The Rise of Enlightened Feminism–Susan J. Douglas

I read Douglas’ Where the Girls Are in grad school and, maybe it was just my age, but her snark seemed wittier then.

Douglas is a feminist media studies scholar at the University of Michigan.  In this book she turns a critical eye to the characters often celebrated for showing “strong” women in the media, particularly on television, and looks at how such images belie the reality of women’s continued inequality and, in some cases, work to counter the gains women made in the seventies and early eighties.  If you adore Buffy or Xena, be prepared for some tough love.  Douglas argues that two groups of women receive particularly rough treatment from this new enlightened sexism:  middle-aged women (the grumpy feminists) and lesbians.   She does devote a chapter to African-American women and argues that they are either stuck as the snappy comedic sister or the ball-busting powerhouse, and so are similarly trapped, but by different means.  Feminism, as portrayed by the media, is best celebrated by thin young women who celebrate girl power while dressed in provocative clothing or who balance their girl power by mourning their inability to have such power and a successful heterosexual relationship centered on child rearing.

Some of Douglas’ rants verge on too snarky for my taste or are just too obvious.  It’s no shock that the Real Housewives franchise or Gossip Girl are not progressive feminist productions.  She refuses to enter Victoria’s Secret, but has to go incognito into Sephora.

One of her consistent themes is the way the media breaks down the ability of women to have any sort of sisterhood and, rather, pits us in competitions for men, the best outfit, the best makeup, the best body, the best jobs (more rare), and the best children.

Some chapters read more quickly than others, but Douglas’ overall message is well worth reading and one I wish all women, especially young women, would take the time to consider.  When we snark at each other, we all lose.  When we let our media outlets get away with it, we lose and advertisers win.

Finished 3/31/12


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