Feminist Theory and the Media
• Betty Freidan (The
• Germaine Greer (The
• Angela McRobbie
• Naomi Wolf
• Andrea Levy
• Laura Mulvey
• Judith Butler
• Alison Bechdel
• Gammon & Marshment
What is Feminism?
Feminism focuses on the social, economic and political
“position” of women. It looks at the oppression of women in
various ways (political, social, and cultural) and argues for
Feminism is a very tricky topic since there are so many different
types of feminism and feminists themselves argue between the
definitions and purposes of the movement.
As a movement, feminism is in response to the perceived unfair
position of women in society and the patriarchy of society.
Patriarchy is a social system in which; males hold primary power;
male predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority,
social privilege and control of property; and, in the domain of the
family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and
Feminists argue that the social divisions created between men
and women benefited man as it allowed them to access greater
political, social and economic power – this is part of the notion of
What is Feminism?
It is important to understand that the feminist movement has
changed since it began back in the late 19th century.
Theorists talk about ‘waves’ of feminism to discuss how it has
changed and focused on different areas over the years.
1st Wave = late 19th century and early 20th century. Focused
on basic equal rights.
2nd Wave = 1960s-70s. Focused on equality in the home, at
work and in society in general
3rd Wave = 1990s- present (arguably). Dealt with one of the
criticisms of 1st and 2ns wave feminism – that they focused
on mainly white middle class women. Attempted to widen the
ideas of feminism to look at the disadvantages of all types of
Post-feminism = Now. Some theorists argue that we are
currently going through another wave of feminism - Post-
feminism. Even this is argued amongst theorists.
1st Wave Feminism
UK & US based mainly.
Focused on rights of women within marriage and property.
Before 1st Wave feminism women were often trapped in
marriages because of the laws regarding marriage and
women (women were property in marriage). Also, before 1st
Wave feminism women could not own property, nor could
then inherit property from their family – the property would go
in their husbands name.
The biggest achievement of 1st Wave feminism was the right
to vote. Before this women had no right to vote.
2nd Wave Feminism
Focused on womens rights to education, within the
workplace and home.
Tried to bring to light the damaging ideal of femininity that
was a common held belief in society at this time.
Argued that the traditional feminine role of the ‘happy
housewife’ was restricting for women.
Achieved equal pay laws for women in the workplace and
helped to legalise abortion.
Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan wrote two important
books that focused on attacking notions of the nuclear
family, romantic love, and female sexuality.
Greer argued that gender roles are learned and as such
women are conditioned to conform to restrictive notions of
femininity from a young age.
3rd Wave Feminism
Some criticisms of 1st and 2nd wave feminism were that they
ignored the issues faced by women who were not white and
3rd wave feminism tried to deal with this.
It also saw a change in the way women were represented
and perceived with the phenomenon of Girl Power and
‘Ladette’ culture being represented in the media for the first
Post-feminism is tricky as it is highly contested amongst
Some argue that post-feminism is in response to the fact that
women now have equality and therefore traditional feminism
Others argue that post-feminism is a new type of feminism
because young women don’t see traditional feminism as
relevant – they believe in equality but see themselves as
individuals. They question the idea of clumping all women
together under one banner of feminism – how is this equal –
all women are different.
Some even argue that post-feminism is similar to
postmodernism and that women now see the differences
between genders as something to be celebrated.
Angela McRobbie (1991 & 2008)
Looked at the impact of womens magazines and argued that there
are some positive aspects – that some of their articles empower
women in supporting them to enjoy their sex life and understand their
She also argued that the modern media encourages women to
consent to and play a part in the negative and damaging
representations of women by expecting female audiences toj judge
and be critical of each other bodies.
Naomi Wolf (1991)
Came up with the notion of the Beauty Myth.
Wolf argued that women are oppressed by the pressure to fit into the
myth or false idea of beauty perpetuated in the media.
She argues that Feminism may have won legal rights BUT women
are still oppressed by the obsession with appearance and a narrow
definition of beauty.
She argues that the Beauty Myth is socially constructed through the
media and maintain patriarchy.
It is particularly cruel since the Beauty Myth is so unrealistic and
unachievable for real, natural women.
Laura Mulvey (1975)
Focused on film representations but you can apply her arguments
Argued that women are represented in a way that emphasises their
sexuality and physical appearance.
Mulvey identified 3 common trends in Hollywood films:
Male characters controlled the action and were responsible for moving the
Women are represented as passive objects for the ‘male gaze’ (The notion
that the camera lens is inherently ‘male’)
The pleasure of viewing coming from voyeurism, narcissism and
scopophilia. (Voyeurism = the act of watching someone. Narcissism =
vanity, getting gratification from admiration of ones self. Scopophilia = the
pleasure of looking at other people as objects.
Andrea Levy (2005)
Argued that we live in a sexualised society that objectifies women
and that women are encouraged to see themselves as objects and
sex as their only source of power.
She argues that this is what motivates and dominates female
behaviour and as such perpetuates the overly sexualised society we
Judith Butler (1999)
Judith Butler was a post feminist who believed that feminism was irrelevant in
society now because things had changed so much.
She argued that traditional feminist movements forced us to see gender as a
binary (male or female)
She believed that feminism has created an us and them system and has
narrowed the choices people can make in constructing their identity.
She argues that since gender is a social construct (sex is innate, gender is
taught) it should be flexible, able to change and not so binary – more of a
spectrum than an either/or.
Alison Bechdel (1985, but has come into popular use recently)
Bechdel originated this idea in a comic strip she created called ‘The Rule’
In the comic an unnamed female character states that she only watches a film
is if it satisfies the following requirements:
It has to have at least two women in it,
They have to talk to one another,
About something other than a man
It moved into mainstream prominence in 2010 when film critics began referring
to it in response to the poor representation of women in modern films.
Criticisms of Feminism
Some do not support Mulvey’s arguments in particular since
there are so many modern examples of non passive, female
heroines in film. But at these the norm or are they unusual
which is why so much fuss is made about them?
Soap Operas – some critics of Feminism argue that the
whole genre of soaps are focused towards women and
womens issues and therefore media representations are fair.
However, do soap operas stand up to the Bechdel test? If
not, are they ‘fair’ representations of women?
Gammon & Marshment (1988) suggested that the ‘female
gaze’ is present in media texts too and that men are
objectified by women in the same way. They also argued the
some Feminist arguments place female viewers in a passive
role and that this is wrong. They suggest that women
engage critically with texts, they accept and reject ideas
based on their own opinions, needs and experiences.
Your Case Study
Whether you are looking at Identities in the Media or Impact
of New Digital Media you can use Feminism in your
Write a paragraph explaining how/where you might use
Feminism (either using a specific text to argue your point or
you general argument).