Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Postfeminism, Consumerism, and 'Sex and the City' - Core Post 4

Although all three of this week’s readings focused on the implications of postfeminism in our contemporary media landscape, each piece also touched on postfeminism in relation to race, popular culture, and consumerism. Sarah Banet-Weiser’s “What’s Your Flava? Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture” particularly underscores the capitalist imperative of postfeminism, which is fueled by a focus on individualism and “rhetorics of choice reframed in terms of consumer purchases,” (pg. 233). An obvious example of the consequences of postfeminism is the existence and celebration of Sex and the City, but there are numerous series that followed suit, such as Gossip Girl, or as I will argue in my presentation this week, Girls. Though the latter does not blatantly showcase consumerism and consumption in the same manner as the former two, each show focuses on women who are “empowered” and use their purchasing power as an enactment of their individuality.

In “For White Girls Only? Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion,” Jess Butler outlines a notion of postfeminism based on narrative, performance, and/or text. This list follows the work of Rosalind Gill, who argued that postfeminism “should be conceived of as a sensibility that characterizes an ever-increasing number of cultural forms,” (pg. 43). I believe that all six characteristics presented by Butler are showcased in Sex and the City, but in particular a “shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification,” “self-surveillance, self-discipline, and a makeover paradigm,” the emphasis of “individualism, choice, and empowerment as the primary route to a women’s independence and freedom,” and the promotion of “consumerism and the commodification of difference,” (pg. 44). Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte all find empowerment in their sexuality, individualism, and imagined consumer power. Each character is hyper-aware of her appearance and how she is perceived by others, particularly men. Each woman also uses consumption as a way to enact individuality and choice.

Particularly in the episode screened in class, ironically titled “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” Carrie bases the essence of her womanhood on a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Outside of the context of the series, it seems that Carrie’s ability to reduce her individuality and agency to something so trivial is in part due to her status as a white, upper middle class, heterosexual woman. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are all able to indulge in a seemingly unruffled postfeminist lifestyle because of their status, which is not afforded to most women. 


  1. Julia, good articulation of the capitalist urge found within postfeminism argued in our readings this week. As Emma notes above, the articles weren't exactly close readings of these shows, more philosophical/historical accounts, so I appreciate your attention to the consumerist emphasis in the "Sex & The City." Part of the show's lack of appeal for me is rooted in the way the characters seem so claustrophobically enslaved to their hipster lifestyle; they way they exude McRobbie's "burden of self-management" is positively suffocating.

    Since I used my daughter Alex for my post last week I'll invoke her again; my mostly dyed-in-the-wool -- or is it Stitch 'n Bitch? -- third-wave feminist wife (Katie) and I have been hypersensitive to images of women in the media that our young daughter consumes. Something Banet-Weiser doesn't mention about "Dora the Explorer" that has always bothered us is its often complete disregard for the real world (she searches for imaginary things like Chocolate Trees and whatnot); we always preferred that Alex watch "Diego" because she could at least learn about the real animals he rescues while learning Spanish. Surely "Dora"'s disdain for reality is also part of its innate depoliticization?

    This point reminds me of a very good show Alex enjoys on PBS called "SciGirls," in which multiracial groups of female tweens and teens solve real world problems by designing science experiments, working in the field, and conversing with experts. It's kind of a non-competitive reality show come to think of it, with very positive role models. It definitely ties into Banet-Weiser's point that PBS tends to embrace the pedagogical (and thus representational) aspects of TV better than some networks; our only complaint is that the token boy character, while merely animated in the pre- and post-show segments, is always presented as a complete dunce; foolish to the point of mockery. Despite this lapse in judgment, it's a rare show that uses the concept of "girl power" to show girls actually working together and making a difference in the world.

  2. Doug and Julia - great points all on how commodification in postfeminism affects character and narrative. Taking Doug's cue, I've actually been thinking about how Banet-Weiser's discussion of Nickelodeon's "multiracial, postfeminist" programming is complicated by its treatment of the show The Legend of Korra.
    The Legend of Korra was a preteen show that was a follow up to the hit series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The protagonist of the sequel was Korra, a young WOC. As the creators pointed out, Nickelodeon had no problem with her race, but were concerned about her gender:
    Ultimately, more girls started watching the show than boys, and even though numbers were good, Nickelodeon pulled the show from the network and made it available only online. I think this goes back to Banet-Weiser's early point that Nickelodeon only really needs to *seem* inclusive of gender and race. Shows like Legend of Korra feed that image, though ultimately their business practices show that Nickelodeon is as conservative as the next children's network.
    (Don't even get me started on queerness in children's media.)