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.
“Weaving commentary from academia with testimony from such sources as Salt N Pepa and sex worker Annie Sprinkle, Buszek’s authorial debut shows how the evolution of the pin-up is inextricably tied to the feminist movement, for better and worse, providing formal and (as she demonstrates) well-deserved appreciation to an art form that’s rarely given much respect. […] 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.”
–Publisher’s Weekly [starred review: “book of outstanding quality”]
“The pin-up as feminist ‘equipment for living?’ This is a provocative argument, one that Buszek makes decisively in eight chapters traversing the related histories of American theater, illustration, film culture, fanzines, and feminist art practice. […] This eloquent, erudite surprise of a book should be required reading for scholars of gender, sexuality, U.S. history, visual and material culture, and art history.”
– Winterthur Portfolio
“One brand of contemporary feminism casts women as eternal victims: all sex is rape, apparently, and all representations of female sexuality are merely for the delectation of men. Pin-up Grrrls challenges this one-dimensional view […]. 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.”
– Times Literary Supplement
“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.”
–The Journal of Popular Culture
“The social climate we live in today has witnessed the commodification of sex escalate to never-before-seen level of frenzy. In this light, Pin-Up Grrrls is a breath of crisp, fresh air. […] Don’t let the title fool you; the density and subject matter of this book are not for the faint of heart. 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.”
“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…[and providing] nuanced readings of pinups that bolster her claim for their significance as complex signifiers of feminist consciousness.”
“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.”
–Women’s Review of Books
“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.”