As a researcher I have to admit it is often challenging to place research methods into practice. A good research should ideally be viewed at a mechanical level wherein one should be able to see how it really works. The principles and practices of Discourse Analysis are highly contested; and in order to understand the concept of said research method I will be drawing from Rosalind Gill’s article, ‘Mediated Intimacy and Postfeminism: A Discourse Analytic Examination of Sex and Relationships Advice in a Women’s Magazine’.
In her article, Gill (2009) uses a discourse analytic perspective to examine sex and relationship advice in a popular women’s magazine. I am to understand her methodology and try and use a similar approach for a different kind of media platform (advertisements) as it relates to my own dissertation.
In the past few years postfeminism has become a significant subject and an object of feminist cultural critique in the eyes of popular media culture. The term, on its own, is constantly debated and engaged in a number of ways. With regards to feminist cultural studies, postfeminism has come to be associated with a sort of “double entanglement” of feminist and anti-feminist ideas (McRobbie 2009: 13). Postfeminism is now constitutive with the employment of traditional gender norms while simultaneously embracing liberal feminist ideas of equal opportunities and women empowerment. “Feminist ideas are both articulated and repudiated, expressed and disavowed” (Gill 2007: 161).
Postfeminism is not only construed with an ideology or a right of way; it can also be seen as a sensibility defined by numerous elements, “a taking for granted of feminist ideas alongside a fierce repudiation of feminism; an emphasis upon choice, freedom and individual empowerment; a pre-occupation with the body and sexuality as the locus of femininity; a reassertion of natural sexual difference grounded in heteronormative ideas about gender complementarity; the importance placed upon self-surveillance and monitoring as modes of power; and a thorough going commitment of ideas to self-transformation, i.e. a makeover paradigm” Gill (2010: 347). This postfeminist sensibility is evidently visible with regards to mediated intimacy i.e. the different ways in which intimate relationships are constructed by the media and the ways in which we understand them.
While reading Gill’s article on Mediated Intimacy I tried to confine my approach to a social perspective (let’s call it a trial-and-error-approach). My primary interest was to observe the kinds of constructions of femininity, masculinity and gender relations they offer. How are women represented or constructed in advertisements? To what extent do these advertisements strengthen or curtail conventional depictions of hegemonic femininity? And – with regards to mediated intimacy – how are intimate heterosexual relationships reproduced?
Media portrayal of women has changed drastically over the past few years specially in advertisements relating to consumer culture. Feminist language is now constantly being used (misused?) to sell products with terms like ‘girl power’, ‘liberation’, and ’empowerment’. I see it as quite performative in nature and it actually takes me back to Foucault and Butler’s theory of performativity. There’s an underlying shallowness attached to the idea of a woman being considered liberated for buying a new pair of shoes. As if a woman’s entire life were surrounded with the whole and sole purpose of shopping. This apparent empowerment and liberation seems to be available only through the idea of consumption. As I’ve stated above postfeminism is simultaneously articulated and repudiated; so feminism is now not only fixated in ‘womanly’ activities like cooking and cleaning; but also in the ground of shallowness. Consequently this also tends to reinforce heterosexuality.
Global discourses of femininity are homogenous in nature. Discourses are primarily action oriented and have a way of constructing the world that we understand. But greater than discourse is ideology. Preferably or not we are the subjects of ideology and can not escape it; inevitably we are born in certain ideologies and grow within them. So would a feminist methodology be considered an ideology? Feminist methodology is largely absorbed in challenging the dualistic thinking about the nature of knowledge. It goes against the concept of being defined as one and hence consists of no single set of agreed upon research methods.
In her article Gill (2010) further goes on to identify three different interpretive repertoires which mutually form social constructions of sexual relationships: the intimate entrepreneurship, men-ology and transforming the self. All three ranges relate primarily to women’s magazines and hence I will only briefly describe them.
The Intimate Entrepreneurialism: This is the mentality of governance where the self calculates and becomes a better of the self. It also embodies the idea of investing in oneself. This calculation may also be relating to life plans, marriage plans etc.
Men-ology: The fundamentality here is that men and women are different from one another. It also urges women to study men and simultaneously seek advice from them.
Transforming the Self: This again focuses on consumption and tries and entices a lifestyle to feel good, for example the importance of owning a little black dress, achieving rock-hard abs and so on.
Gill’s article on mediated intimacy focuses on the lifestyle expectations of a woman in this century. This kind of intimacy goes above and beyond bodily discipline and is rather more focused on feelings, attitudes and behaviours. Magazines and other media platforms try and treat contemporary postfeminism as a section of contemporary individuality. Apparently to live as successful women we are required to not only reform our behaviour but also reconstruct our notions. “What this example of mediated intimacy offers is the perfect marriage of postfeminism and neoliberalism” (Gill 2010: 366).
- Gill, R. (2007) ‘Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility’ European Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (2), 147-166
- Gill, R. (2010) ‘Mediated Intimacy and Postfeminism: A Discourse Analytic Examination of Sex and Relationships Advice in a Women’s Magazine’. Discourse and Communication 3, 345-369
- McRobbie, A. (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage Publications