The Rise of Enlightened Sexism How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild

Susan J. Douglas

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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Women today are inundated with conflicting messages from the mass media: they must either be strong leaders in complete command or sex kittens obsessed with finding and pleasing a man. In The Rise of Enlightened Sexism, Susan J. Douglas, one of America’s most entertaining and insightful cultural critics, takes readers on a spirited journey through the television programs, popular songs, movies, and news coverage of recent years, telling a story that is nothing less than the cultural biography of a new generation of American women.

Revisiting cultural touchstones from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Survivor to Desperate Housewives, Douglas uses wit and wisdom to expose these images of women as mere fantasies of female power, assuring women and girls that the battle for equality has been won, so there’s nothing wrong with resurrecting sexist stereotypes—all in good fun, of course. She shows that these portrayals not only distract us from the real-world challenges facing women today but also drive a wedge between baby-boom women and their “millennial” daughters.

In seeking to bridge this generation gap, Douglas makes the case for casting aside these retrograde messages, showing us how to decode the mixed messages that restrict the ambitions of women of all ages. In her unique voice, Douglas blends humor with insight and offers an empathetic guide to the images so many women love and hate with equal measure.


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In October 1990, while most of America was watching Roseanne, Coach, L.A. Law, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the buildup to Operation Desert Storm on CNN, the still fledging Fox network debuted a show on Thursday nights opposite Cheers, the top-rated program in the country. In December the new show was ranked eighty-seventh out of eighty-nine. The reviews were not kind either. A “new experiment in comatose television,” was the verdict of Tom Shales at the Washington Post: “You keep checking your pulse to make sure you haven’t
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  • Susan J. Douglas

  • Susan J. Douglas is the author of Where the Girls Are, The Mommy Myth, and other works of cultural history and criticism. She is the Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies and chair of the department at the University of Michigan, where she has taught since 1996. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Ms., The Village Voice, and In These Times. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.