'I Came in Like a Wrecking Ball': Exploring Complicity in Contemporary Feminist Discourse
University of Ulster
(at time of presentation)
Giuliana Monteverde is a PhD student at Ulster University, and her doctoral research is on complicity and contemporary feminist discourse, which follows on from her Masters in the same subject. Giuliana uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates elements of cultural studies, English and media studies, and she is interested in neoliberalism, consumerism and pop culture. Giuliana was shortlisted for the FWSA’s essay competition and her paper was subsequently published in the Journal for International Women’s Studies. Giuliana volunteered for the Women’s Resource and Development Agency in Belfast, and currently teaches English at the Northern Ireland Community for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
This paper gives an overview of the relationship between complicity and contemporary feminist discourse. It outlines problems with the idea of a complicit female subject, and reiterates the importance of considering feminist complicity.
Feminism is no longer considered to be pro-woman on the basis of a homogenous female identity or experience. Additionally, many feminist writers outright say, or allude to, the fact that women aren’t inherently better than men; bell hooks reminds us, “patriarchy has no gender”. This troubling of the categories of feminism, as well as a renewed focus on the dynamics of power and privilege, means that it becomes increasingly important to theorise complicity in relation to feminism.
Using Miley Cyrus’s performance at the 2013 Video Music Awards as a case study, I consider discourses of complicity in media coverage at the time, but more importantly, how mainstream liberal feminists are frequently complicit in reinscribing problematic hierarchies within feminism. White feminists were quick to defend the ex-Disney starlet from slut-shaming, but feminists of colour expressed their frustration with Miley’s exploitation of black women’s bodies, and ongoing cultural appropriation. The ensuing spate of open letters and think-pieces about Miley’s video for ‘Wrecking Ball’ demonstrate Miley’s divisiveness in feminist circles, and, crucially, that contemporary feminism still has a race problem. By considering these issues in relation to complicity, we can avoid outright assertions of blame and consider our own role in shaping feminist discourse.