Susan J. Douglas, “Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done”

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Described here. An essay by Douglas entitled “Girls Gone Anti-Feminist” that touches on the book’s themes is available here. Below is an excerpt:

… Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism, indeed, full equality, has allegedly been achieved. So now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women. Enlightened sexism sells the line that it is precisely through women’s calculated deployment of their faces, bodies, attire, and sexuality that they gain and enjoy true power: power that is fun, that men will not resent, and indeed will embrace. True power here has nothing to do with economic independence or professional achievement: it has to do with getting men to lust after you and other women to envy you. Enlightened sexism is especially targeted to girls and young women and emphasizes that now that they”have it all,”they should focus the bulk of their time and energy on being hot, pleasing men, competing with other women, and shopping.

Enlightened sexism is a manufacturing process that is constantly produced by the media. Its components:anxiety about female achievement; renewed and amplified objectification of young women’s bodies and faces; dual exploitation and punishment of female sexuality; dividing of women against each other by age, race and class; and rampant branding and consumerism:began to swirl around in the early 1990s, consolidating as the dark star it has become in the early 21st century. …

… Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomfits men). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism. In fact, because this equality might lead to”sameness”:way too scary:girls and women need to be reminded that they are still fundamentally female, and so must be emphatically feminine.

Thus, enlightened sexism takes the gains of the women’s movement as a given, and then uses them as permission to resurrect retrograde images of girls and women as sex objects, still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny.

Consequently, in the age of enlightened sexism there has been an explosion in makeover, matchmaking and modeling shows, a renewed emphasis on breasts (and a massive surge in the promotion of breast augmentation), an obsession with babies and motherhood in celebrity journalism (the rise of the creepy “bump patrol”), and a celebration of “opting out” of the workforce. …

–Ann Bartow

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2 Responses to Susan J. Douglas, “Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done”

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  2. CritiX says:

    “because this equality might lead to a sameness way too scary girls and women need to be reminded that they are still fundamentally female, and so must be emphatically feminine”

    I really am very disappointed that you write about feminism and femininity in this article and yet you never once define either one. What does appearance have to do with being female specifically? You hint at it but never hit it on the mark. And when the argument is put forward for enlightened feminism using a fear of “sameness” because of equal social standing, is not “enlightened feminism” simply suggesting a different type of sameness for all women as in “being feminine is X, if you are not X you are not feminine.” In this particular case X is being outwardly attractive. But if all females are X, are they not all the same? So we’re down to substituting one sameness for another. The subtle message is sameness is okay as long as a woman does not share any sort of sameness as a man. Same rights, same goals, same accomplishments, same pay.

    Feminism asserts that men and women have the same rights, politically, economically socially. When one holds so called “enlightened feminism” up to the light of this definition, anyone can see that enlightened feminism is neither enlightened nor feminist. It’s a simple euphemism for sexism.

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