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Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (1994)

de Susan J. Douglas

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Media critic Douglas deconstructs the ambiguous messages sent to American women via TV programs, popular music, advertising, and nightly news reporting over the last 40 years, and fathoms their influence on her own life and the lives of her contemporaries. Photos.

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The author looks at the role of mass media in creating and nurturing feminist thought. She examines not just the news, but also the entertainment that was offered up to budding feminists throughout the middle of the 20th century. Looking at the way the media chose to play women against each other, and how they couched stories about feminism is a bit disheartening, even for one who lived through this and remembers her own difficult, ambivalent relationship with the media and how they presented women. It also serves as a corrective for those who claim that all second wave feminists shut out women of color; there were many feminists who were women of color, and attempted to center them in the movement, but the media simply wasn't having any of it - they focused solely on the middle-class white woman. This book should be required reading for....well, for everyone, but certainly anyone who works with, lives with, or interacts with women. ( )
  Devil_llama | May 16, 2017 |
An interesting analyzation of girls shaped by the media and feminism, starting in the late '50s and early '60s and ending on the brink of the '90s. It's interesting to read overall, but a lot of the analysis seems, to me, blown out of proportion. Were the Beatles really popular because they were androgynous, and girls wanted to be like them? Were certain TV show characters meant to show women how to be subservient? Perhaps, but maybe the Beatles just write catchy songs, and TV shows are mindless entertainment. Easy to swallow if taken with a grain of salt.

That being said, the historical parts were much more interesting than the pop culture analysis. For someone who wasn't alive during that time, it was fascinating to read about the rallies, struggles, and news coverage that came along with feminism. Douglas has written other books on the topic, picking up from the 1990s where she left off, and I will definitely be reading those to see what she has to say about my generation. ( )
  howifeelaboutbooks | Nov 4, 2015 |
Great book with a lot of history wound in with media. My only issue is that there were a few points where it felt she was reaching a little bit... Looking for meaning in areas where there may not have been meaning. Looking for interpretation where it may simply have been entertainment. However, her explanations of television shows were well-written and the book read easily, considering the kind of book it is. ( )
  KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
Chapter 8, "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar", describing media coverage of the women's lib movement 1968-70, is infuriating. Now I know where every (modern) negative stereotype of women and every dismissive, tired anti-woman/feminist argument comes from. Even more insidious is why women got day care and right to choose but couldn't make a dent in being seen as lesser people and sex objects. "The more things change..." ( )
  gunsofbrixton | Apr 1, 2013 |
This book examines the way women have been portrayed in the media roughly since the author's teenage years in the 1950's, up to the time the book was published in 1994. She justifies this approach by explaining that she was part of the great post-war baby boom, and being part of such a large cohort at such a time of rapid change made her generation uniquely influential on our culture, as advertisers and cultural producers started to gear everything to this huge potential market, hence the invention of "the teenager" amongst other cultural shifts.
She starts by looking at the TV programmes and pop music that she first became aware of her teenage years, which to hear her describe it, was pretty unsubtle in its insistance that a woman's place was in the home, and that for women, satisfaction was to be found in looking really great to ensnare a husband, then settling down into a life of being a selfless martyr to your family. Yet a mere ten years later, women who were raised on this cultural diet were saying things like "marriage is slavery" and protesting outside the Miss World competition. The opening chapters do a great job of explaining how this generation became those women, dealing with how they saw that this selfless work for family wasn't actually working out for their mothers, not least because during the war years they had been told that they could do a man's job whilst the men were away, but as soon as the men returned from war were told very firmly to get back in the kitchen. She also examines the effect of the Cold War, and the fact that American schoolchildren were having it drilled into them that in order to compete with the Ruskis they were going to have to strive to be the very best they could be - and rather stupidly "The Man" didn't just broadcast this message to boys - girls' radar picked it up too. This caused a bit of a split in the female psyche of the day - on the one hand being told domestic bliss was the best they could and should hope for, and on the other, being told they were the brave new hope that was going to take America into the future. This kind of contradiction seems to repeat itself again and again over the course of the book, and one of the key themes is how women during this time have been forced into an impossible position, where their own personality is divided against itself in many ways.
I thought this book was full of great insights, and for someone like me that wasn't particularly aware of the full history of the women's rights movement, it was very illuminating. Even for those that were there, the author has some really incisive things to say about the media's treatment of the emerging movement. Some of it was so obviously biased and ill-informed that it's enough to make your blood boil. Some of the coverage was more subtle, but equally damaging in the long term, and this was the bit of the book I found really interesting. Douglas explains how many media commentators of the time, although being largely hostile to the women's movement, did have to concede that they had a point when it came to some of the economic arguments that the movement made regarding the need to pay women the same wage for the same work, and the need to provide good quality childcare to free more women up to join the workforce. However, the same commentators, often completely dismissed the movement's insistence that "the personal is political", and the legacy of that can still be felt to this day I think, where economic attitudes towards women have, by and large been reformed (although many of us are still waiting for that equal pay etc...), but it's in the domestic sphere, where the rates of domestic abuse, for example, are still pretty appalling, that very little progress has been made. Anyway, there's loads of equally interesting and thought provoking arguments advanced in this book, which I will not go into here, but if this is a topic you're interested in, I would recommend it most heartily. It's written by an academic, and is academic in tone, as in it's very thoroughly researched and advances quite detailed arguments, but at the same time it's very readable and written with a light touch that makes it very accessible. The only reason it didn't get the full 5 stars is that it is very American-centric, and occassionally mentions celebrities or famous legal cases that I've never heard of, and gives no background info, instead taking it for granted that the reader was familiar with them. Apart from that small fact, I ate up every word. ( )
1 vota HanGerg | Jun 26, 2012 |
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Media critic Douglas deconstructs the ambiguous messages sent to American women via TV programs, popular music, advertising, and nightly news reporting over the last 40 years, and fathoms their influence on her own life and the lives of her contemporaries. Photos.

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