I’ve been reading Susan Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done. Easily the best book I’ve read in 2010. Easily the most important. (Runner up: Game Change)
One thing that really impresses me about Douglas’ writing is her ability to use contextual language in context. Let me show you what I mean:
Example One (taken from a discussion of Melrose Place):
“Unfortunately, the show’s depiction of a black woman was totally jive. Rhonda was an aerobics instructor (she had rhythm and could dance, don’t ja know) and was reduced to uttering dialogue like ‘he really has it goin’ on’ and ‘hey girl.’”
Example Two (taken from a discussion of Clueless, Legally Blonde, and Miss Congeniality):
“Feminism was, like, so yesterday—hostile to the fun of the new girliness and unnecessary because equality had, like, so totally been achieved.”
Another thing that Douglas does really well: plot summaries. She’s great at explaining TV shows’ narrative arcs in a paragraph or two. And she always gets it right. Ditto for her descriptions of comedy sketches:
“Will Ferrell’s ongoing drag impersonation ‘Janet Reno’s Dance Party’ on Saturday Night Live, featured the nation’s first female attorney general as a pathetic, love-starved nerd who threw herself at men and danced like a robot on angel dust. A giant; too butch; unloved; a freak.”
Okay, here’s the most important quote from chapters 2-4:
“[S]ensationalism, titillation, and ridicule, all reminding girls and women that they will always be defined by and reduced to their sexual attractiveness (or lack thereof) and their sexual behaviors—now that’s an effective form of social control. Enlighten sexism rests on that ever-quaking and shifting fault line about female sexuality: it should be exploited and stoked (especially to sell products), but it should be policed and punished (to keep girls and women in their place). And that’s exactly how the news media played it.”
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
My one complaint with chapters 2-4: At the end of 4, after discussing Miss Congeniality, Down With Love, and Legally Blonde, Douglas writes, “Women may be Harvard-educated lawyers, or publicists, or FBI agents, but such professions offered precious little satisfaction or fulfillment compared to the love of a man.” Douglas says this as feminist critique of the movies, but I don’t see it as a valid one. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a woman (or a man) putting romantic love above all else. Actually, I think it’s a good thing—again, for both men and women.
You can read my earlier entry on Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism by clicking here.