Framing the #MeToo Movement: Post-feminism, True Crime, and Megyn Kelly Today
Kathy Cacace / University of Texas at Austin


Megyn Kelly Today debuted in 2017 and has become a hub for NBC’s coverage of the #MeToo movement

Television journalist Megyn Kelly is not a feminist. She has been emphatic about this point in several media interviews and dwells on it at length in her 2016 memoir Settle for More. In addition to characterizing feminism a “zero-sum game” that demands women’s rights at the expense of men, she calls the contemporary feminist movement “exclusionary and alienating.” Why dwell on “divisive issues” like abortion, she asks, when women could “do better simply to unite on female empowerment?” [ (( Megyn Kelly, Settle for More (New York: HarperCollins, 2016), 194-5.))] This ethic of general female boosterism sans politics is key to Kelly’s worldview. It is also a critical component of Angela McRobbie’s theorization of post-feminism and its focus on “female achievement predicated not on feminism, but on ‘female individualism,’ on success which seems to be based on the invitation to young women by various governments that they might now consider themselves free to compete in education and in work as privileged subjects of the new meritocracy.” [ (( Angela McRobbie, “Post-feminism and popular culture,” Feminist Media Studies 4, no. 3 (2004): 258.))]

Megyn Kelly Today, a talk show nested within NBC’s long-running morning news program Today and which debuted chaotically in 2017, is suffused with this post-feminist world view. Given particular industrial factors, it also relies on the true crime genre as a hook for its desired audience of young female viewers. Kelly’s dogged coverage of the #MeToo movement—loosely defined by the scope of relevant segments as the wave of sexual assault and misconduct allegations that swept through Hollywood in 2017—represents a unique confluence of post-feminism and true crime with potentially damaging ends. [ (( Though Kelly’s coverage links #MeToo to the outcry against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, and other high-profile personalities, it is important to note that movement dates back to 2006. The “me too” concept and related activism were the brainchild of Tarana Burke and initially aimed to support survivors of color in low-wealth communities.))]

Promotional image for Settle for More

A promotional image for Kelly’s memoir Settle for More

Throughout Settle for More, Kelly presents workplace sexism as a systemic problem best addressed by individualized, not systemic, solutions. If a manager does not take a female employee seriously because of the high timbre of her voice, Kelly suggests “voice training; there is no better way to be instantly dismissed—other than bad wardrobe or makeup choices—than to sound like a child when you talk.” [ (( Kelly, Settle for More, 64. ))] Reflecting on her time as a lawyer, Kelly recalls an instance when her male co-counsel used her attractive physique as an enticement for a older male judge to grant their case a preferential trial date. She “could have taken offense,” but instead “was content to be offered up to this judge like a shiny toy before a distracted baby to get what my client wanted.” [ (( Kelly, Settle for More, 96. ))] Perhaps most directly, Kelly describes her faith in a post-feminist meritocracy when explaining her credo:

My feeling on the subject of women’s equality is that it’s better to show than tell. I believe in the Steve Martin mantra, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” …When it comes to living this just-be-better philosophy, Oprah is my role model. In her years coming up, she never made a “thing” of her gender or her race. She just wowed us all. That’s my goal: do the absolute best I can, and don’t waste time complaining. The less time talking about our gender, the better. [ (( Kelly, Settle for More, 210-11. ))]

Leaving aside her erroneously colorblind characterization of Oprah Winfrey’s career, Settle for More attempts to justify its emphasis on these “just-be-better” solutions to systemic misogyny with the revelation that Kelly did file a sexual harassment complaint against Fox News president Roger Ailes, later ousted and now deceased. While I do not wish to downplay the seriousness of her experience and the bravery of any woman who reports such harassment to her employer, it is important to note that Kelly frames even this clearly gendered experience in terms of self-management and individual responsibility. A woman who is harassed at work “needs to remember that no is an available answer. Roger [Ailes] tried to have me, and I didn’t let him. I got out of his office with my self-respect intact even if I felt demeaned.” [ (( Kelly, Settle for More, 313. ))] Further, in relation to her television program, I contend that Megyn Kelly Today strategically deploys this experience to question, police, and reframe other women’s stories of sexual abuse.

A quick industrial analysis illuminates the relationship between Megyn Kelly Today and the true crime genre, which in turn colors how the program covers stories of sexual misconduct. Entertainment trade publications scrutinized Kelly’s bumpy 2016 move from conservative Fox News, where she hosted their highest-rated news program The Kelly File, to NBC, a more mainstream broadcast network. At Fox, Kelly enjoyed a reputation as something of an independent voice on a partisan news network; she notably challenged then-candidate Donald Trump on his history of sexist tweets during a 2015 presidential debate, and Variety credits her rise at Fox to “questioning conservative stalwarts ranging from Dick Cheney to Senator Rand Paul.” However, her jump to ostensibly nonpartisan NBC highlighted Kelly’s history of racially biased reporting, including sensational coverage of the New Black Panther party and an infamous piece in which she insisted both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. Slate’s political reporter Jamelle Bouie, reflecting on her career as she moved to NBC, went so far as to call her a racial demagogue.

Given this new scrutiny on her past reporting and following a series of missteps in her early shows (most notably grilling Jane Fonda about her plastic surgery), Megyn Kelly Today found it difficult to secure celebrity guests. It is my assertion that without this morning show staple, alternative formats like the true crime story became the means to fill the hour with television that is compelling to viewers that “skew younger and female.” Representative true crime segments on Megyn Kelly Today include “Survivors of Columbine and Colorado theater shootings tell their stories,” “Meet the man who discovered his grandfather was a prolific serial killer,” and “‘Golden State Killer’ victim speaks out on Megyn Kelly TODAY: ‘I am grateful to be alive.’” Following Laura Browder’s dissection of true crime generic conventions, these segments are to be enjoyed “not for plot, but for detailed descriptions, and for their linear analyses of what went wrong.” [ (( Laura Browder, “True Crime,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction, ed. Catherine Nickerson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 225. ))]

Megyn Kelly interviews Van Barnes

Kelly interviews Van Barnes, who accused actor Jeffrey Tambor of sexual misconduct

Kelly’s Today hour has become NBC’s de facto home for coverage of the #MeToo movement and, crucially, a typical Kelly interview with an accuser follows the true crime generic conventions Browder identifies. For example, the video of Kelly’s interview with Jeffrey Tambor accuser Van Barnes is titled “Tambor accuser details her allegations of sexual misconduct.” While a more holistic story might consider Barnes’ biography, her experience as a transgender woman working in Hollywood, or even her well-being after Tambor’s alleged misconduct, I contend that Kelly uses true crime framing to keep the nearly seven-minute segment zeroed in on the titular “details” of Barnes’s allegations.

The true crime conventions of Kelly’s #MeToo segments when combined with a post-feminist framing can have troubling discursive consequences. I want to briefly visit a portion of Kelly’s December 2017 sit-down with actor Alec Baldwin to demonstrate the insidious mingling of these two factors.

This interview was conducted shortly after Baldwin published a handful of controversial statements on Twitter about the #MeToo movement. His tweets were read as a defense of actor Dustin Hoffman, who had been accused of past sexual harassment, and in them he attempts to define Hoffman, who “deserves forgiveness,” against Harvey Weinstein and other predators for whom we should “conserve our judgement.”

Kelly directs the conversation in two notable ways. First, in accordance with true crime storytelling, Kelly brushes aside the discussion of Hoffman’s alleged harassment in favor of discussing the more salacious details of Weinstein’s alleged crimes. She dwells, for example, on actress Rose McGowan’s corroborated assertion that Weinstein had ex-Mossad agents follow her around to report on her actions and whereabouts. Second, Kelly asserts her post-feminist ethos when she attempts to transition the conversation from allegations to solutions. She asks Baldwin what needs to change in Hollywood, and he somewhat clumsily references the tendency for men to speak over women in meetings and wonders if some sort of “quota” system might be implemented to make sure everyone gets to speak. Kelly interjects with the following advice:

“Men do do that, but—it’s a very effective tool, and I encourage all women to use it [raises her palm to Baldwin’s face]. I’m not finished. It works like a charm. My husband taught it to me. It comes easily to men, but now I’ve got it. [Raises her palm again.] I’m not done. And then just keep going. Okay, there you go, solved.”

I contend that Kelly’s tip for women is more than just a segue from one section of the segment to another. It is a post-feminist intervention akin to her repeated advice in Settle for More that demands women take individual responsibility for solving systemic misogyny. It is also colored by her own well-publicized experience with Ailes at Fox News, giving her guidance the authority of personal wisdom, not political spin—threads which can be easily teased apart in a post-feminist age. To declare that the problem, defined throughout the previous segment as violently predatory behavior, is “solved” by equipping women with a confident hand gesture places the onus on women to prevent their own assault and leaves open the possibility for blame when they cannot. The combination of true crime storytelling and post-feminist framing on Megyn Kelly Today thus skirts real solutions in favor of a discourse that threatens to reproduce the sort of predatory criminal behavior the genre, and programs that rely upon it, requires as fodder.

Image Credits:
1. Megyn Kelly Today
2. Facebook
3. NBC via YouTube
4. Megyn Kelly Today

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Into the Glow: Glossier’s Emily Weiss and Millennial Entrepreneurism
Elizabeth Affuso / Pitzer College


Mia Chae poses in mirror for selfie at Glossier store

Instagram influencer Mia Chae at the Glossier showroom [ (( @glossier. Instagram post. December 7, 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BcaCJdEB7dj/?taken-by=glossier. ))]

Since its launch in 2014, the Glossier makeup and skincare line has been synonymous with a particular type of millennial beauty ideal. With its millennial pink branding — connected to related trends such as #roseallday — Glossier embodies an effortless, dewy sort of beauty seeped in inclusive, commodity feminist logic. The direct-to-consumer brand has grown rapidly with its core millennial base thanks to an arsenal of well-established endorsers in social media spaces producing digital content such as #GetReadyWithMe videos on YouTube and #itgtopshelfie featurettes on Instagram. According to The Cut, “the Glossier aesthetic is sometimes described as makeup for people who are already pretty.” [ (( Amy Larocca. “The Magic Skin of Glossier’s Emily Weiss.” The Cut. January 9, 2018. https://www.thecut.com/2018/01/glossier-emily-weiss.html. ))] This ethos is very much in line with the discourse of flawless and #wokeuplikethis. Though these terms allude to an effortless beauty that just happens, they are also coded as terms that acknowledge work. Of flawless, Parul Seghal has written, “Something interesting happens when a word that suggests action is applied to beauty: It recasts beauty as something that can be done, pulled off — not just possessed. On Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, when “flawless” is used as praise, it implies a friendly interest in workmanship — in a brow arched just so, in contouring cream ingeniously applied, in effort and experimentation as much as the final effect.” [ (( Parul Sehgal, “How ‘Flawless’ Became a Feminist Declaration,” The New York Times, March 24, 2015. ))] Like flawless and #wokeuplikethis, the Glossier buyer is positioned as a young woman who looks dewy, radiant, and effortlessly beautiful, but who also has a deep knowledge of beauty brands and who puts in the work to maintain her face. As founder Emily Weiss explained in her brand intro, “Glossier begins with YOU, which is why our first products are all about letting your personality shine through…glowy, dewy skin.” [ (( Emily Weiss. “Introducing Glossier.” Into the Gloss. October 2014. https://intothegloss.com/2014/10/emily-weiss-glossier/. ))] The ideal Glossier consumer is thus constructed as a woman who is pretty and interesting.

Often this buyer is also an avid reader of Into the Gloss, Glossier’s sister blog, and has a working knowledge of the important brands and cult products of contemporary beauty culture. In its millennial pitch, Glossier attempts to reproduce at a lower cost an edited collection of products that riff on the cult products aspirationally shilled on Into the Gloss. For example, many celebrities and influencers featured on Into the Gloss tout the benefits of the Biologique Recherche P50 Lotion, an exfoliating product that retails for $67 for 5.1 ounces, while Glossier’s The Solution, a comparable facial toning product is $24 for 4.4 ounces, more than half the price per ounce cheaper. Of course, lower-end dupes are not new in the beauty industry, but what Glossier has successfully achieved is a model in which dupes feel special. From the pink bubble pouches to the phone stickers to the celebrity endorsements, Glossier products feel like the ones you want to have, not a substitution for something you can’t afford.

Instagram photo of sleek Glossier packaging

An example of a Glossier package unboxing from @glossier. The pink bubble pouches that come with every order have become a cult item with consumers repurposing them as makeup bags, pencil cases, and handbag organizers [ (( @glossier. Instagram post. January 5, 2015. https://www.instagram.com/p/xeYxQPvyUG/. ))]

If Into the Gloss provides the location for millennial consumers to learn what types of products they should be using for the most flawless skin—milky cleansers, plumping serums, exfoliating toners—than Glossier comes in to provide these types of products to consumers in a perfectly affordable, Instagram worthy package. The direct-to-consumer branding model thus creates a method whereby if you want to try a product you either have to chance it and order it or rely on your fellow consumers on social networking sites like YouTube or Instagram to review and report back. This structure embraces the crowdsourcing model so prevalent in digital culture, while also modeling a vibrant internet sales strategy for makeup and skincare that has also been pioneered by brands like Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics, moving further and further away from the department store makeup counter of yore.


A Glossier #GetReadyWithMe video featuring brand CEO Emily Weiss [ (( Glossier. “Get Ready With Me: Weekday Mornings feat. Emily Weiss + Glossier.” YouTube Video. January 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s4qlJLXDuc. ))]

The mastermind of the Glossier/Into the Gloss empire is 33-year-old CEO Emily Weiss. Weiss started Into the Gloss as a blog while working at Vogue in 2010 and quickly built up a cult following for features such as “The Top Shelf,” where celebrities and influencers are photographed in their homes—often their bathrooms—along with their products and a narrative of their beauty routines. Karlie Kloss, Liv Tyler, Naomi Watts, and Tavi Gevinson have been featured among many others since its inception. The routines are always couched in a logic of self-care ritual, and wellness is a big part of how they are imagined, not just by the subjects of “The Top Shelf,” but also by the robust community of commentators who provide suggestions and additional resources in the comments. Additionally, part of the appeal of Glossier is that it is a hugely successful direct-to-consumer internet brand borne out of a blog. This is the epitome of the postfeminist entrepreneurial desire that is so prevalent in contemporary culture, especially in a moment that fetishizes the side hustle for millennial workers.

Tavi Gevinson poses in her bathroom for Into the Gloss

An Into the Gloss “The Top Shelf” featuring actress and Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson [ (( “The Top Shelf: Tavi Gevinson.” Into the Gloss. April 2018. https://intothegloss.com/2018/04/tavi-gevinson-beauty-routine/. ))]

Weiss’s first exposure as an entrepreneurial celebrity came several years before her blog in a three-episode arc on season two of MTV’s The Hills in 2007. In her introduction in “One Big Interruption,” stars Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port are confronted with Weiss, a Vogue intern arrived from New York to embarrass Lauren Conrad with her superior knowledge of flowers and general air of sophistication. Weiss returned in two subsequent episodes, one to model Oscar dresses for a Vogue morning show segment (“Everybody Falls”) and the other to greet Whitney when she interviews for a permanent job at Teen Vogue in New York (“Goodbye for Now”). In all three of these episodes, Emily Weiss’s brunette hair, natural looking makeup, and air of East Coast sophistication stands in sharp contrast to the California blondeness of The Hills girls. She’s the effortless cool girl designed to make Whitney and Lauren seem authentically real in the narrative of reality TV, so that the audience knows that sometimes even reality TV stars feel inferior to their work colleagues. What’s striking about Weiss’s appearance now is how much she has already perfected the Glossier/Into the Gloss aesthetic even as an undergraduate at NYU and her ongoing success is very much in finding a way to package it into a relatable, achievable ideal for millennial women.

Emily Weiss and Lauren Conrad smile in a still from The Hills

Glossier CEO Emily Weiss (left) with Lauren Conrad on The Hills [ (( The Hills: The Complete Second Season. (2007; Hollywood, CA: MTV Networks, 2007), DVD. ))]

Glossier positions its natural, glowy, dewy beauty ideal as part of an empowerment logic for millennial consumers. This labor is part of a postfeminist discourse that Mary Celeste Kearney has noted, “may sound like the effects of straight-up patriarchy, the twist here is, within postfeminist logic, women are doing it for themselves rather than men. That is, we are agentically ‘choosing’ to participate and find pleasure for ourselves in the same consumer-driven, hyperfeminine, glamorized body projects long used to construct us as passive spectacles for the male gaze.” [ (( Mary Celeste Kearney, “Sparkle: luminosity and post-girl power media,” Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, Volume 29, Issue 2 (2015), 265. ))] The vision of Emily Weiss, 30-something CEO, helps drive Glossier’s commodity feminist message, and its girls doing it for themselves entrepreneurial spirit is a core part of the brand’s ideology. Not just in the products, but also in the female influencers and entrepreneurs featured on Into the Gloss and in Glossier’s digital content. A key part of the brand’s success is in the way it embodies the new discourse of self-care as an essential part of success in a 21st Century, neoliberal, 24/7 environment. In the words of Weiss herself, “happy is cool” and Glossier’s success is built on the idea that the best way to project this is via dewy, glowing skin you can purchase. [ (( Weiss. “Introducing Glossier.” ))]

Image Credits:
1. @glossier (author’s screenshot)
2. @glossier (author’s screenshot)
3. Into the Gloss (author’s screenshot)
4. The Hills: The Complete Second Season (author’s screenshot)

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The Labor of Transformation: Spaces of Feminine Imperfection in YouTube Makeup Tutorials
Elizabeth Affuso / Pitzer College

An “average” makeup tutorial on YouTube

With the proliferation of “how to” videos on YouTube, the make-up tutorial has sprung up as one of the most popular—and profitable—video forms. These videos provide detailed real-time instruction about how to create make-up looks that invite viewers to learn new skills via imitation. The mode of recording utilized by makeup tutorials creates an intimacy of space that is fostered not only by the intimacy of YouTube, but also by entering the domestic spaces of vloggers and sharing in the private act of putting on make-up. This exposure of private space via the digital serves as a exposé of the imperfect spaces of the domestic—both bodily and spatial—that is in contrast to the cultivated spaces of public perfection trafficked in places like Pinterest or on blogs like GOOP. In the tutorials, the exposé of labor on display serves to produce an expectation of labor by making perfection accessible to all by teaching viewers how to mask failure through makeup.

One of the central elements of YouTube’s online culture is the video blog or vlog. Of vlogs, Jean Burgess and Joshua Green have stated, “Not only is the vlog technically easy to produce, generally requiring little more than a webcam and basic editing skills, it is a form whose persistent direct address to the viewer inherently invites feedback.” [ (( Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, “The Entrepreneurial Vlogger: Participatory Culture Beyond the Professional-Amateur Divide,” in The YouTube Reader, eds. Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau (Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009) 89-107, 94. ))] This webcam—or increasingly mobile phone or digital camera—based mode of recording is inherently well suited for makeup tutorials as the frame provides a reflection akin to that of the mirror, creating a sort of screen mirror that allows viewers at home to easily follow along by setting their laptops or phones on their own vanities to mirror in their own mirrors what they see onscreen. The makeup tutorials invite viewers to learn new skills via imitation and privilege the peer-to-peer sharing that is a hallmark of the new media moment, where expertise has shifted from professional experts to amateurs.

Sam Chapman’s real-time makeup routine on YouTube

Makeup tutorials are typically longer than the average YouTube video unfolding in about 10 minutes or the real time it takes to complete a look on the assumption that viewers will be working along with the vlogger; pausing when more time is needed or playing back when they don’t catch something the first time. The structure of the videos also teaches viewers the appropriate order to apply make-up (base, eyes, cheeks, lip) and this consistency of structure allows for easy moving about the video for viewers who only want one part of the look. These videos cover a multitude of topics from how to perfect a smoky eye to how to solve “problems” such as acne or dark circles. Tutorial topics are often motivated by community feedback with viewers requesting tutorials from vloggers using the feedback functions that are built into YouTube, creating the intimacy that Burgess and Green point to. In the case of these videos, the intimacy is not only fostered by the intimacy of YouTube, but also the intimacy of the actions in question: entering the private space of the vloggers and sharing in the private act of putting on make-up. As Sam Chapman of vlog duo PixiWoo has stated, viewers “see the imperfections disappear as you go through the video.” [ (( Ella Bukhan, “’We’re Not exactly Gisele’: YouTube stars Pixiwoo on why anyone can be beautiful,” express.co.uk, 3 Feb 2014, http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/style/457260/UK-sbiggest-beauty-bloggers-Pixiwoo-on-Kim-Kardashian-Bella-Swann-and-drag-make-up. ))] This act of watching the imperfections disappear in seemingly real time is arguably one of the main pleasures of makeup tutorials. Rather then relishing in the shock and awe transformations of the before and after, as is characteristic of makeover television or stars without makeup features in tabloids and on gossip blogs, makeup tutorial videos use the act of transformation as their currency thus performing the hidden labor that produces aspirational beauty. In fact, with their long runtimes, they almost diminish the importance of the reveal, relishing instead the labor of transformation itself. It is this labor that becomes the spectacle.

Faith Hill
“Photoshop of Horrors” from jezebel.com featuring Faith Hill’s Redbook cover [ (( Moe, “Here’s Our Winner!, ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ in Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God,” jezebel.com, 16 Jul 2007, http://jezebel.com/278919/heres-our-winner-redbookshatters-our-faith-in-well-not-publishing-but-maybe-god. ))]

Showcasing this hidden labor is not designed to be part of a feminist project of resistance as we see with things like “Photoshop of Horrors” on Jezebel, where the exposé of labor is designed to show the impossibility or the fallacy of the image on display as an act of resisting, but rather these videos show the hidden labor as inspirational. As if once you know how to do it, you have no more excuses for why you can’t. This is especially true for women who have historically been left out or been marginalized by the editorial content of mainstream beauty magazines. Vloggers come in all races, shapes, and sizes to instruct the masses of women about how to create the perfect cat eye regardless of your eye shape or complexion. Vlogging culture creates a kind of uber customization of the beauty industry, but this seeming diversity belies the truth that most of these videos are ultimately asking women to aspire to the same feminine beauty standards. As scholar Elizabeth Nathanson has noted, “By demonstrating how to create a range of makeup looks, they perform their expertise for the masses, promising to democratize glamour and style by teaching others, while simultaneously establishing strict standards for appropriate femininity.” [ (( Elizabeth Nathanson, “Dressed for Economic Distress: Blogging and the ‘New’ Pleasures of Fashion.” in Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in the Age of Austerity, ed. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker (Duke: Duke University Press, 2014) 136-160, 150. ))] The makeup tutorials show off the imperfections and note them as a feminine norm, but enunciate that imperfection is not an excuse for not adhering to the beauty standards of postfeminist consumer culture.

Diverse approaches to feminine beauty standards

In their showcasing of the labor of beauty, these videos also serve a secondary purpose of showcasing the intimate spaces of domesticity. The videos are primarily set in the spaces where women put on makeup, namely bedrooms and bathrooms. These are not the powder rooms or living rooms that represent the public spaces of houses, but rather the private spaces that only intimates are typically granted access to. I would argue that one of the great pleasures of YouTube is the access it grants you to these spaces that become more and more off limits to adults. The settings of these videos then reflect the real-life domestic spaces of their makers. These are not the hyper-stylized spaces of lifestyle blogs and Pinterest inspiration boards, but rather real lived spaces with their own imperfections about them. Makeup tutorials relish the imperfection of the postfeminist experience—so you dropped some makeup on the white duvet, no problem; you messed up your eyeshadow, then take it off, rewind, and try again. These images are notably not edited out or re-shot by the makers, but rather left in to show off the imperfection inherent to both the labor of transformation and the labor of making.

Image Credits:
1. “Here’s Our Winner!, ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ in Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God,” jezebel.com.

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