Review: New Femininities. Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity

New Feminities. Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. Edited by Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2013.

[Review copy provid9781137339867_200_new-femininities_haftaded by Palgrave Macmillan]

What concepts are needed for studying gender, media and culture in the twenty-first century? For folks interested in these topics, how can we acknowledge social transformations and cultural progress – where women have gained new strides in representation and production – while at the same time attending to the ways in which media sexism is continuously shored up by long established forms of symbolic violence, classism, homophobia and racism?

Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff‘s edited collection, New Femininities. Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity, provides an excellent road map for understanding gender, contemporary media and pop culture today. Across twenty original essays, this book grapples with the pressures and opportunities afforded to women across a range of transnational media forms, including magazines, adverts, the web, reality TV shows, and diasporic cinema. It raises provocative questions such as, what is at stake in the prevalence of cross-cultural analogies in feminist discourse, where wearing the veil is treated as comparable to western pressures to wear sexualized clothing, in an attempt to resist racist discourses? (Carolyn Pedwell) How are teenage girls creating sexual digital identities – negotiating Playboy visuals and slut shaming – on social networking sites such as Bebo? (Jessica Ringrose) And how do we understand gender, vulnerable labour and migration in a time of capitalist crisis? (Gargi Bhattacharyya).

According to the authors in this book, there are two key concepts that can provide the theoretical terrain for understanding gender formations today: neoliberalism and postfeminism. As Gill and Scharff unpack in their introduction, postfeminism “has become a key term on the lexicon of feminist cultural critique in recent years” (p. 3). Postfeminism is a contested concept; it variously refers to a new academic knowledge project (suggested to be like postmodernism or postcolonialism); a way of acknowledging popular attitudes that pitch feminism as something of the past; or a backlash mentality which accuses feminist movements themselves of causing unhappiness for the modern woman. One of the most critically persuasive uses of term, however, refers to a new ideological approach within contemporary media culture –drawing on some feminist ideas, while presenting empowerment and consumerism as the height of women’s right to choose and be in control of her life.

This new ideology can be summed up in what Gill has termed a ‘postfeminist sensibility‘. There are several interlocking aspects to this sensibility:

  • in contemporary media culture femininity is figured as a bodily property, to be maintained across projects of the self
  • we’ve seen a shift from objectification to subjectification (women objectifying themselves for the public gaze – a la girls gone wild)
  • there’s an increased emphasis upon self-surveillance, monitoring and discipline and a focus on individualism, choice and empowerment
  • this is reflected in the dominance of a ‘makeover paradigm’ where (normally working class) subjects seek to ‘better’ themselves through the help of middle-class ‘experts’
  • postfeminist media sees a resurgence of ideas of natural sexual difference (all women are like this, men are like that)
  • the sexualization of young women is increasing (such as Playboy logos being sold on girls’ t-shirts!)
  • there is a commodification of difference.

This might all sound rather abstract, but the twenty essays in New Femininities unpack these ideas and show how they operate in practice. Postfeminism constructs new gendered, classed and racialised norms. This collection also considers the ways in which contemporary feminism can be understood. ((Although the ways in which femininity and feminism slides together could perhaps call for a little further attention, and the volume could do with more of a queering of ‘new femininities’ – how are femininities constructed through non-female designated bodies, for example?))

A key intervention of the book is its ability to think analytically about neoliberalism – which hasn’t yet become established within gender theory/wider feminist studies as a vital area of critique. Moving on from an economic-based understanding of neoliberalism as the privitization and deregulation of markets, Gill and Scharff develop a view of neoliberalism as a cultural logic and disciplinary practice through which subjectivities are constructed. Here, “neoliberalism is a mobile, calculated technology for governing subjects who are constituted as self-managing, autonomous and enterprising” (p. 5). They argue that neoliberalism is a gendered phenomenon, intertwined with postfeminist discourses and practices. They map this over three aspects (p.7), including:

  • the move to the individual over a collective political articulation (people ‘fail’ because of their attitude, not social barriers, for example – which is a tenent of neoliberalism. This resonates with the cultural turn to feminism as a personal attitude of confidence and strength, rather than a critique of social injustice and inequality, which can characterise various elements of postfeminism).
  • the self-motivating, rational subject of neoliberalism (capable of making their own ‘good life’, without the need for state assistance or welfare) resonates with the freely choosing, self-reinventing subject of postfeminism (where the tropes of sexism are performed willingly by women)
  • in popular culture discourses, it is typically women who are called on to self-manage and self-discipline – to make themselves over, to watch their weight and conduct, to behave in certain ways. As discussed elsewhere on the blog, young women in particular have been the site for ideal citizenship and censure alike. Gill and Scharff ask, “Could it be that neoliberalism is always already gendered, and that women are constructed as its ideal subjects?” (p.7). ((To which we could answer: which women, how, and for whom?))

One of the stand out essays in the collection is Imogen Tyler‘s analysis of the rise of representations of (white?) maternity within pop culture, arts, literature, politics, pornography and consumer culture. As Tyler ably demonstrates, “pregnant beauty is a disciplinary figure, which is symptomatic of a deeply entrenched ‘disciplinary neoliberalism’ in which the most intimate bodily experiences have become thoroughly capitalised” (p. 28). Where once being pregnant might have been a ‘time off’ of the expectations of hegemonic femininity, under late capitalism pregnancy has become a new site of ‘sexy’  and a “‘body project’ to be directed and managed” (p. 29) — pregnant bodies feature fetishtically in porn, new fashions and beauty products are targeted at the pregnant woman specifically, and new mothers are expected to ping back to their pre-baby bodied selves quickly after giving birth. Alongside these creeping new discourses and expectations, Tyler also explores a “counter-cultural maternal aesthethic” (p.31) in the work of Croatian-born, Liverpool-based, art/activist Lena Simic.

Understanding how the economic, cultural and everyday meets is a crucial area for contemporary feminist media studies, as well as understanding sites of resistance. My main concern with New Femininities, however, is how feminist history and media is constructed in this volume – particularly in the domain of ‘third wave feminism’.  Third wave feminism is a highly contested term and a political identity and agenda which is still being fleshed out. There are several occasions in the book where third wave feminism is rendered in painfully simple terms: heaped together as an individualist leaning and/or inherently (and magically) inclusive. There is also the burning question of who and what is being referred to under the banner of third wave feminism. From thinking about the politics of citation, as Clare Hemmings draws our attention to, we can begin to query what texts are being called forward as emblems of new feminism/the third wave.

Invariably, it’s the now-canon of the North American popular books Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future (2000); Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century (2003); Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (1995) and To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995). No where to be seen is Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (2002) or mention of long-running feminist blogs and magazines.

The exception to this third-wave canon is Scharff’s chapter, which re-focuses the third wave discussion to the German context. Scharff not only acknowledges disputes and tensions within different third wave articulations, she is also rare among scholars for actually analysing the claims within popular third wave texts, rather than taking their statements at face value.

Overall, New Femininities. Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity is a compelling read which arms its readers with a critical toolkit for understanding contemporary gender and media formations. It’s no introductory or primer text, but does open up abstract ideas through closely argued empirical chapters and calls attention to the need to understand neoliberalism as a gendered, cultural logic, and postfeminism as a disciplinary discourse which attempts to shapes what it means to be a ‘woman’ today. In the best chapters, tensions abound.  I would recommend reading this book alongside Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in an Age of Austerity (2014) to map any potential connections.

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cfp: Feminism and (Un)Hacking

Journal of Peer Production (JoPP) — CFP for Special Issue on Feminism and (Un)Hacking

Editors: Shaowen Bardzell, Lilly Nguyen, Sophie Toupin

There has been a recent growth in interest in feminist approaches to practices like hacking, tinkering, geeking and making. What started off as an interest in furthering representations of women in the technical fields of computer science and engineering, often along the lines of liberal feminism, has now grown into social, cultural, and political analyses of gendered modes of social reproduction, expertise, and work, among others. Practices of hacking, tinkering, geeking, and making have been criticized for their overtly masculinist approaches, often anchored in the Euro-American techno-centers of Silicon Valley and Cambridge that have created a culture of entrepreneurial heroism and a certain understanding of technopolitical liberation, or around the German Chaos Computer Club (CCC).

With this special issue of the Journal of Peer Production, we hope to delve more deeply into these critiques to imagine new forms of feminist technical praxis that redefine these practices and/or open up new ones. How can we problematize hacking, tinkering, geeking and making through feminist theories and epistemologies? How do these practices, in fact, change when we begin to consider them through a feminist prism? Can we envision new horizons of practice and possibility through a feminist critique?

In this call, we understand feminist perspectives to be pluralistic, including intersectional, trans, genderqueer, and race-sensitive viewpoints that are committed to the central principles of feminism–agency, fulfillment, empowerment, diversity, and social justice. We refer to the term hacking with a full understanding of its histories and limitations. That said, we use it provisionally to provoke, stimulate, and reimagine new possibilities for technical feminist practice. Hacking, as a form of subjectivity and a mode of techno-political engagement, has recently emerged as a site of intense debate, being equally lauded as a political ethos of freedom and slandered as an elitist form of expertise. These fervid economic and political ideals have been challenged and at times come under attack because they not only displace women and genderqueer within these technological communities but, more importantly, because they displace gendered forms of reflection and engagement.

Drawing on a growing community of feminist scholarship and practices, we hope to build on this momentum to invite submissions that reconceptualize the relationship between feminism and hacking. We aim to highlight feminist hackers, makers and geeks not only as new communities of experts, but as new modes of engagement and novel theoretical developments. In turn, with this special issue, we hope to challenge both concepts of feminism and hacking to ask several questions. How can feminist approaches to hacking open up new possibilities for technopolitics? Historically, hacking discourses center on political and labor aesthetics of creation, disruption, and transgression. How can feminist theories of political economy push technopolitical imaginaries towards alternate ideals of reproduction, care, and maintenance? Conversely, we also ask how notions of hacking can open up new possibilities for feminist epistemologies and modes of engagement?

We seek scholarly articles and commentaries that address any of the following themes and beyond. We are also interested in portraits, understood broadly, of feminist hackers, makers and geeks that help us better understand feminist hacker, maker and geek culture. We also solicit experimental formats such as photo essays or other media that address the special issue themes.

What is distinctive about feminist hacking or hackers? How does feminist hacking practices help create a distinct feminist hacking culture?

Why are feminist hacking practices emerging? Which constellation of factors help the emergence of such practices?

What do we know about the feminist hacker spectrum? i.e. what are the differences among feminist hacking practices and how can we make sense of these distinctions?

What tensions in hacking and/or in hacker practices and culture(s) come to the fore when feminist, anti-patriarchal, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and/or anti-oppression perspectives are taken?

What does feminist hacker ethic(s) entail?

What kind of social imaginaries are emerging with feminist hacking and hackers?

What kinds of hacking are taking place beyond the Euro-American tradition?

Submission abstracts of 300-500 words due by September 8, 2014, and should be sent to

All peer reviewed papers will be reviewed according to Journal of Peer Production guidelines; see

Full papers and materials (peer reviewed papers around 8,000 words and testimonies, self-portraits and experimental formats up to 4,000 words) are due by January 31st, 2015 for review.

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Event: DIY Citizenship – Critical Making, Activism & Design (28 May 2014)

Here’s an event this month that I will be speaking at:

DIY Citizenship – Critical Making, Activism & Design

A one-day symposium and book launch examining do-it-yourself citizenship in making, activism and design.
Wednesday 28th May, 10am – 6pm

Hosted by UWE Bristol’s Digital Cultures Research Centre at the Pervasive Media Studio, Watershed, Bristol

To mark the UK launch of DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media (MIT Press), a day of dialogue about DIY citizenship in making, activism and design. This one-day symposium welcomes DIY Citizenship co-editor Megan Boler (University of Toronto) for a keynote address and discussion with Professor Ian Hargreaves (Cardiff University), PI on the UK Creative Citizens research project.
Boler and Hargreaves will be joined by contributors to the DIY Citizenship collection, researchers and active participants in DIY culture in the UK to critically examine forms of DIY citizenship that have emerged in recent years.
Sessions will look at:
  • DIY Making – Shawn Sobers and Mandy Rose from UWE Bristol
  • DIY Design – Joel McKim from Birkbeck, Ann Light from Northumbria University and Katerina Alexiou from the Open University
  • DIY Activism – Red Chidgey from King’s College London and Amy Spencer, author of DIY: the rise of lo-fi culture
The day concludes with a plenary session chaired by Professor Jon Dovey, Director, REACT
A full programme and further information will be available shortly at:
Advance registration is essential as spaces are limited. Reserve your spot via Eventbrite
Fee: £15 – includes lunch and all-day refreshments
The DIY Citizenship Symposium is convened by Mandy Rose and Amy Spencer for the DCRC

Questions? Please contact us at


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Video: Feminism in the Media


Speaker(s): Natalie Hanman, Lola Okolosie, Tracey Reynolds
Chair: Dr Sadie Wearing

Recorded on 10 December 2013 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

The panellists will interrogate current representations of feminism in the media and share interventionist strategies that are already going on or that might be taken up in the future.

Natalie Hanman is the editor of Comment is Free at

Lola Okolosie is a writer, teacher and prominent member of Black Feminists.

Tracey Reynolds is a reader in social and policy research at London South Bank University.

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cfp: Interdisciplinary Conference on Kate Millett


Flying: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Kate Millett

30 May 2014, School of Arts, Birkbeck University of London. Supported by the Feminist Review Trust.

Keynote: Victoria Hesford (SUNY Stony Brook University), author of Feeling Women’s Liberation (Duke UP, 2013)

Papers are invited for an interdisciplinary conference dedicated to the work of Kate Millett. Millett became an iconic figure of second wave feminism after the publication of Sexual Politics in 1970. As one of the first pieces of academic feminism to come out of the American academy, Sexual Politics was a handbook of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Moreover, after appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in the same year as Sexual Politics was published, Millett became one of the Movement’s most recognizable faces. However, arguably, Millett has since largely disappeared from both the public eye and contemporary feminism, despite the fact that she has continued to publish (Flying [1974], The Prostitution Papers [1975], The Loony-Bin Trip [1990], Sita [2000], and Mother Millet[2001]), make films (Three Lives [1971], Not a Love Story [1981], The Real Yoko Ono [2001]), and sculpt.

In aiming to reflect on/account for/address/redress some of this silence, this conference is compelled on the one hand, by recent calls in feminism to re-engage with the second wave (see Hemmings’ Why Stories Matter, Duke, 2011) and to re-visit foundational feminist texts (see Merck and Sanford’s Further Adventures of the Dialectic of Sex, Palgrave, 2010). Moreover, it is also influenced by Victoria Hesford’s recent Feeling Women’s Liberation (Duke, 2013), which places Millett as a central figure in the production and remembrance of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Hesford’s publication signals that now is perhaps a timely moment to create a larger dialogue about Millett; to ask questions about Millett’s role in feminist history; and to discuss how her work is situated in and amongst contemporary feminist concerns. The conference thus aims to: consider new frameworks for approaching Millett’s past or ongoing work; interrogate the politics and possibilities of the second wave; explore the politics of memory, forgetting, and citation in feminism; critically reflect on the potential difficulties of some of Millett’s past work travelling into the present; and to consider whether and how (despite her ongoing feminist work) Millett might be produced as ‘untimely’ in the feminist present. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

Affect and the second wave
Feminism and autobiographical writing
Feminism and forgetting
Feminist film-making
Generational politics or the politics of mother/daughter relationships
Lesbian politics and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Narrating mental illness
Non-monogamy as feminist politics
Race and feminism
Sexuality and the second wave
Sexual Politics and feminist literary criticism
The media and the second wave
The Women’s Liberation Movement

The conference invites proposals for individual papers, panels, or artistic responses from any discipline and theoretical perspective. Submissions are welcome from students, activists, artists, academics, and unaffiliated researchers. Please send a title and 300 word abstract for a 20 minute paper along with your name, affiliation (if applicable), and 100 word bibliography to by 14 March 2014.

The conference is organized by Dr Sam McBean (Birkbeck, University of London) and is being supported by the Feminist Review Trust.

Select papers will be sought for publication as part of an edited collection. For further information please email Sam at

Conference website:

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cfp: Black British Women’s Writing: Tracing the Tradition and New Directions

SECOND CALL FOR PAPERS: Black British Women’s Writing: Tracing the Tradition and New Directions
9 July 2014, University of Brighton, UK

***Deadline for Abstracts: 1 February 2014***

Keynote Speaker: Bernardine Evaristo
Evening Readings by: Dorothea Smartt, Jay Bernard, Katy Massey and Sheree Mack

Following the first international expert meeting on Black British Women’s Writing (Brussels, 2013), this inaugural conference of the Black British Women’s Writing Network (BBWWN) will offer scholars, postgraduate students and writers the chance to come together to debate some of the continuing preoccupations and new directions in this diverse and burgeoning field of study. Abstracts of 250 words are invited for 20-minute papers as well as 60-minute panel proposals that engage with, but are not limited to, the following topics:

· Theorizing Black British Women’s writing: The state of the field and usefulness of the terms. Debates in the existing anthologies/edited volumes/special issues and new critical approaches to both established and critically neglected writers.

· Teaching Black British Women’s writing in the UK/US/the Caribbean/Europe and beyond.

· ‘I am a Black woman…and I don’t bite’: Contemporary (self-) representations of Black British women.

· Aesthetics and/vs. Politics: The politics of form and performance. Generic and thematic concerns.

· Intersections: Racism, sexism and other forms of positioning.

· The State of Feminism and Black (British) women’s stakes in this.

· Conversations with Caribbean/African/African-American/European/other writing.

· Questions of Identity: National vs. diasporic identifications. Regional Identities. ‘Mixed-race’ identities. Gender and sexuality.

· Memory and the Body: Sites of excavation/exploration.

· Beyond Narratives of Unbelonging?: New imaginaries. ‘Post-racial’ narratives.

Please send abstracts as email attachments to Dr Vedrana Velickovic  and Dr Sheree Mack by 1 February 2014.

Conference website:

Join our Facebook group at:!/groups/378188258946761/

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Hot Topic: Feminist Memory Project

From  on Vimeo:

“Hot Topic is an ongoing art project that investigates the role of artist-as-memory-keeper through the creation of an alternate cannon of feminist portraits. Begun in 2006, the series now comprises 80 paintings celebrating a diverse range of figures, and continues to grow.

Hot Topic began as a series of 60 portraits of feminist icons named in the song of the same name by the iconic electro-feminist band Le Tigre. The goal of the project was to engage in a form of political art-making that was not critical of dominant culture, but instead celebratory of alternative social movements. Hot Topic is a tribute to feminist heroes of all stripes: artists, activists, writers, musicians, and others. In a world that celebrates manufactured pop stars but forgets the names of suffragists, I wanted to find a way to solidify the memory of the underground superstars who have made such a difference to feminists of my generation.

Portraiture has traditionally been used as a means of depicting the wealth and high social standing of its (often male) subjects. I wanted to use the portrait for its ability to
announce importance and greatness, without upholding the tired ideals of the brave and solitary hero or genius. Presented on the wall in a grid, the works no longer stand as
individual portraits and instead form a pastiche that is indicative of the interconnectivity
and community so integral to feminist culture.

For this exhibition I am proposing that we display the video of the series, although displaying the original paintings is potentially an option as well. They will be in an exhibition at La Centrale Gallery Powerhouse in May 2014.

Carol Rama, Eleanor Antin, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Gretchen Phillips, Cibo Matto, Leslie Feinberg, Faith Ringgold, Mr. Lady, Laura Cottingham, Mab Segrest, The Butchies, Tammy Rae Carland, Sleater-Kinney, Vivienne Dick, Lorraine O’Grady, Gayatri Spivak, Angela Davis, Laurie Weeks, Dorothy Allison, Gertrude Stein, Marlon Riggs, Billie Jean King, Ut, DJ Cuttin’ Candy, David Wojnarowicz, Melissa York, Nina Simone, Ann Peebles, Tami Hart, The Slits, Hanin Elias, Hazel Dickens, Cathy Sissler, Shirley Muldowney, Urvashi Vaid, Valie Export, Cathy Opie, James Baldwin, Diane Dimassa, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, Mia X, Krystal Wakem, Kara Walker, Justin Bond, Bridget Irish, Juliana Leucking, Cecilia Dougherty, Ariel Skrag, The Need, Vaginal Creme Davis, Alice Gerard, Billy Tipton, Julie Doucet, Yayoi Kusama, Eileen Myles, JD Samson, Johanna Fateman, Kathleen Hanna!”
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