In her analysis of women in the contemporary ‘post-feminist’ sexual contract, Angela McRobbie (2007) examines the way young women are positioned as subjects of capacity par exellence in late capitalist societies. These ‘top girls’, McRobbie explains, provide seductive images of visualised ‘success’ in a post-feminist guise of supposedly achieved gender equality. They are invited to be enthusiastic participants towards a ‘perfectible self’ across three key sites: in the context of consumerist culture where beauty regimes and techniques have replaced traditional patriarchal forms of discipline and control; in the context of reproduction where ‘motherhood’ is carefully planned so as to ensure maximum worker productivity; and in the area of education and employment. Central to McRobbie’s argument is the way this platform of female ‘freedom’ and ‘success’ has meant that a feminist critique of the presence and emergence of hegemonic masculinities has been abandoned in favour of the happier story of gender equality. This paper contends that a place of energetic expression of the post-feminist contract is Higher Education, where women are increasingly outnumbering their male counterparts as students, and where young women are entering into academic pathways in numbers that challenge interpretations of academia as a bastion of male privilege and dominance. Yet, this story is far from the happy ending anticipated by post-feminist aspirations of gender equality. The ‘scissor graph’ that charts male and female career progression from non-tenured to professorial level appointments, applies in the majority of university contexts. Despite at least 40 years of strong participation, women still occupy only a small percentage of academic leadership positions. The work of Kirsten Bovbjerg (2007) takes the notion of the ‘perfectible self’ further in her analysis of contemporary management practices in the private sector. Bovbjerg explores the introduction of New Age discourses that focus on untapped potential and the perpetual cycle of self-development and ‘improvement’ of the subject/worker. The ability for academic workers to say ‘no’ to the ever-increasing demands of academia are read as specifically gendered performances when McRobbie’s notion of the ever-eager and affirmative ‘top girl’ is applied to Bovbjerg’s perpetually improving worker.
Bovbjerg, K. M. (2007). Personal Development under Market Conditions - NLP and the emergence of an ethics of sensitivity based on an idea of hidden potentials in the person. Retrieved from http://pure.au.dk/portal/files/53/Personal_development_under_Market_Conditions.pdf McRobbie, A. (2007). Top Girls?: Young women and the post-feminist sexual contract. Cultural Studies, 21(4-5), 718-737. doi:10.1080/09502380701279044
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