Q: What does Sex and the City, Angus Thongs and Bridget Jones all have in common?
A: These popular texts normalise post-feminist gender anxieties so as to re-regulate young women by means of the language of personal choice.
Let me translate that. (This is not a joke to tell at a dinner party either.)
I have no problem with these movies, however I have recently realised that I do not want to be Carrie Bradshaw (not that I ever wanted to be) and that the women in these movies are not role models, but rather figures who are still on the way to becoming the women we should want to become.
Now hear me out before running defiantly to your Sex and the City poster, crying out with rage; Robbie is still ridiculously fit in Angus Thongs- you are not required to renounce your love of him either.
In 2017 it’s easy to get caught up in the Post- Feminism hype. Post Feminism is the school of thought that we are done with Feminism, and that Feminism as a movement has been consigned to the past. Perhaps some of us still agree that we still need equal rights and equal pay, but to identify as a feminist as a 21st century woman is social and sexual suicide. It’s true- before I started my module in Feminist Killjoys (even the module name is indicative of modern day associations with the feminism), I saw Feminism as an outdated, hairy legged phenomena.
I think we have changed alot since these movies were released: Angus Thongs and Sex and the City in 2008, and Bridget Jones in 2001, and if those movies were released today there would be alot more criticism.
What’s so wrong with these movies then?
Answer? They push, alongside the neo-liberal 21st century notion that the ‘Young Woman’ is a free agent, that young women are free to make their own decisions, and most importantly, free of the burden of Feminism.
The women in the aforesaid movies are examples of the women society conditioned us to become, in direct correlation with the denunciation of Feminism.
HEAR. ME. OUT.
First lets tackle Neo-Liberalism.
Why have structure when you can have it all?
Neo-liberalism is a political theory that feeds into the thought that we are each our own agents. We are individuals rather than a responsible collective, and we are each responsible for ourselves and our decisions. This means that shows like the X-factor have flourished; each of us can make it, and each of us can become stars! Our potential is unlimited as long as we take it upon ourselves to get there. This has also meant that the safety one would have had by living in the community that existed centuries ago has been lost- no more can we expect a government to support us, guide us or a sovereign to tell us what to do. More and more we are made to account for our own lives and what we do with them. However as the old structures of social class fade away and lose their grip…”individuals are increasingly called upon to invent their own structures.”
They must do this internally and individualistically, so that self-monitoring practices (the diary, the life plan, the career pathway) replace reliance on set ways and structured pathways. Self-help guides, personal advisors, lifestyle coaches and gurus, and all sorts of self-improvement TV programmes provide the cultural means by which individualisation operates as a social process.
You can do what you want, so why would you be a Feminist?
After Post-Feminism, it became ‘cool’ to be liberal in terms of porn, strip clubs and sexuality. The rigidity of First and Second wave Feminists who have since become associated with hairy legs and being butch were mocked whilst relishing in this new era of agency for young women.
In modern times McRobbie points out that young women have been allowed to breathe a sigh of relief, “Thank goodness it is permissible, once again, to enjoy looking at the bodies of beautiful women.” This can be seen in advertisements which are overtly sexual, for perfume, lingerie and for all types of products. Even the show, ‘Naked Attraction’ is ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ in it’s admission that it is ok to judge people on their bodies alone.
McRobbie then explains how these sorts of shows and advertisements expect to provoke feminist outrage so they can use that to generate publicity. In this way the young are separated from the old, and the younger female viewer, “along with her male counterparts, educated in irony and visually literate, is not made angry by such a repertoire. She appreciates its layers of meaning; she gets the joke.”
With the music videos of Nikki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and other provocative dancers “the shadow of disapproval is introduced [usually by the older generation]… only instantly to be dismissed as belonging to the past, to a time when feminists used to object to such imagery.”
Thus despite the new found freedom, young women are called upon to be silent, “to withhold critique, to count as a modern sophisticated girl, or indeed this withholding of critique is a condition of her freedom. ”
Bridget Jones says no to Feminism and Yes to freedom.
Girls must have a lifeplan. They must become more reflexive in regard to every aspect of their lives, from making the right choice in marriage, to taking responsibility for their own working lives, and not being dependent on a job for life or on the stable and reliable operations of a large-scale bureaucracy which in the past would have allocated its employees specific, and possibly unchanging, roles.
Bridget Jones is a 30 something year old, enjoying the benefits of being able to live alone safely and independently without scrutiny from society; however she is also bereft with the anxieties that come along with having to find a partner all on her own, and with the weight of the knowledge that if she doesn’t it is all her fault.
With the burden of self-management so apparent, Bridget fantasies tradition. Aftera flirtatious encounter with her boss (played by Hugh Grant) she imagines herself in a white wedding dress surrounded by bridesmaids, and the audience laughs loudlybecause they, like Bridget, know that this is not how young women these days are meant to think.
Are these films really ‘anti‘ Feminist?
Relations of power are indeed made and re-made within texts of enjoyment and rituals of relaxation and abandonment. These young women’s genres are vital to the construction of a new “gender regime,” …and they endorse wholeheartedly what Rose calls “this ethic of freedom.”
These popular texts normalise post-feminist gender anxieties so as to re-regulate young women by means of the language of personal choice.
Therefore I would say that these films, whilst they fuel girl power and make women feel connected to each other and heard, they do not succeed in Feminism. Sitting around and moaning about boys isn’t going to make any political differences in a world, especially in one that is still so unequal to women. It’s almost like these films are sweets given to us by the patriarchy in order to distract us from political Feminism, and the gross inequalities all over the world.
By enjoying these movies and feeling empowered by them, we reinforce for ourselves that we have succeeded. Feminism has succeeded and is no longer needed. These films were made a time when young women did have personal choice, yet that choice has chosen that we must leave Feminism at the door; in order to enjoy what society has ‘given us’.
We have changed since these movies were made!
I do love Angus Thongs, and when I first watched it I laughed and identified. This protagonist loved boys nearly as much as I did! Though last year when watching it with housemates we were astounded at how bad the message was for young girls: Get a boyfriend, and that is the be all and end all. Nowadays we are watching Angus Thongs and Sex and the City 10 years after they were released though. Since the early 2000s we have developed Feminism back to how it was once thought of.
However for those who think we do not need Feminism anymore, or perhaps not to the same extent as what we once did, I would suggest that they should watch these films but in a new light. These films are enjoyable for the time they were produced, and show our situation post-feminism, but Feminism must not be forgotten as a movement or relegated to the past because of the ‘freedoms’ these shows exhibit.
Do we not think there will be a time when we don’t have to worry ourselves with these sorts of anxieties and that we will have an agency one day on par with the men we chase? Do we not think and believe that one day we will use our sexual freedom, not in defiance to society’s expectations, but rather in accordance? The situation we are in is only half way to where we need to get, and these sorts of films should be enjoyed as products of a time, not as images of our future or as projections of the sort of women we wish to be.