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Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message…
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Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work Is… (2010)

by Susan J. Douglas

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A smart, funny, and sobering analysis of sexism in the media and culture, and the utter necessity of real feminism. "But really, haven't we had enough? Isn't it time, Buffy-style, to take a giant stake and drive it right through the beastly heart of enlightened sexism? Because I think that, in our heart of hearts, we do miss feminism: its zeal, its audacity, its righteous justice. So let's have some fun, and get to work." ( )
  mariabiblioteca | Jun 23, 2011 |
One of the best books on feminism I've read in a long time (OK, so I don't read all that many books on feminism; if they were all this good, I might). The author doesn't set out to prove that women are superior, or to bash men, but instead to restore feminism to a role in our society that it's lost. She is no easier on those women who claim to be feminists but promote the idea that women somehow are unable to do math, science, etc, and that our role is to raise kids. I think everyone who goes around thinking sexism is dead should be given this to read. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Apr 15, 2011 |
Susan J. Douglas is the author of the 1994 [Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media], a deliciously insightful and witty book about how the mass media had portrayed women during the 1950s through the 1970s. As Publishers Weekly notes, she “considers the paradox of a generation of women raised to see themselves as bimbos becoming the very group that found its voice in feminism.” I loved this book and I never looked at television the same again. I think I may have even sent a note off to Ms. Douglas begging for a sequel.

While not exactly a sequel, [Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done] once again examines the mass media and the often conflicting images of women it presents – this time from roughly 1990 to the present. But instead of examining how the mass media may have contributed or reflected the feminist movement, this time she’s using the same kind of study as a wake-up call and call to arms, thus joining an increasing number of voices who are saying the same thing.

Douglas, with her characteristic wit, argues that the battle for equality has not been won and that many of the images of female power the mass media has been giving us over the last 15 or so years has been little more than fantasy.

"What the media have been giving us, then, are little more than fantasies of power. They assure girls and women, repeatedly, that women’s liberation is a fait accompli and that we are stronger, more successful, more sexually in control, more fearless, and more held in awe than we actually are… Of course women in fictional TV shows can be in the highest positions of authority, but in real life—maybe not such a good idea. Instead, the wheedling, seductive message to young women is that being decorative is the highest form of power—when, of course, if it were, Dick Cheney would have gone to work every day in a sequined tutu."

Douglas’s term “enlightened sexism” is a nod to an earlier book titled [Enlightened Racism]. “Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can buy or be anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomfits men or pushes feminist goals one more centimeter forward). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism.”

Examining the mass media, particularly television from 1990 onward, Douglas chronicles the rise in this enlightened sexism, and the examination is – like in her earlier book – fascinating. It’s a lot to digest and probably not a book one would want to read quickly. Let me give you the highlights using the chapter headings (rather oversimplified, I’m afraid):
-1990 and the show “Beverly Hills 90210” – one of the first programs successfully aimed at the teenage girl market.
- “Castration Anxiety” – images of dangerous women (remember Loreena Bobbitt, Amy Fisher?) and women who don’t play by the rules (Janet Reno) in the early 1990s.
- “Warrior Women in Thongs” examines shows like “Xena” and “Buffy” in the mid to late 1990s
- “A New Girliness” examines movies such as “Clueless,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Miss Congeniality“ and television shows like “Ally McBeal.”
- In “you Go, Girl”, she examines how African American women and other women of color are portrayed in the mass media during this period (including the success of Oprah, the rise of rap music..etc).
- “Sex “R” Us” looks at the mainstreaming of pornography beginning in the late 1990s. “…the rampant return to the often degrading sexual objectification of women, and the increasing sexualization of children, especially girls.”
-“Reality Bites” looks at so-called reality television from “The Bachelor” to “Survivor” to “Wife Swap.”
-“Lean and Mean” looks at a possible connection between our culture’s pressure for women to fit into a size zero dress while still filling out a 38D bra and the rise of “queen bees” and “mean girls.” I found this a particularly provocative theory and although I’m not convinced entirely of the connection, the exploration of the topic was fascinating.
-“Red Carpet Mania” examines our cultural obsession with celebrity and what the celebrity industry is telling us.
In “Women on Top…Sort Of”, Douglas decodes the media coverage and examines how women are talked about in the last election (Clinton, Palin, Michelle Obama), and other prominent women (Martha Stewart, Katie Couric). She also discusses their television counterparts in shows like “ER,” “Law & Order,” “Commander in Chief,” and “Boston Legal.”

In her last chapter and, in my opinion, to her credit, Douglas takes up a call-to-arms, encouraging us to a new era of media consciousness, a redirection of our energies into a new era of activism that benefits all women, particularly the millions of women currently invisible in the mass media (most of us).

Unlike with the previous book, I hadn’t watched much of the television in the era Douglas covers in this book. I wondered whether my experience of this book would have been different if I had, but I think fundamentally not, although I might have thought some parts slightly less tedious, I suppose.What Douglas does that I find so valuable is to raise our consciousness around the conflicting images and subtle messages presented to us in the mass media, so that we are not just passive receptacles. I enjoyed this book, and found it encouraging that I am not alone in seeing that equality for women is still an illusion and there is indeed more work to do. ( )
16 vote avaland | May 10, 2010 |
In this book, Douglas examines how girls and women are represented in the media. Popular culture says that full equality for women has been achieved. Of course, any reflective, thoughtful adult would recognize that this is a myth. But the media doesn’t recognize it, and instead perpetrates the idea that feminism is now pointless and even bad for you. This is part of what defines “enlightened sexism.” The definition also includes the idea that, because women are now equal, it is amusing to resurrect sexist stereotypes. TV shows and movies that show women in power—the judges, high-powered attorneys, police chiefs and surgeons—while very nice to see, do not reflect the reality of life for women in our society. One of Douglas’s main points is that these fantasies distract us from the ongoing status of women as second class citizens.

Douglas examines a vast array of shows and personalities to expose enlightened sexism. She cites others as good examples of feminist media. Just some that she discusses include: Murphy Brown, Beverly Hills 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Loreena Bobbit, Ally McBeal, Living Single, Grey’s Anatomy, Sex & the City, Cosmo and Vogue magazines, reality TV, Mean Girls, Clueless, celebrity culture (including the search for the ‘baby bump’), Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Desperate Housewives and the dearth of lesbian characters and celebrities. This is a partial list, and she discusses many others.

Although I haven’t seen half of the shows she discusses, I still found Enlightened Sexism extremely interesting. At times it was so discouraging and depressing that I had to put it aside for a few days. However, Douglas has a great sense of humour, which helped to elevate the extreme bleakness of the material. She also writes in a conversational tone that makes for smooth reading.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in cultural studies, media studies or women’s studies. Also recommended for anyone who is female or knows anyone who is female. ( )
3 vote Nickelini | May 7, 2010 |
Douglas defines “enlightened sexism” as a response to the “perceived threat of a new gender regime” following the gains made by feminists since the 1970s. Her premise is that, under the mistaken assumption that full gender equality has been achieved, it is now “OK” to resurrect sexist stereotypes because they will no longer undermine women’s equality. She explores the rise and evolution of media-created fantasies from the early 1990s to the present in TV, movies, popular songs, even network news, demonstrating how women have increasingly been reduced to stereotypes obsessed with their figures, clothes, shopping, and aging. From Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to reality shows like The Bachelor and Survivor, women have been increasingly trivialized as overly emotional, unable to get along with each other, and constantly in competition for male approval. Douglas injects humor throughout, and notes the differences between her and her “millennial” daughter. She concludes with the hope that this new generation will not give up the fight.
  dvrcvlibrary | May 7, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080508326X, Hardcover)

From the author of Where the Girls Are, a sharp and irreverent critique of how women are portrayed in today’s popular culture

Women today are inundated with conflicting messages from the mass media: they must either be strong leaders in complete command or sex kittens obsessed with finding and pleasing a man. In Enlightened Sexism, Susan J. Douglas, one of America’s most entertaining and insightful cultural critics, takes readers on a spirited journey through the television programs, popular songs, movies, and news coverage of recent years, telling a story that is nothing less than the cultural biography of a new generation of American women.

Revisiting cultural touchstones from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Survivor to Desperate Housewives, Douglas uses wit and wisdom to expose these images of women as mere fantasies of female power, assuring women and girls that the battle for equality has been won, so there’s nothing wrong with resurrecting sexist stereotypes—all in good fun, of course. She shows that these portrayals not only distract us from the real-world challenges facing women today but also drive a wedge between baby-boom women and their “millennial” daughters.

In seeking to bridge this generation gap, Douglas makes the case for casting aside these retrograde messages, showing us how to decode the mixed messages that restrict the ambitions of women of all ages. And what makes Enlightened Sexism such a pleasure to read is Douglas’s unique voice, as she blends humor with insight and offers an empathetic and sisterly guide to the images so many women love and hate with equal measure.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Women today are inundated with conflicting messages from the mass media: they must either be strong leaders in complete command or sex kittens obsessed with finding and pleasing a man. Here, cultural critic Susan J. Douglas takes readers on a spirited journey through the television programs, popular songs, movies, and news coverage of recent years, telling a story that is the cultural biography of a new generation of American women. Revisiting cultural touchstones from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Desperate Housewives, Douglas exposes these images of women as mere fantasies of female power, assuring women and girls that the battle for equality has been won, so there's nothing wrong with resurrecting sexist stereotypes--all in good fun, of course. She shows that these portrayals not only distract us from the real-world challenges facing women today but also drive a wedge between baby-boom women and their "millennial" daughters.--From publisher description.… (more)

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