Year of Publication

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Bordo

Abstract

During the late 1970s and 1980s, feminist critics like Janice Radway began to reconsider so-called women’s genres, like romance novels and soap operas and melodramas, in order to address the forms of subversion and expressions of agency they provided female audiences. However, in spite of greater willingness to consider the progressive potential in romance narratives, there has been little such consideration given to stories of romance for the fighting female character—defined as a protagonist who uses violence, via her body or weapons, to save herself and others. The fighting female has received a good deal of attention from critics like Yvonne Tasker, Sherrie Inness, Rikke Schubart, and Phillipa Gates because she enacts transgressive forms of femininity. However, the typical response has been to ignore the intimate or romantic relationships she has with men or to critique them based on the assumption that such hetero-relationships automatically limit her agency and attenuate her representation as a feminist-friendly heroine. This view presumes that female empowerment opposes or can only be imagined outside the dominant cultural narratives that generally organize women’s lives around their hetero-relationships—whether sexual or platonic, familial or vocational.

As I argue, some fighting female relationship narratives merit our attention because they reveal a new cache of plausible empowered female identities that women negotiate through their intimacies and romances with men. These negotiations, in turn, enable innovative representations of male-female relationships that challenge long-standing cultural scripts about the nature of dominance and subordination in such relationships. Combining cultural analysis with close readings of key popular American film and television texts since the 1980s, my dissertation argues that certain fighting female relationship themes question regressive conventions in male-female intimacies and reveal potentially progressive ideologies regarding female agency in mass culture. In essence, certain fighting female relationship narratives project feminist-friendly love fantasies that reassure audiences of the desirability of empowered women while also imagining egalitarian intimacies that further empower women.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.152