“People Are All We’ve Got”: Negotiation of Postfeminism and Construction of Meaning in Post-Recession Women’s Indie Television Open Access

Mayfield, Katy (Spring 2022)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/f4752j03m?locale=en


Over the course of the 2010s a distinct character archetype came to predominate women’s television comedy. This thesis argues this extended-adolescent figure, variously referred to as the “precarious girl,” “can’t-do girl,” and “girl-loser,” is characterized by her affective palette of “ugly feelings” and frequent failure, including failure to live up to the postfeminist careerist model the previous era of woman protagonists established, and morally inflected failure in her interpersonal relationships. I first name this character the “woman dirtbag” and establish her as an entangled result of and response to that postfeminist model, who embodied gendered neoliberal norms like consumerism, self-optimization, careerism, and adherence to “feeling rules.” Next, I interpret the distinct affect of the woman dirtbag shows as indicative of her processing her constrained subjecthood in a post-Recession landscape where achievement of the postfeminist mode is materially impossible. Finally, I identify the interdependent ethos these shows put forth, which positions investment in interdependent interpersonal relationships as the new normative and moral center of millennials’ lives.

Table of Contents

Introduction 2

Chapter One: Postfeminism and its Discontents 9

The Expectational World of Women’s Work 11

The Expectational World of Women’s Affect 15

Recession and the Weight of Meaninglessness 18

Chapter Two: Post-postfeminist Entanglements and Affects 21

Abjection 24

Choice Guilt 25

Grief and the Weight of Meaninglessness 27

Negotiation of Postfeminism: a Case Study in Fleabag and Girls 29

Chapter Three: Finding Meaning Beyond Perfection 35

The Loneliness of Ideal and Failed Neoliberal Subjecthood 36

Dirtbaggery and its Discontents 38

Coming to Goodness 41

Unlearning Postfeminism 44

The Interdependence of Forgiveness 51

Conclusion 51

Bibliography 55

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