ENGL 6310/7310
Popular Culture
Fall 2011
PH 300
M 240-540
Dr. David Lavery
Popular Culture Studies
Part Four: Feminism
17. Ien Ang—Dallas and the Ideology of Mass
18. Lana F. Rakow—Feminist Approaches to Popular
Culture: Giving Patriarchy its Due (Hall)
19. Janice Radway—Reading Reading the Romance
20. Christine Geraghty—Soap Opera and Utopia
21. Judith Butler—Imitation and Gender
Insubordination (Hughes)
Mini-Casebook: Banerjee
Popular Culture Studies
Part Four: Feminism
17. Ien Ang—Dallas and the Ideology of Mass
Popular Culture Studies
Part Four: Feminism
18. Lana F. Rakow—Feminist Approaches to Popular
Culture: Giving Patriarchy its Due (Hall)
Popular Culture Studies
Part Four: Feminism
19. Janice Radway—Reading Reading the Romance
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Part Four: Feminism
20. Christine Geraghty—Soap Opera and Utopia
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Part Four: Feminism
21. Judith Butler—Imitation and Gender
Insubordination (Hughes)
Mini-Casebook: Banerjee
Part Four: Feminism
Mini-Casebook: Banerjee
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“Angel in the House”
A concept of desirable femininity (from Coventry Patmore's
nineteenth century poem) critiqued by Virginia Woolf who argued for
the necessity of killing this internalised aspect of the feminine for
women to be fully effective. She argued further in Three Guineas
that it was also necessary to kill 'the lady'—although even then 'the
woman still remained'.
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Difference Feminism
Where liberal feminists have campaigned for equal rights with men,
assuming similar status in terms of humanity, rationality, and mental
capability (Wollstonecraft, Beauvoir), feminists interested in
difference have recognised, and sometimes celebrated the
dissimilarities between men and women. For example, one of the
central differences between women and men has been perceived
as the maternal child bearing role associated with (and culturally
imposed upon) women and the feminine. Some difference feminists
argue that women are 'naturally' more caring, compassionate, and
giving, and should embrace this as a positive quality, thereby
undermining the negative connotations of femininity under
patriarchy. Other feminists have argued that this simply
essentialises traditionally feminine qualities as normal and natural,
leaving no space for resistance to what are perceived as restrictive
feminine roles.
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Difference Feminism
Other feminists of difference recognise that gender roles are
constructed categories, but undertake an analysis of how these
differences are constructed and maintained (Irigaray, Cixous).
Rather than celebrating difference per se, or simply attempting to
circumnavigate it, difference is recognised as socially, politically,
ideologically and linguistically entrenched, and maintained in order
to repress women. The category of woman must be considered with
alternative analytical tools in order to recognise sites of repression,
resistance, and spaces of the feminine.
Difference feminism has been considered problematic in that it
considers woman to be a transcendental category. The category of
woman, in actuality, is intersected by differences such as class,
race, ethnicity, disability and ability, sexuality, age, and occupation.
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Desire (i.e. heterosexual desire) is often understood as natural,
whilst same-sex desire is posited as unnatural. In contrast, feminists
such as Adrienne Rich and Judith Butler have argued that
heterosexual desire is a social construct. Rich writes of a regime of
'compulsory heterosexuality', while Judith Butler refers to the
heterosexual matrix.
Desire is also particularly important in psychoanalytic contexts,
where desire is understood to be produced in a gap that
fundamentally structures the subject. In Freudian terms, this gap is
the realisation that the primary love object (the mother) cannot be
loved due to the incest prohibition. Therefore the child is forever
seeking the lost love object (especially apparent in unresolved
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oedipal complexes). For Lacan, the fundamental gap structuring the
subject is the entry into the symbolic where the child recognises
him/herself as distinct from the world around him/her. The child can
never return to this presymbolic unity. Therefore there is an endless
circling of desire around an unattainable demand.
Popular Culture Studies
Most apparently 'discourse' refers to a speech act. However, in
current literary and feminist theory the term is most frequently used
in a Foucauldian sense.
Michel Foucault theorised discourse as the ways of speaking about
ourselves, ideas, and the world in general. We can speak about
discourses of sexuality for example, or discourses of the family, or
discourses of gender that circulate in western society. For example,
dominant discourses of sexuality include the understanding of
sexuality as an interior truth of the self, that it is a natural instinct,
and that there is a distinction between normal and perverse
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Foucault claims that discourses are cultural products circulated by
powerful institutions (such as the legal, political, educational and
social institutions), as well as at the level of the individual. Thus
discourses are important for maintaining systems of power and
Discourses do not simply elucidate an underlying truth or
knowledge, but are actively involved in producing this knowledge.
Discourses, for example, do not simply talk about sexuality, but
actually produce the way it is understood as an inner part of the self,
as natural or as perverse.
Historical specificity—that discourses are produced at particular
times and locations—needs to be borne in mind in discussing them.
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A particular version of feminism that emerged from grassroots
activism. Ecofeminism can take various forms, from an analysis of
women's supposed inherent connection with 'nature', an
understanding of the interconnectedness of 'nature' and 'culture' as
opposed to the rationalist understanding of 'man' as the dominant
species, to a critique of the capitalism and globalisation that
perpetuates ongoing environmental degradation, consumerism,
nuclear development, and colonialism. These factors contribute not
only to the annihilation of ecosystems, but is also part of a broader
analysis of the way in which that which is perceived as feminine
(such as 'nature') is subject to patriarchal systems of power and
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Écriture féminine
Associated with so-called French feminists Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray
and Julia Kristeva, écriture féminine refers to a specifically women's
writing or writing the feminine. It is characterised by fluidity,
fragmentation, and jouissance, and is also associated with a writing of
the female body—its otherness that threatens to disrupt to masculine
symbolic order (see phallogocentrism).
Écriture féminine has been critiqued as being essentialist and doing little
to actually improve the material conditions of women, especially since it
seems to valorise a women's language that is outside standard linguistic
systems and risks remaining unheard of dismissed as hysterical.
It could be answered that écriture féminine does not refer to an actual
body, but to the way in which phallogocentric language systems have
constructed the feminine body as lacking, castrated, and other to
masculine bodies.
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Refers to a system of knowledge, incorporating ways of
understanding and interpreting. A feminist epistemology may
emphasise the dominance of patriarchal epistemology/
epistemologies, and emphasise feminine ways of knowing and
interpreting the world. Some feminists may focus on women's
corporeal difference, others on the political and social systems that
maintain patriarchal epistemologies.
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Eroticism is frequently defined in contrast with or opposition to
pornography with the erotic often understood to be more feminine or
feminised. The point at which this line is drawn between the erotic
and the pornographic depends upon the feminist theorist's ethic of
Theorists such as Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous have argued for
an écriture féminine, or an eroticism in language; there is, they
suggest, a trace of a specifically feminine libidinal body in women's
writing and language. Their term for the pleasures of the text, as
well as bodily pleasure, is jouissance.
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A biological category which, as Toril Moi in “Feminist Literary
Criticism” (see Jefferson and Robey) remarks, is often distinguished
from feminine and feminist.
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Practices and attitudes considered appropriate for women in the
dominant ideology; socially constructed modes of behaviour
associated with women. These vary between cultures and are
modified by factors of class and ethnicity within cultures. French
Feminism as constituted in the anglophone West can be read as
validating femininity and its attributes over masculinity.
Refers to specific behaviours, practices, and attitudes associated
with women (also referred to as a sex/gender distinction). Many
feminists have argued that femininity is learned behaviours and
practices (Moi), that are enforced by social, political, and ideological
norms. According to this analysis femininity is in no way a natural or
biological fact, but is a construct, a cultural product that is adopted
by women in order to participate in a culture which functions largely
in terms of masculine and feminine binary oppositions.
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Feminist theorists have argued that the 'unnaturalness' of femininity
needs to be exposed, and undertake a deconsctruction of the
elements that participate in the construction of femininity (Spivak,
Butler, hooks). This may involve an analysis of the representation of
women in ideological terms, an exploration of the discourses and
discursive paradigms that construct and maintain ideals of
femininity, and an understanding of social and economic factors that
maintain the marginality and lesser status of the feminine.
Femininity is not, however, universally applicable to all women. In
the west, it has particularly been associated with white women and
middle class women. Barbara Christian (1985) highlights the ways
in which particular aspects of femininity are enabled by class
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position. Because Black women have frequently been part of the
working class, it is the labour of these women that has also enabled
femininity as a class construct. Sojourner Truth speaking at a
women's rights rally in 1851 also recognises the class and racial
biases of conventional femininity: “That man over there says that
women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches,
and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into
carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And
ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and
planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And
ain't I a woman?” (Conboy, Medina, and Stanbury 1997, 231) Jackie
Huggins claims that a similar construct of femininity functions in
relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. That
Indigenous women, particularly under paternalistic and racist
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government legislation, were not considered 'feminine' is evidenced
by the fact that they were expected to do not only 'women's' but also
'men's' work, such as wood chopping, fencing, and stock work.
Ruby Langford Ginibi's life narrative Don't Take Your Love to Town
documents her own experience of this labour, its irregularity, low
pay, and poor conditions.
While some feminists have pointed to the constructed and learnt
aspects of femininity, other feminists have embraced feminine
qualities. Difference feminists argue that femininity should be
recognised in terms of its differences from masculinity, and should
be recognised as equally valid. Carol Gilligan in 1982 argued for a
rethinking of measures of morality, claiming that women's morality is
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rethinking of measures of morality, claiming that women's morality is
based on 'natural' feminine qualities such as compassion and
caring, rather than abstract moral principles commonly linked with
so-called masculine qualities. Some writers associated with what is
often labelled French feminism also tom some extent can be read
as arguing this, although their frame of reference is often strongly
that of psychoanalysis (see Cixous, Irigaray). The school of writing
called écriture féminine however, mobilises this difference as a
positive. Hélène Cixous in “The Laugh of the Medusa” calls for a
specifically feminine writing that can challenge the dominance of the
father's voice.
This stance has been criticised by materialist feminists as
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An explicitly political stance committed to the analysis and
amelioration of patriarchy, sexism, and gender. The term feminist is
very broad, and often a site of dispute and debate, thus some
feminists choose to specify types of feminists: for example, liberal
feminist, marxist feminist, poststructuralist feminist, eco-feminist.
The sites of application of feminist theory are also very broad,
ranging from academic analyses to political and social intervention
to grassroots activism.
Popular Culture Studies
A term coined by Elaine Showalter to refer to the study of women
writers. Gynocritics encompasses a history of writing by women as
well as a study of women's writing in terms of theme, style, and
structure. The study of women's writing not only examined the text
itself, but recognised the difficulty of writing for women in a largely
male-dominated literary and theoretical field, as well as positing a
specifically female literary tradition.
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A cross or mixture of disparate entities. Associated with postcolonial
theorist Homi Bhabha who argues for the potential of hybrid
discourses to subvert dominant discourses.
The hybrid discourse is a vehicle for denied or oppressed
knowledges, as well as a mimicry of dominant discourses.
Identity is sometimes understood as hybrid.
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From the Greek word hystera, meaning womb. Hysteria is usually
associated with women, and has been treated by hysterectomy and
even clitoridectomy, see Adrienne Rich Of Woman Born and Elaine
Showalter The Female Malady.
The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud has been famously associated
with the diagnosis and treatment of hysteria.
Hysteria often manifests as symptoms of illness (a cough, or rash,
nervous tics) which have no physiological or medical cause. Freud
understood these to be a result of unresolved issues repressed in
the unconscious—often to do with the Oedipal complex.
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Some feminists have suggested that hysteria can be understood as
the body articulating that which is otherwise unspeakable, and
sometimes as a form of resistance to patriarchal and heterosexual
norms. Other feminists have argued that this is a very limited form of
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Identity Politics
Refers to the construction and deployment of an identity for
strategic purposes. For example, an identity based on race or class
or sexuality may be used as the basis for collective political action
(the Gay and Lesbian Law Reform Commission is one example of
identity politics in action).
Identity politics emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s in
response to the inadequacy of overarching concepts of gender used
by the second wave women's movement to account for oppressions
based on class, race, and sexuality.
More recently identity politics has been critiqued by theorists who
claim that identity politics does not recognises people's multiple
sites of belonging, and the differences between and within people
gathered under an identity.
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Identity Politics
Furthermore, identity politics supposes a fixed and stable identity
over time; this has been challenged by various postmodern and
poststructuralist theories.
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Refers to pleasure, and has connotations of sexual pleasure.
Jouissance is multiple, unstable, and cannot be contained.
Roland Barthes argued that the jouissance of a writerly text is not
simply a pleasure, but also has a disruptive potential.
Feminists theorists have understood jouissance in terms of the
feminine, and have argued for the potential of jouissance to both
reflect women's pleasure, and to disrupt the phallogocentric
dominance of a text.
Popular Culture Studies
The term is derived from Lesbos, a Greek island where the poet
Sappho was reputed to live, and write poetry that celebrated love for
women. Lesbian is commonly understood to refer to sexual desire
between women, however it is also understood to extend beyond
choice of sexual partner to encompass a broader notion of a lesbian
However, the notion of the lesbian as a personage or identity has
only emerged since the late 1800s, where it was used by
sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis to
describe a sexual pervert or invert (see also pathologisation).
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In the bar culture of the 1950s and 1960s, lesbian identity has often
been associated with butch/femme roles; these have in turn been
critiqued for reproducing heterosexual roles (see Joan Nestle and
Sally R Munt for refutations of this argument).
The Gay Liberation movement of the 1960s began to dispute the
pathologisation of this identity, claiming a gay or lesbian identity as
normal and natural. Lesbian feminism furthered this to argue not
only for a distinctly lesbian identity, but to analyse this as a
specifically political identity. It was argued by some lesbian feminists
that sexuality was a matter of choice, rather than a natural given.
This stance was reflected in a paper called “The Woman-Identified
Woman” written by the Lavender Menace in 1970. This paper
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argued that the woman-identified woman is a way of giving sexual,
emotional, and political energy to other women and undermines
patriarchal systems of power. The idea of choosing a lesbian
identity also undermines the notion of a 'natural' sexuality or desire,
an argument that Judith Butler analyses in Gender Trouble and
Bodies That Matter.
Adrienne Rich in 1980 proposed the 'lesbian continuum', according
to which as range of relationships can be seen as lesbian: from
close friendships (such as romantic friendships in the eighteenth
century or Boston marriages in nineteenth century America) through
to sexual relationships.
The woman-identified woman and the lesbian continuum have been
criticised for their failure to account for a desire that is not
attenuated by friendship or political positions.
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The term Other has a wide and varied usage. Most generally it is
used to refer to (what is perceived as) irreducible difference, such
as gender, or race.
In existentialist terms, the other refers to the struggle for subjectivity
between subjects: neither subject wants to be the other, reduced to
the status of object. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is
widely credited with expounding this concept in relation to gender,
arguing that woman is the other of man.
For psychoanalysis, the other is unknowable. Yet it is this
unknowable other that structures subjectivity.
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Very broadly, this refers to the systems of male oppression of
women through political, economic, social, and discursive
Various feminist positions understand patriarchy in different ways. A
radical feminist analysis understands male power over women as a
universal oppression, occurring primarily through biological sex and
sexuality, particularly the sexual devaluation of women that has
occurred throughout history. A marxist feminist approach may
understand patriarchy in terms of a sexual division of labour that
occurs within class systems. A poststructuralist feminist
understanding of patriarchy could argue that it is phallogocentric
language systems that maintain gendered positions within discourse
(see also binary opposition).
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The problem with the concept of patriarchy is that it is extremely
broad, and therefore can be ahistorical and universalist. That is, it
may not pay attention to specificities of a historical era (what is
considered as gendered oppression may change over time), or may
argue that the same forms of gender oppression occur in the same
ways worldwide.
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Performing Gender
Theories of perfomativity draw on the influential work of Judith
Butler argues that gender is not natural, nor is it inscribed (written)
onto a biological body or blank slate.
Rather, gender is discursively (see discourse) constructed and
maintained. Gender is performed by individuals on a daily basis,
and it is this performance that consolidates gender at a social and
cultural level. In turn, social and cultural understandings of gender
direct the gendered performances of individuals.
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Used by Derrida to recognise not only a cultural emphasis on the
spoken word (logocentrism), but particularly the gender based
power structures of the spoken word. Phallogocentric language is
rule-based, linear, structured, directive, and assertive.
Feminist theorists such as Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous have
sought to consider and theorise a specifically feminine way of
speaking and writing that is fluid, multiple and fragmented (see
écriture féminine and jouissance).
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Sexually explicit and arousing material. Pornography is very difficult
to define; it has been, and remains, a site of intense debate. This
debate not only occurs between consumers and producers of
pornography and feminists, but also between feminists.
The 1980s were famously known as the era of the 'sex wars'
between 'pro-sex' or libertarian and 'radical' feminists. The radical
feminist argument is that heterosex, and pornography in particular,
enables men to maintain physical and social control over women.
Pro-sex feminists argue that women need to be able to explore their
sexuality and experience pleasure, that pornography can be used
subversively and in play. Other feminists are concerned that if one
calls for the censorship of pornography then this could be applied to
other forms of sexually explicit material (safe sex information for
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Public and Private
The public/private is an example of a binary that has been utilised
by feminist theorists to analyse the gendering of space.
The private is generally associated with the domestic and feminine,
and the public is a masculine space—particularly the spheres of
where decisions are made and laws passed. The legal and
governmental systems are examples of the public sphere.
Thus the binary can be understood as an ideological division that
maintains the marginalisation of women.
The second wave feminist movement coined the phrase “the
personal is political,” which begins to break down the public/private
divide by bringing the domestic (domestic violence for example) into
the public sphere.
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Originally a term that described a genre which told tales of chivalry.
Romanticism also refers to the aesthetic and artistic practices of
eighteenth century thinkers and poets.
Romance novels are currently regarded as popular culture, and are
specifically gendered in terms of a predominantly female
readership, and the gender roles and heterosexual norms that they
The assumption that people marry or form lifelong partnerships as a
result of romantic love is a relatively recent one. In more modern
terms, romance is often associated with love (rather than sexual
desire). This notion of romantic love is a very idealised one (see the
marketing of Valentine's Day for example).
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Kate Millett in Sexual Politics defines romantic love as a mechanism
that apparently “renders void the woman's class inferiority.”
Feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and Shulamith
Firestone in the 1970s have critiqued the idea of romantic love,
arguing that the structure of romantic love entails a woman giving
up her self, and taking on the needs and desires of her male
partner. It should be noted that this also assumes a heterosexual
basis for romantic love.
For further reading, see Janice Radway's Reading the Romance.
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Sexual Politics
A term associated with Kate Millett which was revolutionary for the
way in which it explicitly recognised the relations between the sexes
as politicised rather than natural.
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Speaking and Reading Positions
Speaking and reading positions refer to the personal, social, and
political framework from which a text is read. On a personal level,
speaking or reading position may be affected by upbringing,
personal experiences, factors such as class, race and gender also
impact upon personal experiences. Social factors may include
historical and geographic location and political climate, which also
includes class, race, and gender. A political speaking or reading
position may refer to an explicitly feminist stance.
In effect these three generally overlap as personal experiences
impact upon political stance, and social factors influence both
personal and political positions.
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Speaking and Reading Positions
Some feminist critics explicitly locate their reading position in
relation to a text (i.e. their class, 'race', gender) in order to
acknowledge points of identification and disidentification with a text,
thereby problematising the notion that there is a universal reading
position that transcends differences between readers.
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