Academic Absurdity of the Week: It’s All About Us

Courtesy of the good people at Real Peer Review, herewith a dissertation from the University of Utah that you won’t want to miss:

“Wow, that bitch is crazy!”: Exploring gendered performances in leisure spaces surrounding reality television

by Spencer, Callie Cross, Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH, 2014, 202 pages


In Reality Bites Back, Jennifer L. Pozner states, “Women are bitches. Women are stupid. Women are incompetent at work and failures at home. Women are gold diggers. How do we know? Because reality TV tells us so.” Not only does reality TV shape what we think about the “way things are,” it also shapes how we think about and perform our own subjectivities, “who we are” as gendered, sexed, raced, classed humans. If the messages sent by reality TV are that women are incompetent, stupid, gold-digging bitches, what are women doing with those messages? Are we incorporating such messages, and writing them on our bodies? Repurposing them? Reproducing them? Actively and strongly resisting them? In other words, what is the work (on subjectivity production) of watching reality TV (watching other women being watched)?

The purpose of this dissertation was to take up that question by exploring the performative experiences of three women watching the 17th season of ABC’s The Bachelor. Using duoethnography, we explored how we challenged, (re)produced, assigned, and constructed gendered subjectivities both for ourselves and for each other through our performances within leisure spaces surrounding The Bachelor. In three layers of data-generative surveillance, we 1) videotaped ourselves watching the show; 2) publicly reflected about our experiences of watching the show in a blog (; and, 3) spent a weekend together watching the videotape of ourselves watching the show (a hyper-reflexive experience).

Within the blog, we provided a space for women to react to, critique, support, or decenter messages sent by the show and one another. As such, the blog enacted a political project in order to decenter norms of practice offering more possibilities for gendered performance. In addition to this public political project, the results of our study as presented in five articles within this dissertation provide a methodological contribution to the body of knowledge by exploring what it means to do “empowering” “collaborative” feminist research. The ways in which we performed gendered subjectivities in reaction to messages sent by The Bachelor were inextricably entangled with the ways in which we performed gendered subjectivities as collaborative researchers.

In other words, three women taped themselves watching TV, then talked about it afterward, and turned it into a Ph.D! Time to amend Socrates: the self-referential life is not worth living.

Footnote: The folks at Reel Peer Review take a lot of heat for giving wider exposure to the tendentiousness of so much academic output these days. But wouldn’t you think academics would want their work known by a larger public audience? The fact that they get angry when people read their abstracts (the underlying journal articles are usually even more unreadable) tells you something.