Self-representation in literary fandom: Women's leisure reader selfies as postfeminist performance

Dawn S. Opel

Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, United States

[0.1] AbstractIn social media communities dedicated to women's leisure reading and literary fandom, images of women engaged in the act of reading circulate prominently. These images—created and uploaded to fan sites by the fans themselves—have recurring characteristics: the woman often holds a leather-bound book, wears romanticized, neo-Victorian dress, and has exaggeratedly feminine, sexualized features. These representations are not of actual members of the community but rather fictive, collected, circulated, and commented upon in a communal act of identity construction. This gendered visual representation of the literate self provides a performance of a double movement in postfeminist culture: a broadcasting of discourses that is empowering (participatory digital cultural production around literature) and yet promotes a cultural context for reinforcement of conventional gender norms. To demonstrate this double movement, I utilize a case study of these self-representational fan images, collected over a year on a Facebook group page for fans of 19th-century British literature and filmic adaptations. These images and their circulation are then analyzed via a two-pronged double movement theoretical framework. First, feminist media scholarship helps explain the empowering aspects of the new media creation of the reader selfie. Second, gender performance uncovers how these repeated sexualized images of women readers reentrench conventional, hyperfeminine, and sexualized gender roles. Double movement takes place in contemporary women leisure readers' lives, and the media-led postfeminist cultural movement offers a depoliticized, self-indulgent path toward youth and beauty at the expense of institutional or social change.

[0.2] Keywords—Gender; Literature; Postfeminist culture

Opel, Dawn S. 2015. "Self-Representation in Literary Fandom: Women's Leisure Reader Selfies as Postfeminist Performance." In "Performance and Performativity in Fandom," edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul J. Booth, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 18.

1. Introduction

[1.1] It is difficult to miss the contemporary popular fascination with the selfie, or self-representational photograph uploaded to social media platforms. Popular media swarmed around the phenomenon after Oxford Dictionaries chose "selfie" as its 2013 Word of the Year (Baron 2013). While the selfie has become a ubiquitous and rather obviously recognizable image on social media and in popular culture, its formal entry in Oxford Dictionaries Online is "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website" (cited in Brumfield 2013). Selfies are snapped and uploaded for any reason, at any time, showing any range of bodily representations (an arm, a face, etc.), and appear in untold hundreds of millions on social media networks, phones, and Web sites. For example, there are 57 million hashtagged selfies—meaning that a photograph has been "tagged" with the #selfie label to describe and organize it—on the social media application Instagram alone (Brumfield 2013). As Dennis Baron (2013) observed, "Self-portraiture is nothing new. Artists have always represented themselves, so selfies are nothing new…now, everyone's an artist." As a result of the combination of the accessibility of mobile phones (that facilitate the shooting of the selfie) and the participatory culture of social media and the Internet (that facilitates the selfie's publication), selfies have proliferated in online spaces and communities.

[1.2] As an acafan both participating and observing in a Facebook fan community devoted to the leisure reading of 19th-century British fiction (and viewing and making fan productions), I began to notice after a year of participation in this community a prominent circulation of self-portraiture around the act of reading; specifically, the act of women reading. However, instead of a photograph of the self, it is a photograph or a drawing of this community's representative self (which I call a reader selfie), coupled with a reading-related quote from a famous author (figure 1). This representative self—visually represented as a sexualized, traditionally feminine young white woman—is an individual female literary fan engaged in reading, while the accompanying comments section next to this image offers a space for the communally negotiated self to emerge through discussion and consensus.

Color photograph of the back of brown-haired woman reading a paperback book. Text to right: 'Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.' First comment (names redacted) reads, 'I've felt that very emotion.' Second comment reads, 'When my kids were small I had to limit myself to short stories or they might never have gotten fed.' Third comment reads, 'My younger daughter exudes that emotion on a regular basis: she's re-reading the LOTR trilogy for fourth time in her life and doesn't like being interrupted.'

Figure 1. Representative reader selfie. Posted August 28, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

[1.3] The reader selfie presents a complex space for exploration of fan self-representation. Unlike a photographic representation of a fan engaged in her fandom in a communal public space, such as at a convention (e.g., Bacon-Smith 1992), the reader selfie offers a site to first display how female literary fans choose to construct their appearance in the private act of their fandom (that is, reading), and then creates a public site for communal discussion of that representation. While the image is fictive and idealized, the accompanying fan discussion is not: it is a space to circulate both the individual readerly identity and common values of the fan community.

[1.4] In this essay, I first review the scholarship around women's fan communities to place the object of this study within the historical and theoretical treatment of women's fan productions. Then, I turn to the case study itself, conducting an analysis of the recurring characteristics of the "reader selfie" to situate this gendered visual representation of the literate self in postfeminist culture, or a culture that "resituates [women] as consumers of pills, paint, potions, cosmetic surgery, fashion, and convenience foods" to assure women that they can "have it all" (Gamble 1999, 51). The rhetoric of "having it all" is particularly resonant with women leisure readers, so conflicted about taking time to read when work both outside and inside the home looms, along with the pressure to do it all. This "reader selfie" case study is a performance of what Angela McRobbie (2007) has defined as "double movement" in postfeminist culture: a broadcasting of discourses that is empowering (promoting the ability to do and "have it all") and yet promotes a cultural context for reinforcement of conventional gender norms. For the first prong of double movement, feminist media scholarship such as that of McRobbie (2007) and Negra (2008) helps to explain the empowering aspects of the media-driven postfeminist culture and the new media creation of the reader selfie, while for the second prong, Judith Butler's theory of gender performance uncovers how these repeated sexualized images of women readers reentrench conventional, heteronormative gender roles. By bringing together these frameworks, I present the woman reader selfie in literary fan communities as a rich example of postfeminist performance that circulates discourses of cultural identity negotiation through "double movement." From this transdisciplinary analysis, the ramifications of the complicated postfeminist subjectivity may be felt, a subjectivity celebrating choice and freedom for contemporary women, yet simultaneously reflecting a recurring vision of self-imposed constraint that closes its eyes to the political, social, and economic concerns of politically and socially focused feminist movements.

2. Case study methodology

[2.1] The object of the case study that is the focus of this essay is the Facebook fan community "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester—The Literary Heroes," a fan page created on October 23, 2012, with an "About" description that reads: "All your favorite Literary Heroes from Mr. Darcy to Rochester at one place!" While the subject of the fan page has expanded over time to include other romantic narratives, from Victorian literature to filmic adaptations to contemporary film, the recurrent subject is the work of the authors of the characters listed in the title: Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. The most recurrent type of post by the creators on the page contains a quote from a novel or film with a corresponding image of its romantic leads from cover art or a filmic adaptation. The page currently has 30,669 "likes" and has grown steadily in its number of "likes" since its inception, from 2,000 on March 14, 2003, to 20,113 on July 29, 2013, to 25,000 on December 8, 2013.

[2.2]As a fan, I had been following this page since early 2013, but sought and obtained IRB approval to review the fan page as an object of study in July 2013. From that point onward, I screen captured and took field notes on every posted image of a woman reading with a corresponding quote (what I call the woman reader selfie). While the frequency of the reader selfie postings vary, I observed (on average) one posting of a woman reader selfie by the page creators per week. The current size of the case study is 82 screen shot reader selfies, with the last image utilized for this case study captured in April 2014. (The fan page also contains a few similar images of man reader selfies, and the comments indicate that these are created by and for women. These images merit further study but are outside of the scope of this essay focusing on women's self-representation.)

[2.3]The fan community on this fan page is nearly exclusively women (there will occasionally be a comment made by a man, but this is rare), and the profile pictures, names, and languages spoken on the fan page indicate that the fan community has a wide age range (from self-proclaimed teens to middle-aged mothers) and geographic range (from the United States and Britain to Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East). Common characteristics of all community members are a knowledge and appreciation of late Georgian and Victorian literature and filmic adaptations, and an appreciation for leisure reading and romantic narratives. Pursuant to this case study's IRB protocol, I have redacted the names of individual women fans from the images shown in the essay.

3. Review of literature: Situating the reader selfie within the pleasures of fan writing

[3.1] Before considering what the reader selfie means in and for postfeminist culture, it is useful to consider what it is in its primary context of female fan writing. Jenkins (2000) explains that fan writing is a predominantly female phenomena, as "the compulsion to expand speculations about characters and story events beyond textual boundaries draws heavily upon the types of interpretative strategies more common to the feminine than to the masculine" (476–77). Fan writing is in line with traditional women's literary culture, such as "privately circulated letters and diaries and collective writing projects" (477, citing Kramarae 1981; Smith-Rosenberg 1985). Fan writing fulfills the need to discuss issues central to the lives of women from any era, such as "religion, gender roles, sexuality, family, and professional ambition" (Jenkins 2000, 478).

[3.2] The reader selfie functions in the same manner. Referring back to figure 1, the reader selfie represents fan writing with a focus on intertextuality. The creator (here, the fan page's creator as well) locates and uploads an image of a woman reading, then titles the image with a quote by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a British Victorian-era playwright and author. The quote describes a feeling of anger when being disturbed from the act of reading. Meanwhile, in the image, the woman reader is engaged in the act of reading, and while the book's title and contents are unclear, the book itself resembles a paperback novel. The three comments that appear are from members of the fan community: one identifies with the quote herself, one fan recounts how she read only short stories when she had small children, "or they might never have gotten fed," and one connects her daughter's reading of The Lord of the Rings to the sentiment of anger when interrupted. It is of interest how the primary focus of the text is the reading experience, not the subject matter of the book literally in hand. Despite this fan site being dedicated to literary fandom, the creator of the fan site and its fans are interested in sharing the experience of reading (a solitary act), and the pleasures from this experience, communally. This is a type of both fan writing and oral interaction between women "to explore their own narrative concerns" (Jenkins 2000, 477): the concern being how to make meaning around the practice of their fandom (leisure reading) in the context of a contemporary woman's life.

[3.3] In women's literary fandom, the choice to read in the fans' everyday lives is a privileged narrative concern, even over the subject of their fandom: British literature and its adaptations. As the comments to figure 1 suggest, the reader selfie opens up space to discuss gender roles, family, and motherhood, yet this discussion still lies within the context of the fandom. When women suggest that they, too, have felt anger at being interrupted from a book (as the 236 "likes" and the comments reflect), why would this be? What concerns might lie behind this anger? As the second comment indicates, a mother's obligation to feed her young children limited her time reading, so she read short stories to make space for her fandom. The act of posting a comment such as this in the fan community serves as a 21st-century interaction between women much in the same vein as Smith-Rosenberg (1985) explores 19th-century letter exchange as a means to connect women across distance and through shared concerns about marriage and gender roles. Women in the literary fan community on Facebook are utilizing the reader selfie as a space to talk to one another about the material conditions of their own lives.

[3.4]An important aspect of leisure reading as a fan practice is pleasure. Much like the community of women romance novel readers studied in Janice Radway's Reading the Romance (1984), the women readers of 19th-century British literature here are carving out space in their own lives for an embodied experience of relaxation and comfort. John Fiske (2010) draws upon Bourdieu and Barthes to theorize a kind of "evasive" jouissance, or enjoyment, that is experienced by Radway's romance readers:

[3.5] The act of reading is evasive: she loses herself in the book in an evasion of the ideology of femininity which disciplines women to find themselves only in relation to other people, particularly within the family. This loss is characteristic of jouissance and enables her to avoid the forces that subjugate her, which in turn produces a sense of empowerment and an energy otherwise repressed. These evasive pleasures are not text-specific: any book will produce them provided it can take her out of the social self. It is the act of reading rather than the specific text that is the producer of this form of evasive pleasure. (45) (note 1)

[3.6]Still drawing from Barthes, Fiske argues that jouissance works synergistically with another kind of pleasure, plaisir, which "involves the recognition, confirmation, and negotiation of social identity, but this does not mean that it is necessarily a conformist, reactionary pleasure (though it may be)" (2010, 44). Taken together, Fiske believes that these compose the "pleasures of micropolitics…producing meanings that are both relevant and functional" (46). While not radical, the pleasures of micropolitics help manage the day-to-day, and make meaning in ways that do not seek to overthrow the (patriarchal) order but, instead, progressively challenge it.

[3.7]Applying Fiske to the reader selfie allows us to see these texts as fan-produced space for the pleasures of micropolitics to be examined closely. In the reader selfie shown in figure 2, a young woman in an urban setting sits in her window seat in her pajamas, reading. The text overlay reads "Real life? Can't. I'm booked." The reader selfie garnered 135 shares and 327 likes, with many fans posting comments in agreement (many with emoticons) with the image and text. We do not know what the "real life" of the woman in the picture consists of with any certainty, but the fans of the site find resonance in this ambiguity, knowing that their "real lives" in whatever composition are an obstruction to the enjoyment of the act of reading. The jouissance is the evasive act of reading in the window seat, the loss of self into fantasy and out of the "real," which is, presumably, work in either the private or public sphere. The plaisir lies in the enjoyment of knowing that other women share the same framework of social identity (the external pressures of work, family, etc.) and circulate both an accepting and a subversive response to it through the reader selfie. The fan comments echo this. When a fan writes "wish it was true" with sentiments of sadness, the desire that a woman could reject "real life" and just read is expressed as a wish unfulfilled: the women in the community know the societal rules by which they must abide. However, the reader selfie circulates the communal empathy for the individual woman leisure reader, as well as the celebration of the time spent in opposition to the demands on the lives of the community members. Even if the image reflects a visual representation of traditional femininity, the space of private reading and reflection is the challenge to the patriarchal order.

Black-and-white image of woman sitting in a window seat, reading. Text reads, 'Smitten's Book Blog. Real Life? Can't. I'm Booked.' To right are comments; most are redacted, but those that aren't read, 'Like,' 'Indeed,' 'Wish it was true,' and 'Why does life get in the way of reading?'

Figure 2. Smitten's book blog reader selfie. Posted September 21, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

4. The woman reader selfie and double movement: Postfeminist performance

[4.1] Before moving into an analysis of the performance of gender that is the reader selfie vis-à-vis postfeminist culture, it is helpful to gain an understanding of the complexities that underlie defining postfeminist culture itself. First, what exactly is postfeminist culture "post-ing"? Diane Negra (2008) offers this commentary:

[4.2] By caricaturing, distorting, and (often willfully) misunderstanding the political and social goals of feminism, postfeminism trades on a notion of feminism as rigid, serious, antisex and antiromance, difficult and extremist. In contrast, postfeminism offers the pleasure and comfort of (re)claiming an identity uncomplicated by gender politics, postmodernism, or institutional critique. This widely applied and highly contradictory term performs as if it is commonsensical and presents itself as pleasingly moderated in contrast to a "shrill" feminism. Crucially, postfeminism often functions as a means of registering and superficially resolving the persistence of "choice" dilemmas for American women. (2)

[4.3] By eschewing the political and systemic critique inherent in feminism, postfeminist culture instead offers consumption as a remedy; it "entails an emphatic individualism, but this…tends to confuse self-interest with individuality and elevates consumption as a strategy for healing those dissatisfactions that might alternatively be understood in terms of social ills and discontents" (Tasker and Negra 2007, 2). This privileging of consumption and individuality over systemic inequities has concrete manifestations in postfeminist culture in that "taste and lifestyle preference are much more important elements of identity than ethnicity, class, or regional ties could ever be" (Gilroy 2006, 112).

[4.4]What postfeminist culture reflects is that feminism is "taken into account" but, as Angela McRobbie (2007) argues, in order to take feminism into account, "it has to be understood as having already passed away" (28). In the "post," McRobbie theorizes that a "double movement" takes place for women: feminism is "taken into account" because freedom, equality, and empowerment for women are celebrated in postfeminist culture, but in this act, traditional notions of gender and gendered relations are simultaneously reentrenched (cited in Banet-Weiser 2012, 61). McRobbie articulates this through what she terms the "post-feminist masquerade": the rhetoric of freedom for a woman to make her own choices collides with a reinscription of white femininity as a societal norm (McRobbie 2007, 86).

[4.5]The reader selfie in "The Literary Heroes" fan community constructs a space in which McRobbie's theory of "double movement" is repetitively performed, reaffirmed, and spread. While all of the reader selfies collected contain several traits inherent in postfeminist culture, figure 3 most obviously connects the dots. The caption, "I buy books like some women buy shoes," celebrates first the individuality inherent in choosing to purchase a consumer good that is perhaps more unique than the familiar trope of a women who loves to buy shoes. At the same time, connecting the two consumer goods (books and shoes) evokes a pleasurable connection between the two that is reflected in the first comment: "I buy both." The image itself invokes a familiar trope, that of a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, thus creating the "double movement" as reentrenchment of traditional femininity is performed in this reader selfie. Additionally, the woman's hairstyle (the contemporary, fashionable bangs, with a hint of a beret in the frame) and her eye makeup (eyeliner, mascara) nod toward an acceptance of the "positive embrace of consumer-led beauty culture and the new freedom to disassociate from the 'burdens' of feminism" (Tasker and Negra 2007, 3).

Color image of a blonde woman's eyes peering above a tattered hardcover book. Text on image reads, 'I buy books like some women buy shoes.' Comments to right (names redacted) that are legible read, 'I buy both...,' 'Eu compro os dois, to falida!!,' 'Did you buy blonde hair too???,' 'Look's like your eye's,' 'That's definitely me,' 'This is so true of myself!!,' and 'So me.'

Figure 3. Buying books/shoes reader selfie. Posted September 23, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

[4.6]The fan comments to this reader selfie offer additional evidence in support of the fans' acceptance of postfeminist culture in their own lives. The very first comment, "I buy both," cuts to the chase: it is her choice to consume whatever she likes, and so the distinction made in the caption (any allusion that traditional women's choices are being subverted by book-buying) is undone. While there is some degree of self-awareness in the post "Did you buy blonde hair too???," it is not "liked" and engaged with, and comments below continue to reflect agreement with the reader selfie as a whole (as do the 590 likes and 311 shares). The community rallies around the image by liking and sharing, and banters with one another in the comments, ensuring that this reader selfie circulates a sense of identity in the community until the next reader selfie is constructed and circulated.

[4.7]Beyond white femininity, postfeminist culture also holds reverence for preservation of youth, and of young (white, feminine) women as its symbol. As previously mentioned, consumer-driven beauty culture helps to drive this focus on youth, but so does the symbol that Sarah Banet-Weiser (2012) terms the "can-do girl": an empowered young woman who has the capacity to interact and self-brand in digitally mediated spaces. As she writes, "cultural ideals of selfhood are richly supported in online social network sites, which are increasingly spaces to ask and answer the question: Who am I?" (57). A critical component of self-branding, then, is the feedback that social networking spaces offer (as in the comments section of the reader selfie). While Banet-Weiser focuses on young women engaged in uploading videos of themselves on YouTube, the reader selfie also offers an indication of the can-do girl, but in an interestingly paradoxical manner. The can-do girl in this fan community participates in self-branding in participatory culture through the construction and circulation of a digital text that contains an image of predigital culture: the analog book. It is the juxtaposition of the technological savviness of the textual production of the reader selfie and its nostalgic, romanticized treatment of the book that constructs its essential postfeminist cultural performance—a can-do girl who chooses through her tastes and lifestyle preferences a unique subject (reading in analog form), but also chooses to broadcast this choice in a technologically savvy manner.

[4.8]Without the framework of the can-do girl, the reader selfie in figure 4 would be difficult to assess. This reader selfie perfectly captures the paradox described previously: in a digital fan text (the reader selfie), the captioned quote by Robert Downs, "My lifelong love affair with books and reading continues unaffected by automation, computers, and all other forms of the twentieth-century gadgetry," appears to be in complete contradiction with the textual production and circulation going on in this fan community. In a space where fan texts such as the reader selfie exist alongside posts of image macros, memes, and fan vids, how might this choice to advocate analog reading practices be reconciled? While the can-do girl is involved in the technological creation of the self in the reader selfie, the "double movement" at hand in the images themselves shows a reenactment of a nostalgic, traditionally youthful and feminine woman trope, with that woman making a lifestyle choice that involves (as here) the space to read with the consumer good of the analog book. As the comment in figure 4 offers: "I love my Kindle but I still love a proper book." In the choice to consume the analog book, the postfeminist woman reader is espousing a lifestyle choice that is as much as part of her identity construction as providing feedback in a digital space, or also owning and utilizing a Kindle. It reveals a can-do girl's mentality that the capacity to read on a Kindle is acceptable, but so is a young woman who chooses to read only in analog and display that choice in a digital space. The performative visual of the young woman reading in an analog space is particularly a postfeminist ideation, given that women fans in the space are both in fact reading and producing texts in digital formats and that they are not all necessarily young, as the comment from the mother with a teenaged daughter in figure 1 illustrates. The ideation of youth is further evidenced by the appearance of many young adult titles as the books in the reader selfies (in figure 3, for example, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), despite the fact that this is a fan community dedicated to 19th-century British fiction. All of these taken together may seem cognitively dissonant, but it is the very nature of youth-driven performance of postfeminist cultural choice rhetoric.

Black-and-white image of a young woman wearing a straw hat sitting in a tree, reading a hardcover book. Comment to right reads, 'My lifelong long affair with books and reading continues unaffected by automation, computers, and all other forms of the twentieth-century gadgetry. --Robert Downs, Books In My Life.' Comments right (names redacted) read, 'Its the need of this geeky world' and 'I love my Kindle but I still love a proper book.'

Figure 4. Proper book selfie. Posted October 12, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

[4.9]This focus on youthfulness in postfeminist culture (the "girl" in can-do girl) leads into what Tasker and Negra (2007) call "a distinct preoccupation with the temporal—women's lives are regularly conceived of as timestarved, women themselves are overworked, rushed, harassed, subject to their 'biological clocks,' etc. to such a degree that female adulthood is defined as a state of chronic temporal crisis" (10). Negra (2008) argues that a "minimization of [women's] ambition" and an acceptance of traditional femininity (captured through consumer cosmetics and procedures) are proffered in postfeminist culture as a means to combat this temporal crisis (48). Because leisure reading as an activity is pleasure seeking and outside of the world of either public or private sphere "work" (as the discussion of Fiske and enjoyment above demonstrates), it is an especially illuminating space for consideration of the temporal crisis endemic to postfeminist culture.

[4.10]The choice to engage in leisure reading invokes the tensions that exist for women in this literary fan community in postfeminist culture. Many of the reader selfies—either in the selfie itself or in the comments—exhibit a sense of guilt on the part of the woman reader for choosing to take part in this activity at all, often at the expense of domestic or professional duties ("real life" as in figure 2). In figure 5, the caption reads: "Shall I cook, clean or do the grocery shopping? Ok, reading it is!" The first comment reads, "Let the kids fend for themselves!" This reader selfie shows the time-starved nature of postfeminist culture, and also a representation of how "double movement" serves to both reinforce notions of choice (the woman choosing to read) while simultaneously upholding traditional gender norms (woman as caregiver with full responsibility for domestic order). The reader selfie in figure 5 may be read through the lens of Fiske's pleasures of micropolitics to illuminate its evasive and potentially subversive nature: it is challenging the requirement that the woman perform all of these duties, and instead opts out through engagement in a pleasure-seeking activity. (The choice of analog book may further indicate an opting out of what is perceived as a frenzied, technologically fast-paced culture.) Yet at the same time, this reader selfie shows how postfeminist culture is setting the rules for engagement: the expectation is clearly shown to be that of full responsibility in the domestic sphere, and in a certain manner of gendered performance that is traditionally feminine. The illustration shows a woman wearing makeup, with a low-cut shirt, thin and youthful, negotiating the temporal crisis. As McRobbie (2007) argues, "Choice is surely, within lifestyle culture, a modality of constraint. The individual is compelled to be the kind of subject who can make the right choices. By these means, new lines and demarcations are drawn between those subjects who are judged responsive to the regime of personal responsibility and those who fail miserably" (36). The reader selfie presents a performance of a woman attempting to decide which side of the postfeminist cultural line to find herself, what the ramifications might be, and if there might be other women who would reinforce her decision, right or wrong.

Empty white frame with a drawing of a woman leaning her head on a hand, with the text, 'Shall I cook, clean or do the grocery shopping? Ok, reading it is!' To right, comments (names redacted) read, 'Let the kids fend for themselves' and 'Ha!'

Figure 5. Domestic selfie. Posted October 31, 2013 to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

[4.11]This recurrent visual representation of traditional femininity in the reader selfie is integral to its fulfilling the second prong of McRobbie's double movement: the reenactment and retrenchment of regressive, heteronormative gender roles. Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity (1990) provides further guidance as to how double movement takes place in the reader selfie. Butler conceives of the body as "a passive medium on which cultural meanings are inscribed or as the instrument through which an appropriative and interpretive will determines a cultural meaning for itself" (1990, 8). To construct gender, acts of performance must be clearly and continuously repeated, and "this repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation" (140).

[4.12]The reader selfie is uniquely positioned to perform gender recurrently. Its form is easily spreadable and appropriated from fan to fan, through the "share" feature of social media platforms (here, Facebook). The creation and circulation of a reader selfie is a literate practice, or a "socially recognized way of generating, communicating, and negotiating meaningful content as members of Discourses" (Knobel and Lankshear 2008, 255). In this way, a reader selfie acts as an encoded text that is easily replicable and spreadable, like an Internet meme (Davison 2012, 123). Members of the discourse community in which the reader selfie circulates can recognize immediately not only what the reader selfie is, but what it means, and will engage in repeated participatory action with these texts by creating new reader selfies, as well as commenting, sharing, and liking preexisting ones—these are the socially recognized ways of communicating and negotiating this meaningful content.

[4.13]The gender performance in the reader selfie is constructed through a set of easily identifiable, traditionally feminine tropes. The women represented in figures 6 and 7 both have long hair, and are thin, youthful, and sexualized, baring a noticeable amount of skin. They are both dressed hyperfemininely. The image in figure 6 is a woman nostalgically and delicately dressed in a dress or corset and bloomers with ballet toe shoes cast off nearby, as if to suggest a state of undress. The woman pictured in figure 7 is in a slightly updated version of relative undress, with a button-down shirt and knee socks, shown in bed. Knee socks appear in both images, which suggest a girlish sexiness. While the women pictured in figures 1 to 7 are not exactly alike, the easily identifiable tropes of hyperfemininity, such as long hair, polished nails, delicate and frilly clothing, and long bare arms and legs, appear with repetition across these reader selfies. The sheer number of likes, shares, and affirmations in the comments sections (such as "Amen!" in figure 6) indicates that the members of this fan community recognize, reexperience, and repeat this image of constructed gender identity.

Washed-out color image of a woman wearing a white dress and black thigh-high stockings, sitting outside, surrounded by books, a pair of pink ballerina toe shoes nearby. Post comment to right reads, 'The love of good books is among the choicest gifts of the gods. --Arthur Conan Doyle.' Comments (names redacted) read, 'Amen!' and '...and of all the books the Holy Bible inspired by the one true God is the best!'

Figure 6. Ballerina reader selfie. Posted September 15, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

Washed-out color image of a woman wearing a light blue unbuttoned men's shirt and knee-high white socks, sitting on a bed, holding open a book from which spring forth a tree and some birds. Comment appended to post reads, 'A book is a dream that you hold in your hands. --Neil Gaiman.' Comments (names redacted) read, 'Oh how I love the writing of Neil Neil Gaiman; so excited for new new book!,' and 'Yesssss. A beautiful dream!'

Figure 7. Knee sock selfie. Posted June 19, 2013, to the Facebook page "Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Rochester: The Literary Heroes" ( [View larger image.]

[4.14]Butler (1990) argues that "the effect of gender is produced through stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self" (140). The body in the reader selfie is highly stylized in such a way as to construct a gendered identity for the female leisure reader that is repeatedly reenacted as hyperfeminine and youthful. While many might say that this construction is attributable to the nature of the fandom studied (British 19th century literature), the connection of the Victorian aesthetic to the neo-Victorian attributes of white, middle class postfeminist culture are also part of this "conception of gender as a constituted social temporality" (Butler 1990, 141). Both serve to reenact and reentrench a vision of a gender norm that is both white and affluent and sexualized and heteronormative (submissive, hyperfeminine and partially undressed), which, taken together, fulfill the second prong of McRobbie's double movement, and serve to constrain women in postfeminist culture by circulating these idealized attributes.

5. Conclusion

[5.1]Through the case study analyzed in this essay, the complexities of identity construction and negotiation in postfeminist culture are revealed in the inherent double movement in woman reader selfies in literary fandom. The reader selfie is a fan-produced text for the purposes of addressing the narrative concerns of the women readers in the literary fan community, designed to circulate issues of identity negotiation unique to this women's community focused on leisure reading and making the time for it. The reader selfie itself is representation of Angela McRobbie's double movement: a performance of gender that both takes feminism "into account" and celebrates the libratory practices of the tech savvy can-do girl, yet circulates and reentrenches traditional femininity—the sexualized, youthful performance revealed through Butler's gender performance. Both prongs of double movement shown here are characteristic of postfeminist culture. For a striking takeaway, I urge you to compare any of the reader selfies in this essay to the cover art for Janice Radway's Reading the Romance (1984); the former, youthfully feminine and sexy, while the latter is a portrait of a middle-aged, average-looking mom, reading in her living room among her children's toys (figure 8). While Radway studied predominantly middle-aged, stay-at-home mothers reading romance novels in the early 1980s, and this study focuses on women reading 19th-century British fiction and discussing literature and adaptations in an online fan community, the women themselves may not look altogether different. We can discern to some degree that the women on "The Literary Heroes" page are of diverse ages and geographic locales, but what we can see more clearly is what they wish to represent themselves to be: the women in the reader selfies.

Cover of Janice Radway's 'Reading the Romance' (1984).

Figure 8. Cover of Janice Radway's Reading the Romance (1984). [View larger image.]

[5.2] Postfeminist culture of the 21st century has acted to move contemporary women leisure readers from the Radway illustration (assuming Radway's readers would have condoned this representation) to the postfeminist gendered performance of the reader selfie. As leisure reading has moved from a private, individuated experience to the digitally mediated, communal realm of the can-do girl, so arrives the mark of the double movement inherent in postfeminist culture, in which women literary fans must live and negotiate. The reader selfie offers a glimpse into that complicated dance between freedom and constraint, and what that dance obfuscates: a larger system of power differentials in political, social, and economic spheres. In the example of the reader selfie in postfeminist culture, systemic forces of oppression remain hidden beneath consumption and the self.

6. Acknowledgment

[6.1] I extend sincere thanks to Suzanne Scott, who offered valuable feedback on drafts of this essay.

7. Note

1. The evasive act of reading for pleasure described by Fiske and enacted in the reader selfie differentiates this practice from other kinds of literary fandoms, such as those discussed in Roberta Pearson's (2007) work on Sherlockians. She indicates a perceived divide—also discussed by Henry Jenkins (2000)—between the high emotion of fans in low culture fandoms and the rationality inherent in high culture fandoms such as Sherlock Holmes literary fandom (109). Here I focus on this particular case study of literary fandom as more akin to the former and leave the debate for further study.

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