The Unruly Woman

[ Film, Media, and Popular Culture ]

The Unruly Woman

Gender and the Genres of Laughter

By Kathleen Rowe

How the unruly woman uses humor and excess to undermine patriarchal norms and authority.



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6 x 9 | 282 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-77069-0

Unruly women have been making a spectacle of themselves in film and on television from Mae West to Roseanne Arnold. In this groundbreaking work, Kathleen Rowe explores how the unruly woman—often a voluptuous, noisy, joke-making rebel or "woman on top"—uses humor and excess to undermine patriarchal norms and authority.

At the heart of the book are detailed analyses of two highly successful unruly women—the comedian Roseanne Arnold and the Muppet Miss Piggy. Putting these two figures in a deeper cultural perspective, Rowe also examines the evolution of romantic film comedy from the classical Hollywood period to the present, showing how the comedic roles of actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, and Marilyn Monroe offered an alternative, empowered image of women that differed sharply from the "suffering heroine" portrayed in classical melodramas.

Introduction: Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter

Part One: The Unruly Woman
1. Pig Ladies, Big Ladies, and Ladies with Big Mouths: Feminism and the Carnivalesque
2. Roseanne: The Unruly Woman as Domestic Goddess

Part Two: Female Unruliness in Narrative Cinema
3. Narrative, Comedy, and Melodrama
4. Romantic Comedy and the Unruly Virgin in Classical Hollywood Cinema
5. Professor-Heroes and Brides on Top
6. Dumb Blondes
7. Masculinity and Melodrama in Postclassical Romantic Comedy

Afterword: Shape-Shifting
Works Cited

A former newspaper reporter and editor, Kathleen Rowe teaches film studies at the University of Oregon, where she is Professor of English.

". . . extremely provocative and fresh . . . it will be very valuable in the areas of film studies, television studies, and popular culture, but should also have application in other allied fields such as literature, cross-cultural studies, and theater, among others."
—Patricia Brett Erens, editor, Issues in Feminist Film Criticism

"A smart, sassy look at big ladies (Roseanne), pig ladies (Miss Piggy) and all the murderous Medusas, big mouths, and lusty broads who led up to them, from Mae West and Katharine Hepburn to Thelma and Louise. . . . Rowe's investigation of the forms and function of comedy offers a new angle of vision, one with bite."
Women's Review of Books

Emily Toth Award, 1995

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