The Affective Life of Heterosexuality: Heteropessimism and Postfeminism in Fleabag

Billy Holzberg, Aura Lehtonen

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In this article we engage with the cultural moment of ‘heteropessimism’ (Indiana Seresin, 2019) through the specific case of Fleabag (2016, 2019), with the show acting as the lens through which we illuminate the psychic and affective life of heterosexuality’s cultural production. Our queer reading of Fleabag suggests that while the heteropessimist sensibility of the show critiques the neoliberal and gendered constraints of heterosexuality, it at the same time creates a renewed, if pessimistic, investment in heteronormativity and repudiates alternative feminist and queer attachments. Overall, our analysis of Fleabag’s failed attempts to detach from heterosexual fantasies of the ‘good life’ highlights the centrality of heteronormativity to contemporary imaginaries of feminism. As such, we suggest that heteropessimism might be best understood as the latest stage of postfeminism and argue that a critique of the cultural prominence and affective structure of heteropessimism is crucial for invigorating queer and feminist politics today.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFeminist Media Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 20 Apr 2021


  • cruel optimism
  • gender melancholia
  • heteropessimism
  • postfeminism
  • heterosexuality
  • heteronormativity
  • media
  • feminism


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