Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Jill Rappoport
Dr. James Ridolfo
This dissertation traces the persistent threads and values of white womanhood from the nineteenth-century British Empire to modern American popular culture. The figure of the white woman was significant to upholding colonialism and empire in the literary mass media and culture of the nineteenth century, and I argue that this figure continues to be used in popular media and online content today to surreptitiously uphold white supremacy and obscure race and gender inequalities. This dissertation will explore the overlaps between nostalgia, historical revisionism, white womanhood, white supremacy, and white feminism in modern American popular culture. The connections between, and the popularity of this broader media is not accidental but part of a longer history of white supremacy using culture and women to surreptitiously reinforce hierarchies and establish white-centered norms. This dissertation builds on work on white popular feminism, white womanhood, and cultural ideologies from scholars like Sarah Banet-Weiser, Koa Beck, Jessie Daniels, and Rafia Zakaria, while reflecting on how Black and intersectional feminisms, articulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, and Audre Lorde among others, offer more revolutionary and effective forms of feminism and empowerment.
From the prolific and consistent remediation of Jane Austen and her centurial contemporaries to the obsession and controversies surrounding Meghan Markle’s inclusion in, and subsequent exclusion from, the British Royal Family, this dissertation takes seriously the often overlooked and dismissed media and popular culture made for and by women to trace the histories of empire and their entanglement with a white popular feminism and white supremacy. Chapter one analyzes the popularity and reception of period media from 2020, Bridgerton, Emma., and Enola Holmes, to explore how period media, even those that attempt to be diverse and more progressive, still cultivate a white nostalgia for a past that aligns with a popular, white feminism that is non-threatening towards capitalism and white supremacy. Chapter two uses two popular remediations of Jane Austen’s novels, Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary, to trace the combination of Jane Austen and period media with postfeminism. This fusion embedded nineteenth-century values of white womanhood into popular feminist media that continues to have influence today. Chapter three will use the media surrounding Meghan Markle’s in/exclusion from the British Royal Family as demonstrating the promise and influence of a white popular feminism beyond fictional narratives, but also its limitations and failures when it goes against white supremacist patriarchal systems. The conclusion will then briefly extend the argument made throughout the chapters into social media spaces to connect how historical fantasy, urban homesteading, and constant cycles of trendy femininity reflect the white popular feminism and romanticization of imperial womanhood online. This dissertation takes seriously the narratives of idealized white womanhood that extend through recent centuries, and while media like Bridgerton and Enola Holmes may make it seem like a distant past, these imperial values of white womanhood are very much still present and influential within white popular feminism that guides larger discussions of inequality, justice, and white supremacy in our present moment.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Kohls, Kathryn M., "From Jane Austen to Meghan Markle: The Persistence of British Imperialism in White Popular Feminism" (2023). Theses and Dissertations--English. 162.