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Dangerous Dames

Representing Female-Bodied Empowerment in Postfeminist Media

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Heather Hundley, Roberta Chevrette and Hillary A. Jones

This book illuminates the rhetorical work performed by contemporary representations of a specific type of postfeminist hero who has garnered a lot of cultural capital: women who are smart, capable, physically agile and fit, and proficient with weaponry and technology. Employing critical/cultural and feminist approaches, Heather Hundley, Roberta Chevrette, and Hillary Jones engage with a range of theories including intersectionality, critical race theory, postmodernism, and posthumanism to examine a range of contemporary texts, including Kill Bill, Volumes I and II; The Hunger Games films; Wonder Woman; Atomic Blonde; Proud Mary; The Bionic Woman; Deus Ex; Dark Matter; and Caprica. Contributing to a robust existing conversation about postfeminist media as well as tracing how representation has changed in recent years, Hundley, Chevrette, and Jones contend that portrayals of dangerous dames offer limitations and opportunities for audiences. Specifically, should audiences read these characters as evidence of a postfeminist apocalypse, they may heed warnings of the limited interpretations offered. Yet as more women serve as role models and gain public attention, particularly regarding their assets and abilities, they provide important equipment for living for navigating around patriarchal constraints raised by postfeminism, neoliberalism, and humanism.

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Conclusion: Envisioning Feminist Futures

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Media have material consequences, shaping our views of present realities and future possibilities. We began our inquiry with attention to gendered differences in access to power, noting that as U.S. women have made strides forward (e.g., the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, increased occupational power), postfeminist politics, backlash, and representations prevail. As feminist rhetoricians and critical media scholars, we have approached postfeminist representations of women’s strength as pleasurable and powerful—but also concerning in their rhetorical consequences. As spaces where meaning is negotiated, media serve as “intensely political” sites of struggle where “patriarchal power may be both consolidated in its production and also rejected through feminism[s];” (Savigny & Warner, 2015, p. 2). The mediated texts examined in this book offer insights into social paradoxes including varied configurations of gendered ideals, roles, and relations.

In particular, we have explored how one specific type of woman, the strong female-bodied action hero, has been represented in film, television, and video games after the turn of the century. Dockterman (2019) identifies themes in female-bodied action heroes from the 1970s to the 2010s: The Icons (1970s), The Badasses (1980s), The Muses (1990s), The Avengers (2000s), The Team Players (2010s), and The Idols (summer 2018). Female-bodied action heroes ←153 | 154→began to frequent the film genre in the 1970s with icons such as Foxy Brown (1974), Ripley in Aliens (1979), and Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977) offering new models of women’s power. In the 1980s, these heroes became even more badass, with...

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