Adult Girls: Female Televisual Author-Stars' Power, Freedoms, and Feminisms



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Examining women who create, executive produce, and star in semi-autobiographical television series in the 2010s – what I call ‘adult girls’ – this dissertation analyzes constitutions of neoliberal femininity produced on narrative television and on the social media site, Instagram. Neoliberalization has cultivated impoverished conditions for girls and women that incite explorations of gendered freedoms and power as articulated through televisual and digitally produced personal narratives. In this dissertation, I argue that adult girls subvert narrow and tightly controlled contemporary understandings of an idealized girlhood proliferated by postfeminist media through narrativizing and depicting gendered bodies who unabashedly claim the freedom to be messy, to be ugly, to be confused, to fail, to be alone, while simultaneously remaining legible. This untenable freedom is increasingly disappearing from view for women and girls as a late capitalist landscape insistent upon proper management of gendered selfhood permeates all facets of socioeconomic life, and extends to individuals of all ages. Neoliberal power structures uphold systems of inequality that ensure that women and girls who do not conform and engage in sanctioned practices of gendered self-governance from an early age face disenfranchisement and physio-emotional violence. Neoliberal gendered power inscrutably works through the body; eternal girlhood, a construct promulgated through postfeminist media, operates as a corporeal feminine ideal that promises self-fulfillment if maintained through adherence to disciplinary techniques characteristic of governmentality. I contend that postfeminist media has coopted girlhood as an aspirational way of being, a construct predicated upon maintaining an adolescent body and refiguring youthful insecurity as an everlasting opportunity to perfect the project that is the feminine self. This dissertation asserts that adult girls similarly embrace the instability of bodily and psychic characteristic of youthful femininity as foundational to their constitution and continued success. However, this instability is not viewed as an opportunity for self-improvement as a neoliberal regime would advocate; it is acknowledged an unyielding state-of-being that signals freedom and vitality. In examining discourses of sex and sexuality, girlfriendship, race, and motherhood, I contend that adult girls, through narrativizing private stories of disarticulation in public, expose the impermanence and futility of postfeminist girlification through permeating its thinness, its fitness, its whiteness, its libidinal desire, and its elasticity from their distinct positions of power. As televisual autobiographers and celebrity personas marked by authenticity and intimacy, I contend that adult girls convincingly articulate bodily chaos as a shameless, mutual material experience through which women can discover a sense of generality and sameness. However, in creating intimate televisual and social media content, adult girls ultimately endeavor as emotional capitalists invested in authenticating their unmitigated realness to establish cohesive self-brands and to glean cultural and economic capital. I assert that in rebuking corporeal disciplinary practices, adult girls rely on traditional tactics of gendered affective management and emotional self-surveillance to remain visible and viable entrepreneurs of visual media.