This article examines the contribution of the young adult series Pretty Little Liars to contemporary understandings of the teenage girl. Over the course of eighteen novels, protagonists Hanna, Emily, Spencer, and Aria struggle to escape the mysterious “A,” who sees their every move, manipulates them into embarrassing situations, and publicly airs their secrets. I argue that the series productively utilizes the paranoid form to interrogate particular forms of cultural condescension towards adolescent girls. The narrative of A’s prosecutions illustrates how young women are perceived as rightful subjects of surveillance and how they continue to be shamed for sexual expression and bodily non-conformity. Pretty Little Liars also plays with gendered language, complicating the pop-culture trope of the “mean girl,” often used to pathologize girls’ anger, by detaching the character A from gender altogether. The series further circulates the problematic word “bitch,” and in so doing replicates the slippery postfeminist terrain in which words reclaimed as empowering can also be used against girls to cut and wound. Analysis of the teenage girl’s tenuous place in Pretty Little Liars is contextualized both within the postfeminist moment and within the contemporary young adult market, which financially relies on adolescent female readers but too often disdains their tastes.


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pp. 353-377
Launched on MUSE
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