Pin-Up Grrrls

Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture

Pin-Up Grrrls

Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 103 photographs (incl. 9 in color) Published: May 2006

Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

Subverting stereotypical images of women, a new generation of feminist artists is remaking the pin-up, much as Annie Sprinkle, Cindy Sherman, and others did in the 1970s and 1980s. As shocking as contemporary feminist pin-ups are intended to be, perhaps more surprising is that the pin-up has been appropriated by women for their own empowerment since its inception more than a century ago. Pin-Up Grrrls tells the history of the pin-up from its birth, revealing how its development is intimately connected to the history of feminism. Maria Elena Buszek documents the genre’s 150-year history with more than 100 illustrations, many never before published.

Beginning with the pin-up’s origins in mid-nineteenth-century carte-de-visite photographs of burlesque performers, Buszek explores how female sex symbols, including Adah Isaacs Menken and Lydia Thompson, fought to exert control over their own images. Buszek analyzes the evolution of the pin-up through the advent of the New Woman, the suffrage movement, fanzine photographs of early film stars, the Varga Girl illustrations that appeared in Esquire during World War II, the early years of Playboy magazine, and the recent revival of the genre in appropriations by third-wave feminist artists. A fascinating combination of art history and cultural history, Pin-Up Grrrls is the story of how women have publicly defined and represented their sexuality since the 1860s.


Pin-Up Grrrls is a great read, and its treatment of the evolution of iconic images of women over the last two centuries will interest students of popular media, women's studies, and feminism as well as art history.” — Leigh Ann Wheeler, Journal of American History

Pin-Up Grrrls is a well documented and thorough study. . . . Buszek successfully unravels an organic link between the evolution of the genre and the various stages of feminist thought commonly associated with the three waves of feminism. . . . The author draws from a large body of theoretical, historical and visual research providing an uninformed reader with the necessary background for understanding and contextualizing the material at hand. Buszek writes with structure and clarity, avoiding overly technical terms and theoretical jargon, making her research accessible to the general public.” — Lidia HwaSoon Anchisi, Metapsychology Online Reviews

Pin-Up Grrrls is an exhaustive chronicle of the pin-up from its stage, street, and screen origins to the postmodern feminist pin-up, and its storied relationship to feminism in the United States. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in feminism, history, art history, feminist art, histories of sexuality, or popular culture.” — Chadwick Roberts, Journal of Popular Culture

Pin-Up Grrrls is ultimately a tale of the feminist reclamation of female sexuality as much as it is the story of the pin-up. With great historical consciousness and painstaking research—and without falling back on tired old stereotypes of pro- or antiporn feminists—Buszek stakes a thoroughly convincing claim that feminism is a political movement that has always championed women’s sexual agency and that is sure to appeal to grrrls and womyn alike.” — Rachel Fudge, Women's Review of Books

“[A] complex and thoughtful analysis of the history and impact of pin-up girl images, culture, and aesthetics. . . . Buszek’s work is a complex and specific extension of the contributions of performance and visual studies scholars like Valerie Steele, Laura Mulvey, and Peggy Phelan. Its multidisciplinary focus on the proliferation of pin-up images in the past two centuries is of value to any serious investigator of popular culture.” — Jacqueline L. McGrath, Journal of American Folklore

“Engrossing and well-researched. . . . By marrying the evolution of feminism with the evolution of pinup art, Pinup Grrrls contextualizes both. . . .” — Omaha Reader

“[F]eminists are appropriating historical pin-ups as empowering images of confidence, power, and transcendence of gender norms. Buszek traces the origins of this infusion of feminist beliefs into the history of the genre, and delivers an entirely fresh perspective on an externally misogynistic art form.” — Chelsea Stack, College of New Jersey Women and Gender Studies Newsletter

“A fascinating book, Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture, chronicles the images and manifestations of the pin-up from the 1860s to today. The author, Maria Elena Buszek, describes why women gravitate towards the curvy pin-up woman as the definition of beautiful, as opposed to a stick-thin image we’ve been socialized to accept.“ — Erica Crabtree Mossholder, Planet Weekly (Tuscaloosa AL)

“Buszek has written a convincing and detailed account of how the genre of the pinup and the histories of feminisms intersect.” — Kristen Hutchinson, Signs

“Buszek not only provides us with an encyclopedic historical entomology of the pin-up but participates in a potent ongoing reaction to Clement Greenberg’s Adorno-esque pre-World War II condemnation of kitsch. . . . From the slippery issues of pornutopia and female fetishism, from The Bridge Across My Pussy to queer monsters, she-devils and fierce funny feminism, there can be few books as usefully provocative as this for an undergraduate or graduate class on feminism, popular culture and art history.” — Jonathan Zilberg, Leonardo Reviews

“Buszek offers an authoritative, well-illustrated history of the pin-up form, from its origins in theatrical cartes de visite though wartime pinups to postmodern feminist pinups. . . .” — Heidi J. Holder, Journal of Women's History

“Buszek shows that pin-ups form a visual history of the women’s movement, in terms of the pin-up’s content, acceptance, and appropriation by women. Also, she suggests that their visibility in popular culture makes feminism a constant presence—a presence that . . . refuses to be ignored.” — Susan Bustos, The Peer Review

“Buszek takes us on an academic journey through 150 years of saucy, socially aware images and their repercussions on the mainstream. For those of us who thought that reclaiming sexuality in the name of feminism was a fairly new concept, this is a great introduction to the revolutionary beauties of the past.” — Catherine Plato, Curve

“Buszek’s academic background in art history allows her to convincingly dispute the notion of the pin-up as merely objectifying women, and her selection of archival images is a feast for the eyes. . . . BUST readers will still no doubt devour this intergenerational exposé of how strong women asserted themselves, their whole selves—including those lovely legs, bodacious busts, and devilish derrières.” — Amanda McCorquodale, Bust

“Buszek’s appealing work charts the converging historical, visual, and theoretical paths of the feminist movement and the pinup from the 19th century to the present, offering a feminist interpretation of the pinup attuned to the kaleidoscopic nature of feminist engagement with issues of sexuality.” — K. Rhodes, Choice

“Buszek’s ease at negotiating the debates around power, sexuality, and feminism in the realms of pop culture, political analysis, and high art makes Pin-up Grrrls a compelling read. . . . With a wealth of historical detail and a persuasive argument for the pin-up’s feminist potential, Pin-up Grrrls is a timely engagement with the enigmatic appeal of these iconic images of femininity, feminism, and power.” — Alanna Thain, Political Communication

“By revealing that feminists from all eras have celebrated their sexuality through the pin-up, Buszek leaves readers with renewed respect for female sex icons such as Bettie Page, Sandra Bernhardt, and Lydia Thompson. Pin-up Grrrls also helps put today’s newfound pop culture obsession with pin-up culture . . . in context.” — Jessalynn Keller, Nylon

“I]nfectiously interesting and bold. I found myself reading and thinking, ‘Damn, I want to have a drink with this lady.’” — Courtney E. Martin, Feministing

“In Pin-Up Grrrls, feminist art scholar Buszek optimistically traces the development of feminism and the assertion of female sexuality in the public sphere through a well-illustrated focus on a 150-year history of the female pin-up. . . . Through meticulous research, presented in a chronological narrative structure, Buszek demonstrates the complex interaction between the pin-up and the historical contexts in which it articulates female sexuality.” — Hillegonda C. Rietveld, Feminist Review

“No cheap thrills here: Maria Elena Buszek’s Pin-Up Grrrls is a welcome departure from the usual pin-up fare. . . . If you’re looking for a few dirty pictures, grab a Maxim at the gas station. If, however, you’re looking for an insightful and thorough exploration of a popular sexual phenomenon researched and written by a smart woman and focused through a feminist lens, this book just might be your wet dream come true.” — Kelly Moritz, Feminist Review blog

“This eloquent, erudite surprise of a book should be required reading for scholars of gender, sexuality, U.S. history, visual and material culture studies, and art history. . . . [A] beautifully written, well-researched study that necessarily situates the pin-up in the messy past and present, where the boundaries between cultural categories are never defined and are always in contestation.” — Elspeth H. Brown, Winterthur Portfolio

“This is a nice combination of art history and cultural history, and it works!” — Umbrella Online

“Using the pin-up as an interpretative lens for probing complicated issues of women's sexual agency, Buszek offers a fascinating and lively . . . history of the American women's movement and its engagement with popular culture. Pin-Up Grrrls features ninety-four figures, many of which appear for the first time in print and provide ample visual support for her argument. . . . Buszek has tackled an enormous subject here, and her book should interest anyone looking for an overview of historical developments in feminist thought and female representation.” — Marlis Schweitzer, American Quarterly

“Whatever your feelings about the pin-up and its place in feminism and popular culture in general, Buzsek has provided a thoughtful study of the genre in all its manifestations. The book includes many examples of the pin-ups she alludes to in the text, along with a very comprehensive bibliography. It is clear from reading the work that this issue, like so many concerned with the rights and roles of women in society, is by no means clear cut and the debate certainly isn’t over yet.” — M/C Reviews

“With Pin-Up Grrrls, Buszek provides a unique blend of art, cultural, and women’s histories that will engage a wide and diverse audience.” — Rachel Epp Buller, Woman's Art Journal

‘Drawing on a large body of research and commentary, Buszek smartly focuses on individual contributions and landmarks rather than sweeping claims. An academic, Buszek isn't afraid to dig deep into her subject, but she tempers her treatise with healthy doses of wit, grace and rhythm, and rarely falters.” — Publishers Weekly

"Maria Elena Buszek offers an educational, yet stylishly entertaining exploration of pin-up history. . . . [Pin-Up Grrrls] is 'chick lit' for all women in support of their own sexuality should purchase and read many times over. Buszek has precisely mastered an entire subject in which all women can both learn and appreciate the power of feminine sexuality." — Stephanie Nolasco, New York Press

"Maria Elena Buszek's enthusiasm for her subject is obvious. . . . It's a book by a young woman discovering herself and her powers, something of a kindred spirit to the pin-ups she studies." — Josie Appleton, TLS

Pin-Up Grrrls is a funny, sexy, political take on the pin-up. In this book, women flaunt their sexuality, use images of themselves to their own ends, and remake the pin-up genre in endlessly creative ways.” — Susie Bright, author of Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie

“Pin-ups that women love? That they create? Yes! In her brilliantly vibrant debut book, Maria Elena Buszek gives a lucid, rich, and thorough account of a nineteenth- and twentieth-century history in which women employ the power of erotic imagery to celebrate themselves. From the writing to the reproductions, Pin-up Grrrls is eye-opening.” — Joanna Frueh, performance artist and author of Swooning Beauty: A Memoir of Pleasure


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Price: $31.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maria Elena Buszek is Assistant Professor of Art History at the Kansas City Art Institute and a regular contributor to Bust magazine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Defining/Defending the "Feminist Pin-Up" 1

1. Representing "Awarishness": The Theatrical Origins of the Feminist Pin-Up Girl 27

2. New Women for the New Century: Feminism and the Pin-Up at the Fin de Siècle 69

3. The Return of the Theatrical Feminism: Early-Twentieth-Century Pin-Ups on the State, Street, and Screen 115

4. Celebrating the "Kind of Girl Who Dominates": Film Fanzines and the Feminist Pin-Up 142

5. New Frontiers: Sex, Women, and World War II 185

6. Pop Goes the Pin-Up: New Roles and Readings in the Wake of Women's Liberation 232

7. Our Bodies/Ourselves: Pin-Ups in the Wake of Women's Liberation 268

8. From Womyn to Grrrls: The Postmodern Feminist Pin-Up 311

Conclusion/Commencement 355

Notes 365

Bibliography 403

Index 437

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2006 Emily Toth Award, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3746-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3734-8
Publicity material