via online social networking at least once a week.
* More than 47 per cent of mums aged 45-65 used social networking websites to view their children’s pages.

One of the first questions I had was why dads weren’t included in this study? I’d be really keen to do some research on whether mothers are more interested than fathers in learning how to use these technologies. The Telstra ad is successful in setting up (or playing into) the notion of a generation gap. (There’s a long history of the idea of the parents being ‘clueless’ about the latest technology – eg. Not knowing how to program the VCR). But why must it be so gendered as well? If the desire to learn about Facebook is to be able to better stay in touch with offspring, are fathers not interested in this too? Is it assumed that fathers will automatically know how to use Facebook (because they’re men and men can ‘do’ technology). Or is it assumed that they’re not interested in Facebook for its communicating-with-family abilities, because that that is ‘mum’s job’?

This advertising strategy also severely limits what the idea of “mum” can mean. For Telstra, “mum” apparently means: White, middle class, with 2 teenaged kids and a husband. What about younger mums? I know a number of mothers who have been using Facebook since it began! What about single mothers, lesbian mothers, working class, indigenous mothers, etc?

I’m only in the early stages of thinking through some of these issues. I’m contemplating whether or not it could make up part of a larger research project examining the ways in which digital technologies are shaping the way we communicate and exploring how gender relations are being played out in new media spaces.

Perhaps I should at least turn my paper into a journal article. But at least for now I’ve blogged it!

Princess Valhalla: postfeminist superhero

August 24, 2010

Not too long ago I posted a link to a rather odd video called Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. For readers who don’t know the television series The United States of Tara, the youtube clip would have made absolutely no sense. I awarded it a ‘postfeminist heroine of the week’ prize, but without explaining why. So perhaps it’s time to try put Princess Valhalla into context.

First, let me explain a little about the series. Don’t worry, there won’t be spoilers. In Australia the ABC is screening Series 2 once a week. (Except it has been rudely interupted mid-season by The Chaser’s election show. Boo!) You can also watch the series online via iView, but only one or two episodes are ever up at one time. The series is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) and features Australia’s Toni Collette in the lead role.

Toni Collette is absolutely fantastic in this. So good that she has won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. She plays Tara, wife to Max and mother of teenage kids Kate and Marshall (perhaps my two favourite characters). Toni Collette also plays several other characters, in the form of Tara’s “alter egos” or Alters, because Tara suffers from dissociative identity disorder.

I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know how accurate a portrayal of the condition this is. But this is television, and as a piece of drama, it’s fantastic. I really love it. The acting is brilliant, the scripts are moving and hilarious and the relationships between the characters always strike me as believable. Each character copes with Tara’s mental illness in different ways, painting the complex story of a family in all its quirks, its tensions and its humour.

So where does this whacky Princess Valhalla Hawkwind character come in?

I’m glad you asked. Princess Valhalla Hawkwind is a fictional character within the series. We first come across her when Kate (in her new job as a debt-collector) has to track down a woman called Lynda P. Frazier. Lynda turns out to be an artist, and the creator of a comic-book featuring feminist super-hero Princess Valhalla. Kate and Lynda quickly become friends, hanging out and smoking pot. Kate becomes fascinated with the Princess Valhalla character, and in one episode she raids Lynda’s wardrobe to dress up in full Princess Valhalla costume.

(more…)

Fangirl feminism

June 4, 2010

Whoah, another new post. Two in the one day!! Perhaps I’m avoiding something. Like that mega pile of essays over there on my desk. The pile that contains about 160k words. But wait, this blog is for pondering feminism and pop culture. Not pondering procrastination! Right then. Here we go.

I recently stumbled across a wonderful woman on Teh Intertubes. Her name’s Anita Sarkeesian.

You can find her work at http://www.feministfrequency.com: Conversations with Pop Culture. An ongoing series of videoblog commentaries from a fangirl/feminist perspective.

I haven’t had time to check out all of her stuff yet, but she’s getting my vote for “feminist of the week” because two of her videoblogs (embedded below) are simply fabulous. They align so neatly with both my academic and fangirl interests that I just have to share!

(The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies)

One of my students discussed the Bechdel Test in class the other day. I had not heard of it before. You may not have either. This short 2-min clip neatly describes what the Bechdel Test is. Watch it, if you haven’t already!

Basically, to pass the Bechdel Test (or the Mo Movie Measure, as it is sometimes referred) a film has to meet these three very simple criteria.

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

It is incredibly eye-opening to realise how many films don’t make the cut. A film might meet one or two of the points, but it cannot pass the test unless all three points are met. As pointed out in the video, the Bechdel test highlights systemic problems with the way women are portrayed in movies.

The maker of this fantastic videoblog won my heart and cemented herself as this month’s “feminist of the week” after I watched another of her clips: “Why we need you Veronica Mars”!!

Just this week I have started (re)watching Season 2 of Veronica Mars in all its funny, sassy, feminist brilliance. And then I happened upon this gorgeous youtube clip offering brilliant and insightful commentary about Veronica, popular culture and feminism. What’s not to love?

(Why we need you Veronica Mars)

Like, Anita, I urge you to get your hands on some Veronica. It’s brilliant television.

Sex and the Critic

June 4, 2010

Well, the word on the street* seems to be that the latest Sex and the City film is atrocious. This makes me sad. The first film was disappointing enough. I’m sad that the next one is reportedly even worse.** And apparently, there isn’t even much of beautiful Manhattan to perve at.

The good thing about a sequel is that it helps keep my thesis research topical. Thanks Carrie! Unfortunately, the films are such a reversal of the first season of the television series***, that the argument I made about the way SatC reflects (some) feminist themes is made kinda redundant. Well, not completely redundant. It’s just that now, whenever I mention that part of my PhD research was about Sex and the City, I’m going to get people rolling their eyes and telling me how awful it became.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sex and the City, but I grew to like it after researching it. The first season was relatively progressive television. And it was funny. It first screened in the late-1990s. Television with four strong, assertive, wise-cracking female characters had not been seen before. They talked about sex. They discussed topics that had previously been absolutely taboo on the small screen (vibrators, bisexuality, anal sex, female friendship? Whoah, watch out America). Hell, the title even had the word “sex” in it. That in itself was somehow a bit of a breakthrough.

And while I don’t particularly want to see the sequel, as someone who spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking and writing about the TV series, I feel somewhat obliged to check it out. I wonder if I can sneak in to a cinema and watch it for free? I don’t really want to pay money because I don’t want to encourage a tre-quel.

I don’t really know where I stand on SatC 2. I think I’m strangely caught somewhere in between these two fantastic Australian commentaries:

* Sex and the City 2: A Letter to Feminism’s Snuff Film (Helen Razer at badhostess)

* Hating on Sex and the City is soooo 2006 (Rachel Hills at musings of an inappropriate woman)

On the one hand I’m furious that the new film is a racist, misogynistic, ageist piece of crap with un-ironic product placement. And on the other, having not seen it yet myself, I’m tempted to wonder how audiences will receive and interpret the flick. Most of the women I spoke to during my fieldwork, whether they were fans or not, were critical of aspects of the TV series. Interestingly, they tended to make the same kinds of criticisms that film reviewers and feminist bloggers are making about the current film!

I’d love to do a quick exit-poll outside cinemas to gauge audiences reactions. Part of me suspects that fandom might still win out here. These four characters – as flawed as they are – have been in some people’s lives for about twelve years now. Twelve years! Even if the film versions have “jumped the shark“, Carrie Bradshaw and Co. will have a place in the hearts of many.

______
disclaimery things:

* The street, in this case, being twitter, facebook and various blogs that I read. 🙂
** No, I have not seen it yet. But I probably will. Soon. Dendy, want to shout me a ticket? I’ll pay for my own cosmo.
*** For my thesis, I analysed only the first season (of SatC and Desperate Housewives) rather than the every episode ever made, because alongside my interviews and focus groups I’d have had way too much data to work with.

Pondering (and purchasing) men’s magazines

May 17, 2010


image source: hellopoe’s flickr photostream

This week for class we’re reading about “lad culture” and masculinity. The first reading is the introduction from a 2003 book called Masculinity and Men’s Lifestyle Magazines, which explores the way men’s magazines articulate masculinity, and the way they negotiate and contribute to modern gender politics.

It’s an interesting read and I think the students will get into it. I’m not an expert in masculinity studies, but from my understanding, it’s a burgeoning branch of gender studies that is largely feminist and draws on recent gender, feminist and queer theory to interrogate masculinity in today’s society.

In this sense, masculinity studies overlaps quite a bit with my research interests in postfeminism. Both are focused on an examination of gender and a negotiation with feminist politics and discourses. (Please jump in with a comment if you would like to elaborate on what “masculinity studies” means. I think it differs quite substantially from the worrying anti-femnism of some of the “men’s rights” politics, although I suppose there are some connections to those discourses. None of these things happen in a vacuum.)

So, anyway, because the reading is about men’s magazines, I thought it a good excuse to buy myself one. I haven’t looked at one for years. I used to occasionally pick up Ralph or FHM for a laugh. Or I’d peruse copies that flatmates had left around the house. I find them pretty entertaining on the whole. I suppose I’m half caught-up in moments of “OMG! That’s, like, so sexist!”, while simultaneously appreciating some of the humour and silly bloke-ishness of them.

(Incidentally, is ‘bloke’ a useful replacement for ‘lad’ in the Australian context? “Lad” seems to me to be a very British term.)

This afternoon I visited my local newsagent to hunt down an FHM or a Ralph or a Loaded (the latter being the mag most mentioned in the academic chapter I’d been reading). It took me a moment to find them. Women’s lifestyle magazines take up a huge section of the shelving. Next to them were the bridal magazines, and then a massive section of pink, which turned out to be crafting+quilting mags. Then, fishing mags and car mags. Ah ha! I must be getting closer, I thought. Blokey things like hunting and fast-moving machines. Newsagents’ shelves are gender-stereotypes in action!

But nope, still no “men’s magazines” as such. I turned the corner to look at the second long shelf. Photography mags, sports mags, fitness mags. And then I remembered where the men’s lifestyle mags are always shelved. They’re in the sealed magazines section! Among the Hustlers and the Playboys and the other titles I couldn’t quite read because there were more boobs than words on the cover, I finally found the magazines I was after. I settled on this month’s Ralph.

It has a bikini-clad women on the front. To be expected. In fact, it has twelve bikini-clad women. But I chose it because alongside the “sexiest star” and “hottest bikini models” headlines, it also includes:
* diary of a male stripper.
* the 100 biggest wankers of the year (and when I flicked open the mag, the first ‘wanker’ pictured was Tony Abbott).
* boozing with an Underbelly bloke.

Surely all these things will stimulate some interesting class discussion about how these magazines are constructing masculinity, I thought to myself.

After spending far too long browsing the front covers of the mags in the porn section, I decided it was time to make my selection and get out of there.

The owner of the newsagent kind of knows me, in that I buy the paper there fairly regularly. He also knows I’m some kind of teacher because I said something about “my students” last week when I was buying three different kinds of newspapers for their coverage of the Budget.

As I approached the counter I wondered what I might say if he asked me why I was buying Ralph – although I didn’t really expect him to say anything. Somehow I didn’t think “I’m getting this for my students” would sound convincing. I hand over my change. As he passes the magazine back to me, he looks at me quizzically and says, “Is this for you?”. I laugh and tell him half-seriously that it’s for research. And we both laugh. “Ah, I know, that’s what they all say!”, I continue, and we both laugh again as I head out the door clutching my magazine.

I may as well have said I was buying it for the articles.

Let’s talk about Salt n Pepa

February 21, 2010

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me

This morning while sipping my tea and crunching on some peanut butter toast, I caught a little bit of Video Hits. The legendary female rappers Salt n Pepa were being interviewed because they’re in Australia touring at the moment. Salt n Pepa have tunes that are still catchy, cheeky, fun and powerful. I thought they should feature as this week’s “Feminist of the Week”.

Rap and hip hop music tends to have a bit of a bad reputation among feminists – there’s concern about sexist lyrics and video clips that objectify women’s bodies (obviously this is not confined to this one genre of music!) – but I reckon Salt n Pepa turn the tables on this. They’re sassy, sexy, in your face, and they’re not afraid to talk about sex and their lusty thoughts about men. They look really good in lycra, their lyrics depict empowered and liberated women, and their songs continue to make people dance and smile.

Below are three of my favourite Salt n Pepa songs for your enjoyment. I’ve also included some discussion from other blogs about about them as feminist musicians and icons.


“Let’s Talk about Sex”

Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Those who think it’s dirty have a choice
Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off

The likes of SNP, TLC and En Vogue provided urban music with the right kind of femme-fatale attitude through the 80’s and 90’s, and even provided a strong, powerful feminist voice for those who’d felt they couldn’t speak. Women in music were being given a proper platform, and Salt ‘N’ Pepa were, out of the aforementioned, the first on the Urban music scene to really make a strong feminist impression. Exploding onto the music charts in 1985, Cheryl Wray (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (the often referenced in song, never in artist title Spinderella) were feisty girls from New York who, up until 1987 had minimal impact on music buyers wallets.

When the incredibly infamous dance floor monster “Push It” surfaced as a single in 1987, Spinderella and her mates cracked the US Hot 100 for the very first time, and hit the top 5 in both Australia and the UK. Minor hits followed suit (their 1989 cover of “Twist & Shout” – complete with amazing video clip – still remains one of my favourite covers of all time), but the melody and club-attack of tracks such as 1991’s “Do You Want Me” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” cemented them into pop music history for more than just “Push It.” The groups discography reads on-and-off right through to the end of 1999; minor hits broken up by a succession of big ones. However, their biggest effort wasn’t until 1993, when the bands iconic album “Very Necessary” was released and we were given the beauty of “Shoop”, “Heaven or Hell”, “None Of Your Business” and the En Vogue duet “Whatta Man”

Source: Adem with an e.com


“Shoop”

I love you in your big jeans, you give me nice dreams
You make me wanna scream, “Oooo, oooo, oooo!”
I like what ya do when you do what ya do
You make me wanna shoop

Popular female rappers like Salt-N-Peppa and Monie Love use explicit sexual speech to turn the tables on the men and let the women be the dominant ones. For example, Salt-N-Peppa’s 1993 hit single “Shoop”, broke the boundaries of female inhibitions, disputing the myth that women should not and do not discuss their sexual desires of men. The music video for “Shoop” features men in sexy, slightly objectified roles, and camera shots which do not pan to the face before or after a sexy body shot. The word “shoop” is a euphemism for the act of sexual intercourse. “I wanna Shoop” intends to relay a strong sense of sexuality absent of the traditional inhibitions placed on women. The use of erotic imagery portrays women’s physical lust as being not only acceptable but enjoyable. The power of these lyrics serves to boost women’s self esteem, also eradicating the stereotypical attitude that women need to be sexually submissive.

Source: funk-the-system


“None of Your Business”

I hadn’t seen this clip before. It’s got an anti-homophobic and anti-racist vibe to it.

Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to
It’s none of your business
So don’t try to change my mind, I’ll tell you one more time
It’s none of your business!

For more information about hip hop feminism, you might like to check Joan Morgan’s book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. There’s a whole range of books exploring similar issues. See the amazon link for other suggestions.

Super women and the changing face of feminism

February 17, 2010

Samantha Stevens, the lead character in the 1960s sitcom, Bewitched, is a woman with special powers – a witch who can make anything happen with a slight twitch of her nose. She first appeared on television just as the first rumblings of second wave feminism were being felt. Samantha symbolised the ideal suburban housewife, and on the surface Bewitched is not a particularly feminist programme. Her powers are mostly restricted to the private world of the home because of a promise made to her husband, Darrin. However, Samantha had powers to disrupt the male world, to break free of domestic constraints and influence the public sphere. While second wave feminism was emerging, a time when women were beginning to realise that they could be more than housewives, Samantha’s supernatural abilities hinted at women’s potential beyond housework and child-rearing.

The programme first screened in the US the same year Betty Friedan’s influential feminist text, Feminine Mystique became a best seller. This famous book, which became emblematic of second wave feminism, uncovered what Friedan called “the problem with no name”. It articulated the stifling and oppressive conditions experienced by many housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Susan Douglas argues that within this context of emerging feminist agitation, new kinds of female characters arrived on television – women with special powers – a witch, a genie and a flying nun. Furthermore, she proposes that these new representations of women suggest that

“the pop culture moguls were trying to acknowledge the impending release of female sexual and political energy, while keeping it all safely in a straitjacket.”
(Douglas 1994: 126)

Bewitched highlights a defining moment in the history of women. Early second wave feminists vocalised women’s sense of oppression as housewives and sought the path towards autonomous selfhood. For example, Johnson and Lloyd (2004: 14-15) suggest that Betty Friedan “drew on a familiar trope of modernity in which the modern self leaves behind the banality or everydayness of home life to become such as self”. This narrative of the journey from suppressed housewife to liberated, self-governing individual became one of the key themes of the second wave.

Samantha was representative of suburban domestic ideals. However, at a time when women were beginning to have their horizons broadened, Samantha’s supernatural abilities conjured up the promise of women’s liberation and the unleashing of female power that was to come.

Fast forward thirty years and another young woman with super powers appears on television. This time she is not a witch, nor a housewife. Instead, she is a teenaged girl, the “Chosen One”, the Slayer. Her duty is to slay vampires and save the world from evil. Samantha’s life revolved around the domestic sphere – the daily tasks of a suburban wife, who must try to suppress her powers and do things the normal – mortal – way. Buffy’s life on the other hand, revolves around the world of the immortal.

Buffy uses her powers to protect society from vampires, demons and the occasional apocalypse. While a proportion of the storylines are centred on her personal and family relationships, the major focus of the show is her ‘slaying’ work, performed in public at night. Buffy exemplifies how women’s roles have shifted.

Coming of age in the wake of the successes of second wave feminism, many young women take equality and career opportunities for granted. This is something I found in my thesis research. A belief in the basic tenets of feminism is almost goes without saying because they have never known anything different. As prominent third wave authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000) proclaim,

“for our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it – it’s simply in the water”
(2000: 17)

The emergence of what has been called a new ‘wave’ was paralleled by the publication of several books in the 1990s, claiming to be the voice of the next feminist generation. Although I am cautious about assigning labels, some salient themes of the third wave are its embrace of ambiguity and contradiction; a concern with celebrating femininity; and a focus on difference and diversity.

It is within this context that ‘girl-power’ shows like Buffy materialised. In contrast with the 1960s representation of super-woman as homemaker, the 1990s female hero is empowered, independent and courageous. Buffy is an icon of a time when women have grown up feeling they can do anything. Today’s young women do not feel confined to the domestic sphere as women who grew up watching Bewitched may have.

As Susan Hopkins suggests in her book Girl Heroes,

“if the popular culture texts of previous decades taught girls to sacrifice their own interests for the good of husband and child, contemporary pop culture prepares girls for a future of action and independence”
(Hopkins, 2002: 176)

Buffy’s confidence and autonomy reflect the way today’s young women feel about themselves. Buffy portrays and promotes the ideal of the confident, empowered young woman, while at the same time exploring some of the darker aspects of postmodern life. Despite the opportunities available to today’s generation of young women, as Buffy highlights, there are still some patriarchal demons to slay.

The critique of patriarchy is a constant theme in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy’s feminist credentials can be seen throughout the series. It is the final season of Buffy that is the most blatantly feminist because of its portrayal of collective action against an overtly misogynistic demon. Buffy rounds up an army of “Potential Slayers” from around the globe and the biggest evil they face takes the shape of a preacher named Caleb.

As Pender puts it, Caleb “is a monstrous but familiar representative of patriarchal oppression propounding a dangerous form of sexism under the cover of pastoral care” (2004: 168). This season indicates the strength of Buffy’s feminist convictions and highlights another element of the third wave – diversity. At the end of the final episode, we are shown a montage of clips from around the world as young women everywhere take up the power and fight back against their oppressors. In transferring Buffy’s power to “a heterogeneous group of women from different national, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds Buffy’s final season addresses…the issue of cultural diversity that has been at the forefront of third-wave feminist theorising” (Pender 2004: 170). The transmission of Buffy’s superpowers to young women around the globe underscores the third wave’s critique of second wave feminism as a predominantly white, middle-class endeavour. More significantly, it suggests feminist possibilities for the future.

In assembling a force made up of women from every corner of the earth, what the final season of Buffy hints at is the potential of a feminism that acknowledges and celebrates women’s differences, but does not preclude the possibility of a collective project. When Buffy defiantly declares, “Every girl who can stand up will stand up. Every girl who can fight will fight”, she conjures up the image of a universal battle against patriarchal injustices.

________
References

Baumgardner, Jennifer, & Richards, Amy. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism and the future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Hopkins, Susan. (2002). Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture. Sydney: Pluto Press Australia.

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NOTE: I can’t remember where I found the images included in this post. If I’m breaking some kind of copyright, please let me know and I’ll rectify. Thanks.