WATCHING RAPE: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture

By Projansky, Sarah; Kern, Leslie | Resources for Feminist Research, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

WATCHING RAPE: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture


Projansky, Sarah, Kern, Leslie, Resources for Feminist Research


WATCHING RAPE: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture Sarah Projansky New York: New York University Press, 2001; 311 pp.

Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture provides a systematic examination of the ubiquity and versatility of rape narratives in American cinema and television, and articulates the intersections of such narratives with discourses of "postfeminism." Sarah Projansky contends that there is a "discursive effectivity" (p. 3) to rape narratives that contributes to a rape culture. Therefore, representations of rape must be a site for feminist activism. Most importantly, Projansky details intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender. She argues that "rape narratives help organize, understand, and even arguably produce the social world; they help structure social understandings of complex phenomena such as gender, race, class, and nation" (p. 7). Projansky also maps how postfeminism structures the ways that rape is portrayed, and works to limit the possibilities for feminist mobilization against rape. Projansky's critical reading practice opens space for multiple interpretations as her analysis does not work towards closure on these issues; rather, her work points to important directions in feminist cultural studies.

In her chapter, "The Postfeminist Context," Projansky details feminism's co-constitutive relationship to postfeminism through the idea that postfeminism perpetuates discourse around feminism even as it declares feminism obsolete. Critically, Projansky challenges the type of feminism that postfeminism implies - an implicitly white, heterosexual, middle-class feminism. I found this critique to be particularly useful. What Projansky does is dehomogenize postfeminism, by identifying five categories of this discourse: linear, backlash, equality and choice, (hetero)sex-positive, and men-can-be-feminists-too. The effect of this critique is to provide techniques for identifying, deconstructing, and resisting postfeminist discourse. As Projansky argues, it is necessary to take on postfeminism because it has become the dominant version of feminism taken up in popular culture as well as the media. Thus her analysis of this phenomenon works to dehegemonize postfeminism as well.

In "Film and Television Narratives at the Intersection of Rape and Postfeminism," Projansky illustrates that postfeminism constitutes the dominant framework for understanding and responding to violence against women. This framework has several effects: it positions women as individually responsible for challenging rape; positions men as "better feminists" who educate women about appropriate responses to rape; elides the importance of feminist anti-rape activism; reinscribes whiteness; and depoliticizes feminist messages about rape. She notes that, "postfeminism and rape narratives work together to define feminism in particularly limited ways in terms of gender, race, class, and sexuality" (p. 231). Projansky's later examination of feminist anti-rape videos across three decades in "Talking Back to Postfeminism?" exposes the ways that postfeminism operates in this context to limit representational strategies, as well as to limit the potential for anti-racist work.

The effect of her arguments is to provide a wake-up call to feminists, warning us to be aware and extremely concerned about the prevalence and insidious influence of postfeminist notions, not only within popular culture and media, but within feminist work as well. In my experience as a feminist academic from the mid-nineties until the present, I cannot recall much attention given to postfeminism. …

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