Feminism in a not-so-enlightened age

I finally got that book finished that I’ve had here for weeks. It’s called Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done by Susan J. Douglas.

First I want to quote Alternet:

It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their “right” to participate in crash diets and their “choice” to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?). Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done

Douglas would concur with this. The major focus of her book is on the media and mixed messages girls and women wind up seeing as they watch their favourite television programs or flip through magazines at the grocery store.

Part of the problem has to do with the convoluted idea of Woman. Buffy could kick serious monster ass but she had to do it fashionably, and while being incredibly thin. It’s okay to show strong women in positions of power, but they’ll be dressed like Dr. Cuddy on House or like the C.S.I. chicks who nearly fall out of their tops every episode on account of the low-cut style presented to them by the wardrobe department. So while it’s okay for these characters to come across as powerful and smart (and able to slap a man down verbally without any punishment of any kind – what woman even has a job where that’s possible?), women still have to dress like their only use is as eye candy.

Same goes for films and television where the woman’s primary weapon winds up being her looks. Yeah, it supposedly makes men look stupid for falling for womanly wiles, but it doesn’t really make women seem much smarter if using their bodies to get what they want is the only way they can think to get what they want. Scripts like Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle take complete advantage of that (lack of) thought process.

She uses the example early on of Janet Reno and the insults slung her way on account of her clothes and demeanour and unfeminine looks. She also quotes Jay Leno’s jokes about her and mentions Will Ferrell’s drag performances. Why was Reno such a target? Douglas states that it’s because she just wouldn’t bend to pressures to be more like what everyone seems to think a woman is, like there’s only one way a woman can be, and she was nowhere near it.

Douglas brings into this something called “hyperfemininity.” This is apparently a tactic in the media (and marketing, really) where women are basically told that it should be just much part of the feminine mystique to be dolled up and gorgeous all the time. As “feminists” and women, it should be their right to want to tan and diet and do plastic surgery over and over and over if it really truly makes them feel like women so they can be treated like women. To do this, though, means “real” feminism must get mocked as silly or as the unpopular/undesired route toward whatever should count as success.

She writes about Enid, a character in the film Legally Blonde who is a total feminist and comes across as incredibly butch and incredibly unlikeable with stupid ideas about what’s important (like petitioning to change the word “semester” to “ovester” because the first word is too close to semen). And Elle (played by Reese Witherspoon), who starts the film as hyperfeminine and radiant in pink, wises up a little over the course of the film, changes her clothing a little, but still winds up winning her big case simply because she’s girly enough to know people shouldn’t wash their hair the day they get a perm and so the killer’s shower alibi was obviously a lie since she still had killer curls.

She’s also hard on the women who perpetuate stereotypes and the magazines and television shows that capitalize on them. Mean girls, cat fights, jealous rages and the like. She mentions girls on reality shows that seem to only be there to take their clothes off for the guys (who are hardly going to complain about that perky perk). What are audiences supposed to be taking from this, that this is not how women should behave in any situation, or that it’s the only way to expect that women will ever behave?

There’s a lot more in the book than I can touch on, obviously. Bottom line, her main hope is that the flawed stereotype that feminism has become in this culture at this time can be fixed. Everyone, men and women, need to look at what the media is passing off as entertainment and point out everything they do wrong but also praise everything they do right and insist they start getting more of it right. Boycott and speak up against products that exist merely to sexualize our youth. Work toward voting in politicians whose social policies would advance women’s interests instead of strangle them. Teach kids what real equality looks like and how to work toward it.


Edit Oct 4/10: original link to Alternet has been inserted. People really need to click on things and then tell me if they don’t work. The only reason I noticed is because I wanted to add another link to an Alternet post, this time about Sarah Palin and the Right and their new definition for feminism.

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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