Thanks largely to the gains made by feminist movements throughout the 20th century, contemporary media images provide a new reimagining of femininity and feminism. This new interpretation of femininity offers a narrative where choice aspects of the previous feminine ideal, such as beauty, are retained while the negative characteristics of gender roles, such as weakness, are eschewed. In other words, this “girl power” discourse suggests that girls can be as powerful as men, but they can do it all while wearing a skirt. In Feminism Inc., Emilie Zaslow examines the influence the media’s promotion of girl power discourse has on the processes through which teenage girls construct their gender identities.
Zaslow introduces the voices of a diverse group of teenage girls from New York City. The girls vary by race and socioeconomic status, a methodological choice that helps to demonstrate how the process of understanding femininity is not individual to certain groups, but rather a collective experience shared by all who grow up surrounded by girl power media. Through focus groups and interviews, the girls discuss how they make sense of their gender identity through a number of different topics, including images of sexuality in the media, clothing and style, their ideas about the future and motherhood, and how they conceptualize feminism.
Through these conversations Zaslow situates girl power discourse in a neoliberal framework, one that highlights achievements by the individual and is less concerned about collective social change. Ultimately girl power can be seen as a “commodification of opposition to traditional femininity” (pg. 159), Zaslow argues. The girls are internalizing watered down feminist ideas that have been repackaged in a way that makes them popular and easy to digest, allowing them to conceptualize their gendered identity only through their own individual empowerment and not as members of a collective feminist movement.
The inclusion of interviews with the girls is where Feminism Inc. really shines. By taking this study past a content analysis of girl power discourse in the media and examining the intersection of those ideas with how girls make sense of them, we are able to witness the processes behind...