This discussion contributes to the ongoing debates regarding the (re)sexualisation of female bodies in popular and visual culture. Visual texts display the upper middle-class white female as the carrier of mainstream neo-liberal values in Western societies, and the success of this approach is the twinning of the culture of individualism, self-interest and market values with feminist vocabularies; namely, choice, freedom and independence. Drawing on a broad feminist scholarship that includes discussions on the influence of the HBO series Sex and the City, semiotic analysis is combined with intersectionality to gain an understanding of how gender, class and sexuality shape and reinforce whiteness as entitled to luxury in an advertising campaign for Michael Kors luxury goods. Contemporary representations have expanded to include representations of affluent women who appear to have it all. These new post-feminist subjectivities promote an aesthetic of wealth, to display privileged whiteness, heterosexuality, normative Western beauty ideals and individualism. An intersectional approach reveals the apparent neutrality of neo-liberal values as being an expression of whiteness, specifically in representations of white women as economically independent neo-liberal subjects who display their status through the conspicuous consumption of luxury brands.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Images of the Michael Kors Spring 2015 campaign can be accessed via this link: http://destinationkors.michaelkors.com/runway/ad-campaigns/spring-2015-4/ [last accessed 30 March 2015].
In Season 4, in the episode Just Say Yes, Carrie Bradshaw realises that she has spent US$40, 000 on designer shoes. In that episode she asks herself ‘whether she might actually become “the old woman who lives in her shoes” ’ (Gennaro, 2007, p. 255).
In Sex and the City I (2008), the African American actor and singer Jennifer Hudson was cast as Carrie Bradshaw’s personal assistant. Although casting Hudson in the film was a welcomed departure from an all-white cast, her character Louise was still on the margins of the plot.
The Vagenda website can be accessed via this link: http://vagendamagazine.com/ [last accessed 29 March 2015].
What Not to Wear (BBC Television) was presented by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, 10 Years Younger (Channel 4) was presented by Nicki Hambleton-Jones and Cook Yourself Thin (Channel 4) was presented by Gizzi Erskine.
The Office for National Statistics’ data on lone parents with dependent children can be accessed via this link: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2011/sum-lone-parents.html [last accessed 30 March 2015].
See Brockes (2013) for an interview with Sheryl Sandberg.
For example, ‘it is estimated that 300,000 care workers are on zero-hours contracts’ (Campbell, 2013, p. 9).
Reviews for the film I Don’t Know How She Does It can be accessed via this link: http://www.theguardian.com/film/movie/143372/i-don-t-know-how-she-does-it [last accessed 10 March 2015].
Alvarez, S.E., 2014. Ambivalent engagements, paradoxical effects: Latin American feminists and the women’s movement and / in / against development. In C. Vershur, I. Guérin and H. Guétat-Bernard, eds. Under Development: Gender. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 211–235.
Anim-Addo, J., 2007. Touching the Body: History, Language and African-Caribbean Women’s Writing. London: Mango Publishing.
Arthurs, J., 2003. Sex and the city and consumer culture: remediating postfeminist drama. Feminist Media Studies, 3(1), pp. 83–98.
Atkinson, W., 2007. Beck, individualization and the death of class: a critique. The British Journal of Sociology, 58(3), pp. 349–366.
Barnett, E., 2014. An obsession with beauty is a sign of a declining culture. In S. McNamara, ed. (Re)Possessing Beauty: Politics, Poetics and Change. Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press.
Bartky, S.L., 1990. Femininity and Domination. New York: Routledge.
Beck, U. and Beck-Gernscheim, E., 2001. Individualization. London: Sage.
Berger, M.A., 2005. Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bhattacharyya, G., Gabriel, J. and Small, S., 2002. Race and Power. London: Routledge.
Bhattacharyya, G., 2011. Will these emergencies never end? Some first thoughts about the impact of economics and security crises on everyday life. In R. Gill and C. Scharff, eds. New Femininities Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 306–320.
Brady, K., 2015. Interviewed by Sophie Elmhirst. The Guardian, 7 March. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/07/karren-brady-interview-no-desire-to-become-an-mp [last accessed 30 March 2015].
Brockes, E., 2013. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: 'I want women to be paid more'. The Guardian, 15 March. Available online at http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/mar/15/facebook-sheryl-sandberg-lean-in [last accessed 27 March 2015].
Byrne, B., 2006. White Lives: The Interplay of ‘Race’ Class and Gender in Everyday Life. London: Routledge.
Butler, J., 2007. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.
Campbell, B., 2013. After neoliberalism: the need for a gender revolution. In S. Hall, D. Massey and M. Rustin, eds. After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto. In Soundings. A Journal of Politics and Culture. London: Lawrence and Wishart Publications.
Chambers, D., 2001. Representing the Family. London: Sage.
Cole, E.R. and Sabik, N.J., 2009. Repairing a broken mirror. Intersectional approaches to diverse women’s perceptions of beauty and bodies. In E.T. Berger and K. Guidroz eds. The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy Through Race, Class and Gender. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 173–192.
Collins, P.H., 1990. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Collins, P.H., 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment, 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.
Coward, R., 1984. Female Desire: Women’s Sexuality Today. London: Granada Publishing.
Craik, J., 1994. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. London: Routledge.
Davis, K., 2006. Beyond the female body. In P.D. Marshall, ed. The Celebrity Culture Reader. London: Routledge.
Dyer, R., 1997. White. London: Routledge.
Ehrenreich, B. and Hochschild, A.R., 2011. Global women. In N. Visvanathan, L. Duggan, N. Wiegersma and L. Nisonoff, eds. The Women, Gender & Development Reader, 2nd Edition. London: Zed Books, pp. 237–244.
Faludi, S., 1992. Backlash: The Undeclared War against Women. London: Vintage Press.
Ferber, A.L., 2007. Whiteness studies and the erasure of gender. Sociology Compass, 1(1), pp. 265–282.
Fiske, J., 1994. Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change. St Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Fraser, N., 2013. How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden—and how to reclaim it. The Guardian, 13 October. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/14/feminism-capitalist-handmaiden-neoliberal [last accessed 30 March 2015].
Garner, S., 2009. Empirical research into white racialized identities in Britain. Sociology Compass, 3(5), pp. 789–802.
Gennaro, S., 2007. Sex and the City: perpetual adolescence gendered feminine? Nebula, 4(1), pp. 246–275.
Genz, S., 2009. Postfeminities in Popular Culture. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gill, R., 2007. Postfeminist media culture: elements of a sensibility. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10, pp. 147–166.
Gill, R. and Scharff, C. eds., 2011. Introduction. New Femininities, Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–20.
Gilroy, P., 2001. Joined-up politics and postcolonial melancholia. Theory, Culture and Society, 18(2–3), pp. 151–167.
Goldberg, D.T., 1993. Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Hage, G., 1998. White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society. Annandale, NSW: Pluto.
Hall, S., 1996. What is this ‘black’ in black popular culture? In D. Morley and K. Chen, eds. Stuart Hall Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 468–478.
Hall, S., 2013. The Kilburn Manifesto: our challenge to the neoliberal victory. The Guardian, 24 April. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/24/kilburn-manifesto-challenge-neoliberal-victory [last accessed 26 September 2014].
Hennessey, R. and Ingraham, C. eds., 1997. Materialist Feminism. New York: Routledge.
Hobson, J., 2005. Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture. London: Routledge.
Hodge, L., 2014. How far to beautiful? Thinness, eating disorders and sexual trauma. In S. McNamara, ed. (Re)Possessing Beauty. Politics Poetics and Change. Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press.
hooks, b., 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
hooks, b., 2013. Dig deep: beyond lean in. The Feminist Wire, 28 October. Available at: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/17973/ [last accessed 30 March 2015].
Howells, R., 2003. Visual Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
I Don’t Know How She Does It, 2011. Film. Directed by Douglas McGrath. USA: Weinstein Company.
Jameson, F., 1998. Notes on globalization as a philosophical issue. In F. Jameson and M. Miyoshi, eds. The Cultures of Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Julkunen, R., 2010. Sukupuolen jarjestykset ja tasa-arvon paradoksit [The Orders of Gender and the Paradoxes of Equality]. Vastapaino: Tampere.
Kilbourne, J., 2000. Can’t Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. London: Touchstone.
Kim, L.S., 2001. ‘Sex and the single girl’ in postfeminism: the F word on television. Television New Media, 2, pp. 319–334.
Lawler, S., 1999. ‘Getting out and getting away’: women’s narratives of class mobility. Feminist Review, issue 63, pp. 3-24.
Little, B., 2013. Class and generation under neoliberalism. In S. Hall, D. Massey and M. Rustin, eds. After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto Soundings. A Journal of Politics and Culture. London: Lawrence and Wishart Publishers.
Lomnitz, C., 1994. Decadence in times of globalization. Cultural Anthropology, 9(2), pp. 257–267.
Lorde, A., 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.
McRobbie, A., 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism. London: Sage.
McRobbie, A., 2012. Post-feminism and beyond. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow, Forum. Available at: https://en.mocak.pl/post-feminism-and-beyond-angela-mcrobbie [last accessed 30 March 2015].
Mirza, H.S., 1992. Young Female and Black. London: Routledge.
Mirza, H.S., 1997. Introduction. In H.S. Mirza, ed. Black British Feminism: A Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 1–30.
Mirza, H.S. ed., 2008. Race, Gender and Educational Desire: Why Black Women Succeed and Fail. London: Routledge.
Mirza, H.S. and Joseph, C. eds., 2012. Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times: Research Educational Inequalities. London: Routledge.
Moody, K., 1997. Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy. London and New York: Verso.
Mulvey, L., 1975. Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Screen, 16(3), pp. 6–18.
Murray, J., 2012. Why I sent my child to a private school. The Guardian, 23 July. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jul/23/why-send-child-to-private-school [last accessed 30 September 2014].
Nemoto, K., 2009. Racing Romance: Love, Power, and Desire Among Asian American/ White Couples. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Parker, B., 2008. Sex and the City. Gendering Neoliberalism. PhD. University of Wisconsin.
Purcell, K. and Elias, P., 2009. Higher education expansion in the UK: the impact on graduate earnings and gender inequalities. Conference paper presented at 15th World Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association, 24–27 August. Sydney, Australia.
Radner, H., 2011. Neo-Feminist Cinema: Girly Films, Chick Flicks and Consumer Culture. London: Routledge.
Radner, H. and Stringer, R. eds., 2011. Feminism at the Movies: Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema. New York: Routledge.
Redmond, S., 2003. Thin white women in advertising: deathly corporeality. Journal of Consumer Culture, 3(2), pp. 170–190.
Redmond, S., 2013. Celebrity and the Media: Key Concepts in Media Studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sex and the City I, 2008. Film. Directed by Michael Patrick King. USA: New Line Cinema, Darren Star Publications in association with Home Box Office (HBO).
Sharpe, S., 1984. Double Identity: The Lives of Working Mothers. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Sheller, M., 2003. Consuming the Caribbean. From Arwaks to Zombies. London: Routledge Publishers.
Sherwood, J.H., 2009. The view from the country club: wealthy whites and the matrix of privilege. In E.T. Berger and K. Guidroz eds. The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy Through Race, Class and Gender. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 136–156.
Skeggs, B., 1997. Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage.
Skeggs, B., 2001. The toilet paper: femininity, class and mis-recognition. Women’s Studies International Forum, 24(3–4), pp. 295–307.
Skeggs, B., 2004. Class, Self, Culture. London: Routledge.
Thomas, D.A. and Clarke, K.M., 2006. Introduction: globalization and the transformations of race. In K.M. Clarke and D.A. Thomas, eds. Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Durham NC: Duke University Press, pp. 1–36.
Thornton Dill, B. and Kohlman, M.H., 2012. Intersectionality: a transformative paradigm in feminist theory and social justice. In S.N. Hesse-Biber, ed. Handbook of Feminist Research. London: Sage, pp. 154–174.
Törrönen, J. and Juslin, I., 2013. From genius of the home to party princess. Feminist Media Studies, 13(3), pp. 463–489.
Trepagnier, B., 1994. The politics of white and black bodies. Feminism and Psychology, 4(1), pp. 199–205.
Trouillot, M., 2001. The anthropology of the state in the age of globalization: close encounters of the deceptive kind. Current Anthropology, 42(1), pp. 125–138.
Tyler, K., 2012. Whiteness, Class and the Legacies of Empire: On Home Ground. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Walby, S., 2002. Feminism in a global age. Economy and Society, 31(4), pp. 533–557.
Walby, S., 2011. The Future of Feminism. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Walter, N., 2010. Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. London: Virago Press.
Wallop, J., 2013. I called in a private tutor to give my child a chance in the academic arms race. The Telegraph, 8 October. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10364395/Ive-called-in-a-private-tutor-to-give-my-child-a-chance-in-the-academic-arms-race.html [last accessed 22 September 2014].
Whelehan, I., 1995. Modern Feminist Thought: From the Second Wave to Post-Feminism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Wilkes, K., 2013. From the landscape to the white female body: representations of postcolonial luxury in contemporary tourism visual texts. In J.A. Lester and C. Scarles, eds. Mediating the Tourist Experience. From Brochures to Virtual Encounters. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing.
Winch, A. and Webster, A., 2012. Here comes the brand: wedding media and the management of transformation. Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 26(1), pp. 51–59.
Winch, A., 2013. Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wong, L.M., 1994. Di(s)-secting and dis(s)-closing ‘whiteness’: two tales about psychology. In K.K. Bhavanani and A. Phoenix, eds. Shifting Identities Shifting Racisms: A Feminism and Psychology Reader. London: Sage.
Wright, C., 2013. Understanding black attainment: policy and discourse, educational aspirations and resistance. Education Inquiry, 4(1), pp. 87–102.
About this article
Cite this article
Wilkes, K. colluding with neo-liberalism: post-feminist subjectivities, whiteness and expressions of entitlement. Fem Rev 110, 18–33 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2015.19