'Why were we all writing like this now?' Social Media Feminism, Genre, and Contemporary Women's Fiction and Television

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract Against a backdrop of feminist movements and cultural texts shaped by social media, this thesis argues that certain literary and televisual texts—in particular those by young women writers and directors—take on formal, stylistic, and tonal features associated with social networking platforms as a means of signalling and engaging with contemporary feminist discourses and concerns. Through sustained close reading of a diverse range of contemporary texts, alongside extra-textual material—such as reviews, responses on social media, news stories, and cultural essays—I aim to show that these texts are not only about social media, or posted on social media, but that they are also formally constituted by social media. My work offers an analysis of the implications of a feminism that moves primarily as an aesthetic category in a networked world in which texts, both online and off, are increasingly shaped by their interaction with and in relation to social media.             Building on Lauren Berlant’s (2008) work on genres of femininity, this contribution to feminist and literary scholarship suggests that the formal features of social media, as they are engaged online and in literary and televisual texts, produce feminism as genre. Genre is understood here as both an aesthetic category and a set of shared expectations regarding a text: the way that it looks, what it will address, and how it will unfold. I expand on Berlant’s work by exploring what is at stake in the move from genres of femininity to genres of feminism. To do so, I draw from a variety of scholars on the subject of genre (Frow 2015; Giltrow & Stein 2009), the body and technology (Haraway 1991; Hayles 1999), and feminism (Banet-Weiser 2018; Fileborn & Loney-Howes 2019; Vance 1989), and social media (boyd 2010; Landert 2017; Edmond 2019).             The thesis is organised into four chapters, each focusing on a set of primary texts. The first examines Instagram poetry and photography by Rupi Kaur. I demonstrate how Kaur and her successful Instagram and poetry career are paradigmatic of the ways social media shape literary production and feminist discourse. Chapter Two explores how the language and modes of reading associated with social media are drawn into the fabric of texts not published on social networking platforms. Via a discussion of no one is talking about this (2021) by Patricia Lockwood and Look at Me (2001) and “Black Box� (2012) by Jennifer Egan, I examine the relationship between the body, feminism and digital technologies. Chapter Three interrogates how Lauren Oyler’s novel Fake Accounts (2021) reproduces texts from a variety of sources in a manner imitative of social media. In this way, the novel appears to reproduce the sharing dynamics of social media at the same time as it imposes various limitations on this sharing. I ask who is invited to share and see themselves and their politics represented in this text and suggest that the ‘feminism’ that emerges here is latently white and middle class. The final chapter examines Michaela Coel’s television series, I May Destroy You (2020). I argue that the series’ use of social media forms is often disruptive of the pleasures produced by genre, and these disruptions call the viewer’s attention to the limitations of a social media feminism and gesture towards where these limits might be tested. There is a clear relationship between social media, feminism, and contemporary fictional texts. In exploring this relationship, this thesis argues, it is possible to understand feminism as genre and the possibilities, limitations, and ramifications of a political movement circulating as an aesthetic category.  
Date of Award1 Aug 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJacqueline Stacey (Supervisor) & Kaye Mitchell (Supervisor)


  • sexual violence
  • contemporary women's fiction
  • television
  • feminism
  • genre
  • social media
  • women's fiction

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