I distinguish between prescriptivist and minimalist approaches to forms of political resistance. Prescriptivist approaches function through the proliferation of explicit norms, restrictions and impositions on existing practices. Minimalist approaches seek to undermine explicit and implicit norms on existing practices through strategies of re-appropriation. After explaining the distinction between these two approaches in some detail, I consider Laura Mulvey’s influential Visual Pleasures and some recent literature on the Bechdel test as examples of (respectively weak and strong) prescriptivist approaches to resistance to the perpetuation of gender inequality through film practices. I then consider Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank as an instance of a minimalist approach that, through a subtle game of mises-en-abîme, offers itself a narrative depiction of a minimalist approach to resistance against the passive performance of gender roles. I conclude with a discussion of the relative strategic advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches, suggesting that whenever ethically viable, minimalist approaches will tend to be strategically superior to their counterparts, while acknowledging that prescriptive approaches can be at least temporarily indispensable in the face of morally intolerable practices.
Performing Genders: Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and the Minimalist Approach to Resistance