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Agency and coercion: feminist readings of postfeminist representations

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This paper will explore feminist contestations around questions of feminine representation and the putative link to contemporary feminine subjects. Specifically the paper will draw on these long standing debates to explore the complexities of producing and accounting for feminist readings of contemporary popular television drama and its significance in the reproduction of ideas of female agency and, conversely, coercion as it is currently imagined and produced in two fictional television dramas. Generational differences have been cited as a feature of postfeminist debates and this paper, in part, will interrogate these questions by looking at representation across the generational spectrum. Within the broad terrain of postfeminist media culture an emphasis on an emphatically heterosexuality has been widely and ambivalently noted, this paper argues for a textual engagement with fictional elaborations of contemporary female sexuality arguing for an acknowledgment of their complexity in relation to newly inflected discourses of class and race. One such site is E4’s 2009 ‘teen’ drama Misfits which explicitly engages in this terrain in its quasi comic portrayal of urban, socially marginalised and defiantly unproductive ‘Asbo’s’ and ‘chavs’ who acquire ’special powers’ after a freak storm. This paper asks what feminist readings are plausible in relation to the series’ representation of female sexuality as simultaneously agentic and coerced and how this representation (mis)fits with a wider cultural and critical preoccupation with young women’s sexual subjectivity. The second part of the paper takes the final chapter of the iconic Prime Suspect series (Granada Television, 1991-2006) as an opportunity to reflect both on the narrative arc of DCI Tennyson’s two decades of championing victims of gender based violence and institutional struggle only to succumb to a decline into alcohol and familial regret and the concurrent debates within feminism and gender studies over the ‘problem’ of representation. The paper suggests that both series provide valuable opportunities for reflecting on the possibilities for feminist critique of the ’subject’ of postfeminist fictions.

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