14120: Gender in Popular Culture

07/08 Session, Semester 1

Basic Information

Module Level Level 7
Nature of Study Taught Module
Credits 20
European Credit Transfer Scheme 10
Probable Attendance 10
Location Hull Campus
This module is not available as a Free Elective
This module is not available as a postgraduate training module
This module is available to Exchange students

Module Rationale

Module intended as elective for MA in Women and Gender in Literature; research field of member of staff. As it considers popular fiction, the module offers an important complementary perspective on the relationship between gender and literature.

Aims and Distinctive Features

The aim of this module is to analyse the concepts of masculinity and femininity developed in recent popular fiction and film. The module will consider theoretical perspectives on popular fiction relevant to writing and gender (the relationship between high art and popular fiction, reviewing patterns and canon formation). The seminars will combine the discussion of masculinity and femininity with an introduction to the critical theories developed around the various subgenres. The module will analyse texts belonging to a number of genres central to contemporary popular fiction and film: crime fiction, chick lit and ladlit, war stories and Real Crime narratives.

Learning Outcomes

The module has the following Learning Outcomes:

  • 1: demonstrate familiarity with the terminology and key concepts concerning genre theory and the critical analysis of popular fiction.
  • 2: correlate the depiction of gender in relation to the audiences, themes and critical theories of the various subgenres.
  • 3: analyse and compare individual texts from the perspective of gender and ideology.
  • 4: take part in an informed discussion on the relationship of popular fiction with the canon and with expressions of high culture.

Learning and Teaching Strategies

The following learning and teaching strategies are used within this module:

  • The module will be taught by means of ten two-hour seminars, consisting mainly of student-led presentations followed by group discussion. The module will include three film viewings in addition to the seminar sessions.

Assessment Strategies

The following assessment strategies are used within this module:

  • Two 2,500 word comparative essays.

Reassessment Strategy

As above.

Arrangements for Revision and Private Study

The last seminar will be devoted to essay consultation and the Easter vacation will provide a natural break for reading, revision, and essay preparation.

Module Constraints

No pre/post-requisite requirements have been recorded for this module.

Indicative Content

The module will cover a range of genres currently dominating popular fiction with the aim of investigating how gender interacts with genre, how different aspects of masculinity and femininity are highlighted when addressing separate, generically determined audience segments. Because of popular fiction's explicit commercial interest popular genres try at once to reflect and comment on contemporary social developments. As forms of fiction and film developing outside of high literature and high art, however, popular novels and films can also experiment with transgressing accepted or politically correct images of gender.

An introductory section will discuss the theoretical position of popular culture, including the linked and at times oppositional topics of popular fiction, pulp fiction, cult fiction and the canon. The popular genres and works under discussion are all characterized by a rapid transfer between media, from print to screen. They also share links with journalism, so that their reflection in journalistic articles will be investigated, while the power, function and process of reviewing in establishing new authors and genres will be traced. Finally, critical perspectives regarding the existence of an active or passive readership will be investigated.

Of the popular genres under consideration, the new categories of Chick Lit and Ladlit have undoubtedly been recent publishing phenomena. Here gender will be considered in a postfeminist framework, and links with social change and consumerism will be investigated. The interaction between high culture and popular culture will be investigated via another recent subgenre, the sequels to canonical romantic novels by female authors such as Jane Austen and Rebecca du Maurier, while the current popularity of war narratives will reflect a specific perspective on masculinity. A final section of the module will be devoted to crime fiction including the journalistic perception of the male and female criminal in a Real Crime narrative and recent British novels and films.

Week 1: Introduction - Between the canon and the market place: Bestsellers and pulp fiction.
Week 2: Introduction - The role of the readers (book club phenomenon, fanzines, internet discussion lists) and reviewers.
Week 3-4: Chick Lit and Ladlit as postfeminist phenomena.
Sex and the City (Candace Bushnell)
About a Boy (Nick Hornby)
Week 5: The afterlife of the female canon
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) and Rebecca's Tale (Sally Beauman)
Pemberley: or Pride and Prejudice Continued (Emma Tennant)
Week 6: Soldiers' stories: Masculinity in the SAS Novel
Bravo Two Zero (Andy McNab)
Film: Dog Soldiers. (Neil Marshall, 2002)
Week 7: Real Crime: The representations of male/female notorious characters in crime fiction's unsavoury subgenre
Happy Like Murderers (Gordon Burn - on Fred and Rosemary West, 1998)
Week 8: British Crime Fiction:
The Long Firm (Jake Arnott)
Week 9: The British crime caper film
Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)
Week 10: Conclusion - gender in popular culture; progressive or traditionalist?
Essay preparation


Dr S Vanacker Lecturer

Recommended Reading

Reading List

Author(s) Title Publisher, Year
Arnott, Jake, The Long Firm Hodder and Stoughton(2000)
Baker, Brian, Masculinity in Fiction and Film: Representing Men in Popular Genres Continuum(2006)
Baumgardner, Jennifer, and Richards, Amy, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future Farrar, Straus and Giroux(2000)
Bloom, Clive, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900 Palgrave Macmillan(2002)
Bloom, Clive, Cult Fiction: Popular Reading and Pulp Theory Macmillan(1996)
Burn, Gordon, Happy as Murderers Faber and Faber(2001)
Bushell, Candace, Sex and the City Abacus(2004)
Ferriss, Suzanne, and Young, Mallory, Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction Routledge(2006)
Hermes, Joke, Re-Reading Popular Culture Blackwell(2005)
Hollows, Joanne, Feminism, Femininity and Popular Culture Manchester University Press(2000)
Hornby, Nick, Fever Pitch Penguin(1992)
McNab, Andy, Brave Two Zero Corgi Adult(2002)
Modleski, Tania, Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a "Postfeminist" Age Routledge(1991)
Paizis, George, Love and the Novel: The Poetics and Politics of Romantic Fiction Houndsmill, Macmillan(1998)
Palmer, Jerry, Potboilers: Methods, Concepts and Case Studies in Popular Fiction Routledge(1991)
Showalter, Elaine, 'Ladlit'. In On Modern British Fiction Oxford University Press(2005)
Whelehan, Imelda, Overloaded: Popular Culture and the Future of Feminism The Women's Press(2000)
Whelehan, Imelda, The Feminist Bestseller: From Sex and the Single Girl to Sex and the City Palgrave Macmillan(2005)

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