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Nov. 17th, 2008

Hi everyone! I know I've been away for a very long time, but school and wedding planning have consumed any free time I may have had. Now that I have some time to devote to blogging again, I want to make an effort to use this space to share things I'm writing, reading, and studying. There will, I'm sure, from time to time, be some of the silliness you're used to on this blog, but I am trying to give it more of an academic slant (haha) of late. Feel free to unfriend if you're not interested. I won't be offended. Since my Master's thesis is my most recent project, I thought I'd post the introduction and first chapter here to start off with. I'll Post more if people are interested. In the meantime, comment and tell me what's going on in your lives.


Feminism and Celebrity Culture in Shakesteen Film : An Introduction

This thesis explores the intersections of current trends in feminism and popular culture in order to determine the effect these intersections have on the formation of contemporary female teen identity. More specifically, I will examine the way these intersections have an impact upon contemporary teen culture through celebrity influence on teen identity formation. I will focus on celebrities who have worked in a specific genre of teen films: the so-called “Shakesteen” films dominant in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While the bulk of this thesis concerns problems that I see regarding pop-cultural representations of teen feminism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the chronologically reactive nature of conflicting feminisms within the larger movement means that I must briefly summarize feminism's major ideological shifts over time, or “waves,” as they are commonly known.

American first wave feminism occurred from approximately 1848-1920, is widely thought to have originated with the (primarily female) proponents of the abolition movement, and held women's suffrage as its primary goal. Famous American first-wave feminists include Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Alice Paul, all of whom were present at the presentation and signing of the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York on July 28, 1848. This declaration sought to point out the sexism inherent within the documents thought to be the cornerstones of American civil liberties. It did so by appropriating similar rhetoric and language found within these national texts but including women within the groups of people that received the rights bestowed by them. For example, the Declaration of Sentiments turns the following, otherwise familiar, passage from the Declaration of Independence from a critique of British tyranny to one of American sexism with the addition of only two words:

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government.... (Stanton 71, emphasis mine)

By appropriating familiar sentiments typically lauded for their liberating qualities in a way that expressed the latent oppression these sentiments enforced on American women, first-wave feminists set a precedent of protests that subsequent generations of feminism would continue to follow, even over a century later. Cady-Stanton and her peers expressed something historical or familiar in an unfamiliar way, and, in doing so, brought attention to a more contemporary sociopolitical issue. Many critics of this first-wave movement claimed that its proponents were neglecting their natural femininity in trying to enter into what had been a traditionally male sphere of influence.

Later in the twentieth century, second wave feminists built upon the achievements of first-wavers by extending the presence of women in the public sphere first established by their enfranchisement in 1920. Second wave feminists worked to use these broad political rights to obtain rights that seemed closer to where and how women lived their lives day to day: within their marriages, as they raised their families, and in the workplace. Second wave feminism is typically thought to have begun with the widespread entry of women into the workforce during and after World War II. This phenomenon so fundamentally changed the structure of the American family's everyday routine that, after the war ended and many women were told to give up their jobs and return to their homes, they became dissatisfied about the role(s) their society expected them to fill. Out of this dissatisfaction, many women also became depressed and were subsequently diagnosed with the vaguely defined and rarely discussed “housewives' syndrome,” which Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” in her landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. In it, Friedan recounts observations and anecdotes collected from informal gatherings of women whose primary job was to care for their husbands, children, and homes. A shocking number of these women, Friedan writes, felt unsatisfied:

As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—Is this all? (Friedan 198)

Part of the groundbreaking nature of this text, I would argue, lies in the locus of the blame for this nameless problem, which, according to Friedan, appears to be an ideological shortcoming perpetrated by American society at large: she writes that unspecified “experts” peddle the myth of “true feminine fulfillment” that tells women they must “[pity] the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who [want] to be poets or physicists or presidents,” and instead, focus their energy on maintaining their families and homes exclusively (Friedan 198). This rigid definition of the appropriate female role, Friedan writes, has become “the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture” (Friedan 199). By identifying a widespread problem whose roots permeated a culture that prided itself on promoting an image of contentment born of progress, Friedan caused many Americans to question whether the things that their world told them should make them happy really did so at all. Like the first wave feminists, Friedan took an idea that was familiar to most (the outwardly-happy, busy American housewife taking care of her family) and added an unfamiliar dimension to it (the issue of female dissatisfaction and depression) in order to call attention what she saw as a pressing sociopolitical issue. In an effort to bring this issue to the broader public consciousness, Friedan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Friedan became the organization's founding copresident, along with Pauli Murray, a law professor at Yale and a member of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, who, as one of the only African American members, was dissatisfied with the way commission's efforts failed to recognize that all women did not experience oppression of the same type or in the same ways (The Founding of NOW). In addition to raising awareness about the need for gender equality as a national, wide-reaching goal by lobbying for legislation such as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and legislation that allowed women access to safe, affordable methods of birth control, second wave feminists made it clear that, in their vision of a better world for women, every woman should have a voice, and, as such, what was important in any given woman's daily life was important not to her alone, but instead, had a broader meaning, and should be thought of as politically significant.

Many second wave feminists adopted the slogan “The personal is political” as a battle cry for the movement. Carol Hanisch coined this phrase in her essay of the same name, originally published as a part of the compilation Notes from the Second Year: Women's Liberation in 1970. While this phrase was widely accepted as one of near-universal significance by a majority of the movement's members, there was a degree of dissent regarding the application of the statement within the movement itself because of the way “the personal” differed across lines of race, class, and sexual orientation. Indeed, many critics of the second-wave noted that, for many of its members, the rights of “women” were often understood to be the rights of white, heterosexual, middle to upper-class women specifically, and many of the public faces of the second wave seemed to be ignorant to the fact that some of the “rights” or “privileges” they were fighting for were defined differently for women of other races or classes. For example, while prominent second wave voices like Friedan and Gloria Steinem spoke out about the right of women to be able to hold jobs outside of the home, many low-income women protested the exclusion of their specific interests. Because of the unfortunate intersections of race, class, and economic privilege, most of these women were African American and had seen working outside of the home not as a privilege to be won, but as a reality necessary for the survival of themselves and their families.

Third wave feminism (typically thought to begin in the early 1980s and extend through the new millennium) pushed the second wave notion of the political nature of personal life in new directions. While “the personal” still referred to those issue important to the ways in which individual women lived out their everyday routines, more aspects of the personal became accepted forums for political expression. Popular culture was chief among the new areas of third wave activism, with the arrival of bands such as Bikini Kill on the cultural scene signaling the birth of so-called “riot grrrl” culture, an arena in which girls could express their dissatisfaction with a culture in which they felt oppressed and ignored by combining traditional forums of creative self-expression like music, art, and theatre with the political ideals important to them. Bikini Kill's “Riot Grrl Philosophy” has this to say about the importance of popular culture within political expression for young females:

Doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need in order to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodyism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism, and heterosexism figures in our own lives. (Bikini Kill 532)

In addition to forwarding the idea that popular culture is a valid avenue for one's political beliefs, third wave feminists also extended the idea of “the personal” by examining and commenting on female sexuality in new ways. While previous waves of feminism mainly viewed the female body as a political space that had heretofore been unfairly controlled by legislators as in disputes over reproductive rights and the relative abilities of women in the workforce, third-wavers saw the politicians working to enforce those laws as merely a small, more visible portion of a pervasive, ideologically oppressive patriarchal system. As they saw it, the way to undermine this system was to dismantle it from the inside out by adopting its oppressive tools--such as insults about women's sexuality--and reclaiming them in a way that brought to light the everyday inequalities of sex and gender present in contemporary American society. Third wave feminists sough to regain control over as well as change the cultural meaning of these sexist insults. Many publications with this reclamation effort as their main goal appeared in the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, Inga Muscio's Cunt, Leora Tanenbaum's Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, and Bitch Magazine, edited by Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis.

A related effort sought to reclaim not only words, but also actions. Since language comparing women to objects or animals has at its root a desire to control women's bodies in some way, women of the third wave sought to own their sexualities. In order to do this, they first had to dispel notions of female sexuality as wholly receptive and passive, and many felt that a change in viewpoint toward young female sexuality was necessary. While traditional views of this type of sexuality had been that it was to be discouraged; that young women were vulnerable to sexual attack; are likely to be taken advantage of by someone older; and that women, therefore, should be protected, many third wave feminists felt that this view of their sexuality wrested control of their bodies away from themselves and relocated this control to the norm-constructing patriarchy. These third-wavers viewed their sexuality not as something to be sheltered and protected by outside parties, but as something they could use and enjoy themselves as they saw fit. For this reason, third wave feminists are often also called “sex-positive” feminists.

While many young women report that sex-positive third wave politics has resulted in a sort of liberation for them, there are others who view the sex-positive movement as a clever ruse of the patriarchy disguised as advancement for women[1]. One of these women is Wendy Shalit, author of Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Claim It's Not Bad to Be Good (2007), and widely-accepted founder of the contemporary modesty movement that she frames as “feminism's (mild) fourth wave” (Shalit 204). In an age when abstinence-only education is federally funded and more and more fathers across America are accompanying their young daughters to “purity balls” that encourage them to maintain their virginity until marriage, this conservative reaction to third wave values is not altogether surprising1. Though more traditional feminists question labeling this movement feminism at all, I would argue that its emphasis on choice and personal agency hearkens back to the feminist movement's origins, and that making the validity of its feminism determine its success overlooks larger cultural questions that should be addressed. If this movement is to be viewed implausible or unsuccessful, I would argue that that is the case not because modesty supporters employ faux feminism, but because they rely on commodified, reductionist cultural artifacts as the means by which they react to the third wave. For example, in Girls Gone Mild, Shalit uses such forms as the recipe and the teen magazine-inspired personality quiz to promote modesty. Both of these easily-produced formulas rely on opposing stereotypes of young women (the sheltered aspiring homemaker and the vapid, self-obsessed reader of publications like Glamour or Cosmopolitan), and therefore, neither is the way to constructively direct her message to teen girls.

As I suggested earlier, third wave feminism brought politics to popular culture. The body of this thesis will examine the feminism employed in a specialized niche of pop culture: films that adapt the plots of Shakespearean plays for a target audience of American teens, also called “Shakesteen” films. Given feminism's penchant for adaptation of the established, I believe that these kind of popular cultural adaptations are the most appropriate lens through which to examine widely-held views of young feminism. I will examine not only how the changes that these adaptations make in areas of plot and character reflect then-contemporary views on young feminism, but I will also examine two of the celebrities whose careers were established or furthered due to their involvement in Shakesteen film: Julia Stiles and Amanda Bynes. In my discussion of Stiles and Bynes, I will consider both the roles they played in Shakesteen films and their larger roles as celebrities whose actions influence their female teen audiences. Taken together, these things compose the women's “star-bodies,” defined by Angela Keam (who also coined the term “Shakesteen”) as a blending of the “professional and corporeal” associations of a particular celebrity to produce an overall public perception of that person (Keam 2).

Finally, after examining trends that have occurred thus far in representations of young feminism in popular culture, I will explore the future of young feminism in popular culture. Is it possible to widely and palatably market a movement that is so tailored to its participants' individual emotional and political sensibilities without some how compromising the spirit of the movement itself?






( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
i love new terminology! this is also a fascinating topic for a master thesis. also, i'm so so so stoked for your wedding you have no idea. i miss you a lot bb girl!
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you think it's interesting. I'm so close to it and have been for so long that it's impossible for me to know if it makes sense anymore.

I'm excited too! We've got most of the big planning done, but there's still lotsof organizing to take care of.

I miss you too! How are things?
Nov. 17th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
things are...interesting to say the least. my life this november has been crazy.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )