Litherland, Benjamin and Wood, Rachel (2017) Critical Feminist Hope: The Encounter of Neoliberalism and Popular Feminism in WWE 24: Women’s Evolution. Feminist Media Studies. ISSN 1468-0777

Scholarship has pointed to contemporary feminism’s popularity and cultural “luminosity” (Rosalind Gill, 2016). While this research has highlighted the limitations of feminist politics in a context of neoliberal individualism (Catherine Rottenberg, 2014; Angela McRobbie, 2015; Gill and Shani Orgad, 2015), this paper seeks to ask what possibilities for critiques and transformation of gender inequalities might be enabled by feminism’s visibility in neoliberalism. Using a framework of critical feminist hope, we highlight that capitalism’s embrace of feminism inarguably limits its political scope, but it may also open up opportunities for new forms of representation. To illustrate this, the paper analyses WWE 24: Women’s Evolution, a “brandcasting” documentary (Jennifer Gillan, 2014) made to mark the re-brand of the sport entertainment promotion’s women’s division in 2016. While never naming it directly, the documentary draws heavily upon the signifiers of popular feminism. Although this mobilisation is often highly limited, a critically hopeful feminist reading allows us to move beyond dismissing this text as an example of feminism’s “co-optation” by neoliberalism. We highlight the documentary’s scathing critique of past failings in the representation and treatment of women performers, and, more importantly, the way feminism is used to make the case for corporate re-structure and change.

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