Using Female Empowerment as a Cover Story for Whiteness and Racial Hierarchy in Pop Culture: Interrogating the Intersections of Racial Appropriation and Feminist Discourse in the Performances of Fergie, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga
Clark Mane, Rebecca Lynne
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This project contends that the pop cultural production of the subject of third wave feminism -- an empowered sexy yet tough, glamorous yet powerful woman -- is deeply entangled in racial symbolism that ultimately re-assert whiteness and maintain racial inequity. Investigating the songs, videos, and public performances of three contemporary white female pop stars -- Fergie, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga -- the analysis unpacks the ways that racial symbols, sublimated cultural memories, and repudiated racial narratives circulate in these stars' music, lyrics, and video narratives as well as visual indicators such as fashion, hair, make-up, and posture. Because these performances represent and promote female empowerment in ways contested, yet consistent, with third wave rhetoric, some feminist critics tend to dismiss the racial dynamics as incidental or include them only in apologetic footnotes. This project not only re-centers race as a primary investigative lens, but examines how many of the discourses of female empowerment circulating in these pop performances are dependent on racial hierarchy for their efficacy. Using a critical semiotics approach, the aim of this dissertation is to contribute to the bigger project of decolonial feminism by cutting through the feminist alibi that allows feminism to serve as a cover story for the cultural reproduction of whiteness and racial hierarchy.
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