Friday, June 5, 2009

A Review: Feminism and Pop Culture

image Andie Zeisler is an author and cofounder of Bitch Magazine. In her latest work she seeks to explore the ways in which feminism and pop culture have acted upon each other. Many view pop culture as meaningless because it is aimed at the masses however; Zeisler reminds us that studying that which we take as ordinary entertainment is important because it is a reflection of our normalized discourse.

Just as we are shaped by discourse, feminism in its own way has had an effect on how women are represented in the various forms of media. From Rosie the Riviter, to the “You’ve come along way baby” Virginia Slims advertisement, to the Spice Girls, the images of women have been in a constant state of flux. Though these messages are aimed at exploiting the empowerment that feminism has sought to instil in women, it is often co-opted for the sake of consumer profit. As Zeisler examines the co-option she makes particularly salient reference to the fact that even the Riot Grrrls message of antiestablishment, was quickly converted from its original meaning. Feminism as viewed through the lens of pop culture is often a tool of patriarchy to reify the very same norms that feminists are seeking to bring to an end.

When women like Queen Latifah seek to present a woman centric model such as her groundbreaking song U.N.I.T.Y., it paled in comparison to the success that male artists of the same genre received. Bitches and Ho’s sell, not women speaking to other women about the ways in which we create safe spaces of our own to subvert patriarchy and therefore as Zeisler points out, how we make the message relevant while still producing a profit must be a concern of all feminists. The medium cannot be allowed to be the message if feminist goals are to be realized.

Even though feminism seeks to improve the lives of all women, with the rise of the third wave many have finally come to the understanding that the monolithic woman is problematic as it often renders women of color invisible. Zeisler goes to great effort to ensure that the experiences of Black women are woven into her analysis of pop culture. At a time when many Black women are rejecting the feminist label, this can only be seen as a positive step. However, including Black women in analysis cannot and should not give one license to ignore the experiences of other women of color. There is little to no mention of Indigenous, Asian or Latina women throughout the book. This in part could be because the mainstream media does not focus on equal representation, however the very fact that they are absent should be a point that is explored in a book on feminism and pop culture, if we are to believe that feminism recognizes and supports all women,

Other issues not mentioned are class and age. Clearly the forms of pop culture like zines, rap, and the pop music are aimed at the young. The very invisibility of older women in comparison to senior men and young women, suggests that as women age we become even less relevant socially. The erasure of age is extremely problematic given the explosion of debate between the second and third wave during the last election.

Finally, though pop culture is considered a medium of the masses, we are not all able to participate evenly. The bifurcation between the working poor and the middle class in a capitalist society means that by following the chain of hierarchy to which we have become accustomed translates into those that are most able to exude power being over represented. Though we live with the mendacious myth of meritocracy and a largely middle class population, more are working poor and underclass than we realize.

As Ziesler says at the beginning of her exploration, this is meant to be a 101 examination of pop culture. It is part of the Seal Studies collection and therefore the missing aforementioned key elements are problematic, as they serve to reify the very discourse of exclusion that she seeks to examine. While this is hardly a challenging read, it is well documented and filled with small tidbits of information that causes one to think about the ways in which our consumption patterns affect how we understand and construct gender. As an entry level examination of pop culture she covers a lot of ground and I look forward to perusing her next work now that she has laid a foundation of critique.

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