In a sequel of sorts to Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (1994), the author asserts that pop culture sends out the false message that women’s liberation has been accomplished and that feminism is now old hat.
Douglas (Communication Studies/Univ. of Michigan; Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, 1999, etc.) analyzes the way females are presented on television and in movies, advertisements and the press, and she is not happy with what she sees. She argues that pop culture is guilty of a backlash against feminism that objectifies women’s faces and bodies, exploits and punishes female sexuality and divides women against each other by age and class. This phenomenon, which she terms “enlightened sexism,” had its beginnings in the early ’90s, and is really just “old-fashioned grade-A patriarchy.” Citing dozens of examples from the media, Douglas demonstrates how female accomplishments have been exaggerated at the same time that old stereotypes of women as bimbos have been reinforced. The author’s zippy prose—“So, what might you get if you combined the six-foot fearless, alligator-wrestling, unsmiling crime fighter Janet Reno with the statuesque, gorgeous, dark-haired super model Cindy Crawford? One delicious answer might be Xenia: Warrior Princess—makes this mostly an entertaining read. Besides a host of familiar characters from movies and television, she draws on such figures as Lorena Bobbitt, Anita Hill, Sarah Palin, Amy Fisher and Hillary Clinton to make her points about attitudes toward women. Although the examples become repetitious, the author’s takes on the media’s obsession with the foibles and pregnancies of celebrities and the biased news coverage of prominent successful women have the ring of truth. Her message is that ordinary women face everyday problems such as salary inequities, maternity leave and child care, many of which are ignored in the media, and that it is up to women to change this. Her epilogue presents two alternative scenarios of the future and urges women to take action to make the preferable one come true.
Sharp and savvy.