Bitch. Contemporary Feminism in American Consumer Culture

Catherine Scallen
of 49
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  121 bitch. contemporary feminism inamerican consumer culture BITCH.CONTEMPORARY FEMINISM IN AMERICAN CONSUMER CULTURECATHERINE SCALLEN Introduction: Bitch Te perpetrator: a perky blue glass cup with “Bitch” splashedacross the ront in a swirly, girly, silver script: Figure 1 Oh, so humorous. urns out this “Slang Pint Glass” is one o a am-ily: Douchebag, Fucker, Slut, Pimp, and Hot Mess are all neatly packed in right next to each other on the shelves o Urban Outt-ters. What a set! Who is buying these? And why? It is here, with onenot so average drinking glass, that this Bitch Tesis began.Further research reveals a copious number o other Bitch prod-ucts running around town. Te pervasive Bitch! Lest the glass belonely, Urban Outtters accompanies it with almost anything yourlittle Bitchy heart could desire. Glasses, plates, bowls, snow globes,birthday banners, you name it: Urban Outtters has a version o it with “Bitch” scrawled across the ront. Barnes & Noble proudly dis-plays “Bitch a Day” calendars and planners, along with relationship  journal of undergraduate research 122 advice books ( Why Men Love Bitches  [2000] and Why Men Marry Bitches  [2006] by Sherry Argov) and dieting books ( Skinny Bitch [2005] by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin). Australian-based R  Winery manuactures a red wine named simply “Bitch,” and also themore upbeat “Bitch Bubbly” champagne. What is going on? Tese products suggest a sort o highly com-mercialized, mainstream Bitch Culture. o the uncritical consumer,it may seem that American women are now embracing the term“Bitch” (at least materially), and claiming it as their own sel-elected,sel-empowering label, rather than letting it be used against them inits traditional derogatory ashion. Is that true? Can “Bitch” ever bean empowering term? I so, what type o women claim empower-ment rom the word Bitch? Exactly what type o woman is the envi-sioned consumer o this Bitch Culture?Beore we dive in, it is o the utmost importance that the CapitalB Bitch be distinguished rom the lower case b bitch. In this thesis,I use the term “Capital B Bitch” (or just “Bitch”) to dene both thecommodied products (reerred to as Bitch Products or, collectively,Bitch Culture) and the belie held by some that by capitalizing thederogatory “bitch,” the term becomes immediately redened as astrong, independent, and empowered emale. When reerring to theterm historically used to put women down, I will use the term “low-er case b bitch” (or simply, “bitch”).It would be easy to write o these products as just another mech-anism o a repressive patriarchal society: some at cat white dudeschilling in their corporate headquarters, laughing at the droneso mindless upper-middle class American women with too muchmoney and too much ree time, out purchasing these products. It istempting to simply point ngers and shake heads at the sad state o contemporary American society and modern-day eminism. But do-ing so would not ully explain why  this commercialized Bitch Cul-ture exists today, and why the products themselves are so popular.Te act remains: these products not only exist, but continue to bemanuactured and purchased, and have been or at least the past ten  123 bitch. contemporary feminism inamerican consumer culture years. What does this tell us about eminism and American womentoday? Cue academic research into posteminist consumer culture: All that’s needed is a nice, tidy denition o posteminism tohelp contextualize the Bitch Products and to analyze them morethoroughly. Only one minor detail poses a problem: the single con-sistent characteristic o posteminism, as it is dened or describedby many a heady academic scholar, is its ambiguous and inherently contradictory nature. Te whole tiresome “love the eminine/hatethe eminine; you can’t be a eminist i you’re this; you can’t be aeminist i you’re that; and put the damn lipstick down, no, wait:pick the high heels up” debate prevents the agreement on any sorto concrete denition o posteminism. At the same time, it keepsmodern eminists arguing among themselves rather than rallying to-gether as a cohesive whole.I began this thesis with Stephanie Genz and Benjamin A. Bra-bon’s Posteminism: Cultural exts and Teories  (2009), but quickly reached a boiling point while trying to discern a useul, workingdenition o posteminism. I let discouraged and rustrated withthe utile inghting among eminists today, both within and outsideo academia.Imagine my curiosity, then, upon returning to college and be-ing assigned an article titled “Posteminist Media Culture: Elementso a Sensibility” by one Rosalind Gill. Te elation did not comeuntil ater I had read the article and discovered precisely what I wassearching or: a rereshing and honest admission that the attemptsto dene posteminism are indeed circular and ineective. Our bestbet is to take a step back and understand it as a sensibility, or a cul-tural eeling and understanding, rather than a strict denition. AsGill writes:…[P]osteminism should be conceived o as a sensibility.From this perspective posteminist media culture should beour critical object — a phenomenon into which scholars o culture should inquire — rather than an analytic perspective.  journal of undergraduate research 124 Tis approach does not require a static notion o one singleauthentic eminism as a comparison point, but instead isinormed by postmodernist and constructionist perspec-tives and seeks to examine what is distinctive about con-temporary articulations o gender in the media. Tis new notion emphasizes the contradictory nature o posteministdiscourses and the entanglement o both eminist and anti-eminist themes within them. 1 Tus, I discovered that the interesting, noteworthy, and produc-tive part o this thesis lies not in determining whether or not theseproducts are eminist or empowering (indeed, what would a truly eminist or empowering pint glass even look like?), but rather, inreecting on how the existence o these products generates an un-derstanding o gender and identity in the twenty rst century, andhow these products both individually and collectively shape an un-derstanding o contemporary eminism both as a liestyle and as apolitical movement.Gill also provides what has proven to be an immensely useulramework or contextualizing Capital B Bitch Culture, and speci-cally, Bitch Products:Tis new notion… also points to a number o other rela-tively stable eatures that comprise or constitute a postem-inist discourse. Tese include the notion that emininity is a bodily property; the shit rom objectication to sub- jectication; the emphasis upon sel-surveillance, monitor-ing and discipline; a ocus upon individualism, choice andempowerment; the dominance o a makeover paradigm; aresurgence in ideas o natural sexual dierence; a markedsexualization o culture; and an emphasis upon consumer-ism and the commodication o dierence. Tese themescoexist with, and are structured by, stark and continuing
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