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The Unruly Woman

The Unruly Woman
Gender and the Genres of Laughter

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

Series: Texas Film and Media Studies

April 1995
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282 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 b&w photos |

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.


Emily Toth Award, 1995
Popular Culture/American Culture Association Women's Caucus

  • Acknowledgments
  • 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
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

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


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