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Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work Is Done Hardcover – March 2, 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a sharp-witted polemic against the media's stereotyping of females and feminism, University of Michigan communications professor Douglas (Where the Girls Are) parses music, movies, magazines, television dramas, reality TV, and news coverage to demonstrate how the girl power of the early '90s developed into enlightened sexism: a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime. Given women's progress, enlightened sexism assumes, now it's okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women. According to Douglas, this media trend includes stereotypes of black women as lazy and threatening in characters like Big Momma or Omarosa on The Apprentice, and the insidious sexualization of young girls. Douglas supports her analysis with data, such as on women's continuing inequitable pay and professional opportunities, black women's struggles for equality, and the negative consequences of the rising use of plastic surgery. And while the media have focused on girls bullying other girls, a much bigger problem, says Douglas, is sexual harassment of young girls by boys. Readers may not agree with Douglas's politics, but her position that women's interests are being harmed by the media is well argued and well documented. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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. --Deborah Donovan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080508326X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083262
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan J. Douglas is professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and author of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Englightened Sexism" is an excoriating repudiation of the view that feminism's work is done and that women have now achieved gender equity with men, so there is no further need for women to continue to fight for things like equal pay for equal work. By dissecting pop culture, Douglas makes a very convincing argument that sexism is, indeed, alive and well, though it has taken on something of a new facade: the titular "enlightened" sexism. Douglas argues that women have been fed the line that they now have equality and that this new era of "girl power" is proof. Pop culture would have us believe that women can dress however they want, be successful, and enjoy a life free of obstacles, but Douglas shows how this portrayal of women actually reveals the sexist mechanisms embedded within that are meant to keep women in their place.

What I found particularly convincing about Douglas's argument was the idea that there is a divide and conquer strategy at work that helps distract women from real issues. By focusing on girl-on-girl bullying instead of addressing the issue of the sexual harassment of girls in school, everyone (male and female alike) is being distracted from the bigger problem. Douglas is not trying to argue that these scenarios of female aggression do not exist but, as she points out, they serve as a very good way of creating the myth that women are incapable of getting along with one another and, therefore, cannot handle equality. As Douglas argues, enlightened sexism tells us that women have been given the keys to the kingdom, but are too busy having cat fights over who gets to be the queen to unlock the realm.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is hugely fun to read. If you consume pop culture to any degree, you'll see plenty of references to TV shows and movies you'll remember with laughter. But with the humor, Douglas delivers the diagnosis that explains so many confusing symptoms of our increasingly unsatisfying pop culture. From the hegemony of pop music's all-jiggle-all-the-time-talent-be-darned "stars," to the ubiquitous TV commercials still featuring grown women worried to distraction by ring around the collar . . . Douglas makes and proves her case: that the media has figured out how to get women to embrace and celebrate their own degradation. Wow.

I must grant special mention to Douglas' chapter on the depiction of black women in the media. It is one of the most cogent essays I have ever read. I'm African American, and I gave this white woman a giant "Amen" for nailing it. It - and the entire book - speaks to Douglas' unwaveringly observant eye, and her unflappable commitment to report back EXACTLY what's there, without trying to protect herself, women in general, or the dominant culture from its ramifications.

People, keep this book alive. Have book club discussions, fight with people of both genders (transgenders, too!) about it, leave comments here, mark it up, give it to your sons and daughters. Use it as a gauge to help monitor your own thoughts and behaviors. For here is a quiet revolution between two pieces of cardboard, and it's a laugh riot to boot. Buy it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That's what my teen-age daughter said to me after viewing her first episode of "Mad Men." I hated to have to tell her, "No, darling, we really haven't!" but thanks to Susan J. Douglas' funny, acerbic, fact-filled, truth-telling new book, "Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work is Done" at least I had a good book that proves my point to share with her.

Douglas who happens to be the mother of a teen-age daughter herself, is not vulnerable to the old hard-liners' cries of uptight, stuffy, no-fun priss that've been used to discredit feminists since women got the vote. Her writing's too funny, her analyses are too trenchant - especially her eye-n-mind-opening readings of the media programs that are programming young and *younger* women and girls to believe that feminism is fact and that women now "have it all."

She quotes the facts and figures to prove indisputably that "all" still consists in being expected to settle for vice president which is to say: Having an important-sounding title, a powerful man to look up to and serve, working out of sight, getting no credit for what's achieved but being the butt of an eternal joke! Gossipy spiteful teenager, ditzy mom, nagging mother-in-law. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose! Your husband may have cheated on you, be sitting in jail for fraud while you solve important legal cases but *he* and *his* future will still be at the heart of the TV show's ongoing plot line!
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Format: Hardcover
Feminism is not dead, but it is endangered once more, perhaps especially because the general public thinks that a few positive female representatives on television and in government prove that there is no more battle to wage. According to Douglas, it is just that "we're past this" attitude that makes the proliferation of new attacks in the 90's and the new century so insidious. She makes an excellent point. We feminists expressed our outrage in the 70's and raised our daughters to be strong individuals. Those daughters, the "millennial generation" born in the 80's and early 90's, need to light that torch once again and say STOP to the media and the politicians who have had free rein once again to portray women as sex objects, bitches, helpless creatures slave to their emotions, etc....

Despite some resoundingly feminist icons in the media, like Buffy the vampire slayer, or even Xena the warrior princess, there aren't enough to stop the negative messages. Anita Hill was ridiculed for testifying against the sexual harassment of Clarence Thomas. Janet Reno was ridiculed because she "looked like a man." When Hillary Clinton ran for President, her laugh was criticized, as were her tears of compassion at a campaign stop, when she was having a local town meeting. Even Oprah, the billionaire who champions "being your best self," isn't blameless; her urge to empowerment focuses on the individual doing her own inner work instead of gathering with other women to make some kind of difference on a larger scale.

I liked the book, especially the section on Reality TV, the very dregs of the entertainment industry. Nowhere else are women portrayed more as stereotypes, as man-desperate, as backstabbing bitches to each other.
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