Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done

by Debbie Stoller

In this lively critique, scholar Susan J. Douglas debunks the myth of a post-feminist society, stating that women are actually living in a time of “enlightened sexism”-a seductive form of patriarchy that encourages women to behave as sex objects in celebration of their alleged sexual equality.

She argues that the media teaches younger women that their only route to power is through pleasing men, being hot, competing with other women, and shopping. In an attempt to expose these cultural messages, Douglas visits depictions of women in the media, including the Spice Girls, Gossip Girl, and the tabloid obsession with “baby bumps.”

Although Douglas’ informal prose and irreverent sense of humor make this book an enjoyable read, her pop-culture analysis wanders quickly into predictable territory: reality television shows are ridiculous; fashion magazines promote unhealthy body image. Part of the problem lies in the book’s broad scope-Douglas encompasses pop culture from the ’90s to the present in order to define the “millennial” generation, but the resulting effect is repetitive. Some of the more absorbing portions of Enlightened Sexism examine female politicians, noting how pundits labeled Janet Reno as a mannish, swamp-loving spinster rather than discussing her political accomplishments, or how aggressively the media monitors Michelle Obama’s wardrobe. Unfortunately, the majority of the book feels painfully like hearing one’s mom (in this case, a feminist, Ani DiFranco-loving mom) shaking her finger at your favorite guilty pleasures.

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.