Rethinking Postfeminism (and maybe even recent Australian literary history): Australian Chick Lit as the Novel of Feminine Economies of Signs and Spaces

Presented by Dr Margaret Henderson

Date: Friday 5 October, 2018
Time: 3:00pm-4:00pm
Location: Digital Learning Space (Room 224, Level 2), Joyce Ackroyd Building (#37) 


Chick lit, the popular fiction genre that humorously narrates the love and work travails of a young(ish), relatively independent heroine, is typically seen as the postfeminist genre, “establishing the salient characteristics of postfeminism in the popular consciousness” (Gamble 63), most notably, conspicuous consumption, updated mores of heterosexual romance, and a contemporary female ambivalence regarding feminist freedoms. These qualities, along with chick lit’s talent for savvy marketing, has led to criticism, such as Beryl Bainbridge’s description of it as “a froth sort of thing” (2001), or Angela McRobbie’s use of Bridget Jones’ Diary as exemplifying postfeminism’s disavowal of feminism (2007). As part of a longer study of Australian postfeminist culture, this paper’s discussion of Australian chick lit, however, uncovers a more substantial form of the insubstantial, with implications for how we think about postfeminism and, to a lesser extent, recent Australian literary history.

This paper will historically contextualise chick lit in terms of the category of women’s writing, provide an overview of the characteristic features of Australian chick lit, and then discuss the local form of the genre as an updating of the working girl novel.

I argue that, in a dynamic we see repeated across Australian postfeminist culture, Australian chick lit seductively but not uncritically integrates the legacy and aftermath of second wave feminism into the neoliberal project, establishing a politically and historically significant literary genre that troubles the orthodoxies of postfeminism. Its humorous and relatively ethnically diverse narratives of female “cultural intermediaries”  (Bourdieu 1984, Featherstone 2007) perfectly capture Australia’s insertion into circuits of post-Fordist capitalism, termed by Scott Lash and John Urry as the economy of signs and space (4), and the special role allotted to women in these circuits. Australian chick lit, therefore, does more serious political and literary work than is usually granted.



Margaret Henderson is currently completing a study of Australian postfeminist culture, with Anthea Taylor, and a study of the American punk writer, Kathy Acker, both to be published by Routledge in 2018-19.  


Dr Marg Henderson


About Research Seminar and Workshop Series


School of Communication and Arts Research Seminar Series

The research seminar and workshop series occur each semester, each with a different topic and guest speaker from UQ or otherwise.

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Research Seminar - Tuning In with the Stethoscope in the Nineteenth CenturyDr Melissa Dickson (University of Birmingham)

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Friday, 29 April

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Negotiating balance of cultures among Chinese Australians to facilitate ageing well

A/Prof Shuang Liu

Friday, 13 May


Redefining crisis in museums: insider’s perspectives on digital engagement

Dr Caroline Wilson-Barnao, Craig Middleton (National Museum of Australia), and Lisa Enright

Friday, 3 June

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A journey through the Australian environmental movement ecosystem

Dr Robyn Gulliver

Friday, 10 June

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Digital Learning Space (Room 224, Level 2), Joyce Ackroyd Building (#37)