Enlightened Sexism- a book review

Enlightened Sexism; The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done. By Susan J. Douglas. [Kindle edition, 2010]

Sex sells. Sexism is learned. Sexism is taught.

Sex role stereotyping may have decreased somewhat since the 60s and 70s.Today on TV there are women talking heads, news reader or announcers on most of the major networks and cable news programs, whereas in the 60s/70s there were a few weather girls.

In occupations that have historically been male dominate – women have made some progress. The statistics look encouraging, a few women have invaded male professions. On television Women are portrayed in what would have been strictly male roles over thirty years ago. Girls have role models for some of the high profile occupations. But the bimbo role model is still front and center and girls are still being taught to know their place.

Susan Douglas spends the first few chapters reviewing the programming of the 80s and 90s that was fed to  TV viewers. That list and those role models aren’t that encouraging – with a few exceptions. Sex role stereotyping has in fact become more rigid and the pay gap between his and her salaries has remained wide.

For anyone who buys into the mass media propaganda that sexism no longer exists and that the battle for human rights for women has been won – the corporate media’s brain washing was successful. The fact is that the patriarchy is still in charge and the patriarchy still has the overwhelming need to control the evil descendents of Eve.


Media image of “representations of female achievement and control” . . . unintended consequences: under the guise of escapism and pleasure, we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women, images that make sexism seem fine, even fun, and insist that feminism is now utterly pointless-even bad for you. And if we look at what is often being said about girls and women in these fantasies—what we can and should do, what we can and can’t be—we will see that slithering just below the shiny mirage of power is the dark, sneaky serpent of sexism.  (first chapter – locations 167-80 – Kindle edition).

. . .

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, bimbos, and hootchie mamas still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny. So in the age of enlightened sexism there has been an explosion in makeover, matchmaking, and modeling shows, a renewed emphasis on women’s breasts (and a massive surge in the promotion of breast augmentation), . . .

“Because women are now “equal” and the battle is over and won, we are now free to embrace things we used to see as sexist, including hypergirliness. In fact, this is supposed to be a relief. Thank God girls and women can turn their backs on stick-in-the-mud, curdled feminism and now act dumb in string bikinis to attract guys. In fact, now that women allegedly have the same sexual freedom as men, they actually prefer to be sex objects because it’s liberating. [Red Shoe Diaries]

According to enlightened sexism, women today have a choice between feminism and antifeminism, and they just naturally and happily choose the latter because, well, antifeminism has become cool, even hip. Rejecting feminism and buying into enlightened sexism allows young women in particular to be “one of the guys.” Indeed, enlightened sexism is meant to make patriarch pleasurable for women. [locations 294-305].

“Enlightened sexism emerged, in part, from the fact that young women were coming of age in an era of expanding opportunities. It came into full bloom under the Bush administration, and especially after 9/11. Coincidence? I think not. Before he and his ilk trashed the economy, Bush presided over the perfect enlightened sexism presidency. And talk about the illusion of power!

End quote

What Bush started – his frat brother, 0bama plans to finish. As I write this the Democrats intend to present 0bama with health care (whatever) that places an ovary penalty on women. The legislation was written as if the “norm” is male and anyone not male pays extra for medical “insurance”.  This is one example of blatant ongoing institutional sexism.

How many women were on the panel of the recent Health care summit – answer, about 1%. Men AGAIN were making decision FOR (AGAINST) women. The current supreme misogynist – stupid Stupak is interjecting his wacked out religion on American women – one hateful male wants to control over the Eves of the world.

Douglas carefully outlines the media’s efforts to change the subject – look over there on HD tv – where  they give you the illusion that women are strong and in control. It is all play acting, the message is controlled. Sex sells. Sexism sells. Girls will conform to the cultural message of the mass media. The corporate media will create the illusion to sell their own brand of sexism. No harm intended – what matters is the bottom line, the quarterly bottom line, the stock holders, the CEOs and board members. The ones making the fast money on products sold through the advertising could care less about the lasting effects of well being of children and teen agers and the world the younger generations will inherit.

Enlightened Sexism – read this book.


I never watched any of the TV programs mentioned in Enlightened Sexism, except for a few episodes of Zena. Douglas didn’t mention any of  Science Fiction programming that are my personal favorites.

My MA Thesis was on  Sex role stereotyping in the mid 1970s.


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