HELLIONS: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women

by Jacquelyn Lewis

Raha deftly surfs across dense waves of women’s history to address the glimmers of feminist rebellion therein.

Maria Raha, author of the 2004 book Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground, has once again written an excellent, feminist pop-culture primer. Contradicting the stereotypical notion that feminist critics look only to pop culture for images to criticize, in Hellions, Raha instead singles out role models to celebrate in film, TV, popular music, and literature since the early 20th century. In the process, she makes a compelling and highly readable case for her assertion that “without robust models of rebellion that we embrace in mainstream culture, young girls are far less likely to explore their own, self-defined, diverging paths.”
Raha’s own path to this argument opens with a well-intended summary of the male rebel in pop culture, whose simultaneous appeal and danger for female fans she rightfully wishes to acknowledge, but which ultimately comes across as rambling and repetitive. Hang in there, though: once Raha starts cooking on the book’s real subject, she hits her stride. From Mae West to Sarah Michelle Gellar, Billie Holliday to Beth Ditto, Virginia Woolf to Judy Blume, Raha deftly surfs across dense waves of women’s history to address the glimmers of feminist rebellion therein, even as she refuses to downplay many of these same women’s questionable choices, self-destructiveness, or even outright antifeminism. While readers already familiar with more focused and scholarly studies on the subject may find Hellions too general a history, those interested in a starting point for their own research on feminism and popular culture could ask for no better or more sophisticated an introduction.

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