Heather Brown

Although feminism is currently in its fourth ‘wave’, the tropes of female empowerment analysed in the bestselling post-millennial young adult literature texts in this thesis reflect the longevity of an earlier iteration of feminism: specifically, a poststructuralist influenced postfeminism associated with the third-wave’s reaction against second-wave feminist views of women as universally oppressed victims of patriarchy. Drawing on Judith Butler’s performance theory in conjunction with a wider critical discussion of feminist theory, power and subjectivity, this thesis interrogates four tropes of postfeminism that promote self-empowerment and choice. The first two tropes ‘Postfeminist Feminine Masquerade’ and ‘Postfeminist “Sex-positive” Female Sexuality’, consider whether female protagonists can challenge stereotypes of femininity by instead re-signifying dress, beautification and sexuality as powerful and pleasurable. The following two tropes ‘Postfeminist Authentic Individualism’ and ‘The Postfeminist “Strong” Female Character’, look at whether the female protagonists’ resistance towards stereotypes of female essentialism through their performance of traits associated with masculinity are empowering. This thesis argues that although narrative devices, genre conventions and even (mostly) male secondary characters support postfeminist discourses of self-empowerment and ‘choice’, female protagonists’ empowerment through a re-signification of gender and choice cannot be straightforwardly claimed as empowering or empowered. Often seemingly empowered choices subtly and complexly reinforce a traditional patriarchal worldview of gender, power, and subjectivity. 

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