Rebels With A Cause: How Women Put James Dean To Shame


British blog The F Word reviews Maria Raha’s Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women, and concludes that “loner” white guys aren’t the only rebels — and they may not be rebels at all.

Raha says that white men who fit the James Dean/Marlon Brando archetype “don’t have to risk as much to be defiant. White male rebellion can be accepted as openly and enthusiastically as it is, precisely because it upholds the current power structure.” “Not so for women,” explains F Word reviewer Michelle Wright. She says,

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.

Raha’s book uses examples from Angela Davis to Bettie Page to show, in Wright’s words, how “rebel women challenge(d) the white patriarchal definition of rebellion.” “The main strength of Raha’s argument,” according to Wright, “lies in her understanding of rebellion as something that doesn’t just reside with the individual (as per the male rebel icons), but as something at its most potent and subversive when it involves a collective questioning of, and acting out against, the oppressive and discriminatory attitudes and structures of society in order to drive social change.”

It’s an interesting assertion, but not an entirely complete one. Later in the review, Wright criticizes Raha for her prescriptive ideal of female behavior, one that requires us to be “loud and rebellious.” Wright says, “just because a woman may choose not to shout with abandon, doesn’t mean she isn’t rebelling. We each have our own voices, and those that aren’t the loudest aren’t always the least assured.”

If women can rebel quietly as well as loudly, can’t we rebel individually as well as together? Do we really need to strengthen the stereotype that men are individual while women are collective, that female power has to be group power? We get that it’s necessary to challenge the James Dean archetype by promoting different — and less isolating — forms of rebellion, but wouldn’t the ultimate victory to make all forms of rebellion available to women as well as men, rather than simply anointing as “most potent” the form that currently seems most female-friendly? But of course, if we made the world truly safe for rebellion, there would be no more rebels.

Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women [The F Word]

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