Pop feminism and its failures have come under scrutiny in a recent book co-edited by RMIT’s Dr Meagan Tyler.
A Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the School of Management, Tyler’s work examines feminist theory, sexuality and violence against women, with the aims of challenging and changing social constructions and preconceptions.
Her recent book Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism (Connor Court, 2015) examines the rise of pop feminism, taking on topics ranging from pornography and forced marriage to sexual violence and sex trafficking, to argue that this kind of feminism does little to challenge the status quo.
What is your current research focus?
My research focuses on feminist theory, gender inequality and sexuality. There are two main strands to my current research, one is analysing the construction of women’s inequality and sexual violence, particularly in the prostitution and pornography industries, and the other is looking at the gendered nature of organisations.
What’s your goal - what do you seek to learn?
Recently, I’d noticed a change happening in feminist groups in the UK, North America and Australia. Many young women were reclaiming the concept of a women’s liberation movement through collective action. I wanted to know what was going on.
Last year I teamed up with a law tutor, Miranda Kiraly, and we commissioned a collection of works – most by young feminists – taking in different perspectives on the limits of reducing feminism to a debate about individual choice. The final product was Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism.
Tell us a bit about your recent book and what you and your contributing authors attribute to this rise in pop feminism – and what it lacks?
The book was born from a frustration many contributors felt with what passes for feminist analysis in the mainstream media.
On the one hand, it is great that feminist ideas are being talked about more widely; however feminism is being reduced to debates about personal choice rather than being recognised as a social and political movement for women's liberation.
There are a range of perspectives in the book, but what unites them all is an understanding that uncritically celebrating choice leaves structural inequalities unchallenged and unchanged.
What is your approach in your work?
My work primarily focuses on structural inequality. As is the case for most researchers analysing gender, my work is also multidisciplinary.
Explain the impact of your research - who will it affect and how?
One of the great things about working with young feminist activists and early career academics is being able to provide a place for their voices to be heard.
Helping to publish the work of these women has already led to new contacts and networks being formed across different institutions in Australia and internationally. We hope it inspires many more.
What drew you to this specific field?
An understanding that inequality is a social construction that can be challenged and changed.
How has your work developed over the years?
I’ve become much more adaptable. While I started my career looking at pornography and sex therapy, my research with the Centre for People, Organisation and Work has led me to explore everything from masculinity, rurality and bushfire, to household divisions of labour and economic restructuring in regional Victoria.
Have there been any unexpected outcomes from your research? How did this come about?
Yes, many. From finding that the mainstream pornography industry is proud to market content containing sexual violence, to discovering that experiences of bushfire preparation and response are heavily gendered, there are plenty of times that the process of research has surprised me.
What has been the proudest moment in your research career so far?
A couple of years ago, I gave a paper at a big industry conference about the gendered nature of rural fire services and women’s experiences of bushfire in Australia, based on a large Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre grant.
Afterwards, there was literally a queue of women waiting to shake my hand and the Chief Officer of the CFA came and sought me out. The moment when you realise that your research is really having an impact, that is an amazing moment.