The Feminist Side of The Force: Women Negotiating Feminism and Star Wars / Doctor Who Fandoms

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Neta Yodovich


Feminism has a long history of critiquing misogyny and sexism in popular culture. Although studies scrutinized women's engagement with sexist contents before, the experiences of feminist women, who promote gender equality while identifying as fans of such contents, are neglected. Inspired by Gay's Bad Feminist (2017), the main objective of this research is to examine how women negotiate feminism and fandom and explore whether feminist fans see themselves as "bad feminists" for enjoying contents that belittle or disregard women. Through tying between feminist and fan identities, this thesis contributes to literatures on feminism and fandom, as well as providing a broader understanding of conflicted identities management. Thirty in-depth interviews were undertaken with women between the ages of 19 to 55, who self-identify as feminist fans of Star Wars or Doctor Who. The broad age range provided a rigorous and comparative account of feminist fans from different generations, who might differ in their interpretations of feminism. Star Wars and Doctor Who were chosen due to their male-dominated fandoms, historical use of female characters as love interests, backlashes against new female protagonists, and longstanding success in popular culture. Findings reveal that feminist female fans experience feelings of inadequacy and inauthenticity when negotiating feminism and fandom. Despite taking part in numerous fannish practices, feminist female fans doubt their legitimacy and eligibility to identify as fans. Using Mead (1972) and Cooley's (1992) theories, in conjunction with belonging literature, the thesis explains that the reason feminist female fans doubt the authenticity of their identities is due to perceived and actual lack of approval by their "generalized other": male fans. While Mead and Cooley did not explicitly discuss gender, this thesis expands their theories by demonstrating the importance of gender in the development of one’s identity through the generalized other. Given this, this thesis defines 'conditional belonging,' a liminal stage in which feminist female fans are policed to conform to values and practices dictated by dominating male members in the community. They are obliged to conceal their feminist identities in order to be included in the community and receive validation of their fan identities by veteran male fans. Despite criticizing their fanned content's representation of female characters during interviews, interviewees felt silenced and unable to share their readings of the diegesis in the fandom community for fear of exclusion. Employing de Certeau's (1984) concept of ‘tactics,’ the thesis reveals how feminist female fans reconcile feminism and fandom and attain a sense of agency despite their conditional belonging and dissatisfaction with unfeminist aspects in their fanned franchise. This thesis identifies and defines two primary forms of tactics: 'narrative' and 'activist' used by feminist fans. While narrative tactics provided participants with justifications and rationalizations, 'activist tactics' included active steps taken in order to push the fandom community and fanned content towards a more equal, inclusive reception of women. Regardless of their abilities to make a significant change in fandom, both tactic clusters were essential in reconciling feminism and fandom and allowed feminist fans to exercise their agency and raise their voices in what continues to be a male-dominated community.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2020