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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,264 ratings  ·  194 reviews
From the author of Where the Girls Are, a sharp and irreverent critique of how women are portrayed in today's popular culture

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 Enlightened Sexism, Susan J. Douglas, one of America's most entertainin
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Times Books
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Emma Sea
I missed the 1990s. I got married, had a baby, and lost my mind (not necessarily in that order). When I came to, I had missed the X-Files. I missed Xena. I even missed Buffy. And somehow, when I re-entered the world, we had gone from Murphy Brown to Brazilians for all.

Douglas did a great job of unpicking what happened with popular media in those years to end us up here, in the world of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives, where "girls have learned to be enforcers of their own opression" (p. 237),
Marisa Tremblay
I really wanted to love this book. It was tragic that instead I found myself repeatedly inclined to throw it across the room. Part of this is my fault - I should've paid more attention to the dust jacket and realized that it was going to be nothing but a polemical against portrayals of women in the media without attention elsewhere. The title is incredibly misleading, for the record: this is much less about feminism or sexism but instead a 300-page description of women in media between 1990-2010 ...more
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in popular culture; anyone interested in women's issues
Shelves: feminism

I first encountered Susan J. Douglas 20 years ago when I read Where The Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Back then, Douglas’s chatty, irreverent approach to her subject matter was a breath of fresh air in a field which seemed to attract the stodgiest of academics.

The Rise of Enlightened Sexism follows on from Where The Girls Are, charting the media’s response to growing female empowerment, and how it is pitting women and girls against each other. As Douglas explains:

“Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the pexplains:



Mar 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Ummm..... yeah.

So, I'm all about Feminism. In fact - as imperfect as I may be - I oft feel as though I'm keeping it alive all by myself. I thought that this book would help give me specific examples to use as alliterations during my various discussions with the masses.

What did I get instead? One woman’s pitiful excuse to watch and critique various sitcoms, movies, music videos and the like from the ‘90’s. I flukin kno that "entertainment" (television in general) is sexist. Believe me, the cons
Apr 13, 2010 rated it liked it
All I can say about this book is "ehhh..." Here's why: the first chapter in which Douglas defines the term "enlightened sexism" is cool because she explains this new phenomenon in which it appears that feminism has won, women have it all, and, therefore, we can ignore any signs of sexism that we still see because they're not relevant to the overall success that women have achieved. I also like how she emphasizes that the same old female stereotypes are being packaged in a new gift box of indepen ...more
Well, I know now why I couldn't get into Alias.

Douglas, in an extremely funny and 'I'm gulity of it too' voice dicusses how modern televison is sexist, just in more subtle (in some cases) ways then in the first place. She also examines why some shows worked and some shows didn't. Wonder why the Bachelor is still on tv, this will tell.

I do have to admit, howver, that I would have liked to see inclusion of both The Wire and Homicide as they bucked some of the trends that Douglas talke
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminist
I was recommended this book after I made a video about Retro Sexism in advertising ( and I'm really glad because I can't believe I almost missed this one. Douglas provides a well researched look at the backlash against feminism and its sneaky manifestation as something she calls "Enlightened Sexism". I think it's an incredibly important work that uncovers the way that sexism and by extension ...more
Jane Costanza
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't enjoy this book as much as i thought i would. The author critiques pop- media (especially television sitcoms) over the past decade over its portrayal of women. Media and entertainment industry is sexist. Duh. It's racist and ageist too. It is hard to take seriously any straight faced critique of pop media. Pop media is so bizarre that im a bit bewildered why anyone would do a flat critique of it.
Ms. Online
Brenda R. Weber
Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done
By Susan J. Douglas
Times Books

GIVEN ITS DEPRESSING TOPIC— the media’s insidious contribution to
the waning influence of feminism— Enlightened Sexism is a delightful
read. Douglas had me laughing out loud as she made her irreverent
but persuasive case against a popular culture that promises girls
and women they can be whatever they want as long as they don’t want
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good read. Douglas dissects pop culture, the media and politics and presents a truly horrendous analysis of how women are presented to the public and how we continue to be treated as inferior to men despite the strides of feminism. What I particularly enjoyed was the calling out of alleged feminist characters in television and film as stereotypical ball busting bitches with no positive feelings towards men.

I highly recommend this one.
Carla Remy
I loved her Where The Girls Are, which was about baby boomers and the growth of the feminism movement. This book picks up in the 90s, so it's all times I lived through. Thought provoking.
Looking back, well, my view was clouded by the NOW. I think as you get older the NOW has less of a hold on most of us, but that's a separate issue. When I was young, I guess I just thought the world was getting tackier. It was happening around me. The envelope was being pushed, more sex everywhere. Realit
Lisa H
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own, non-fiction, feminism
This book was ok. I was already aware of most of the information but it will be a good resource, facts wise, for my papers that I write for school.
Overall, though, I did not like the style of this book. It had the feeling that the author was trying to be lighthearted and sarcastic but she just couldn't make it stick. Where as when I read Jessica Valenti the words just seem to flow, this writing was jarring at points due to grammar and failed attempts either to be "cool" or funny.
Alex Templeton
May 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Anyone who's paying any attention knows that the subtitle of this book is, duh, true. Therefore, it's nice that every ten years or so a book comes along that analyzes the past ten years of pop culture and says that, while we've made progress, there's still a lot more work to be done. This is that book for 2010. As someone who's generally familiar with what's going on in pop culture and has read quite a bit about it, I found a lot of this book to be retreading of stuff I already knew. Still, ther ...more
I really enjoyed this book. It was intelligent, well-informed, and articulate. Writing with humor and attitude, Douglas calls the many faces of media on it’s secretly sexist, psuedo-feminist BS.

Citing examples from popular TV shows, retail, magazines, and news media, Douglas provides several examples of enlightened sexism and backs it up with plenty of research. It’s written simply but is still very intelligent and doesn’t pander to the reader (a less than easy tightrope). It’s dense
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was hoping to get oriented with the genuine and clear-cut feminist cause by reading this book. Instead, the experience was akin to running on a treadmill. It started off a little interesting, wasn't a complete waste of time, but no matter what pace I took, I remained exactly in the same place from beginning to end. This book shows why feminists get heat from other political circles. A lot of over-analyzed and inconsistent issue-making.
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
This book is similar but covers more ground then the "viriginty culture" of the Purity Myth. Definitely recommend it as well.
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I’m ambivalent about this book. Although I’m sympathetic to Douglas’s concerns about the media’s assault on the ideals of feminism, there was also something missing in her critique of pop culture. In a nutshell, the author’s argument is that the feminist ideals of the 1970s were attacked and destroyed by media and pop culture, during the 1990s. Douglas maintains that television and the media, more generally, endorsed conflicting messages about women; telling them they could “have it all” in thei ...more
Raven DeLajour
Nov 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, feminism
Excellently written and supported, I found Enlightened Sexism had the answer to a question that has been bothering me for quite awhile now: why does everyone think that the United States has surpassed sexism? I have also asked this about racism and classism and the other oppressions that continue to dominate American culture, such as homophobia and ageism.

Well, this book made it perfectly clear why so many people call me a 'femi-nazi' and harass me online when I speak about feminism. I am very
I've been waiting to write this review because I honestly just can't think of enough words to sum up how incredible it is. I thoroughly enjoyed Douglas's (Douglas'??) Where The Girls Are when I read it for a women's studies class in college. This is Where The Girls Are 2.0, for my generation. It made me rethink all of these things that I grew up on and am currently experiencing. It pissed me off (in the best way possible), it made me laugh, it made me (true to my generation) roll my eyes so hard ...more
Katherine Clark
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am almost finished with this book. Overall, I enjoyed it, if that is the right word. In many ways, it is an upsetting book. I say upsetting, because I agree with the author's premise that the powers that be are attempting to return women to their rightful place, under the thumb of patriarchy. (And yes, I am saying this with a straight face.) I wish I had read this book before teaching my Female Hero and Superhero book--very useful. Douglas examines how women are portrayed on TV and in film, in ...more
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Super compelling book. I loved Susan Douglas' other book, "Where the Girls Are," and this book brings many of the same issues into contemporary culture. Douglas is a funny, spirited writer, and although I agreed with many of her critiques, she's getting into the more insidious and subtle kinds of antifeminism here and therefore not everyone will agree. For that reason, this would make an excellent read for a book club or for a women's studies class.
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Douglas really lays out how media continues to incorporate sexism into society and he we just buy it now. It was pretty disturbing and opened my eyes. I'm definitely more sensitive now and that's a good thing. It's good create awareness. The only thing I didn't like is she did repeat some ideas over and over again which got a bit annoying. But overall an excellent book on feminism, sexism, and the social media.
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
The author writes very well, with a lot of humor, in bringing home the point that, not only is feminism's work not done, but powerful forces using the media are seeking to undo what has been accomplished. In the 2012 political climate, the anti-feminist agenda is even more obvious than when the book was written.
Jade Lopert
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was a fairly frustrating read. While, over all, I (think) I’m on the same page with the author, it also felt like a lot of mixed messages were being sent throughout the book.
On one hand, all makeup is bad and giving in to the patriarchal standard? But on the other the author herself shops at Sephora and has many feminist friends who wear mascara?
More than anything it felt a little bit like a diatribe about how amazing the pure women’s movement of the 70s was and how much has bee
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely essential. Within the first ten pages I was already like, “Yep, yep, yep.” I want to walk around and hand this book out to everyone on the streets. Admittedly, if you don’t like pop culture it may not be an enjoyable or enlightening read for you. That said, every woman can clearly see from the evidence laid out that the US is severely lacking in concern for women’s issues. I hope the world proposed in the epilogue can eventually become more of a reality than not... and pr ...more
Jun 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010
WHERE THE GIRLS ARE was assigned in the Introduction to Sociology course I took in the second semester of my freshman year of college. My professor recommended looking for used copies of the course books at the bookstore, but advised that we'd all have to buy new copies of Douglas' book because nobody sells it back at the end of the semester. He was right.

I hoped ENLIGHTENED SEXISM would be the new WHERE THE GIRLS ARE. I don't think it will be. Douglas' writing is as conversational, engaging, a
Mar 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: College students everywhere
I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program. I could not be more thrilled.

Susan J. Douglas is a Professor of Communication at the University of Michigan, and she uses all of her skills to analyze feminism and sexism from the nineties to the present. Through her study of television, magazines, and music, she illustrates the way in which the powerful feminist impulses of the early nineties (such as the Riot Grrrl movement) were co-opted and emptied of meanin
Apr 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fic
This one's a curious book in that, in terms of quality, I think it easily earns five stars. Then why did I only give it three? Because it kept making me angry. Not because I disagreed with what Douglas was saying (for the most part, I think much of what she had to say was absolutely spot-on) -- but because I _agreed_, and it made for frustrating, difficult reading. It is frustrating to realize how much feminism still has to achieve ... and, for that matter, how much, in some ways, it has backslid.

But the concep
Mar 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, reviewed
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 wome ...more
Katherine Clark
Jun 10, 2011 rated it liked it
I am almost finished with this book. Overall, I enjoyed it, if that is the right word. In many ways, it is an upsetting book. I say upsetting, because I agree with the author's premise that the powers that be are attempting to return women to their rightful place, under the thumb of patriarchy. (And yes, I am saying this with a straight face.) I wish I had read this book before teaching my Female Hero and Superhero book--very useful. Douglas examines how women are portrayed on TV and in film, in ...more
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Susan J. Douglas is a prize-winning author, columnist, and cultural critic, and the Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies at The University of Michigan. Her book Where the Girls Are was widely praised, and chosen one of the top ten books of 1994 by National Public Radio, Entertainment Weekly and The McLaughlin Group. In her most recent book, Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive ...more
“...There were the studies, beginning in 2007, which found that the suicide rate among women who had received breast implants were twice the suicide rate of the general population. So there's an alarming relationship between being deeply unhappy, being unhappy with your body, and having liquid-filled plastic bags surgically inserted into your body that kind of contradicts the whole "boost your self-esteem" line about the real reasons to have cosmetic surgery.” 4 likes
“Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism — indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved — so now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.” 1 likes
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