Monday, March 22, 2010

Enlighted Sexism by Susan J. Douglas

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work Is DoneEnlightened Sexism:  The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas
2010, 334 pages
Enlightened sexism is a manufacturing process that is produced, week in and week out, by the media. Its components--anxiety about female achievement; a renewed and amplified objectification of young women's bodies and faces; the dual exploitation and punishment of female sexuality; the dividing of women against each other by age, race, and class; rampant branding and consumerism--began to swirl around in the early 1990s, consolidating as the dark star it has become in the early twenty-first century. Some, myself included, have referred to this state of affairs and this kind of media mix as "postfeminist." But I am rejecting this term. It has gotten gummed up by too many conflicting definitions. And besides, this term suggests that somehow feminism is at the root of this when it isn't-it's good, old-fashioned, grade-A sexism that reinforces good, old-fashioned, grade-A patriarchy. It's just much better disguised, in seductive Manolo Blahniks and an Ipex bra. (p10)
In Enlightened Sexism, Susan J. Douglas argues that the through the combination of "enlightened sexism" and "embedded feminism," the media and popular culture conceal the very real need for continued feminism - the very idea of which having become almost a dirty word. In embedded feminism, tv shows and the media present women in power as fait accompli, leading women to believe that feminism is part of the cultural landscape and hiding the fact that there still exist many disparities between women and men in this country. Through enlightened sexism, women continue objectified and exploited in popular culture, but the viewer is meant to watch with irony, as Douglas explains:
This is the knowing wink:  guys are so dumb, such helpless slaves to big breasts, and the female display is, in the end, so harmless, that a feminist critique is not necessary. Therefore, the objectification of women is now fine; why, it's actually a joke on the guys. It's silly to be sexist; therefore, it's funny to be sexist. (p13)
Douglas writes in a conversational tone that immediately pulled me into her writing and kept me interested. Not having read much nonfiction lately, I expected this to be a tough read for me and was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite to be the case - for the most part, I was constantly engaged by Douglas's writing and managed to finish it over the course of a weekend.

I also enjoyed reading the examples she cites of movies, tv shows, and popular culture in which embedded feminism or enlightened sexism are at work. Having watched or at least heard of many of the examples that she gives, I was intrigued by her analysis of them. To be honest, I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this book as much as I would have if I wasn't so familiar with all of her examples - I did lose some interest when the chapters focused on aspects of the media I wasn't as familiar with. Her chapters also tended to be example-heavy, and more than once I wished that she would give fewer examples and make her point sooner.

This book definitely got me thinking more about feminism, and the role that it plays in my life. It's not something I've really considered before, and I'm definitely watching tv shows and movies in a new light now. Overall, I'd say that this book is illuminating and well-written, but be wary before picking it up if you're not completely interested in the subject material.

Note:  I received a copy of this book for review from Goodreads First Reads. 


  1. This sounds like the type of book I read often in college, when I was focused on Women's Studies. I haven't read anything like it since then, but this one sounds interesting...aside from the slow parts you mention.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I have to check this one out! I am very interested on the perception on feminism overall and wonder how many of them I will agree with. Good review!

  3. Soulds like I would enjoy and largely agree with this! thanks for posting such an interesting review


  4. Thanks for this review! It sounds like something I was just thinking of looking for.

  5. thanks for reviewing this- it sounds really interesting to me. i love reading about women and feminism and this sounds great.

  6. Wow, great book choice! It sounds like such an enlightening read. I'm sure it was also very interesting to make connections in the media and such.

    from Une Parole