Feminist Theory in Media

A Feminist Media Critique of “American Horror Story: Coven”

By: Jamie Goetz

Feminist Theory - As Applied to Media

  • Goal: Critique media’s relationship with gender equality and representation
  • Focuses on: Media’s portrayals of men and women and visuals of media such as male gaze

American Horror Story: Coven

  • Seen as one of the most “feminist” seasons of the show
  • It only goes so far and barely scratches the surface of feminism, as well as promoting false ideas about what feminism actually is
  • 3 issues with it: white feminism, female empowerment at the expense of men and male gaze

White Feminism

  • Second wave feminism-esque
  • Excludes minority women
  • Doesn’t deep dive into gender issues
  • Example: the pay gap. White feminism is appalled by the pay gap, but fails to recognize how much larger that gap is for minority women.

Female Empowerment at the Expense of Men

  • Feminism = men and women are equal. It does NOT promote the idea that women should have more rights than men.
  • Putting men down is not feminism, bringing women up to where men are is feminism
  • Promotes false ideas and misconceptions about what feminism is

The Male Gaze

  • Objectifying women by having the visual narrative seen through a male’s eyes
  • Unrealistic standards are set
  • Perspective of white cis straight male

As media continues to dominate television sets, movie theaters, blogs, screens and anything else it could possibly present itself on, it has to be held accountable for its representation and depiction of the genders and races it portrays. Feminist theory aims to observe and critique media’s relationship with gender equality and representation by expanding the core values and beliefs of feminism into media’s realm and determining its ability to be seen as feminist media. Feminist theory not only evaluates media’s portrayals of men and women, but additionally focuses on the visuals of media, such as the male gaze, that can attribute to attitudes, prejudices, and stereotypes that feminism is designed to counteract. When I applied this theory, I decided to critique “American Horror Story: Coven”, a television season that is largely seen as being one of the most feminist seasons in the show’s history. While the show itself does do a better job of being for inclusive, it also has a long way to go before it can be considered feminist media. The three main issues I found were that Coven was guilty of white feminism (a type of feminism that excludes minorities and doesn’t really deep dive into gender issues), female empowerment at the expense of men (which creates misconceptions about what feminism stands for), and the male gaze (objectifying women and having the visual narrative of the show be seen through a male’s eyes). Through Coven’s use of white feminism, female empowerment at the expense of men, and constant male gaze, the core of feminist values is misrepresented, radicalized and challenged by the very system which claims to defend it.