Dr Jessica Ford
School of Humanities and Social Science
- Phone:(02) 4921 5175
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
- Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle
- Cultural Studies
- Film Studies
- Media Studies
Fields of Research
|190204||Film and Television||50|
|200205||Culture, Gender, Sexuality||25|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Lecturer||University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|1/8/2012 - 1/12/2017||Casual Academic||UNSW
School of the Arts & Media
|1/1/2016 - 31/12/2016||Postgraduate Teaching Fellow||UNSW
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
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|
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Chapter (6 outputs)
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]
|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]|
|Show 3 more chapters|
Journal article (5 outputs)
Ford J, 'Women s indie television: the intimate feminism of women-centric dramedies', Feminist Media Studies, 19 928-943 (2019) [C1]
Ford J, Macrossan P, 'The musical number as feminist intervention in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend', Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 8 55-69 (2019) [C1]
|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]|
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.
|Show 2 more journal articles|
Review (1 outputs)
Ford J, 'The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century, Kevin McDonald and Daniel Smith-Rowsey (eds) (2016) (2019)
Conference (1 outputs)
|2019||Ford J, 'Tele-feminist authorship in the age of popular feminisms', UNSW Sydney (2019)|
Other (9 outputs)
|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]|
|Show 6 more others|
Report (2 outputs)
|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)|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||2|
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|
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|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20191 grants / $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 ||
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
Number of supervisions
|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|
Dr Jessica Ford
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts