Communications professor Susan Douglas, the mother of a 22-year-old daughter, compares popular culture targeted at young women to junk food. “I feel like Julia Child forced to eat at Hooters,” she writes in her new book Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done.
Isn’t that a great line? It’s a quote taken from this article in Macleans today:
Enlightened Sexism charts how the wedge between mothers and daughters increased during the first decade of the 21st century as so-called “millennials”—girls born in the late 1980s and early 1990s—became the most sought-after advertising demographic in history. The desire for power and change that coursed through Douglas’s generation was recast for their daughters as “empowerment” through conspicuous consumption and sexual display, she writes. Activist outlets like Sassy magazine, published from 1988 to 1997, and “riot grrrl,” the feminist punk movement of the early 1990s, were eclipsed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess, along with a tribe of female action heroes. These “warriors in thongs,” as Douglas dubs them, paved the way for the retro “girliness” championed by Legally Blonde, Ally McBeal, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. And from there it was a heartbeat to reality shows like The Bachelor and Say Yes to the Dress, which depicted young women as obsessed with boys and getting married when they weren’t engaged in catfights with one another.
With all the news about women’s gains, the media choses to highlight women’s catfights and marriage “obsession” rather than our triumphs. And Jennifer Pozner says:
“If you did not know anything about American culture or American life other than what you saw on reality TV, it would be extremely easy to believe that the women’s rights movement never happened, that the civil rights movement never happened, that the gay rights movement never happened,” says Jennifer Pozner, the director of Women In Media & News in New York City, whose book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, is to be published in November. “Reality TV producers have achieved what the most ardent fundamentalists and anti-feminists haven’t been able to achieve,” she says.
“They’ve concocted a world in which women have no choices and they don’t even want choices.”
More on Douglas:
Douglas says she was inspired to write the book after noticing what seemed to be a glaring disconnect between the prime-time shows aimed at her generation—Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, The Closer, all featuring tough-talking, assured women who don’t use their sexuality to get what they want—and the programming aimed at her daughter. Eventually she came to believe both kinds of shows were perpetuating the myth that feminism’s work was over: “both mask, even erase how much still remains to be done for girls and women. The notion that there might, indeed, still be an urgency to feminist politics? You have to be kidding.”
Yet, as Vonk points out, female progress at top levels has not moved markedly in 20 years, Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated run for president notwithstanding. Certainly the numbers reflect this: in 1980, women held approximately seven per cent of the legislative seats across Canada.
Ten years later that number had risen to 17 per cent. But between 1990 and 2010, that percentage rose only six per cent—to 23 per cent. (According to the Intra-Parliamentary Union, Canada ranks a pathetic 50th on the world scale of women’s participation in politics, behind Rwanda, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.) Women’s presence in top-tier corporate jobs is even lower. According to Catalyst, an organization that tracks female advancement, women head only 3.8 per cent of FP 500 companies in Canada, and make up a scant 5.6 per cent of FP top earners, 14 per cent of board directors and 16.9 per cent of corporate officers.
The notion that the workplace is an equal playing field is a myth, says Susan Nierenberg, Catalyst’s vice-president of global marketing. The first study to look at the impact of the recession on high-potential women found those in senior leadership positions were three times more likely to lose their jobs than men. Another Catalyst study published last February tracking 4,500 M.B.A. graduates in their first jobs found that women begin at a lower level than men and earned $4,600 on average less. “And more importantly, they never catch up,” says Nierenberg