Promiscuous Girl: The Sexual Politics of Presenting Female Pleasure in Contemporary Popular Television

This thesis is an investigation into the presentation of female desire and sexual expression in popular contemporary television and the manner in which popular television can reflect societal ideologies in its presentation of female desire. Using four popular television series, namely HBO’s Sex and the City, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, BBC’s Fleabag, and E4’s Chewing Gum, a profile of series presenting female desire and the sexual expression of women will be created. By critically analysing the characterisation and reception of the main characters in all four of the popular television series using post-feminist and post-consumerist ideologies a distinction can be made between how the image of a sexually empowered woman has changed since the late 1990’s in relation to the visibility of sexually empowered women.

The fictionalised accounts of the sexual desires and conventions of each of the significant characters within the four chosen series will be observed through the lenses of their narrative structures and the significance of their adaptational journeys from text to television in terms of the visibility of authentic female desire, the separation, and categorisation of women into over-simplified archetypes of chaste or sinful, and the discussion of female desire and sexual liberation’s intrinsic links with consumerism in contemporary popular television. The aim of this thesis is to observe the methods in which female desire has been portrayed in contemporary popular television through each of the series’ visual and material culture and analyse the limitations of encouraging discourse around the visibility of female desire by primarily presenting the stories of female characters in positions of privilege. It is also significant to note that this thesis specifically observes the depiction of heterosexual female characters in television series which have been situated and broadcast within a Western centred societal lens, therefore, does not wholly depict the many facets of female desire.