Between the perfect and the problematic: everyday femininities, popular feminism, and the negotiation of intersectionality

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In recent years, celebrity and popular culture have figured as key sites in the mediated resurgence of feminism, producing competing and contested articulations of feminism as a ‘popular’ phenomenon [Banet-Weiser, S. and Portwood-Stacer, L., 2017. The traffic in feminism: an introduction to the commentary and criticism on popular feminism. Feminist media studies, 17, 884–888]. Drawing on interviews with self-identifying feminists who primarily learn about and engage with feminism through digital culture, this article aims to connect and extend debates over the aims, logics and limits of popular feminism by foregrounding the affective, lived negotiations of feminist identity at this moment. This pilot project research suggests that the very logics of individuality and authenticity underpinning celebrity shape personal understandings and negotiations of feminism. I discuss two significant dynamics in these negotiations. First, celebrity becomes an accessible means of both understanding and classifying ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feminism, organized under the poles of ‘white feminism’ and ‘intersectional feminism’ [Crenshaw, P. 1989. Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago legal forum, 140, 139–167]. Second, in the context of the surveillance politics of social media, and broader neoliberal governmental injunctions to continually work on one’s ‘character’ [Bull, A. and Allen, K. 2018. Introduction: Sociological Interrogations of the Turn to Character. Sociological research online, 23(2), 392–398], authentic feminist identity becomes entangled with practices of perfecting and disciplining the self. The self is re-conceptualized as a ‘platform’ through which marginalized others are included. Via these celebrity logics, the pursuit of an intersectional feminist identity paradoxically obscures the reinvigoration of practices of middle-class whiteness centred on self-monitoring, self-actualization and the disavowal of complicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-48
Number of pages24
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • celebrity
  • digital feminism
  • intersectionality
  • Neoliberal feminism
  • white feminism
  • young women

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