Why are white, young, male ‘rebels’ celebrated and revered in pop culture, while women who push against society’s sexist and racist norms are marginalised and dismissed? Michelle Wright reviews a book which brings to light stories of the female rebel
What does a rebel look like? What constitutes rebellion? Mainstream Western pop culture designates it male; it’s him sticking it to The Man with a rugged, surly independence. And because it’s embodied in the white man, his rebellion is revered.
Not so for rebel women. Our rebellion is punished and discouraged, made invisible and deemed unnatural. Our protests against The Man are labelled ‘shrill’, our independence read as selfishness, as failure to comply with the feminine nurturing norm. We’re best off when secondary to the rebel boy his sex object, the damsel in distress he saves, the stable and self-sacrificing homemaker who gives him refuge when he tires of his wild, wandering ways.
Clearly, these potent pop-cultural images need exposing for the sexist and conservative – hence, distinctly non-rebellious – messages they send. Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women by Maria Raha does just that.
Raha points out how deeply gendered our notions of rebellion are, and sets out a convincing case for the dominant, and most lauded, representation, the ‘loner rebel male’, to be wrested away and re-defined to acknowledge women’s rebellion against white patriarchal society’s expectations of them.
She excavates the annals of pop culture to provide us with diverse examples of rebel women from film, television, music, politics and literature, dismantling patriarchal pop culture’s treatment of them, and reinstating them as icons and inspiration that can fuel further female rebellion.