In this podcast, Rachel Berryman and I discuss the representation of girlhood and teenagehood in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (2017). In particular, we discuss issues related to representations of girls’ relationships with social media and technology; how Hannah’s point of view is focalised through the prism of Clay’s emotions and perspective; and the critical response to the series – plus much more! We hope you enjoy it x
In this podcast, Carmel Cedro and I discuss the female gaze. Topics include: the difference between a male gaze and a female gaze; the importance of this gaze in popular cultural texts; the potential for a fluid female gaze; and the representation of sex, desire and eroticism in contemporary screen media. This podcast ended up being a double episode because we just had so much to discuss! We hope you enjoy it x
Download via iTunes for free: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/female-gaze-podcast-discussion/id1011011620?i=360573766&mt=2
Or listen right here on WordPress:
I wrote a blog post about the girl’s gaze on teen TV over at Bitch Flicks for their special issue on the female gaze – check it out! It’s called “When the Girl Looks: The Girl’s Gaze in Teen TV” x
In this podcast, I chat with PhD candidate Jessica Ford about quality television’s gender problem: why are women’s shows so routinely excluded from the “quality” paradigm? what kinds of discourses of taste and value arise as a result of this? and are there television series that display a ‘feminist sensibility’ that challenges this dominant way of thinking about value and quality?
Listen to/download this podcast for free via iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/quality-tvs-gender-problem/id1011011620?i=346820656&mt=2
Thanks to Jessica for her expertise and specialist knowledge on this topic! It was an enlightening and important conversation to have. You can follow Jessica on Twitter at @fordjessicaa
Thanks for listening 🙂
Declarations of ovary explosion, uterus throbbing, and being ‘PREGNANT, LITERALLY PREGNANT!’ are part and parcel of the online fangirl lexicon. These ecstatic utterances often refer to the enjoyment experienced at the sight of a text’s handsome protagonist in a state of undress, or doing something completely adorable like weeping silently by a campfire about his lost love a la Jamie Fraser of “Outlander”.
These declarations of fangirl feeling are also present in non-heterosexual representations of love, sex and desire, and I’ve noticed this happening particularly in relation to both slash and femslash fictions. Within the imaginary zone, women viewers and readers have crafted a language that allows them to speak with one another about their erotic imaginations, sensuous responses to fantasy, and their sexual desire.
Wherever this energy is directed, whatever object it takes, fangirling is so belittled because it is an often unruly expression of women’s desire, which patriarchal culture regards with contempt. Because patriarchal culture is dedicated towards fulfilling the needs, desires, and agendas of men, women are given far less space to articulate anything that challenges this prioritised language of desire. The unruliness suggested by coupling women’s pleasure with words like explosion, throbbing, pulsating, dancing, smouldering etc., gives this fangirl language a resistant edge that creates an alternative space of articulation. Resisting cultural prohibitions against women expressing desire (because it makes you look like a slut, because it’s not feminine, because it speaks of a desire that patriarchal culture does not approve of/want to fulfil and so on), this online communication seems to be looking for ways to push against or exceed the bounds of acceptability. I think this is why the language is so gleefully excessive, aggressive, playful, exuberant, and celebratory. It provides an oppositional counter to the idealised feminine sexuality that is demure, compliant, accommodating, and secondary to male desire. It puts women’s desire and a female gaze front and centre, without shame, and allows us to express things that ordinarily go unsaid.
Dominant cultural constructions of girlhood require girls to fall into line with adult regulations and authority, and closely monitor girls for any deviations from this conformity. Therefore, narratives like The 100 that provide a counter discourse to this are important for a feminist reading of the teen screen, and its potential to articulate an oppositional politics of girlhood. Representations of violent, brutal girls often pathologise the adolescent as a dangerous deviant who has strayed too far from the path of her ‘proper’ place. If we examine adult, patriarchal discourses of girlhood, we find that girls are constructed as ideal objects, passive, non-confrontational, agreeable, gentle, and kind. So it makes sense that representations that deviate from this stiflingly sexist norm often pathologise this deviation as an abnormality, a failure of the girl to fulfil her role within the carefully demarcated boundaries of feminine acculturation. This character is often either a) destroyed at the conclusion of the narrative to restore ‘proper’ order or b) restored to her original position within the patriarchal order.
The 100 provides an exciting alternative to this narrative. Heroines Clarke and Lexa are represented as strong and fearless leaders, and their authority is never truly questioned or undermined by adult male characters. When they give orders, they are simply followed. When they are violent, or brutal, or make decisions that are unemotional and strategic, it is a given that they will continue to be respected. Other heroines of The 100, particularly Octavia and Raven, are also figures of non-compliance, extraordinary power, intelligence, and bravery. The fact that these violent, fierce, defiant girls are not condemned or shamed but celebrated as worthy heroines is truly incredible to me. Their decisions are complicated, and they don’t make excuses for the often-brutal effects of their actions. Non-apologetic girls, girls who do not repent for their lack of conformity to adult male rule, dominate this teen show. This is key to the show’s feminist politics, because it ruptures the dominant discourse of girlhood outlined above. Within this space of rupture, the field of girlhood and what it is able to represent expands. This is central to a feminist reading of the teen screen because, for me, our role as feminist critics and theorists is to locate points within culture where girlhood can be thought about, experienced, and done in new and potentially empowering ways. Instead of following the rules of feminine adolescence enforced by adult, patriarchal governance, the imaginative space of The 100 represents girls leading the way into new territories of girlhood, carving out a space for potential alternatives to the dominant system.
I watched Reign’s most recent episode, ‘Acts of War’ yesterday and I’m still in the process of thinking through the issues it raised, but I also wanted to write a little bit about it now. At first, I thought that the representation of Mary’s rape might open up an important discourse about the systemic exploitation and violence committed against women in patriarchal culture, and the importance of including girls in that discussion and critique. However, having read this interview with Reign’s show runner Laurie McCarthy, I’m questioning the intentions behind the inclusion of this storyline. McCarthy states that she wrote this ‘through the prism of Francis’, i.e., what it would mean for him, his journey, and his rule. I find this fundamentally offensive, because it suggests that the rape is simply a plot device to get Francis to the next beat in his journey. Framing women’s pain and exploitation through the prism of a masculine gaze is not something we need to see more of – it is the absolute status quo of patriarchal culture’s maintenance of male power. Furthermore, this dominant gaze is so pernicious because it becomes internalised by girls and women, and we are encouraged to surveil ourselves through it. The routine degradation and humiliation of women in contemporary visual culture, as a kind of punch line or catalyst for a male heroic journey, is completely unacceptable. Why is it that, as a culture, we need to see women in pain, women as fetishized victims of rape and torture, women as mere objects or pawns in narratives of masculine power and domination? I’m not saying that I am necessarily against any representation of rape in visual culture; in fact, it could in some instances open up a very necessary discussion about how rape culture works. But when the representation of women and girls is necessarily aligned with victimisation and powerlessness, we have a problem. I’m not sure if this is exactly what Reign is doing, but I do think we need to be critically aware about deconstructing the ways in which visual culture does this to women and girls, including in teen TV. A genuine question I have about the outcry circulating around this episode is: why this reaction to this particular show, when we are surrounded by a visual culture that represents the women being victimised and demoralised in far more graphic terms – practically every episode of Law and Order and CSI come to mind, along with ‘artistic’ or ‘quality’ series like Game of Thrones. Does it have to do with the perceived threat to the young, female audience’s wellbeing? Is it that we police the borders of acceptability for teen TV more fervently than other genres, letting these other genres off the hook far more readily? Is it because we should expect more from a show that purportedly is dedicated to representing an empowered and authoritative female perspective, and that it has in some ways failed this? I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on these issues.
I think Reign will need to work hard to reconsider Mary’s position as the central subjective position within the narrative; this season has, as my friend and scholarly BFF Jodi McAlister points out, strayed too far from this position. Reign has presented some incredibly poignant moments that represent feminine adolescent power and empowerment, and this is why I have loved it so much. Reign has such a great opportunity to create a visual language of girls’ empowerment and agency, and it has demonstrated this at times, but it clearly has trouble maintaining this language. Depending on where it goes from here, the show has a great opportunity for furthering and strengthening its representation of girlhood agency and power. I hope it takes this path going forward.