Last week I got a comment on my post, asking me what I thought was most at fault for feminism being viewed in such a negative light. To be fair, there isn’t one specific source for this problem, since this opinion is generally permeated throughout our entire culture. The question then becomes, how did this misinformation spread so universally? Well, consider this: What is the most reflective and therefore most influential image of our modern culture?
Answer: the media.
From what I’ve noticed, there are two forms of female power in the media, normally directed at two different generations of women. In her article, “The Rise of Enlightened Sexism,” feminist columnist Susan Douglas defines these portrayals as “Embedded Feminism,” and “Enlightened Sexism.” Within embedded feminism, women in the media are displayed in positions of power which are traditionally held by men (Business Executives, Company CEO, etc.), and it’s usual market towards women over 35. While this portrayal seems to promote a positive view of women in power, it also leads us to believe, since we see so many powerful women so often on TV, that the feminist movement is no longer necessary–when in reality, women have come nowhere close to achieving this level of equality in the workforce, let alone to the extent we are lead to believe.
The second form, enlightened sexism, is aimed primarily at young women and girls. This is where all the photoshopped beauty, sexy music videos, and fawning young men come into play. If you’re a girl in today’s society, you can’t go a day without being bombarded with images of the “ideal” woman–someone with perfect skin and a “bangin’ bod’”–who exerts her power by putting her body on display and waiting for men to approve of her; showering her with praise and worshiping her. What girls are being taught is that–while being smart, or funny, or talented are all good things–being “hot,” is the most valuable trait of all. If a girl isn’t attractive, or she doesn’t have the perfect body, she ultimately has no power. Essentially, if a young woman can’t get the approval of her male peers, she is insignificant. Forgettable. Unloved. We can look at the rates of depression in girls and women–which has doubled in the past decade–to determine the effect this message is having on female youth.
So we have half the media convincing us that feminism is no longer an issue, and the other half implying that women can only be powerful by hypersexualizing themselves. But there is yet another thing the media has done to undermine female empowerment, which exists outside the messages themselves:
By offering different versions of feminine “power” to different audiences, the media are creating a cultural divide between women: the mothers and the daughters. A key part of the feminist movement is the unification of women–all women. We can’t transcend to a societal level which is equal to men if we are constantly fighting each other. By providing us with these contrasting feminist ideals, the media ensure that women have different versions of what will be best for them, what is respectable, and what will make them feel powerful.
I’m not saying either of these views on feminism aren’t the “real”feminism; with so much inaccuracy behind the portrayals, how could they be? But when you’re working on a movement, all parties involved need to be united, and with these two generations pitted against each other, nothing will ever get done. Not all women need to have the same views on feminism, but they can’t be so different that the very existence of one version is a threat to the other.
My suggestion is for women to start a conversation. We need to recognize the end goal of equality is something feminists still need to work for, but not what the media teaching us. I want girls to understand that the media is not a reflection of reality, and that the path to empowerment is something we need to create ourselves. Together.
Sources: Susan J. Douglas. “The Rise of Enlightened Sexism,” 2010.