My Master of Arts (Research) thesis in Cultural Studies, completed at University of Sydney in 2012.
Thesis: Ethics and Emancipation in postfeminist Hollywood
Thesis Data: Gendered divisions of creative labour in Hollywood.
The thesis develops new methods to critique postfeminist film by combining research into production cultures with an analysis of representations of women’s ethical subjectivity. Drawing on the work of Tania Modleski, Angela McRobbie and Yvonne Tasker, the thesis argues that critiques of postfeminism centered on evaluations of “positive” and “negative” representations has resulted in a discursive stalemate. This stalemate signals the need to consider new ways of thinking about postfeminist film.
The first half of the thesis reports on original research of 700 films from 1980 to 2009. This research, supplemented with data from Martha Lauzen and Stacy Smith, demonstrates that men are overwhelmingly over-represented in key creative roles while women’s participation rates have stagnated or are in decline. The data also reveals how traditional expectations of women’s labour are repeated within creative industries and in particular Hollywood.
The second half of the thesis concerns the concept of ethical subjectivity. Starting with an overview of the philosophical category of the ethical, the concept is developed into a broad analytic framework with reference to specific feminist demands. A number of popular and high-grossing Hollywood films that are historically subject to feminist analysis are reconsidered using this new framework. This second look reveals the ambiguity that operates as a means to hide the regulation of women’s ethical subjectivity in postfeminist film.
The synthesis of these two approaches demonstrates how postfeminism acts as a proxy for patriarchy in the management of the meaning and scale of feminism and women’s emancipation in Hollywood. This result shows the potential value in considering labour and production as part of cultural analysis of postfeminism and indeed cultural studies more broadly.
It got a High Distinction, if you can believe that.