Enlightened Sexism: the War still Rages

Marcela H. Shull

Prof. Serenati Media Literacy

March 25, 2014

Critical Analysis Essay















When I was a young child, It was made very aware of what my gender was. From the day I was born and my sexual characteristic was finally discovered and there for all to see, I was bombarded with a hail storm of pink. From the clothes I wore, to the toys I played with, right down to the very color of my room, it was all planned for me, all from what stayed hidden under my skirt. I truly never understood it, I was young, how could I? I was raised upon the idea that if you were born a girl, you must and have to be a girl, but even then I began to see the inequality in it. I slowly transformed into what I was told to be, going as far as changing my favorite color from yellow to pink, because someone told me that it wasn’t a “girl” color. When my brothers were being taught to work with tools and play with toy guns, I was taught to keep up my appearance, to keep my room clean, because “how was I supposed to get a husband, if I don’t keep the house clean?”

By then I began to realize how stupid it all was, being a girly girl and doing everything possible to try and secure a prince charming. It wasn’t till I was truly older that it was unfair, and at from as an early witness I had been right. I began to speak out about, fighting my way to find some equality with all my male cousins. But what shocked me, was that everyone that I have come across, had the idea that women, no longer needed to fight for equal rights, because they have already been won. Society and the media have assured the masses that Feminism movement has achieved its goals, and that there was no longer a need to fight for equality. However, though the wild flames have calmed, it still burns within the valley.

This is the dire truth, and is what Susan J. Douglas’s brings to light in her book Enlightened Sexism. The reason why I have taken such a liking to this book is that she breaks down how that inequality amongst the sexes that is still very much alive, and how it has hidden itself into the everyday norm. In her book she discusses on how images of women in mass media such as movies, books, and TV shows display fantasies of female power,  how they often reinforce sexist stereotypes, and how a great emphasis is placed on women to be concerned about their appearance at a  very young age and support the damning feminism. She also discusses how these portrayals divert girls and women from real-world problems and how they set up back from our true ambitions.

First of all, enlightened sexism is what Douglas describes as “a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime.” Entirely created from the media, it entails that women have made plenty of progress from the feminist movement, and supposedly saying its goals have been accomplished. Furthermore, it gives the allowance that it is okay, even funny, to impose sexist stereotypes on girls and women. She even points out that every time someone comes into contact with mass media, we are bombarded by these images that this pretend sense of power for women gives them the allowance believe that there is no longer a use for feminism, diminishing whatever is left to be done to help girls and women. Even worse, she details how enlightened sexism tells it viewer’s that they can gain power from having a majority of their energy spent on the attention of appearances, body image, clothing, and sexuality. It then urges that true and absolute “feminine” power comes from the pleasing of men, receiving their attention, and competing against other women for that attention.

Women are often portrayed in the media as vain creatures that seek nothing more in life than to seek relationships, status, and beauty as well as base our identities and self-worth on the judgment of our bodies. It goes as far as to convince that we like being in this vapid yet “perfect” world, that since they convince we see ourselves as equals to men, we can allow ourselves to become sexual commodities, too. Not only that, the media in its entirety push us believe that our faces, clothes, body, and social status really do have some great cosmic significance toward our assigned genders, and that being judged upon our physical appearance is the most important thing that a girl can do. Giving girls unrealistic fantasies about what they should strive for in life gives them an unhealthy future for their development, and whether the media is unknowingly doing this or whether they do not care at all is a great concern. In her book, Douglas states that “Many producers insist that mass media are simply mirrors, reflecting reality, back to the public.” Immediately she calls the bull on this, and names this so-called metaphor distorted, referring them more towards funhouse mirrors that greatly exaggerate the truth.

Enlightened sexism has even convinced much of the populace that there is no longer a battle of equality. As a statistic in Douglas’s book, it states that about 60% of males and 50% females believe that there are no longer any barriers to woman’s advancement in the workplace, of course who do we have to blame? Enlightened sexism gives young makes women feel that they have a “choice” between feminism and anti-feminism, but since girls now wants to as Douglas describes as “one of the guys” and being taught that feminism is for older women, they are convinced that it is no longer necessary and that it is even bad for you to be a feminist. There is so much sexism within today’s media that it’s sends mixed messages on how people should act, and that is truly irksome .This resounds with me on so many levels, for I too have felt this same stigma. I feel that when I reveal that I’m a feminist, I’m looked down upon.

What is also told within this book is that all feminists are die-hard man-hating, hairy lesbian baby killers, which even for the accusers seems to be a little extreme. Feminists are denounced and often ruled as bitchy and whiny, and are often blamed for things from converting girls into lesbianism to 9/11! This is especially true within the media from news stations to full length movies; so this stereotype is practically in escapable. Even in the popular movies that were specially tailored for female entertainment, such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally blond,  they display characters that are considered feminists to be threatening, overly shrill, self-centered minor antagonists that go about the movie for their own personal gain.

They are often claims that these girls that practice their feminism, are just women who wished to be dominated, and only hide behind the mask of feminism to make themselves feel important. In many movies that feature women which Douglas refers to them as fantasies, they are the ways that the media believes women should act and thus entail to its audience to share these same ideas. That girls and women should constantly seek love and always chose love over careers, that girls should be mean and nasty to each other on the simple basis that they are both female, that women with CEO positions and great self-obtained wealth should be knocked down a peg, and that women should be women, emotional and motherly creatures, no matter how successful in life they are.

Douglas gives the idea that she believes men feel threatened by successful women and try to do whatever they can to dement them. Especially within the news media, when a female politian comes about into the light, competing for whatever position in government, newscasters (often male) do not discuss the privileges that she is after or the moralities that she holds, rather they talk about what she is wearing, how much leg and cleavage she is showing, making snide comments whether is too feminine or not enough (there is never an in-between),  ultimately and relentlessly reminding their viewers that she is a woman rather than a candidate.  They often talk on how these candidates that since they are woman, they will be emotional and hysterical to hold office. That they can pass off womanly hysterics and time of month as something that shouldn’t be taken seriously for practically anything, much less for office.

So as we can see sexism is still very much alive within our world, and Douglas has the ovaries enough to poke it with a stick to make it reveal its ugly head into the light. Enlightened sexism is something that shouldn’t be tolerated in today’s world, it demeans women and all who support feminism and keeps people down from succeeding their true abilities. As human beings who seek equal rights amongst the sexes we must do whatever we can to stamp it out. It gives a false sense that we have succeeded in what we were after, and though it appears that we have arrived, there is still such a very much long way to go. Overall, this book has opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the world, and has taught me information that will definitely be utilized in the future.