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Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Enlightened Sexism"

This is some seriously hot shit. It's like this author, Susan J Douglas, took the thoughts out of my head and put them on the page. Always gratifying to feel like you're not completely crazy - seeing your own experiences in an actual published book. Here's a few paragraphs from the kick ass first chapter, which I read on the NPR website.

Something's out of whack here. If you immerse yourself in the media fare of the past ten to fifteen years, what you see is a rather large gap between how the vast majority of girls and women live their lives, the choices they are forced to make, and what they see — and don't see — in the media. Ironically, it is just the opposite of the gap in the 1950s and '60s, when images of women as Watusi-dancing bimbettes on the beach or stay-at-home house wives who needed advice from Mr. Clean about how to wash a floor obscured the exploding number of women entering the workforce, joining the Peace Corps, and becoming involved in politics. Back then the media illusion was that the aspirations of girls and women weren't changing at all when they were. Now, the media illusion is that equality for girls and women is an accomplished fact when it isn't. Then the media were behind the curve; now, ironically, they're ahead. Have girls and women made a lot of progress since the 1970s? You bet. Women's college basketball, for example — its existence completely unimaginable when I was in school — is now nationally televised, and vulgar, boneheaded remarks about the players can get even a money machine like Don Imus fired, if only temporarily. But now we’re all district attorneys, medical residents, chiefs of police, or rich, blond, So-Cal heiresses? Not so much.

Since the early 1990s, much of the media have come to over-represent women as having made it — completely — in the professions, as having gained sexual equality with men, and having achieved a level of financial success and comfort enjoyed primarily by the Tiffany's-encrusted doyennes of Laguna Beach. At the same time, there has been a resurgence of retrograde dreck clogging our cultural arteries — The Man Show, Maxim, Girls Gone Wild. But even this fare, which insists that young women should dress like strippers and have the mental capacities of a vole, was presented as empowering, because while the scantily clad or bare-breasted women may have seemed to be objectified, they were really on top, because now they had chosen to be sex objects and men were supposedly nothing more than their helpless, ogling, crotch-driven slaves.

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. We can believe that any woman can become a CEO (or president), that women have achieved economic, professional, and political parity with men, and we can expunge any suggestions that there might be some of us who actually have to live on the national median income, which for women in 2008 was $36,000 a year, 23 percent less than that of their male counterparts. Yet the images we see on television, in the movies, and in advertising also insist that purchasing power and sexual power are much more gratifying than political or economic power. Buying stuff — the right stuff, a lot of stuff — emerged as the dominant way to empower ourselves.4 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.

. . . So what's the matter with fantasies of female power? Haven't the media always provided escapist fantasies; isn't that, like, their job? And aren't many in the media, however belatedly, simply addressing women's demands for more representations of female achievement and control? Well, yes. But here’s the odd, somewhat unintended consequence: under the guise of escapism and pleasure, we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women, images that make sexism seem fine, even fun, and insist that feminism is now utterly pointless, even bad for you. And if we look at what is often being said about girls and women in these fantasies, what we can and should do, what we can and can't be, we will see that slithering just below the shiny mirage of power is the dark, sneaky serpent of sexism.



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