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Bewitched Again: Supernaturally Powerful Women on Television, 1996-2011

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Starting in 1996, U.S. television saw an influx of superhuman female characters who could materialize objects like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, defeat evil like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have premonitions like Charmed's Phoebe. The extraordinary abilities of these women showed resistance to traditional gender roles, although these characters experienced infringements on Starting in 1996, U.S. television saw an influx of superhuman female characters who could materialize objects like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, defeat evil like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have premonitions like Charmed's Phoebe. The extraordinary abilities of these women showed resistance to traditional gender roles, although these characters experienced infringements on their abilities in ways superpowered men did not. Supernaturally powerful women and girls have remained on television, including the heavenly connected Grace (of Saving Grace), telepathic Sookie (of True Blood), and magical Cassie (of The Secret Circle). These more recent characters also face numerous constraints on their powers. As a result, superpowers become a narrative technique to diminish these characters, a technique that began with television's first superpowered woman, Samantha (of Bewitched). They all illustrate a paradox of women's power: are these characters ever truly powerful, much less superpowerful, if they cannot use their abilities fully? The superwoman has endured as a metaphor for women trying to have it all; therefore, the travails of these television examples parallel those of their off-screen counterparts.


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Starting in 1996, U.S. television saw an influx of superhuman female characters who could materialize objects like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, defeat evil like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have premonitions like Charmed's Phoebe. The extraordinary abilities of these women showed resistance to traditional gender roles, although these characters experienced infringements on Starting in 1996, U.S. television saw an influx of superhuman female characters who could materialize objects like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, defeat evil like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have premonitions like Charmed's Phoebe. The extraordinary abilities of these women showed resistance to traditional gender roles, although these characters experienced infringements on their abilities in ways superpowered men did not. Supernaturally powerful women and girls have remained on television, including the heavenly connected Grace (of Saving Grace), telepathic Sookie (of True Blood), and magical Cassie (of The Secret Circle). These more recent characters also face numerous constraints on their powers. As a result, superpowers become a narrative technique to diminish these characters, a technique that began with television's first superpowered woman, Samantha (of Bewitched). They all illustrate a paradox of women's power: are these characters ever truly powerful, much less superpowerful, if they cannot use their abilities fully? The superwoman has endured as a metaphor for women trying to have it all; therefore, the travails of these television examples parallel those of their off-screen counterparts.

30 review for Bewitched Again: Supernaturally Powerful Women on Television, 1996-2011

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    Superpowered women in the "gilded age" (1996-2006) were called freaks, subjected to surveillance, required to answer to an external authority that mandated that their "gifts" be used for self-sacrifice, and were required to wear a mask of femininity (aka. they had to look good doing it). They were powered but not empowered. Post-2006 (also post-third wave feminism) superpowered women embraced the idea of choices. However my question (along with every other feminist) is what good are these choice Superpowered women in the "gilded age" (1996-2006) were called freaks, subjected to surveillance, required to answer to an external authority that mandated that their "gifts" be used for self-sacrifice, and were required to wear a mask of femininity (aka. they had to look good doing it). They were powered but not empowered. Post-2006 (also post-third wave feminism) superpowered women embraced the idea of choices. However my question (along with every other feminist) is what good are these choices if the system (or patriarchy) leads us to make the decisions they wanted us to make all along regardless? Superpowered women are making the choice to use their abilities in a selfless way, but is that because they truly want it or because we have been trained to think this is our choice (I say "we" and "our" because the superpowered women on TV are reflective of a real world). O'Reilly has written a truly excellent book that really explores the women on TV who have supernatural abilities starting in the 60s with Bewitched and goes all the way up until 2011 with characters like Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys analyzing the shows the love and the television that they watch.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alysa H.

    O'Reilly identifies commonalities across characters and shows and contextualizes them within a specific cultural period and set of televisual conventions. Well-argued and well-researched, though it does get a little repetitive at times. The thematic approach, as opposed to a "case study" approach wherein each chapter looks at a particular show, was a good choice as it allows O'Reilly to better show patterns, as well as to cover far more material in this relatively slim tome. O'Reilly identifies commonalities across characters and shows and contextualizes them within a specific cultural period and set of televisual conventions. Well-argued and well-researched, though it does get a little repetitive at times. The thematic approach, as opposed to a "case study" approach wherein each chapter looks at a particular show, was a good choice as it allows O'Reilly to better show patterns, as well as to cover far more material in this relatively slim tome.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mixtress Rae

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Rhoades

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tia

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  8. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

  9. 5 out of 5

    Thao

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  11. 5 out of 5

    AnnaMarie

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris kunselman

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lexi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Franke-Byrne

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tuesday Manthei

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tia

  19. 5 out of 5

    Merce Gartor

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  22. 5 out of 5

    McFarland

  23. 4 out of 5

    SHUiZMZ

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ali Parthemore

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sean Faaiuaso

  26. 5 out of 5

    rêveur d'art

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paula Stiles

  28. 5 out of 5

    Igrowastreesgrow

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sadie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

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