Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Fixmer-Oraiz, Natalie

First Committee Member

Kang, Jiyeon

Second Committee Member

Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel

Third Committee Member

Havens, Timothy

Fourth Committee Member

Storrs, Landon


This dissertation develops the theoretical framework of “trainwreck feminism.” Forwarded by contemporary women in comedy like Mindy Kaling, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and Amy Schumer, trainwreck feminists adopt the trope of the trainwreck—excessive in need, sex, and madness—to demonstrate the disastrous consequences of growing up in postfeminist culture that both insists women are finally liberated and continues to police their choices. Engaging ongoing debates about whether postfeminism is over since feminism is becoming a status symbol for celebrities and public figures, I argue that postfeminism remains a powerful cultural force, and women in comedy are some of its most vocal critics. Trainwreck feminism exposes the misogyny at the core of postfeminist culture, while arguing that feminist activism is still needed. Trainwreck feminism is reflective of a larger rejection of postfeminist culture, a contradictory moment that celebrates feminism’s achievements while insisting the movement is outdated. Trainwreck feminism represents a larger re-politicization of feminism in pop culture.

Each chapter examines a different comic and the specific branch of postfeminism they undermine: Mindy Kaling and the postfeminist life cycle, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and commodity feminism, and Amy Schumer and choice feminism. Ultimately, these women imbue the trainwreck with true feminist potential, pointing a finger at postfeminist culture as a source of women’s madness. Because they are cautionary tales, trainwrecks can highlight the unspoken rules and expectations of femininity. While comedy can have a fairly nasty, depoliticizing relationship with feminism, often turning feminism into a lifestyle or label devoid of political activism, I argue that some contemporary comic texts are actively politicized, inspiring viewers to critique and change the world around them. They do so by appropriating particular vernacular rhetorics that appeal to younger, millennial audiences and using it to demonstrate how postfeminism has failed women. That is, each comic I examine leverages postfeminist sensibilities in order to critique and undermine them, engaging in a trainwreck feminism that highlights the contradictions, absurdities, and misogyny at the heart of postfeminist culture.


Comedy, Feminism, Popular Culture, Postfeminism, Trainwreck


xi, 270 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 268-270).


Copyright © 2018 Meg Tully

Available for download on Friday, July 03, 2020

Included in

Communication Commons