A blast from the past…

Just cuz my world, sweet sister
Is so fucking goddamn full of rape
Does that mean
My body must always be a source of pain?

Were not gonna prove nothing nothing
Sittin around watching each other starve
What we need is action/strategy…

Last Akerlund post for now, I promise

So, my last few posts were heavily Jonas Akerlund-related. I thought that was the end of it, and then lo and behold the new Lady Gaga/Beyonce video is released a day later, directed by none other than Mr Akerlund himself, as a follow-up to the vid for Paparazzi. And it’s fantastic! I’m hard-pressed to say whether I prefer this one or Paparazzi, and although I would probably side with Paparazzi, this one’s rather cool:
There’s loads to talk about (don’t believe me? click here and here and here), and y’all know by now I love nothing more than geeking out over film theory (which TOTALLY includes music videos), so here are some thoughts…
Auteur Theory

There is lots and lots to say about this video that ties in with auteur theory, but I am aware that most of my readers do not have a film studies background, so I’ll sum it up pretty quickly:
– An area of research originating in the 60s focussing on the director’s creative vision. Certain directors, it was/is claimed, rise far above average metteurs-en-scene to let their distinctive voices shine through. Alexandre Astruc wrote about the concept of the camera-stylo, asserting that film directors can and should use their cameras in much the same way as a writer or poet uses his or her pen.
– In order to be considered an auteur, a director must fulfil the following: a) have a high level of technical competence, b) have a distinctive stylistic voice (in terms of editing, cinematography, sound design and other elements of the general “look” of the film) and c) have a coherent world-view in terms of subject matter (ie. deal with a consistent range of themes across their work).
There has been loads of debate as to whether a director can fully be considered an auteur because filmmaking is such a collaborative business – unless a production is super-super small-scale, it is rare to find one person doing the camerawork, cinematography, direction, producing, editing etc. Oftentimes filmmakers will work with the same artists in certain realms of their production – for instance, Jean-Pierre Jeunet employs Darius Khondji as his cinematographer on all of his films; Quentin Tarantino frequently works with Sally Menke in the editing of his films; Thelma Schoonmaker has been editing Scorcese’s stuff for about the past thirty years. So is Scorcese the author or does Schoonmaker’s involvement negate this? So the debate goes.
I don’t think the collaborative nature of filmmaking has to necessarily problematise the integrity of a filmmaker’s “auteur” status – you can argue that they are simply making use of the best resources at their disposal – eg. an artist using the best quality oil paints to acheieve the desired effect.
Which leads us to Gaga and Akerlund. Here I see a really interesting process wherein both are dependent upon the other as raw material for their artistic output. Akerlund would not have been able to make that film without Lady Gaga (or her ideas – I see she has writing credits). She is part of the raw materials he uses to create these work of art, and so cannot be solely considered the author. And vice-versa – Gaga relies upon Akerlund in this instance to produce these amazing videos for her and thus contribute to her persona. So we have this sort of dual-authorship going on, where both are authors of their own products (for Akerlund this is the video, for Gaga it is her persona).
Many people have so far commented on the fact that the video is in many ways a blatant homage to the films of Quentin Tarantino (particularly Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill). This adds another really interesting dimension to the question of film authorship. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Tarantino is a very clear example of auteur theory – even people with no interest in film studies will be able to list a whole host of things that characterise Tarantino’s film style (eg. strong female characters, use of retro music, interesting camera work, focus on crime as subject matter, pilfering ideas from a multitude of genres etc). Now, many have questioned Tarantino’s auteur status on the basis that he blatantly homages/steals ideas from other directors – his whole opus is pastiche after pastiche after pastiche of his favourite films. To me, the idea that this would problematise his ability to claim authorship is patently ridiculous, firstly because artists have stolen from other artists since the dawn of time (eg. Debussy stole from Beethoven who stole from Mozart who stole from Bach and so on), secondly because Tarantino wears them on his sleeve and makes no pretense that he took those ideas from anywhere other than where they came from, and thirdly because Tarantino takes his influences and inspirations and so clearly makes them his own.
I’m sure plenty of people have attempted to pastiche Tarantino before, but I personally have never seen it done with such aplomb as in this video. What is interesting is that you can see the Tarantino references very clearly, but this is also VERY clearly an Akerlund film and bears his authorial stamp left, right and centre.
As an aside, incase you are wondering what I consider to be Akerlund’s authorial stamp, some suggestions I would make are: heavy use of jump-cutting, focus on the seedier undercurrents of humanity, ironic/goofy sound effects, understated opening before getting into the real visual meat ‘n’ potatoes(see also Paparazzi and Spun), the ‘police tape’ parts (think of the dead housemaids in Paparazzi), heavy stylisation and general visual diarrhoea – which I mean in the most complimentary way possible. Also, the “Let’s Make a Sandwich”/poison part is in a style very similar to the following video used to advertise Spun, Akerlund’s only feature-length film:

Feminist Film Theory
Again, lots to be said here, and lots of background to give. For the main concept, however, Dinasaur Comics said it better than I could:
So a lot of feminist film theory is predicated upon this notion of “the gaze”, which is explained by our friend T-Rex above. But what I want to talk about is the gaze within the video. You see, Mulvey (I think anyway) not only wrote about the male gaze through how the camera is situated, but also the male gaze within film itself, where even the male characters are portrayed as being the active gazers. This is problematic because this means not only are male viewers participating in active gazing over the passive female body, but the male viewer is identifying with the male characters onscreen who are also participating in active gazing – a double whammy of gaze-perpetuation. Now, what’s interesting to me is that Telephone is one of two collaborations between Lady Gaga and Beyonce – the other one being Video Phone. What struck me when watching the video for Video Phone was how unbelievably blatant an illustration of the double male gaze it was – not only are Gaga and Beyonce dressed up all skimpy for the male viewers, but the men in the video literally have cameras for their heads as they look Beyonce up and down: 

What’s interesting in Telephone is that here (at around 5:40) we have Gaga operating the cinematic apparatus – she’s the one gazing at Beyonce and taking pictures of her. It would be interesting, if I had the time, to analyse whether this has anything to do with the numerous references to ‘strong-woman’ films – eg. Kill Bill, Thelma and Louise (at the end), and possibly Natural Born Killers (for some reason the dance scene at the diner reminds me of the opening sequence where Juliette Lewis’ character dances to the jukebox in a crop-top before kicking ass to L7’s Shitlist. But, guess what? I don’t. In either case, there’s plenty to think about, feel free to add your own thoughts in comments.
You’ll probably notice that at the end of the video it says “To Be Continued…” – which, I assume, means another Gaga-Akerlund collaboration. Looking forward to it!

[Cross-post] Why we should hang on to the word “feminism”

I originally posted this about a year and a half ago on the Feministing community blog, which I rarely visit anymore as the comments sections can be a bit gnarly among other reasons. Anyway, I still stand by a fair bit of what I wrote back then so thought I’d repost it up here as an example of the all-too-rare moments when I am actually capable of clear, linear thinking. Might give y’all a little bit of insight into my political leanings as well!

Let me preface this post by explaining a few things I believe to be true about feminism:

1. Feminism has many different definitions and means different things to different people. It is a very broad subject area.

2. Damn right it is. Feminism is arguably the oldest and most successful social justice movement in the world (it goes back much further than the suffragettes, y’know). Moreover, it pretty much touches every aspect of our lives. So it had bloody well better be a very broad subject area.

3. This is why people often refer to feminisms, not feminism. It is not monolithic.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let me explain something about my particular feminism.

For me, the more my feminist consciousness grows and develops, the more strongly I believe that feminism is not just about women, it is a movement for men as well. I believe there are as many restrictions placed on man by the patriarchy as there are on women, and no doubt I will elaborate on this in a future post.

But now, on with my main argument: Why we should keep the word ‘feminist’.

There have been a few times where I’ve found myself in discussion with non-feminist friends and acquaintances of mine about feminism’s relevance in the world, and I have explained that I don’t really consider feminism nowadays to be about “equal rights” so much as about liberating people from restrictive gender roles. Therefore, it is just as relevant to men as it is to women. The typical response goes a little bit like this:

“Then why is it called ‘feminism’? Why don’t you just call it ‘humanism’ or ‘equalism’ or something? ‘Feminist’ implies it’s only about females by virtue of its very name.”

My problem with this is threefold.

1. The word ‘feminism is important because it gives our thoughts, actions and ideas a context.

– Feminism’s history is colourful, varied, fascinating and inspiring. Feminists today may have shifted their focus, but they (‘we’, I should say), are part of a long and rich tradition of fighting for gender equality. It is important to see our struggles as part of a bigger picture.
– Changing the word ‘feminism’ to something else would rob us of this history.
– Feminists (as well as people with a burgeoning feminist consciousness who do not yet ID as feminist) often feel a strong sense of isolation – sometimes it seems as though you’re the only one who notices that there’s anything wrong with the world.
– Knowing that there are others who feel the same way is very important in combating this isolation.
– As such, the word ‘feminism’ unites us under a common banner and gives focus and meaning to our thoughts, actions and ideas.

2. Feminism is traditionally about women, hence the name. Do you have a problem with that?

– However much I feel that feminism benefits everyone, sexism has throughout the course of history disproportionately hurt women.
– Moreover, although great strides have been made in terms of legal and social equality, the fact remains that pretty much every society in the world sees females as inferior.
– Although many feminisms (such as mine) focus to varying degrees on how to benefit men, we should honour our history by keeping the female-centric nature of the word in acknowledgment of the fact that women have been, and continue to be, more negatively affected by patriarchy than men. And we should never, EVER be ashamed of it.

3. People who advocate a rebranding of feminism to something more gender-neutral are ass-kissers.

– Whether you realise it or not, your unwillingness to align yourself with feminism may have something to do with the fact that it’s predominantly associated with women.
– There’s a stigma attached to anything seen as overly female. Think about it. Boys and men who want to do traditionally female stuff are seen as ‘cissies’, whereas girls and women who aspire to do traditionally male stuff are either lauded or seen as over-ambitious.
– As a result, a movement which unashamedly benefits women and fights for their place within society (even though, as I say, it helps men too) is ghettoized. It’s somehow not ‘worthy’ enough.
– Much as I hate to generalize, chances are if you’re a guy and you disassociate yourself from feminism you are to some extent afraid of being seen as being ‘pussy-whipped’. And if you’re a lady who does the same, you’re kissing the ass of the patriarchy in order to get a pat on the head. Of course, this only applies if you support the general aims of feminism in the first place; if you’re a right-wing misogynist ignore what I just said.

So there you have it. If you want to read a much better worded, better structured and more interesting piece on a similar theme, try Catherine Redfern’s ‘Feminists are Sexist‘. I promise you will be enlightened.

Rant 2 of 2

I don’t want to give the impression that I had a bad day. Honesty, today was pretty good. Even the subject of this rant had good origins – the film Planet Terror by Robert Rodriguez, which is a rollickin’ good laff. But, ugh, I’m just so sick of cinema’s treatment of its female characters.

Academically-speaking, I have kind of grown weary of feminist film analysis – not that I don’t think it’s important, but I’ve been at it for years and I’m ready for pastures new (sujet du jour – film and theology). To be honest, I’m fed up that the discussion still needs to take place.

My problem is not so much with Planet Terror, as the movie was really meant as a parody of 70s trash cinema, and therefore really necessitated a bit of exploitation. Seriously, if it hadn’t been there, the film would have been a lousy pastiche. It was more the issues raised by the film – namely, why were women ever portrayed like that in the first place and have we really come that far since the seventies?

I haven’t got time for a full-length analysis (I said ‘rant’, not ‘essay’) as it’s 1am and I have to be at church at 9 tomorrow (not to mention I didn’t get to watch the end as I had to get back to Canterbury), but let’s just say that there were times when I definitely felt specifically vulnerable as a female. I don’t have a problem with the ladies in the film experiencing violence or meeting gruesome ends – so do the male characters, obviously. It’s the way in which their gory demises are coupled with their sexualisation, not necessarily at the same time, but it calls to mind sexual violence – which, although affecting men as well,  women tend to be more affected by. As an example, in a lot of the scenes in which Fergie’s character is in danger, the camera angles draw attention to her body – yes, she’s in danger, but she’s also specifically in danger as a female.

As I said, I don’t really have a problem with Grindhouse doing this, as it’s meant to be a send-up of/homage to the kind of trash cinema that is choc-a-block with this kind of thing. But, on my way home, I saw this poster:

Have we really moved on all that much since the seventies? Actually, the poster I saw had the eponymous “wolfman” in the background. Exegete that for me. Terrified female with clearly physically strong male in the same shot, and where is our attention drawn? Her cleavage. Do women always have to look sexy when their lives are in danger? Does that not serve up some slightly disturbing connotations?

Here we go…

I don’t like doing blog round-ups as a substitute for content (okay I secretly do but let’s pretend I’m above that), but here’s some interesting stuff I’ve been reading lately…

It’s OK patriarchy, I understand Adam Lambert made you feel funny.

Little Bird has some excellent advice on getting a tattoo, from start to finish (I’m considering one or two)…

Kate Townshend writes about gender in the playground.

Jon at Stuff Christians Like has written a handy guide to understanding how metrosexual your worship leader is. An oldie but a goodie.

This is a lovely post from Hacking Christianity about how grace is present even in Genesis 3.

This, this and this arrived from Amazon today, and next on my list is this.

By the way, 24-1 went spiffingly. Am currently writing a report for the 24-7 prayer website.

UPDATE: Two wonderful posts I happened upon yesterday –

Firstly, Jeremy Camp posts an excerpt from Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here. Viola is an author I can’t recommend highly enough.

Secondly, Jason Coker posts about, well, a lot of things. The post’s title doesn’t do it justice.

“What a marshmallow.”

I went to see ‘New Moon’ with some friends at the weekend and had a helluva lot of fun. Ever been to the cinema in the USA and remarked just how much the audience gets into the film? Well, Saturday night’s audience was like that. This does NOT happen in Britain. Seriously, people were laughing, ‘aww’-ing, clapping, and even hooting when Taylor Lautner took his shirt off. And when Edward proposed to Bella at the end, everyone cheered. It was the most fun I have ever had at the cinema, full stop.

Nevertheless, I thought the film had some interesting dynamics re: gender and sexuality (and not necessarily in a good way). The usual stuff of Bella being entirely defined by which fella she’s with, the slightly ominous domestic-violence undertones (boys will be boys, especially if they’re uber-strong monsters), the constant damsel-in-distress act…Regarding sexuality, of course the vampire genre has long been used as a forum for dealing with society’s fears and questions about sex, and Stephanie Meyers reconfigures this plot is a metaphor for abstinence:

[Bella’s] physical safety becomes a symbolic substitute for her virginity, and Edward guards it with overprotective zeal. Now that’s a real fantasy: a world where young women are free to describe their desires openly, and launch themselves at men without shame, while said boyfriends are the sexual gatekeepers. Twilight‘s sexual flowchart is the inversion of abstinence-only/purity ball culture, where girls are told that they must guard themselves against rabid boys, and that they must reign in both their own and their suitors’ impulses. But even while inverting the positions, Meyer doesn’t change the game…Men, or vampires, are still dangerous and threatening while females are still breakable and fragile.

(via Sarah Seltzer)

Thus, Bella’s virginity is symbolised by her physical safety, which gives rise to the extremely problematic eroticisation of domination and violence and the association of sex with danger. As mentioned in the above quote, however, there are moments of ‘discursive struggle’ in the film wherein cultural norms are negotiated – namely, the inversion of the common paradigm of women as sexual gatekeepers. In Twilight, Edward is the one constantly holding back and restraining Bella’s desire for him, aware of the consequences of acting on his feelings, whereas Bella is uninhibited in the expression of her longing. This arrangement directly inverts the paradigm of not only contemporary American abstinence culture, but that of many other patriarchal societies throughout history, in which women are the gatekeepers of sexual morality. In this model, women are taught to guard themselves against uncontrollable male lust, and that they must take responsibility for not only their own desires but those of their male suitors. In Twilight, however, it is Edward who puts the breaks on whenever their desires threaten to consume them. However, despite this subversion, sex is still equated with death and masculinity is still coded as dangerous or threatening.

There’s an interesting post up at Unorthodoxology which points out something I definitely had not noticed before:

There’s a deeper implication in the romance between the main character Bella — a human teenager — and Edward — a vampire immortal — that strongly suggests Mormon notions of sealed, eternal marriages and a god-like afterlife.

Generally, Mormons believe that true marriage is eternal, not temporal. If properly sealed in a Mormon temple, that marriage lasts beyond the earthly life into one in which human beings become godlike. The ceremonies occur in temple rooms walled by mirrors which reflect infinitely, suggesting the everlasting nature of the marriage being sealed. Even whole families can be sealed, not just spouses.

Wowzer! (Stephanie Meyers is, of course, a Mormon.) Interesting theology, although obviously problematic by Christian standards (see Matthew 22:30).

But all of this raises interesting questions for me. I’m interested in how Christians can involve themselves in the creation of culture without it necessarily coming across as contrived and didactic. There has to be some alternative to the ‘screw whoever you feel like’ ethic of most pop culture, but minus the casual misogyny of Twilight (overly-defined gender roles are what put me off abstinence culture in the first place – gosh I really need to do a series on sexual ethics, don’t I?) or the obvious sense of “we’re trying to get a message across”. Sexual ethics aside, I’m also interested because…well, I was chatting with Jim, my pastor, the other day, and he proposed that I stay in Canterbury vocationally for another year after my MA and start some sort of creativity-related ministry. I’m taking that as a sign that I’m meant to stay here a bit longer, as he’s confirming a general feeling I’ve been having of wanting to stick around a little longer, and is not the first to do so (Phil Togwell also remarked that it sounded like I should stay in Canterbury after graduation). What does that look like? A ministry to creatives? Or a ministry helping Christians get creative? What does Christian creation of culture entail? Sorry, but most Christian culture is abominable. How can we make it better? Am I called to help with that in some small way? This also relates – in a roundabout way – to my postgrad dissertation, where I’m writing about postmodern theology and the spiritual side of film.

Just to clarify, I actually don’t find Twilight’s abstinence theme all that contrived in and of itself once you do away with the irritating gender dynamics, although who knows who I would have felt about it five years ago…

(The title of this post, if you were wondering, is a quote from the film that had the whole audience in stitches – go see it!)

PS: If you want a great blog dissecting Christian culture in all its atrociousness, try Jesus Needs New PR

Feminist Fandom: part 6 of 6

This week concludes the series of dissertation posts I’ve been doing this past few weeks (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five). Here’s the conclusion:

Feminist Fandom: Exploring the precarious relationship between third-wave feminism and television with reference to Sex and the City and The L Word (Part 6 of 6)

Problematic Elements and Conclusions

Throughout this essay, the texts are undoubtedly approached from the perspective of a loyal fan. However, I do not wish to overlook the criticisms of either series in my wish to justify my viewing pleasure, nor disregard the elements that cause me to take umbrage. There are moments of containment wherein the subversive aspects of both TLW and SatC are kept in check; there are also elements that are downright problematic, challenging my claim that both texts have third-wave credentials.

Firstly, given third-wave feminism’s focus on the intersectionality of oppressions (i.e. that oppression on the grounds of gender is linked to oppression on grounds of race, class, sexual orientation etc.), the lack of energy given to these issues on either show (particularly SatC) provides feminist viewers with a major stumbling block. This is particularly disappointing considering SatC’s sexually emancipatory values. Women of colour are in particular need of positive media representations of their sexuality – as Friedman and Valenti argue, “[f]ew bodies are more closely policed…than those belonging to women of color”.[1] Similarly, both texts disproportionately reflect “the choiceoisie of liberal feminism”[2]:

…emphasis on the freedom to play with lifestyles often neglects very basic questions about access to opportunities to consume.[3]

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Feminist Fandom: part 5 of 6

The past few weeks I have been posting my undergrad dissertation in bite-size chunks (the story so far – part one, part two, part three, part four). Here’s part five (nearly there! bit shorter this time):

Feminist Fandom: Exploring the precarious relationship between third-wave feminism and television with reference to Sex and the City and The L Word (Part 5 of 6)

Contested ‘Maps of Meaning’

Feminists and cultural critics have always been interested in concepts of ideology. Many have drawn on the theories of Louis Althusser, who argued that institutions such as religion, government and the media operate as ‘Ideological State Apparatuses’, working in the interests of society’s dominant groups. Stuart Hall develops this further to contend that the media as an apparatus has “progressively colonized the cultural and ideological sphere”.[1] Yet Hall also argues that “ideological ‘maps of meaning’ are never simply imposed but always contested , with every sign or representation a potential point of struggle over meaning”.[2] For Gledhill, texts can be “sites of discursive struggle”, caught between the need to attract a wide audience with a familiar moral order and the need to refer to recognisable social discourses.[3] She uses Cagney and Lacey as an illustration of ‘cultural negotiation’ within popular media, arguing that the female buddy pair generates ‘conflicting codes of recognition’ that negotiate and potentially undermine ideology.

With this in mind, how do our texts disrupt ideological assumptions of their generic attributes? As we shall see, both series’ are laden with examples of the destabilisation of the status quo.

SatC bears much generic resemblance to ‘independent/single-woman’ narratives such as Bridget Jones’ Diary or Ally McBeal,[4] yet disrupts certain expectations by focussing not on a single female protagonist but on a group of women, thus allowing us to explore how a group of post-second wave women interact together and negotiate differences. Arguably, TLW subsequently builds on the codes engendered by SatC[5] but disrupts the heteronormativity of this narrative by centring it on queer women. Thus it is arguably important that TLW shares SatC’s bourgeois values because it means that it can play with the cultural codes we have gained from familiarity with the series. These cultural codes will mobilise a certain set of expectations even in those who do not watch SatC due to SatC’s popularity and omnipresence in the media. Therefore, TLW is able to build on this frame of reference to attend to the areas of contemporary feminism not addressed by SatC (primarily queer sexualities and genders, race, class, disability). It could be argued that the series needs already-established cultural codes in order to upend them.

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Feminist Fandom: part 4 of 6

The past few weeks I have begun posting my undergrad dissertation in bite-size chunks (here’s part one, part two and part three). This week it’s part four of:

Feminist Fandom: Exploring the precarious relationship between third-wave feminism and television with reference to Sex and the City and The L Word (Part 4 of 6)

Fashion and beauty practises

A frequent criticism levelled at SatC and TLW, often to refute either show’s usefulness as a feminist text, is the fact that almost all the main characters present as gender-conforming and conventionally feminine. Feminism has traditionally taken an oppositional stance to fashion and beauty practices. Janet Radcliffe Richards succinctly enumerates the aspects of these practices which are “obvious causes for feminist concern”.[1] Perhaps the most obvious is the large investment of time and money women are required to dedicate to their appearance “when no comparable demands are made of men”; secondly, the standards are set impossibly high. A third issue is that tastes are too standardised, allowing little room for diversity. Finally, citing the examples of corsets and high-heeled shoes, she explains how the demands of fashion itself are often constricting and not conducive to health or free movement. Hollows delineates how these evaluations have led to a politicisation of feminist dress, which produced anti-fashion strategies of either adopting traditionally masculine attire or attempting to escape the idea of fashion altogether and encourage women to “do their own thing”.[2]

Third-wave feminist attitudes have moved beyond this perspective. Although feminists continue to critique the misogynistic elements of fashion and beauty practices, there is a general agreement that it is possible to negotiate a politically engaged yet enjoyable relationship with fashion.[3]

With this in mind, how do SatC and TLW engage with these contemporary feminist debates about fashion and femininity? It is clear almost all the primary characters are conventionally feminine, slim and attractive, and it has been argued[4] that this failure to present any alternative to the norm risks negating any potential feminist substance. However, a closer look at each programme reveals that, rather than unquestioningly following conventions, each in its own way sincerely engages with discussions of fashion and femininity as they operate in a third wave context.

It is commonly acknowledged that fashion plays an intrinsic role in SatC, with many viewers claiming to watch it primarily for the fashion. SatC impacts on both the fashion world (with many magazines running fashion spreads inspired by the trends popularised by the series[5]) and the viewer at home (the programme’s influence on women’s purchasing habits has been widely documented[6] and “a large section of its audience watch it primarily to see the clothes”[7]). This obviously adds to the fantasy appeal of the series; however, the most relevant aspect of the role of fashion within SatC is the way in which fashion functions as spectacular within the narrative. In an essay titled “‘Fashion is the Fifth Character’”, Bruzzi and Church Gibson elaborate on the “bold and innovative”[8] use of fashion within the narrative. Whereas the common approach of Hollywood film and television is for costume to be subservient to character and action, in SatC it “exist[s] independently of script and narrative”.[9] Wardrobe serves a spectacular purpose and provides critics with multiple “rich and ambivalent”[10] readings; importantly, it can also provide an abundance of material to consider in the light of contemporary dialogues within feminism.

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Feminist Fandom: part 3 of 6

The past two weeks I have begun posting my undergrad dissertation in bite-size chunks. Part one is here, part two is here.  This week, you get part 3 (this one’s longer than the others, so bear with it):

Feminist Fandom: Exploring the precarious relationship between third-wave feminism and television with reference to Sex and the City and The L Word (Part 3 of 6)

Sex and sexuality: Thinking Outside the Box

Few could have failed to remark that a central feature of both series’ is that they both centre on a group of sexually experienced/liberated women; it would not be inappropriate to posit them as pioneers in attempting to promote a progressive view of female sexuality on television and indeed this may be a contributing factor in both series’ success. As well as being a key aspect of their makeup, it is also an unmistakable element of their feminist appeal. According to Astrid Henry, “[o]ne of the defining issues of the generational struggle between feminism’s second and third waves is sex”.[1] During the second wave, much work (both on academic and grassroots levels) was done on the issue of women’s sexuality – the “male-centered, heterosexual model of human sexuality”,[2] it was argued, undervalues women’s sexual fulfilment, and the imbalances inherent in the conventional paradigm for heterosexual relationships carry over into the bedroom to create a situation in which men’s pleasure is valued above that of women. However, a source of controversy was the overemphasis by certain feminists of women’s victimhood; theorists such as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin viewed sexual intercourse primarily as a site of danger and oppression. In general, third-wave feminists have rejected the “puritanical and anti-sex”[3] aspects of second-wave discourse, while seeking to reclaim and carry forward the more liberating insights of previous generations.

One of the major concerns of feminists has been to promote “clitoral literacy”[4] and encourage women to redefine the sex script:

From as far back as the Kinsey report in 1953, intercourse has been found not to be the most effective means for women to experience the full range of their sexual response, and yet, penis-in-vagina sex remains ne plus ultra (sic.) of sexual activity. Other methods of achieving orgasm and sexual pleasure for women are considered second-rate, not “real” sex.[5]

It is easy to situate SatC and TLW in this attempt at reclaiming female sexual power. Both series’ almost always position women as sexual agents and frequently emphasise the importance of clitoral stimulation. According to Astrid Henry, in SatC “cunnilingus signifies female sexuality, with the clitoris symbolising female potency”[6]. Similarly, TLW “explicitly dramatises sex that does not centralize a penis, stressing how it allows for more participatory sex with varied possibilities and pleasures”.[7]

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