In the mid-1980s, McRobbie became interested in debates about decoding and analysing the representation of over-sexualised images, stereotypes and advertising in the media. She began to examine surprising shifts in girls' magazines like Just Seventeen which promoted a different kind of femininity, largely owing to the integration of feminist rhetoric—if not feminist politics—into juvenile popular culture. By downplaying boyfriends and husbands-to-be, and instead emphasising self-care, experimentation, and self-confidence, to McRobbie girls' magazines seemed evidence of the integration of feminist common sense into the wider cultural field.
She moved on to observing changes in society's values and attitudes both by and of women
From the confidence, assertiveness, empowerment discourses of the the 1990s, she has observed a backlash and adopted a more pessimistic tone. This is borne out by TV, music video and YouTube reps of women which appear to normalize traditionally feminine modes of thinking and behaviour.
Many of her observations are based on a view of increased globalized free-market commodification.
She has moved towards a view that post-feminist and modern neo-liberal economic and political structures are part of the backlash against traditional feminist values. Individualism has subverted feminism – and this has led to a kind of of
false consciousness: collusion by women in traditional patriarchal power-structures.
This new regime of gender power requires the consent and participation of young women in the rejection of feminism. Young women are offered sexual and social recognition in spheres of employment, education, consumer culture, and civil society, as long as young women successfully ‘choose’ to embody acceptable hetero-feminine values which require an active rejection of feminism.
In times of economic hardship, there seems to be a return to a more conventional hetero-gendered versions of femininity.
Popular culture offers crucial sites for the 'disarticulation' (fragmentation) of feminism to act as “spaces of attention” : outlets in which resurgent patriarchal power can effectively exert control over young women’s lives and reassert dominance in a subtly displaced manner. For instance, processes of self-discipline in the fashion-beauty complex can be epitomized by make-over television programmes like What Not to Wear and Ten Years Younger in the re-establishment of social hierarchies of class, ‘race’ and gender which sees women competing and critiquing each other with an ever increasing degree of insulting antagonism.