Contortions : an exploration of the feminist personal essay as neoliberal resistance : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Creative Writing at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. EMBARGOED until 16th November 2024.

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In this thesis I examine the personal essay form and how it is used by women writers to resist ideas of neoliberalism, in particular, the position of ideal neoliberal subject or the 'girlboss'. In the critical component, entitled '"Resisting the Girlboss": Neoliberal subjectivity and the feminist personal essay', I draw from sociologist Elizabeth Houghton's definition of ideal neoliberal subjects as self-enterprising individuals, who 'actively seek to invest in' themselves and find success in a competitive world. Through a critical examination of My Body (2021) by Emily Ratajkowski, Blueberries (2020) by Ellena Savage, and Rangikura (2021) by Tayi Tibble, I explore how the personal essay is used as what Michel Foucault labels a 'technology of the self' – a tool through which subjects can be agents of their own subjectivity. I demonstrate how these texts resist the position of ideal neoliberal subject through techniques of reflection, recognition, and humour, as well as use of cultural themes and experimentation with form. Additionally, I demonstrate how the personal essay form appeals to neoliberal values, which allows it to serve as a 'trojan horse' through which writers can further project stories of neoliberal resistance. In the creative component, a collection of personal essays entitled 'Contortions', I too use the personal essay as a 'technology of the self' to explore, and in many cases, resist my own position as ideal neoliberal subject. Similarly to the texts analysed in the critical component, these essays employ techniques of reflection, recognition, and humour to generate resistance towards neoliberal values. The essays in 'Contortions' also exemplify the experimentation that is possible with the personal essay form, and how this can work to strengthen the resistant techniques used.
Embargoed until 16th November 2024