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Challenging the idea that MTV presents only negative and sexist images of women

Gender Politics and MTV

Voicing the Difference

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Lisa A. Lewis

"[A] significant moment in the history of feminist research in the field of communication.... [It] should be seen as a guidepost tot he directions feminist work needs to take."
Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media

By examining the videos and careers of female musicians Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, and Madonna, and their appeal to female audiences, Lisa A. Lewis challenges the idea that MTV presents only negative and sexist images of women. She shows that these artists have appropriated music video as a vehicle of feminist expression and have reinterpreted the signs of a gender-typed culture—clothing, dance, the use of the street as public space, and even musical instruments. By appropriating these symbols of female empowerment, female rock and pop stars have created a new and significant audience for MTV among teenage girls. Lewis explores this subculture of fandom and its effects on the music business.

The videos of Benatar, Lauper, Turner, and Madonna, argues Lewis, foreground female experiences of gender inequality and celebrate the cultural distinctiveness of girls and women. By focusing attention on forms of gender discrimination in popular music, and in society generally, these four musicians have become figures of emulation for millions of female fans. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," by Cyndi Lauper, became something of an anthem for women and particularly for female adolescents, a very regulated and marginalized group. Devotees of Lauper and of Madonna especially imitate their idols in appearance and speech. The fans are examined in the context of their everyday lives as teenage girls in various sites of fan activity-concerts, shopping malls, movies, television news, and MTV itself.

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Reviews

"Provocative and important, ...[Lewis's] theoretically ambitions study of women rock musicians and their fans...makes a strong case...that popular culture is contested terrain and that women, as artists and as spectators and fans, can and have made astonishing inroads into a commercial, male-defined turf.... The book is full of substantive theoretical gold. It's audacious, original and...very much engaged in its subject.... Her profiles of four performers—Madonna, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar and Cyndi Lauper—are eye-openers.... Lewis understands fully that most commercial and pop culture is far from liberating.... Still, there's something exhilarating about her unfashionable cultural radicalism."
The Nation

"[Lewis] explores her fascinating topic with a frank feminism and with the recognition that female viewers play an active role in their experience of MTV. Readers will be rewarded not only by her insights, but by the fact that her prose is relatively free of the jargon that usually riddles these studies."
The Women's Review of Books

"[An] engaging and frequently insightful analysis of MTV.... [Lewis's] involvement and self-reflexivity add a richness to the work that is often missing in the distant and abstracted treatises of cultural analysts.... An important contribution to studies of culture and politics."
Women and Politics

"I cannot remember a single work on popular culture that impressed me as favorably as Lisa Lewis’s Gender Politics and MTV. I recommend it enthusiastically and without reservation. It offers the first convincing examination of American popular music from a feminist perspective."
George Lipsitz, University of Minnesota

"An extremely important contribution both to feminist studies and to the growing literature on music video."
Susan McClary, co-editor of Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. MTV's Industrial Imperatives
2. The Making of a Preferred Address
3. Male-Address Video (1983)
4. Conditions of Cultural Struggle
5. Four Female Musicians
6. Female-Address Video (1980-1986)
7. Fandom, Lived Experience, and Textual Use
8. Five Fan Events
9. Polysemy, Popularity, and Politics
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Lisa A. Lewis, Ph.D., is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona.

Subject Categories

Women's Studies
Mass Media and Communications

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