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Women, Feminism, and Pop Politics

From “Bitch” to “Badass” and Beyond

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Edited By Karrin Vasby Anderson

Women, Feminism, and Pop Politics: From "Bitch" to "Badass" and Beyond examines the negotiation of feminist politics and gendered political leadership in twenty-first century U.S. popular culture. In a wide-ranging survey of texts—which includes memes and digital discourses, embodied feminist performances, parody and infotainment, and televisual comedy and drama—contributing authors assess the ways in which popular culture discourses both reveal and reshape citizens’ understanding of feminist politics and female political figures. Two archetypes of female identity figure prominently in its analysis. "Bitch" is a frame that reflects the twentieth-century anxiety about powerful women as threatening and unfeminine, trapping political women within the double bind between femininity and competence. "Badass" recognizes women’s capacity to lead but does so in a way that deflects attention away from the persistence of sexist stereotyping and cultural misogyny. Additionally, as depictions of political women become increasingly complex and varied, fictional characters and actual women are beginning to move beyond the bitch and badass frames, fashioning collaborative and comic modes of leadership suited to the new global milieu. This book will be of interest to students and scholars interested in communication, U.S. political culture, gender and leadership, and women in media.

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5. “How Is This Still a Thing?” The Materialist Feminism of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (Mary Douglas Vavrus)

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5. “How Is This Still a Thing?” The Materialist Feminism of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Mary Douglas Vavrus

University of Minnesota

John Oliver is a feminist badass. His eponymous HBO program illuminates sexism, patriarchy, homo- and trans-phobia that proliferate through United States’ culture, law, and politics, along with the public figures responsible for propagating them. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (hereafter, LWT) joins several other satirical TV programs that began in the last two decades in which feminist critiques of popular culture make at least semi-regular appearances: The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Colbert Report and The Larry Wilmore Show (the last two now cancelled). These programs remedy a problem spoofed by The Onion several years ago: “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break from Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show.” In a photo below this headline, Natalie Jenkins lounges in a chair in front of a large TV displaying a scene from TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. The story features comments by Jenkins describing how, for women, TV viewing requires us to switch out of feminist critique mode or risk perpetual dismay and disappointment. “And given the state of modern media, momentarily suspending my feminist ideals is the only way to get through a night of TV without becoming totally livid or discouraged,” Jenkins says in defense of feminist off-switching.1 Although Natalie Jenkins is fictional, I suspect many feminists recognized themselves in her, having had to...

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