In new book, OC Communication Studies Professor explores successes and limits of feminist activism

Contained Empowerment book cover.

For years, OC Communication Studies Professor Victoria Newsom has studied how social justice movements, and particularly feminism, progress to a certain point and then stall or regress, “pulled back” by existing power structures and sometimes, by women themselves.

She devised a theory for this phenomenon, called “contained empowerment.” Now she has published a new book explaining her theory and illustrating it with dozens of case studies drawn from feminist activism spanning the early 1990s to the present-day.

“Contained Empowerment and the Liminal Nature of Feminisms and Activism (Gender and Activism)” examines third wave and contemporary forms of feminism, including reactions to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, and contrasts those efforts with ongoing anti-feminist, white supremacist and other systemic efforts aimed at limiting women’s rights.

“My goal is to explain how and why things work, different forms of activism, how they work, and don’t work,” said Newsom. “Individuals can be empowered but what is that doing for women as a whole?”

While her book is intended for academic audiences and “sexual activists,” Newsom makes her points through closely examining pop culture trends, like ‘90s era TV shows and cartoons featuring empowered, albeit “sexualized” heroines. She also questions the whole wave framework as it is used to describe the history of feminism.

“I look at examples of feminism in the U.S. and internationally,” said Newsom. “Systemic empowerment only goes so far, then stops. Then the hegemony re-sets itself. That is containment.” 

In her book, Newsom suggests “there is a way beyond containment” and that it will involve more intentional intersectionality among all groups who experience structural oppression and seek lasting social justice.

Newsom has taught at Olympic College in the Communication Studies Department for 12 years. She grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and intended to become a political journalist. Instead, her growing interests in cultural studies and social justice led her to pursue a Master’s degree in cultural studies, and a Doctorate in Communication Studies.

At Olympic College, she teaches courses in Communication Studies that focus on rhetoric, speech, public communication, intercultural and international communication, and gender communication.

“We look at the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of communications,” Newsom said. “I like working with students and getting them to do something productive for themselves and for society. I also like to engage them in learning through community service.”

Newsom previously co-authored a book of edited essays, “Embodied Activism,” and is now at work on her third book, a co-edited volume of essays on religio-ethonationalism.

“Contained Empowerment and the Liminal Nature of Feminisms and Activism (Gender and Activism)” is available through publisher Lexington Books and Amazon.


Dr. Victoria Newsom

Victoria A. Newsom is a professor of Communication Studies and affiliate faculty in Social Justice and Diversity at Olympic College. In addition to her research on gender, power and identity, she participates in Democratizing Education projects to help reduce costs for college and university students through open-source publications and accessibility of materials. Her published books include: 

Blog post by Jean Jackman.