Dr Jessica Ford

Dr Jessica Ford

Lecturer

School of Humanities and Social Science

Examining feminism on television

Dr Jessica Ford researches how, why and when feminism appears on screen and what factors contribute to its visibility or invisibility.

Jessica Ford

We watch television in our homes with our loved ones - it’s an intimate, personal and often shared experience and is also one of the most powerful means through which we are socialised and taught to interact. Dr Jessica Ford investigates how television teaches us how to think about women’s cultural value and femininity.

“Television is an influential medium for informing and reflecting the cultural norms of a given time. If we can understand what television is doing and saying about women’s value, work and femininity, we can better understand why we think about women how we do,” Jessica said.

“Television is a central cultural form in terms of negotiating gender. Shows like Married at First Sight and The Bachelor tell us what our central social values and cultural expectations of women are.”

Jessica’s research investigates the different cultural, institutional, social, economic and political factors that render feminism visible and invisible in popular culture and in particular on television.  Her research directly informs her teaching of courses including Popular Culture and Society, Peak TV, Music and Culture, Communication and Culture and Digital Culture.

She’s interested in the factors at play in the larger cultural, political and social milieu that makes Beyoncé both able to say she is a feminist and for that act to be read as feminist.

“There have been plenty of times in popular culture history where people have said ‘I’m a feminist’ or ‘I’m not’ but that doesn’t mean that their acts or claims to feminism have been read in those terms. I look at current day mechanisms at play that allow women to be read as feminist or anti-feminist.”

Through her research Jessica has found that feminism has become more easily visible as cultural objects of value, such as pop music or quality television, have become aligned with feminist discourses.

“Popular cultural feminism is in an interesting place at the moment where almost everything is being read as ‘feminist.’ It has become a generic label, almost like a big red stamp that has been slapped on various pop culture concepts from Beyoncé to The Handmaids Tale,” she said.

“Feminism has become an industrial category and big media companies like Hulu, Netfilx and HBO are marketing their television shows as ‘feminist’ to an audience that sees themselves as feminists. Feminism is as much an industrial and market category as it is a political category.”

“We are seeing a more overt and explicit taking up of feminist identity. But at same time, we are also seeing less critical engagement around what it actually means to perform ‘feminism’ in this landscape where there is increased scrutiny around women’s value, labour and visibility.”

Feminism throughout US television history

Jessica’s PhD research placed contemporary American television shows Big Love, Girls, The Good Wife and Orange is the New Black, into a larger political and cultural context and lineage of feminism in US television.

Through her research she found that the kinds of feminisms articulated on US television has changed over time.

“In the 1970s and 80s, TV series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude and The Golden Girls relied on liberal feminism and centered on women’s access to reproductive rights and workplace rights. These series promoted a ‘feminism’ that was about institutional access and this message was communicated through thin white, heterosexually desirable characters,” Jessica said.

“When we move into the era of the original Roseanne series in the late 80s and early 90s, we see some of the first portrayals working class feminism on US TV. Roseanne and others show how the cultural expectations of mothers and women vary greatly depending on class.”

In the 1990s Ally McBeal focused on sexual harassment and issues facing women in the workplace. Sex and the City portrayed a neo-liberal feminism, which was not about society or women as a collective, but rather about the individual woman’s capacity to empower herself through capitalist means and heterosexual desirability.

“Women-centric ‘empowering’ TV in the late 1990s and early 2000s, relied heavily on consumerist discourses – the more shoes you have the more empowered you are. Each incarnation of feminism on US television has very much been in dialogue the feminism of its time and television’s feminist past. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and I Love Lucy are repeatedly referenced on contemporary television.”

Jessica is working on a book that extends on her PhD research, which involved the development of a framework called ‘feminist sensibility television’.

“The framework is an attempt to move away from binary understandings of cultural objects as pro-feminist, proto-feminist, anti-feminist or post-feminist. The function of the framework is to explore how US television in what I call the ‘post-Sex and the City moment’ are negotiating feminist discourse ideologies and issues.”

The book will be situated in in terms of ‘before and after Trump’ and will look at the considerable shifts that have happened in how women are portrayed on television and how feminism is articulated on US television in the Trump era.

“I’m particularly interested in how feminist discourses have become more overt and largely articulated in line with narrative and aesthetic forms aligned with notions of cinematic television,” Jessica said.

In the book she focuses on the rise of the ‘Golden Age’ of television and ways that quality television discourses and masculinisation narratives around television value worked to make women-centric feminist storytelling invisible to dominant contemporary metrics of television value.

Examining feminism on television

Dr Jessica Ford researches how, why and when feminism appears on screen and what factors contribute to its visibility or invisibility.

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Career Summary

Biography

Jessica Ford is a co-founder of the Sydney Screen Studies Network and a Contributing Editor of MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture. Jessica's research explores how, when and why feminism happens on screen. “What is feminism” is constantly open to interpretation and negotiation, and television is a key site for this negotiation. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal this is of increased interest, because many television series, like The Handmaid’s Tale, that have responded to the #MeToo movement. She has published on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Roseanne, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Girls.

Community Engagement

Jessica promotes collaboration and reaching across disciplinary boundaries. She is the co-founder of the Sydney Screen Studies Network (SSSN) – a community of film, media, and television researchers from the greater Sydney area. SSSN hosts events, including seminars, screenings, symposia, and workshops. She is a Contributing Editor (Film and Television) of peer-reviewed academic journal MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture founded by Anna Backman Rogers (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) and Anna Misiak (Falmouth University, UK). She has appeared on 2SER, ABC Radio National, ABC NewsRadio and ABC Radio Newcastle. Jessica has published articles for The Conversation and has shared her research at academic conferences and public talks, such as the Critical Animals program at the This is Not Art (TiNA) Festival. 

Teaching Philosophy

Jessica's teaching philosophy emphasises the importance of student-led learning with a concentration on the knowledges students bring to the classroom. Her teaching practice uses technologies and media in order to engage and employ students’ existing media literacies and interest in media and popular culture to explore conceptual frameworks and unpack theory. The employment teaching strategies that encourage small group work and empowers students to work through conceptual knowledge in a productive context, including class debates and group discussions, which enables deep learning through application and consolidation.

PhD Research

Jessica's PhD Thesis American Feminist Sensibility Television in the Postnetwork Era moves across disciplinary boundaries and draws on and contributes to contemporary debates in media studies, television studies, film studies, and gender studies. The PhD Thesis argued that the feminist work of many contemporary US television series has not been sufficiently recognised because many feminist-inflected series, such as Big Love (HBO 2006–2013), The Good Wife (CBS 2009–2016), Girls (HBO 2012–2017), and Orange is the New Black (Netflix 2013–present), are seemingly at odds with the form of US television currently given most cultural value—quality television. This thesis was highly commended by examiner Dr Claire Perkins (Monash University) as persuasive, timely, and eminently publishable. In her report Perkins notes, “In American Feminist Sensibility Television in the Postnetwork Era Jessica Ford has produced a highly lucid, timely and convincingly argued examination of contemporary scripted US television with a feminist orientation.” 


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle

Keywords

  • Cultural Studies
  • Feminism
  • Film Studies
  • Gender
  • Media Studies
  • Television

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
190204 Film and Television 50
200104 Media Studies 25
200205 Culture, Gender, Sexuality 25

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
Australia

Teaching appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/8/2012 - 1/12/2017 Casual Academic UNSW
School of the Arts & Media
Australia
1/1/2016 - 31/12/2016 Postgraduate Teaching Fellow UNSW
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
Australia

Teaching

Code Course Role Duration
FMCS2200 Popular Culture and Society
School of Humanities and Social Science - Faculty of Education and Arts - The University of Newcastle
Course Covener 26/2/2018 - 30/6/2018
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Chapter (6 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 Ford J, 'Can Prison Be a Feminist Space?: Interrogating Television Representations of Women s Prisons', The Palgrave Handbook of Incarceration in Popular Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, London 613-626 (2020) [B1]
DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-36059-7
2020 Ford J, 'Popular feminism and television stardom in Hallmark s original made-for-television movies', The Hallmark Channel: Essays on Faith, Race and Feminism, McFarland, Jefferson 32-49 (2020) [B1]
2019 Ford J, 'At the fringes of TV: Liminality and privilege in Netflix s original scripted dramedy series', Netflix at the Nexus Content, Practice, and Production in the Age of Streaming Television, Peter Lang Incorporated, International Academic Publishers, New York 97-112 (2019) [B1]
2018 Ford JA, 'Negotiating Creative Feminine Labor on Family Television: Are Jane By Design and Bunheads Riding a New Feminist Wave?', ABC Family to Freeform TV: Essays on the Millennial-Focused Network and its Programs, McFarland, Durham 84-98 (2018)
2014 Ford JA, 'Feminist and Postfeminist Discourses: Reading the Britta Problem', A Sense of Community: Essays on the Television Series and its Fandom, McFarland, Durham 82-97 (2014)
2012 Ford JA, 'Coming Out of the Broom Closet: Willow s Sexuality & Empowerment in Buffy', Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, Titan Books, London 97-102 (2012)
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Journal article (5 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Ford J, 'Women s indie television: the intimate feminism of women-centric dramedies', Feminist Media Studies, 19 928-943 (2019) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/14680777.2019.1667060
2019 Ford J, Macrossan P, 'The musical number as feminist intervention in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend', Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 8 55-69 (2019) [C1]
DOI 10.1386/ajpc.8.1.55_1
2018 Ford J, 'Feminist cinematic television: Authorship, aesthetics and gender in Pamela Adlon s Better Things', fusion, 14 16-29 (2018) [C1]
2018 Ford J, 'Rebooting Roseanne: Feminist Voice across Decades', M/C Journal, 21 1-8 (2018) [C1]
2016 Ford J, 'The smart body politics of Lena Dunham s Girls', Feminist Media Studies, 16 1029-1042 (2016)

© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Since its 2012 debut Girls has received an extraordinary amount of attention and criticism from both academic c... [more]

© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Since its 2012 debut Girls has received an extraordinary amount of attention and criticism from both academic circles and popular culture critics. It has been critiqued for its depiction of female nudity and its portrayal of female sexual subjecthood. At the center of these debates is how author¿star Lena Dunham¿s body is positioned and utilized aesthetically and politically. This essay examines the brand of body politics and mode of female sexual subjecthood that the series creates and performs. In order to track how Girls produces this body politics and female sexual subjecthood I position it in relation to earlier feminist television series and indie cinema. This essay argues that Girls¿ particular brand of body politics and the mode of female sexual subjecthood it depicts is characterized by emotional intimacy, irony and reflexivity. Furthermore I contend that Girls¿ gender politics is enabled by the series¿ utilization of a low-key aesthetic and the ¿smart¿ tendency, more commonly discussed in relation to American indie cinema.

DOI 10.1080/14680777.2016.1162826
Citations Scopus - 13Web of Science - 5
Show 2 more journal articles

Review (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Ford J, 'The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century, Kevin McDonald and Daniel Smith-Rowsey (eds) (2016) (2019)
DOI 10.1386/jdmp.10.1.127_5

Conference (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Ford J, 'Tele-feminist authorship in the age of popular feminisms', UNSW Sydney (2019)

Other (9 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 Ford J, MacRossan P, 'Friday Essay: Clueless at 25 like, a totally important teen film', (2020) [O1]
2019 Ford J, 'PhD Student to Early Career Researcher: Making the transition easier', (2019) [O1]
2019 Ford J, 'Practical Tips on How to Mark within Timeframes', (2019) [O1]
2019 Ford J, MacRossan P, 'The Real Dirty Dancing reduces a political film to little more than coy dance numbers', (2019) [O1]
2018 Ford J, Brooks J, Robson M, Williams K, 'Editorial: Intersections in film and media studies', ( pp.3-5): fusion journal (2018)
2018 Ford J, 'Intersections in film and media studies', : Charles Sturt University (2018)
2016 Ford J, 'Five ways Orange is the New Black changed TV for the better', (2016) [O1]
2015 Ford J, 'Mad Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Golden Age of television', (2015) [O1]
2015 Ford J, 'Orange is the New Black, True Detective and the gender problem on prestige TV', (2015) [O1]
Show 6 more others

Report (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 Ford J, Ison J, McKenzie L, Mayhew LR, Osborne N, Cooke B, 'What ongoing staff can do to support precariously employed colleagues', Australian Universities Review (2020)
2018 Ford J, 'WENTWORTH IS THE NEW PRISONER CONFERENCE REPORT', CST Online (2018)
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 2
Total funding $3,500

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20201 grants / $2,000

Gender Research Network$2,000

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Project Team

A/Prof Patricia Pender (Lead), Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan, Dr Xanthe Mallet, Dr Jessica Ford, Dr Kcasey McLoughlin and A/Prof Sara Motta

Scheme Strategic Network and Pilot Project Scheme
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2020
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

20191 grants / $1,500

Boosting C1 publication output$1,500

Funding body: School of Humanities and Social Science - Faculty of Education and Arts - The University of Newcastle

Funding body School of Humanities and Social Science - Faculty of Education and Arts - The University of Newcastle
Scheme Film, Media, Culture |
Role Lead
Funding Start 2019
Funding Finish 2019
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current7

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2020 PhD Fourth Wave Feminism & the Construction of Identity by Online Users PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2020 PhD "Supernatural is Ending, What am I Going to do?” The Real-World Consequences for Fans when a Fictional Reality Comes to an End PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2019 PhD A Study into Video Games and their Interrelationship with Artistic History and Literary Legacy PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2019 PhD The Creation and Effects of Mood and Atmosphere in Film upon the Viewing Experience PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2019 PhD Playing With Other People's Toys: Fanfiction and the Commodification of Sexuality PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2018 PhD The Game of Survival: The Adaptation of Classical Greco-Roman Mythology in Videogames PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2016 PhD Hella Queer: Lesbian Representation in Contemporary Comics PhD (Cultural Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
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Dr Jessica Ford

Position

Lecturer
SLEW
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Contact Details

Email jessica.ford@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5175
Fax N/A
Link Twitter

Office

Room W227.4
Building Behavioral Sciences (W)
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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