- Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn; Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century ed. by Elana Levine
edited by Elana Levine; University of Illinois Press, 2015
296pp.; paper, $28.00; cloth, $95.00
Last november, melissa a. click, a former assistant professor at the University of Missouri, became the subject of intense public scrutiny after a video of her confronting a student journalist during a series of racial justice protests went viral, and she was summarily fired. Just as quickly as they emerged, blogs, think pieces, and posts on myriad social media morphed from defenses of the First Amendment, to condemnations of Click’s actions, to the public shaming of her and her work—something the Daily Caller called “The 9 Most Preposterous Parts of Melissa Click’s Absurd Résumé.”4 Such pieces invariably listed Click’s salary before ruminating on the viability of her research “at taxpayer expense, including Twilight, Martha Stewart,” and Fifty Shades of Grey—the not-so-veiled implication of which was that the texts she considers are not worthy of study.
The way Click was mocked for her research interests was certainly gendered, and it underscored not only the crucial purpose of a book like Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn but also the reason why such a book would emerge at this particular moment. The fact that Click’s article, “Fifty Shades of Postfeminism: Contextualizing Readers’ Reflections on the Erotic Romance Series,” is both number 3 on the Daily Caller’s list and chapter 1 in this thirteen-chapter anthology, edited by Elana Levine, is but icing on the (cup)cake.
Through an engagement with a variety of media and newer cultural forms, the chapters in Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn explore discourses of femininity and the proliferation of feminized cultural products at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As a whole, the chapters move beyond a contemporary tendency to limit discussions of gender to its representations [End Page 79] within popular culture to also explore how various emergent cultural forms themselves become gendered. In her introduction, Levine argues that feminized popular culture was once a key site for media and cultural studies analysis and that feminist scholarship on feminized cultural forms had an impressive and robust intellectual life in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In the intermediate years, however, two opposing forces have stymied that flourishing research: on the one hand, queer theory has made progressive moves toward complicating gender, making even the use of terms such as femininity and the feminine fraught and contestable; and on the other hand, the resilience of postfeminism creeping into the academy has turned even feminist scholars away from projects investigating the gendered particularities of emergent cultural forms.
Because of its particular goal, Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn necessarily takes for granted that the feminine, femininity, and the feminized are all notions that, despite the way progressive influences have complicated their use, do continue to exist and do continue to have profound material effects on actual bodies. Perhaps Levine is too apologetic about stepping over those complications, but one needn’t look beyond Click and the gross devaluing of her work with feminized texts to understand why Levine’s project is so critical at this moment. Indeed, the downward trend in the kind of feminist scholarship Levine identifies— girls studies is a notable exception—may have even greater implications than she and the other chapter authors were able to posit at its writing. Not only does the postfeminist sensibility Levine discusses weaken academic interest in the increasingly gendered nature of newer cultural forms, but institutions themselves may use the doing of that work as ammunition against a scholar whose credibility is in question, particularly if she’s a woman.
The book is broken into three broad sections, which Levine identifies as three chief themes in which feminized popular culture has been recently developing: “Passions,” “Bodies,” and “Labors.” In the first, “Passions,” authors Click, Kristen J. Warner, Jillian Báez, and Erin A. Meyers explore the intense relational, pleasurable, and affective aspects of the feminized cultural experience, notably in unruly...