A few years ago I remember attending a poetry reading given by Dawn Lundy at the University at Buffalo. In response to an audience member’s question about the themes of her work she said: “Let’s be honest, nobody really gives a shit about feminism anymore”. I was so shocked that I wrote it down in my notebook and completely forgot about it until this week’s readings on post-feminism. Knowing what I know now, I suppose it’s understandable that Lundy could hold this belief and one could possibly go so far as to say it’s true. Lundy likely witnessed the rise of female depictions that empowered women as much as they exploited them– it was everywhere in the late ‘90s and early 2000s as Angela McRobbie’s piece suggests. Musical groups like the Spice Girls seemed to coin the term “girl power” while ushering in a new age of female action heroes. Only a few years later, Britney Spears’ whole shtick was flaunting her sexuality while feigning naivety to the use of her body as a commercial product. And in the media, shows like Sex and the City openheartedly embraced the flaunting of sexuality while eschewing traditional cultural values such as getting married or having children. However, some of the media of today seems a far cry from the programming McRobbie describes in that it paradoxically embraces both raunch culture of the postfeminist age and the conservative nature of pre-feminist culture.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this can be seen in Keeping Up with the Kardashians where the bodies of all the women in the family are utilized for their money making potential. Kris Jenner has no problem asking either of her older daughters to pose nude for a photo shoot or sexualizing her younger daughters by buying them a stripper’s pole to practice on. Many of the Kardashians’ conversations and activities revolve around what they do with their bodies such as shaving each other’s genitalia, walking in on each other during sexual intercourse, and openly discussing their mother’s sex life. At the same time, the show works very hard to portray the fact that these women have fulfilling lives in other, slightly more traditional, ways. As the older Kardashian siblings got married and began having children the same sexual activities are turned into something that benefits the whole family. Suddenly Kim’s nude photos would make a wonderful gift for her husband (who, presumably, has already seen her naked), it’s good that Kim walked in on Kourtney and Scott having sex on the balcony because that means the conflict between them that’s the core of the episode is over and their marriage is healthy once again, and now that Kim is being woken up to the sounds of her mother and her new boyfriend it’s apparent that she’s finally getting over the divorce and moving on. Unlike the women of Sex and the City, the Kardashian’s appreciation of sexual freedom doesn’t come at the expense of long-term relationships or starting a family. You can have it all! Even if it’s just to appeal to multiple demographics.
This intersection of values that seemingly conflict with one another isn’t necessarily new to reality television either. I would argue that The Osbournes started the trend back in 2002 followed by The Real Housewives which started in 2006, the year after the former ended. As someone who doesn’t watch a lot of “real” television (i.e. stuff that’s not complete trash), I wonder if postfeminist values intersect with pre-feminist culture in fictional programming. At any rate I don’t think that Dawn Lundy was entirely correct. For women in the business of making money like the Kardashians, Britney Spears, and Nicki Minaj feminism is something that gets in the way of doing what they’re doing, so they don’t give a shit about it. For others, the word has shifted definitions once more to encompass more recent forms of resistance to the patriarchy… or something. I don’t know I’m a guy.