Journalism and Media Communication 860
Gender and Popular Culture
Thursday, 2:00 PM – 4:40 PM, MER 347
Professor: Elana Levine
Office: 131 Johnston, 229-4718
Office hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM & by appointment
This course is a graduate-level examination of the relationship between gender and popular culture, focusing largely on the U.S./western context and the present day, although we will touch on non-western and historical questions. While we will consider representations of gender in popular cultural texts, the course more heavily examines how and why various popular cultural forms are gendered and how and why the audiences and users of such forms do or do not identify along gendered lines in their practices of cultural consumption. Because the focus is on gender as a category of identity we will consider both feminized and masculinized cultural forms and practices, and will seek to understand how these identities get distinguished from one another, as well as what the social and cultural impact of such processes of differentiation might be. To grapple with such questions, the course introduces students to feminist theory, particularly feminist media theory and post-structuralist theories of gender and sexuality, as well as examining a number of different instances of popular culture, helping us to apply theoretical concepts to concrete cases. Students are expected to conduct original research as well as to engage actively with course readings and discussions.
By the end of this course, you will:
1) understand key theories of gender and sexuality;
2) comprehend the theories and methods of feminist media studies;
3) develop your knowledge about a number of popular cultural forms;
4) improve your research, writing, and analysis skills through class discussions and course assignments; and
5) deepen your understanding of media as a cultural force and as an object of scholarly inquiry
Available at the UWM Bookstore:
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, An Introduction: Volume 1 (New York:
Vintage Books, 1990).
Modleski, Tania, Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-produced Fantasies for Women (New
York: Routledge, 2007).
Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991).
Tasker, Yvonne and Diane Negra, eds.. Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the
Politics of Popular Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007)/
Books are also on reserve at the Golda Meir Library
Available on e-reserve through the UWM Library Homepage
Ang, Ien and Joke Hermes. “Gender and/in Media Consumption.” In Living Room Wars:
Rethinking Media Audiences for a Postmodern World (London: Routledge, 1996):
Bailey, Beth L. “The Etiquette of Masculinity and Femininity.” In From Front Porch to Back
Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989): 97-118.
Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In
Feminism & Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, editd by Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988): 61-86.
Battema, Douglas and Sewell, Philip. “Trading in Masculinity: Muscles, Money, and Market
Discourse in the WWF.” In Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling, edited by Nicholas Sammond. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005): 260-294.
Becker, Ron. “‘Help is on the Way!’: Supernanny, Nanny 911, and the Neoliberal Politics of the
Family.” In The Great American Makeover: Television, History, Nation,” edited by Dana Heller. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006): 175-191.
Breazeale, Kenon. “In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male
Consumer.” In The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, edited by Jennifer Scanlon. (New York: New York University Press, 2000): 226-244.
Brunsdon, Charlotte. “Crossroads: Notes on Soap Opera.” In Regarding Television, edited by
E. Ann Kaplan. (Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1983): 76-83.
Bobo, Jacqueline. “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers.” In Female
Spectators: Looking at Film and Television, ed. By E. Deidre Pribram. (London: Verso, 1988): 90-109.
Butler, Judith. Selection from “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion,”
in Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. (New York: Routledge, 1993): 121-137.
Butler, Judith. “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire,” and “Bodily Inscriptions, Performative
Subversions.” In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. (New York: Routledge, 1990): 1-34, 128-141.
Carroll, Hamilton. “Men’s Soaps: Automotive Television Programming and Contemporary
Working-Class Masculinities.” Television & New Media 9:4 (July 2008), 263-283.
Douglas, Susan J. “Letting the Boys be Boys: Talk Radio, Male Hysteria, and Political Discourse
in the 1980s.” In Radio Reader, edited by Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio (New York: Routledge, 2002):
Douglas, Susan J. “Throwing Out Our Bras.” In Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with
Mass Media. (New York: Times Books, 1995): 139-161.
Edwards, Tim. “Sex, Booze and Fags: Masculinity, Style and Men’s Magazines.” In
Masculinity and Men’s Lifestyle Magazines, edited by Bethan Benwell (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003): 132-146.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Playboy Joins the Battle of the Sexes.” In The Hearts of Men: American
Dreams and the Flight from Commitment. (New York: Anchor Books, 1983): 42-51.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs. “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have
Fun.” In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis. (New York: Routledge, 1992): 84-106.
Fiske, John. “Gendered Television: Femininity” and “Gendered Television: Masculinity.” In
Television Culture (London: Routledge, 1991): 179-223.
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. Selection from “Psychoanalysis, Film, & Television.” In Channels of
Discourse, edited by Robert C. Allen. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992): 204-216.
Frank, Katherine. “Primetime Harem Fantasies: Marriage, Monogamy, and a Bit of Feminist
Fanfiction on ABC’s The Bachelor.” In Third Wave Feminism and Television, edited by Merri Lisa Johnson. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007): 91-118.
Gledhill, Christine. “Pleasurable Negotiations.” In Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, edited by Sue Thornham, (New York: NYU Press, 1998): 166-179.
Huyssen, Andreas. Selection from “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other.” In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, edited by Tania Modleski. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986): 188-196.
Jenkins III, Henry. “‘Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama.” In Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling, edited by Nicholas Sammond. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005): 33-66.
Jenkins, Henry, McPherson, Tara, and Shattuc, Jane. “Defining Popular Culture.” In Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, edited by Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002): 26-42.
Johnson, Ann. “The Subtleties of Blatant Sexism.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 4:2 (June 2007), 166-183.
Kuhn, Annette. “Women’s Genres: Melodrama, Soap Opera, and Theory.” In Feminist Television Criticism, 2nd ed., edited by Charlotte Brunsdon and Lynn Spigel. (New York: Oxford University Pres, 2008): 225-234.
Leonard, David J. “To the White Extreme: Conquering Athletic Space, White Manhood, and Racing Virtual Reality.” In Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer, edited by Nate Garrelts. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2005): 110-129,
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” (Orig. published 1975) In Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, edited by Sue Thornham,. (New York: NYU Press, 1998): 58-69.
Ouellette, Laurie. “‘Take Responsibility for Yourself’: Judge Judy and the Neoliberal Citizen.” In Feminist Television Criticism, 2nd ed., edited by Charlotte Brunsdon and Lynn Spigel. (New York: Oxford University Pres, 2008): 139-153.
Penley, Constance. “Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture.” In Cultural
Studies, edited by Lawrence Grosssberg, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler. (New York: Routlege, 1992): 479-500.
Rose, Ava and James Friedman. “Television Sports as Mas(s)culine Cult of Distraction.”
In Out of Bounds: Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity, edited by Aaron Baker and Todd Boyd. (Bloomingon & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997): 1-15.
Sender, Katherine. “Queens for a Day: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Neoliberal Project.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 23:2 (June 2006), 131-151.
Taylor, T.L. “Where the Women Are.” In Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006): 93-124.
Thornham, Helen. “‘It’s a Boy Thing’: Gaming, Gender, and Geeks.” Feminist Media Studies 8:2 (2008), 127-142.
Available on the web:
Wald, Gayle. “‘I Want It That Way’: Teenybopper Music and the Girling of Boy Bands.” Genders 35 (2002).
Reading Questions -- 10%
Each student is responsible for writing questions in response to the week’s readings three times during the semester. These questions will be posted to the class blog by 11 AM the day of each seminar and may serve as a basis for discussion in that week’s class. You are expected to write multiple questions (3-5 in total) that either focus on a specific reading or that raise issues occurring across readings. In weeks with multiple reading assignments, you will be expected to address at least 3 of the assigned articles in your questions. Questions should be substantial and involve some explication (rather than being single, short sentences). A given week’s questions should run between 300 and 500 words total.
Class Participation – 15%
All students are expected to attend every class session and to participate in class discussions. This requires that you come prepared to every class session, which means that you have carefully read the week’s assignments, as well as the reading questions posted to the class blog.
Analysis of popular text – 25%
This short writing assignment asks you to read, watch, or otherwise engage with a popular cultural text similar to those we have read about and discussed in class. In this 4-6 page paper, you will describe and analyze the text, highlighting some gendered dimension of it. This dimension could relate to the representations within the text, to the ways it addresses its readers/users as gendered, or to how it connects to an aspect of gendered experience. Options are open, but some possibilities are magazines targeted to men or to women, romance novels, daytime soap operas, reality TV shows, or a particular video game, website, or discussion forum.
Research paper – 50% total
Each student will write a 15-20 page original research paper on a topic of his or her choice. The only restriction is that it grapple in some way with the subject matter of the course. There are three parts to this assignment:
Proposal – 10% -- Students will submit 1-2 page proposals for their research
papers, which will include a preliminary bibliography. Proposals should pose
research questions and preliminary arguments, as well as describing the
general area of research. You are encouraged to talk with me about your
ideas before you submit this assignment.
Final paper – 40% -- Draws on research from a humanistic/qualitative
perspective to set forth and support an argument about a particular case within
the general area of gender and popular culture. Students are expected to draw
on key theories to inform their analyses.
In-class presentation -- Required but not graded. All students will present
their projects to the rest of the class, either on the final class day or during a
special finals week meeting (to be announced depending upon enrollment).
These will be relatively short presentations (10-20 minutes total, again
depending upon enrollment) in which you will tell us about your topic, your
argument, and your analysis/evidence in support of that argument, as well as
taking questions and engaging in discussion with the class about your project.
In order to pass the course, all work must be completed. Late assignments will be penalized 1/3 grade per day (e.g., A to A-, A- to B+).
Students are responsible for the honest completion and representation of their work, for the appropriate citation of sources, and for respect of others’ academic endeavors. Any instances of academic misconduct, including plagiarism, will receive the full penalties, per the policies and practices of the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, the College of Letters & Science, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
If you need special accommodations in order to meet any of the requirements of this course, please contact me as soon as possible.
Students will be allowed to complete examinations or other requirements that are missed because of a religious observance.
For university policies on these and other matters, please see here.
Week One -- Introduction
E-reserve: Jenkins, McPherson & Shattuc, Huyssen
Week Two – Gendered spectatorship/Mass culture
E-reserve: Flitterman-Lewis, Mulvey
Week Three – The Social Audience and Gendered Genres
E-reserve: Gledhill, Brunsdon, Kuhn, Fiske, Bobo
Week Four – Case study: Reading the Romance
Week Five – Poststructuralist theory: Foucault
E-reserve: Ang & Hermes
Week Six -- Queer theory and gender performativity
E-reserve: Bartky, Butler, selections from Gender Trouble, Butler, “Gender is Burning”
Week Seven – Media and challenges to normative gender and sexuality
E-reserve: Frank, Penley, Taylor
Tasker and Negra: Cohan
Monday, March 23, 5PM – Pop culture analysis due
Week Eight – Screening
Week Nine – Historicizing gender and popular culture: The Mid-20th Century
E-reserve: Breazeale, Bailey, Ehrenreich, Ehrenreich, Hess & Jacobs, Douglas, “Throwing Out Our Bras”
Week Ten – The postfeminist cultural context
Tasker & Negra: Introduction, McRobbie, Projansky, Banet-Weiser, Springer
Paper Proposal Due
Week Eleven – Hegemonic masculinity and/in contemporary culture
E-reserve: Leonard, Thornham, Douglas, “Letting the Boys be Boys,” Johnson, Edwards
Week Twelve – Masculinized pleasures and/in contemporary culture
E-reserve: Jenkins, Battema & Sewell, Rose & Friedman, Carroll
Week Thirteen – Neo-liberalism, reality TV, and gender
Tasker and Negra: Roberts
E-reserve: Ouellette, Sender, Becker
Week Fourteen -- Presentations
Final Papers due Tuesday, May 12, 5PM