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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Desirée de Jesus, Film and Moving Image Studies

Precarious Girlhood: Problematizing Reconfigured Tropes of Feminine Development in Post-2009 Recessionary Cinema

Date & time

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Room LB 6549-4

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Following the 2008 Global Recession, there was a significant change in the cinematic depiction of at-risk girls and the telos of their girlhood development. Unlike films released between 2000 and 2008, about girls engaging in risky behavior or rendered vulnerable by difficult circumstances, these new representations failed to offer recuperative conclusions showing the protagonists reflecting on lessons learned or disavowing their dangerous involvements. Rather, this new body of films about at-risk girlhood portrayed girls who appeared to be empowered but were unable to overcome their precarious positioning and achieve appropriate adult femininity.

Identifying this trend in post-2009 recessionary festival films from the United States, Canada, France, Peru, and China, this dissertation performs dialogical textual analyses of similarly themed works about precarious girlhood development. This work looks closely at relationships between worsening inequalities under neoliberalism and the ideology’s increased emphases on individual responsibility and the cultivation of resilience and flexibility. At the same time, it examines how this interrelationship reconfigures the significant roles that mother/daughter relationships, domestication, consumption and female best friendship traditionally play in girls’ enculturation into adult femininity onscreen. Using an intersectional feminist phenomenological approach, this project pursues two lines of inquiry investigating the emergence of new feminine subjectivities within late modern and recessionary risk environments: firstly, how these marginalized girls understand and navigate their precarity, and secondly, how the girls’ self-understanding changes as they fail to achieve traditional markers of successful feminine development.

Concentrating on similarities between postfeminism and neoliberal governmentality, each chapter examines how a subset of similarly themed films interrogate the notion that success and failure are solely the results of individual choices and efforts. The first chapter explores the reconfigured mother/daughter relationships in La teta asustada (Claudia Llosa, 2009, Spain/Peru) and Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Jeff Barnaby, 2013, Canada), two films about Indigenous girls whose close involvements with their mothers’ corpses mediate their healing from intergenerational trauma and their subject formation. The second chapter examines the reimagining of the symbolic value of the notion of “home” and the process of domestication in three American independent films about economic and housing precarity: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009, USA), Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010, USA), and Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012, USA). The third chapter analyzes how the disordered consumption patterns of the lead female characters in Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012, USA/France), Bande de filles (Céline Sciamma, 2014, France), and Guo chun tian (Bai Xue, 2018, China) reconfigure the roles of best friendship and the makeover in girlhood development. Given the pedagogical function of neoliberal postfeminist media targeted primarily at female audiences, each chapter also argues that this dynamic is entangled with the heuristic purposes of the coming-of-age narrative, thus offering the implied female spectators opportunities to cultivate traits that are related to the films’ reconfiguration of traditional, heteronormative tropes of feminine development.

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