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Contemporary femininities after postfeminism: genre, affect, aesthetics

McDermott, Catherine (2018) Contemporary femininities after postfeminism: genre, affect, aesthetics. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the relationship between postfeminist discourses of empowerment and constructions of female subjectivity in contemporary fictional genres aimed at women and girls. First, the thesis examines narratives focusing on women whose coming of age coincided with the height of postfeminist cultural dominance, and then explores the continuing influence of postfeminism in contemporary girlhood coming-of-age genres. By analysing how postfeminism is constructed narratively, aesthetically and generically, this project develops an original set of theoretical concepts and frameworks through which to read contemporary feminine culture and contributes to ongoing debates within feminist media studies. To understand how postfeminism feels in our contemporary moment, Lauren Berlant’s work on genre (2008, 2011), impasse and cruel optimism (2011) is mobilised to conceive of postfeminism as a set of failed fantasies of fulfilment. The thesis illuminates a major cultural turn in which the construction of postfeminist empowerment in popular genres begins to drastically shift from an affective register of carefree pleasure, to one in which postfeminism is articulated as a site of rage and resentment. Chapter One analyses Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn 2012) as emblematic of this affective shift. Chapter Two examines Lena Dunham’s Girls (2012–2017) through the lens of ‘cruel optimism’ (Berlant 2011: 1), while Chapter Three’s analysis of Appropriate Behaviour (Desiree Akhavan 2014) abandons the frame of postfeminism entirely, instead detailing a sense of profound isolation from normative genres. Through a reading of The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins 2008, 2009, 2010), Chapter Four expands on Robin James’ (2015) model of resilience, adapting the insights of Mari Ruti’s (2017) and Jane Elliott’s (2013) conceptions of agency to sketch out the parameters of newly emergent feminine subjectivities in which a capacity to overcome socially inflicted suffering is what determines social viability. Chapter Five’s analysis of Bande de Filles/Girlhood (Céline Sciamma 2014) explores the transformative and relational aesthetics of resilience, while Chapter Six uses Nikolaj Lübecker’s (2015) study of feel-bad modes of cultural production to conceptualise the negativity generated when contemporary genres contravene expectations of resilient girlhood.

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