Concrete angels : reading the tough woman in contemporary television

Whitney, Sarah Elizabeth, Department of English, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation studies the relationship between third-wave feminism and a strain of "woman warrior" television dramas that aired in the 1990s and 2000s. It argues that the rhetoric of militancy has become increasingly central both to third-wave feminist thinking and to the portrayal of onscreen heroines. I analyze critical maneuvers taken up by third-wave writers and artists which position the third-wave as a "lone warrior." These ideas are read in dialogue with four television programs of the era: La Femme Nikita, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, and Alias. By thinking through the issues posed by these dramas, we can gain insight into the increasing centrality of "toughness" as a value for women, and understand ways in which contemporary television interprets feminism.

The first chapter historically contextualizes the figure of the woman warrior, provides an overview of television studies methodology, and situates the argument about the centrality of "toughness" to third-wave feminist thinking. I examine fitness discourse, "AVF" (anti-victim feminism), the metaphor of generational strife between the second and third waves, the hyper-feminine "Girlie" aesthetic and cultural fascination with young girls' aggression.

Subsequent chapters detail negotiations of gender and feminism in each series. The spy thriller La Femme Nikita (1996-2001) is analyzed within the framework of AVF, which both stresses and evacuates gender politics from its borders. My discussion of cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) examines how (white) Girl Power shapes the portrayal of Buffy and other Slayers, and also notes overlap between the third-wave's "dissident daughter" syndrome and Buffy's narrative of generational rebellion. The IV chapter on science-fiction drama Dark Angel (2000-2002) situates third-wave scholarship on "female masculinity" in step with the program's problematic portrait of the masculinized heroine Max. Finally, I explore the divergence of the spy thriller Alias (2001-2006) from third-wave feminism's embrace of postmodernism, and the show's unusual construction of toughness as survivorship (an aesthetic that draws both from AVF discourse and from therapeutic culture). My aim is to show that television's contemporary woman warrior and third-wave feminism have a symbiotic relationship that is rooted in their mutual interest in toughness.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
third-wave, feminism, women warrior television drama

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:40.

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