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  • The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for the Stage and Screen by Jill Dolan
  • Corey Hickner-Johnson (bio)
Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for the Stage and Screen, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 231 pp.

Feminism is a serious and sincere business, but feminism is also very much about joy and beauty. In her important book, The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for the Stage and Screen, Jill Dolan artfully combines significance with sensation and politics with pleasure through her feminist analyses of theatre, film, and television. A Princeton professor and the author of several monographs in theatre and performance studies, Dolan has an approach to media that critically interrogates marginalizing power structures without diminishing the role of pleasure and entertainment in viewing the arts. As Dolan explains, "Feminism is an analytical system that gives us tools for seeing ourselves in relation to one another" (1). Dolan's feminist approach looks closely at our cultural experiences and media in order to see dynamics of power more clearly. Appealing to a reading audience of students, teachers, and nonacademics, Dolan's approach is both critical and pedagogical. She provides rigorous feminist critique of popular dramatic arts, such as Mamma Mia!, Girls, and For Colored Girls …, while simultaneously modeling a lens and framework for other feminist spectators.

Rarely do academic monographs think self-consciously about their pedagogical work, but The Feminist Spectator remains committed to feminist teaching. Dolan foregrounds her intended audience as a pedagogical one by expressing her intention that the book will be "helpful for teachers, students, and aficionados alike" (193). Though Dolan mostly focuses on television, theatre, and film, her organized and clear "How-to Guide" for feminist spectators can be applied to almost any cultural artifact and serves as a model for feminists of various ages and positionalities. The Feminist Spectator is certainly a reader-friendly text. As her objects of analysis range from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream to Kristen Wiig's performance as Annie in the movie Bridesmaids, Dolan examines cultures with insight and incisiveness, as well as humor. For Dolan, feminist commitments are no cause for a rejection of popular culture but instead a "transformative politics of hope" through [End Page 240] which feminist teachers, students, and scholars can think critically about media and imagine a better world (1).

Organizing her book into five sections—"Advocacy," "Activism," "Argument," "Artistry," and "How-to Guide"—the text outlines these major tenets of feminism while accounting for the role of pleasure in feminist analysis, as well as in pedagogy. In this way, Dolan shows how pedagogy, popular culture, and pleasure work together in a feminist critique of dramatic arts. Readers will find her approach refreshing, incalculably helpful in the classroom, and even delightful. As blogging and digital media have become part and parcel of classroom environments, Dolan's blog, The Feminist Spectator, which won the 2010–2011 George Jean Award in Dramatic Criticism, can be paired with her book to provide a more digitally textured reading. As students read chapters from the book, they can also go online to Dolan's blog and view the original post, its embedded links, and subsequent reader comments. One might question why the book should be purchased if much of the content is online. However, it is important to remember and account for multiple learning styles in the classroom: some students might prefer a tangible text while others might prefer a digital one. Both formats enrich feminist pedagogy. For example, Dolan's reading of The Hunger Games appears both in the book and on the blog. Step one of an assignment could ask for students to read the book section on the film while annotating the text, and step two could call for a digital reading, along with engagement in the digital links and comments. While positioning themselves as feminist critics, students could compare and contrast their affective and embodied experiences of both readings while ultimately explaining what each reading modality brings to the learning experience. This discussion or writing assignment could serve as a segue to a rich discussion of both feminist and problematic threads within The Hunger Games. Through engaging with The Feminist Spectator...


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pp. 240-242
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Ceased Publication
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