Popular (Feminist) Culture

March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always been a secret pop culture junkie. I maintain a totally useless mental inventory of celebrity names, posses knowledge about their past and present relationships, and occasionally find myself referring to a celebrity as I might a friend. I spent high school watching embarrassing reality television shows (not exclusively, mind you. But embarrassing nonetheless), and secretly keeping up-to-date with the deeply inconsequential goings-on of my favorite stars. This certainly didn’t mean I wasn’t politically active or digging the beginning of my feminist roots simultaneously, but my love of pop culture wasn’t, to say the least, a totally minor part of my life growing up.

While I did maintain an unabashed love for all things pop culture throughout all of high-school (and, honestly, a lot of college) there was one moment when I realized that there was something wrong with how women, race and class were being presented. I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me, but knew that I was fighting for one thing in my everyday life and then going home to watch shows which were created to facilitate the same anti-feminist actions I had just condemned. When I began to explore my identity as a feminist and explore the ways I could live what I was learning, reality television and pop culture was the first thing that came under fire. I knew that I was supporting an industry which perpetrated the racism, sexism, classism and homophobia that I tried to fight (or at least address) in all other aspects of my everyday life.

I annoyed my friends by complaining (loudly, I’m ashamed to say) about America’s Next Top Model, explaining how plastic surgery shows perpetrated violence against women during the shows, and spouting jargon from gender studies 101 as I read US Weekly over their shoulders. And then, after all of that angst-causing behavior, I would secretly relish Huffington Post Entertainment and Laguna Beach re-runs. Could I be a feminist and support these programs and industries? Was I a total hypocrite? Should I just pick my battles and embrace my illicit relationships to reality television, or sacrifice the pop culture in my life for the good of the cause?

Lost in what felt like an unsolvable haze of young feminism, I turned to the internet. I discovered, to my total and utter delight, that there were feminists talking about pop culture with humor and respect. There were people talking about the very questions I wasn’t able to articulate! I had some idea that I should know what to find problematic within pop culture instinctively and instantly, and felt angry at myself when I read some article about how this kind of show promoted this kind of exclusivity, or how this language objectified these types of women and it was something I hadn’t thought of on my own. While pop culture is an inherent part of everyday lives, it also felt totally menial and meaningless. Yet there are multitudes of incredibly smart women talking about what it meant to be a feminist and participate and interact with pop culture. Since pop culture and reality television is so new, there’s just an acceptance that the analysis won’t be right the first time around. With increased input from varying types of women, the meanings and analyses are constantly being re-shaped and re-established. Pop culture feminism is based on an acceptance that no one has things right just yet, but with community involvement and participation, pop culture feminism can come to be relevant and meaningful.

I first came across Jennifer Ponzer’s book Reality Bites Back on Twitter, when I found myself totally taken with the idea that feminist analysis of pop culture could be a thing–and a worthwhile thing at that. (For more information on Reality Bites Back, see http://www.realitybitesbackbook.com/ .) Through Jennifer Ponzer and the magic of Twitter, I discovered a whole range of feminist pop culture analysis–which was funny, smart, constantly evolving, and totally relatable. Pop culture feminism disproves the idea that feminism is this one thing which is opaque, academic and inapplicable to real life. Discovering pop culture feminism was one of the first times I realized how I could apply the ideals of feminism to every and all aspects of my life, and what a privilege it was to be able to interact with pop culture through feminist analysis. It meant I didn’t have to remove myself or annoy my friends or frustrate myself, but I could work with pop-culture to reflect and analyze and hopefully improve upon what work it does for women.


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