Academic journal article Gender Forum

Pageant Trouble: An Exploration of Gender Transgression in Little Miss Sunshine

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Pageant Trouble: An Exploration of Gender Transgression in Little Miss Sunshine

Article excerpt

1 Little Miss Sunshine is a recent (2006) film that was popular among various audiences within the United States. The screen-play was written by first-time writer Michael Arndt and was directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and received two, one for Best Original Screen Play and the other for Best Supporting Actor.

2 We argue that Little Miss Sunshine is an important text that needs to be theorized for its messages about normalized subjectivities and gendered expectations. Because of its popularity, this film serves as an important representation of cultural norms and ideals since it is through popular culture we learn lessons about gender, race, class, and sexuality. We begin our analysis by outlining Judith Butler's theory of gender performance. We then review the cultural significance of beauty pageants, paying specific attention to feminist critiques of beauty pageants and the cultural norms that they represent. Next, we explain our methods of film analysis that informed our interaction with the text of the film. We follow this with a brief synopsis of the film. Finally, we provide our analysis of the film and explore the implications of the gender representations and interruptions present within the text. Using Butler's theory of gender performance, along with a discussion of post-feminism, we offer our interpretation of the film, arguing that Olive's final performance illustrates important cultural ideals and expectations about gender.

3 It is important to note the social and political climate in which this movie was created and consumed. Many scholars have asserted that the turn away from critiquing and engaging with political power structures (including patriarchy) has created what has been termed post-feminism. We argue that Little Miss Sunshine was produced within a post-feminist climate in which popular discourses about feminism assume that it is no longer necessary and relevant; these assumptions assert that social critiques of sexism and patriarchy are unnecessary. Angela McRobbie is one of the leading scholars who challenges and critiques post-feminism. Although this term has wide variation depending upon discipline (and even within disciplines), McRobbie defines post-feminism as:

An active process by which feminist gains of the 1970s and '80s come to be undermined. It proposes that through an array of machinations, elements of contemporary popular culture are perniciously effective in regard to this undoing of feminism, while simultaneously appearing to be engaging in a well-informed and even well-intended response to feminism. (258)

Post-feminism suggests that the goals of feminism have been attained and, thus, there is no need for further collective mobilization around gender. As McRobbie argues, in order for feminism to be "taken into account," it has to be understood as having already passed away (259). Women are presumed to be free to articulate our desires for sex, power, and money without fear of retribution. The notion of choice discussed in terms of post-feminism takes the stance that women are free agents in their lives thus they are able to make choices free from sexist constraints and institutionalized oppression. The focus remains on the individual (the personal as split from the political) instead of how the individual is located within a heteropatriarchal culture (the personal is political). Arguing against notions of "victimization," post-feminism assumes that women are now equal to men, and can therefore make agentic, rational decisions unencumbered by sexism (Hua 68). These discourses about gender, freedom, and individualism are present throughout the film, and an understanding of post-feminism is important when engaging theoretically about the social significance of the film.

Theoretical Framework

4 Judith Butler has made substantial contributions to constructivist understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality. …

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