FX is one of the US’s most successful basic cable channels with a brand that blends violence, (predominantly) masculine melodrama, and a dark quirkiness to cultivate a posture of mainstream provocateur. In a postfeminist media landscape dominated by young, skinny, white, normatively beautiful women, FX has decided that women of a certain age wielding narrative power is an integral part of its “edgy outsider” brand strategy, and reflects feminism's contemporary status as a dirty word.
For at least the last decade, postfeminism has dominated academic conversations about women in so-called quality TV. Postfeminism implies feminism is no longer necessary because it achieved all its goals; Angela McRobbie has argued that postfeminism’s emphasis on youth has aged feminism into irrelevance. But a subset of recent media products aimed at girls and young women from The Hunger Games to HBO’s Girls have begun revealing the failures and impossible demands of postfeminist ideology. FX has stepped into the cracks in that dominant ideology offering viewers female characters who are often poor, rural, possibly insane or otherwise marginalized; characters like Katey Sagal’s biker gang matriarch on Sons of Anarchy, Jessica Lange’s often bizarre roles on American Horror Story, and the older women of Justified.
FX’s bad boy brand image benefits from the shock value of seeing older women—women who have wrinkles and adult children, who aren’t concerned with consumerist solutions to aging, work/life balance, or maintaining dominant beauty norms—wielding tremendous narrative power, but this particular brand identity also creates a space for the seemingly controversial expression of feminism as an ongoing necessity in an America, like the Harlan County, Kentucky pictured in Justified, scarred by massive inequality on multiple fronts. In this clip, we see Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and Helen Givens (Linda Gehringer) using Justified’s trademark archaic eloquence to negotiate a truce to the epic family feud that swirls at the center of the show’s second season (2011). The women never use words like feminist or postfeminist, but their undisputed clan leadership and the way their decisions directly or indirectly control the entire season’s action starts to reclaim some form of feminism, and particularly adult, political feminism from the obsolescence implied by postfeminist culture.