Audrey Wollen is a feminist theorist and visual artist based in Los Angeles. Wollen uses social media, primarily Instagram, where she has over 25,000 followers, as a platform for her work on Sad Girl Theory, a theory which includes the notion of sadness as a form of power, and the idea that female sadness and self-loathing might include elements of empowerment. According to Wollen, this empowerment may ultimately lead to women uniting.
Wollen uses her Instagram feed as an art gallery where she uses her body in her art by objectifying it and putting herself into famous paintings, among other methods. Wollen describes her work as a methodology of survival, a method for rethinking "looking" and "being." Wollen is inspired by feminist philosopher Judith Butler and Butler's theory of gender performativity. In her artwork, Wollen makes visible the performative aspects of online existence and activity and how identity is constructed. According to Wollen there is no distinct binary between "the real" or authentic and performance; instead, the artist makes visible how performance is an inevitable aspect of online activities (as well as "everyday life"), and how subjects are mediated through technology and language.
Sad Girl Theory
Sad Girl Theory is the proposal that the sadness of girls should be witnessed and re-historicized as an act of resistance and political protest. Wollen states that girls being sad has been categorized as an act of passivity, and therefore discounted from the history of activism. According to Wollen, political protest doesn’t have to be external to the body. Wollen emphasizes that historically, girls have used their own anguish and suffering as tools for resistance and political agency. Sad Girl Theory is based on the notion that girls’ sadness isn’t quiet, weak, shameful or dumb: It is active, autonomous, and articulate. It’s a way of fighting back. According to Wollen, the re-staging of girls' sadness and self-destruction as an act of political resistance opens up a new history of activism. "Revolt" might then be understood as something internal, personal and performed on our own bodies, emphasizing girls' agency. Wollen also states that the feminist struggle against patriarchal structures has yet to question patriarchal ideals and masculinist tactics of past revolutions, introducing a redefinition of what violence, activism and autonomy can mean for girls by looking at the actions that are already so pervasive in girl-culture (self-hate, sorrow, suffering and even suicide) and asserting them as scenes of protest.
Wollen's Sad Girl Theory can be considered an academic response to the liberal feminist ideal that views women as the makers of their own success. Wollen states that feminism needs to acknowledge that being a woman in a patriarchal society inevitably is difficult and related to oppression and suffering; therefore, it is necessary to view the sadness of girls and women as an appropriate and informed reaction to patriarchal structures. Sad Girl Theory is a criticism of liberal ideals of womanhood that depict "the successful feminist" as famous, rich and happy. According to Wollen, this idea functions as a second oppression that implies that women who are not happy are responsible for the failure of their own emancipation.
Sad Girl Theory provided inspiration for artist and writer Johanna Hedva's Sick Woman Theory, a project focused on chronic illness as an embodied form of political protest. Hedva claims, in response to Wollen's work, that she "was mainly concerned with the question of what happens to the sad girl when, if, she grows up."
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