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Hardcover | $6.75 Short | £5.95 | 312 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 19 b&w illus. | August 2010 | ISBN: 9780262123099
Paperback | $5.75 Trade | £4.95 | 312 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 19 b&w illus. | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262518161
eBook | $15.95 Trade | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262289979
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Push Comes to Shove

New Images of Aggressive Women


In the past, more often than not, aggressive women have been rebuked, told to keep a lid on, turn the other cheek, get over it. Repression more than aggression was seen as woman’s domain. But recently there’s been a noticeable cultural shift. With growing frequency, women’s aggression is now celebrated in contemporary culture—in movies and TV, online ventures, and art. In Push Comes to Shove, Maud Lavin examines these new images of aggressive women and how they affect women’s lives.

Aggression, says Lavin, need not entail causing harm to another; we can think of it as the use of force to create change—fruitful, destructive, or both. And over the past twenty years, contemporary culture has shown women seizing this power. Lavin chooses provocative examples to explore the complexity of aggression, including the surfer girls in Blue Crush, Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, the homicidal women in Kill Bill, and artist Marlene McCarty’s mural-sized Murder Girls.

Women need aggression and need to use it consciously, Lavin writes. With Push Comes to Shove, she explores the crucial questions of how to manifest aggression, how to represent it, and how to keep open a cultural space for it.

About the Author

Maud Lavin is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies and Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch and Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design (MIT Press, 2001).

Table of Contents

  • Push Comes to Shove
  • New Images of Aggressive Women
  • Maud Lavin
  • The MIT Press   Cambridge, Massachusetts   London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. For information, please email or write to Special Sales Department, The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
  • This book was set in ITC Stone Serif and ITC Stone Sans by Graphic Composition, Inc., Bogart, Georgia. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Lavin, Maud.   Push comes to shove : new images of aggressive women / Maud Lavin.    p. cm.   Includes bibliographical references and index   ISBN 978-0-262-12309-9 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Women in art. 2. Women in popular culture—United States—History—20th century. 3. Women in popular culture—United States—History—21st century. 4. Aggressiveness in art. 5. Aggressiveness in popular culture—United States—History—20th century. 6. Aggressiveness in popular culture—United States—History—21st century. 7. Arts, American—20th century. 8. Arts, American—21st century. 9. Popular culture—United States—History—20th century. 10. Popular culture—United States—History—21st century. I. Title. II. Title: New images of aggressive women.  NX652.W6L38 2010  704.9'4240973—dc22 2009046986
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • To my brothers Douglas, Franklin, and Carl Lavin, with love
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1 Sibling Play
  • Women, Sports, and Movies
  • 2 Aging and Aggression
  • 3 Violence
  • Kill Bill
  • and
  • Murder Girls
  • 4 Unbuttoning Sexuality
  • Zane and Kara Walker
  • 5 More Siblings
  • Aggression within Art and Activist Groups
  • 6 Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


“…Lavin is well-versed in this kind of interdisciplinary negotiation and…handles the task of juxtaposing seemingly disparate media eloquently and efficiently.”—Art Journal
“A timely, insightful look at contemporary representations of women’s aggression and their impact on women’s real lives. . . . Accessible, engaging, and grounded in reality. It’s a uniquely useful book, one that provides a dynamic framework that could encompass explorations of an even wider range of women’s aggression, such as roller derby or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Here’s hoping that Lavin’s work pushes more critics and writers to undertake those explorations.”—Bitch magazine


Push Comes to Shove is eloquent and inspiring. Simultaneously realistic and hopeful about the place and reception of strong women in contemporary society, this is an important book for all researchers on women and girls, and will be of interest to general audiences as well.”
Leslie Heywood, author of Pretty Good for a Girl and Built to Win
“In Push Comes to Shove, Maud Lavin puts to words a motivational truth for brave women everywhere if we sit around and wait to be given what is rightfully ours, then we will sit around and wait forever. Sometimes we just have to grab it and not look back.”
Keala Kennelly, big wave surfer and the first woman to tow-in surf at Teahupo'o in Tahiti
“In investigating the nuances of feminine aggression and its various forms of expression both historically and in contemporary culture, Maud Lavin also documents how we can understand it as a deeply productive and often necessary drive. Better yet, with her characteristic energy and invention, she imagines it as a force at once creative, comedic, erotic—which is to say, one that is not restricting, but rather, both enriching and exhilarating.”
Akiko Busch, author of Nine Ways to Cross a River