Woman Up: Invoking Feminism in Quality Television




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Wayne State University Press



Peer reviewed



This book examines the emergence of the American post-millennial ‘feminist quality TV’ phenomenon. While American TV has long relied on a strategic foregrounding of feminist politics to promote certain programming’s cultural value, this book is the first sustained critical analysis of the 21st century resurgence of this tradition. Woman Up’s central argument is that post-millennial ‘feminist quality television’ springs from a rhetorical subversion of the (much-debated) masculine-coded ‘quality television’ culture on the one hand, and the dominance of postfeminist popular culture on the other.

Post-millennial quality television culture promotes the idea of aesthetic-generic hierarchies among different types of scripted programming. Its development has facilitated evaluative academic analyses of television texts based on aesthetic merit, producing a corpus of scholarship devoted to pinpointing where value resides in programmes considered worthy of discussion. Other strands of TV scholarship have criticised this approach for sidestepping the gendered and classed processes of canonisation informing the phenomenon. Woman Up intervenes in this debate by re-evaluating such approaches and insisting that rather than further fostering or critiquing already prominent processes of canonisation, we need to interrogate the cultural forces underlying them. Via detailed analyses of four programmes emerging in the early period of the ‘feminist quality TV’ trend, namely 30 Rock (2006-2013), Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), The Good Wife (2009-2016), and Orange Is the New Black (2013-), this book demonstrates that such series mediate their cultural significance by combining formal-aesthetic exceptionalism and a politicised rhetoric around a ‘problematic’ postfeminism, thus linking ideals of political and aesthetic value. The book also demonstrates the necessity in television analysis of unpacking both the specific genderedness of television’s cultivation of aesthetic value, and the context of aesthetics and form in which the programmes’ political implications emerge.



Television studies, feminist media studies, Gender, Quality television, American television


Havas, J. (2022) Woman Up: Invoking Feminism in Quality Television. Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.


Research Institute

Media and Communication Research Centre (MCRC)