Review: Enlightened Sexism

April 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done by Susan J. Douglas

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In her latest work, the razor-sharp Susan Douglas argues that the deluge of powerful fictional women in our media — think of all those surgeons, lawyers, businesswomen, and politicians on TV — has slowly and steadily convinced us that real women enjoy the same relatively easy professional success.

Women watch these shows because they are inspirational; but when the TV goes dark, it’s not patriarchy that’s blamed for keeping real women subservient — it’s women ourselves. These shows convince us that true equality is not only possible, but actual — and if we’re not faring well in our relationships or jobs, it’s our own fault for not measuring up.

What I like best about the work is that it does not shy away from complexity and ambiguity; indeed, its thesis lies in the precarious balance between oppression and liberation, autonomy and blind consumerism. Furthermore, Douglas is hilarious, and her call for older feminists — “Vintage females,” in her words — like herself to work together with their millenial counterparts is a refreshing antidote to generational squabble. I would have appreciated more attention and analysis paid to representations of American women beyond the white / black racial dichotomy, but overall, this is a very successful book.

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