Roxane Gay, associate professor of English, understands
how elemental our attraction to pop culture can be. “We
want to see more complex, nuanced depictions of what it
really means to be whoever we are or were or hope to be,”
writes Gay in Bad Feminist, her widely praised, bestselling
essay collection. While her essays range from personal
experience to politics, they also focus on the ways in
which popular culture has shaped her as a person and
“Popular culture is really helpful for everyday women
thinking through what they desire, what they fantasize
about, and what they like,” suggests Halliday, because it
pushes our boundaries and asks us to question what we do
and don’t like—and why.
Owning our bodies
Many of these boundaries are related to our bodies, and
how they are interpreted by others. Is posting a naked
selfie simply a means to fame or a moment of strength
and comfort in one’s skin? “When we talk about women’s
agency over their bodies…I tend to steer towards
empowerment, and that women are conscious of their
bodies and what their bodies do,” says Halliday. “What
feminism tries to help us think through is the ability for
What made you think about feminism recently?
Chances are, something or someone has—because those
who advocate for the social, political, and economic
equality of the sexes have gained more space in our
collective consciousness lately.
Popular culture and consciousness
Beyoncé may be a recent and visible advocate for feminism,
but why do we care what artists and celebrities think about
it, anyway? “I tell my students all the time that popular
culture is about desire—it’s about fantasy,” says Aria
Halliday, a doctoral candidate in American Studies, citing
one of John Storey’s key ideas in his seminal work, Cultural
Theory and Popular Culture.
Halliday’s research in popular culture was inspired in
part by her own early studies of African American women
like poet Audre Lorde and politician Shirley Chisholm.
Each had experienced a defining moment in childhood that
inspired her activism, and Halliday wondered about the
ways that popular culture might have a similar influence.
“What do black women produce in a cultural context
that affects the ways that black girls understand identity
development?” she wondered.