student profile: Ms Georgia Monaghan


Thesis work

Thesis title: The 'Second Sex' and the City: Spectacle and The New Woman in New York City, 1880 - 1915 AND Dreamland: a novel

Supervisors: Matthew SUSSMAN

Thesis abstract:

Twenty-first century American life is dominated by spectacle. Whether that spectacle takes the form of celebrity culture, reality television, 3D cinematic blockbusters, social media platforms or the spectacle of presidential politics, as Douglas Kellner has argued in Media Spectacle (2003), the United States has witnessed the triumph of the spectacle as the central organising principle of its economy, politics, society, culture and even consciousness. The 2016 presidential campaign demonstrated the continuing significance of spectacle to the status of women in the twenty-first century. A campaign season that witnessed the United States’ first female presidential candidate of a major party also featured an opponent who wondered whether she “looked” presidential enough to govern. Looking back to the beginnings of feminism, between 1880 and 1915, I assert that the idea of the New Woman was increasingly expressed in visual and spectacular terms. The New Woman became an image, an icon, a visual representation of new womanhood. Giving evidence from New York City illustrated magazines and journals that proliferated during this period, I argue that spectacle in the forms of pageantry, procession, fashion, signage, photography and illustration became an important factor in the construction of the New Woman phenomenon and an integral part of feminist ideology during the period of first wave feminism. Suffragists employed visual spectacle to express and achieve their politically progressive aims as well as to construct their identities as New Women. The New Woman came to be understood largely as a pictorial representation rather than a movement based on Enlightenment principles. Rational argument and debate were largely replaced by persuasive techniques based on image and spectacle. The New Woman and the women’s suffrage movement ultimately become a thing to be displayed, marketed, commodified and spectacularised. At the new President’s first address to Congress in March of this year, female Democrats wore suffragette white to oppose attempts to roll back women’s progress, demonstrating that in 2017 the “woman question” is still being framed in visual and spectacular terms. Looking forward, my thesis questions whether twenty-first century feminism should continue to embrace spectacle as a method for achieving its goals.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.