In Where the girls are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media, Susan Douglas analyses the effects of mass media on women of the nineteen fifties, and more importantly on the teenage girls of the baby boom era. Douglas explains why women have been torn in conflicting directions and are still struggling today to identify themselves and their roles. Douglas recounts and dissects the ambiguous messages imprinted on the feminine psyche via the media. Douglas maintains that feminism is a direct result of the realization that mass media is a deliberate and calculated aggression against women. While the media seemingly begins to acknowledge the power of women, it purposely sets out to redefine women and the qualities by which they should define themselves. The contradictory messages received by women leave women not only in a love/hate relationship with the media, but also in a love/hate relationship with themselves.
As early as the nineteen fifties women were identified and targeted as a market. In a consumer culture the most important things are consumers. Advertisers convinced homemakers that in order to be a “good” wife and mother you must have their products and appliances to keep a clean and perfect home. The irony of this ploy is that consumers must have money to buy, and so trying to improve their quality as homemakers, off into the workforce women went. This paradox left women overworked and unfulfilled. As the daughters of the fifties and sixties witnessed this, they began to think of better lives. They were born in great numbers and as a result became the most powerful group of consumers. Advertisers soon set the guidelines to what material commercial products every girl needed to obtain her status in society. Women’s roles on television gradually changed from perfect housewives to mystical genies and witches with power, but somehow they always subdued their power to please their men. In the background women were fighting for equal rights and equal pay, but the media portrayed these protests as isolated events and acts of extremists. The newscasts attempted to label feminists as women who protested against being exploited and “looked at” by exploiting themselves and secretly wanted men’s attention by these protests. Television did respond by developing a new “tougher” woman, but made her success dependent on her attractiveness and sexuality. The media’s simultaneous promotion and containment of the women’s movement left the young women of the seventies exposed to what Douglas refers to as social schizophrenia (9). Feminist were now rejecting cosmetics and other marketed ploys that contributed to the oppression of women, leaving industries that were primarily focused on women’s “needs” struggling to address this while maintaining their market. Mass media encouraged and exploited commercial androgyny with unisex fashions and Madison Avenue promoted a new “natural look” that was anything but natural. This look promoted a Lolita image that “infantilized women and exhorted [women] to embrace the desire to be attractive and gazed upon favorably by men.”(152).
As television shows and advertisers tried to contain women’s self improvement to purely personal and narcissistic realms, they still tell women today that we should look a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way. Women today are still prey to the advertisers, to societal expectations, and agendas set by mass media. Torn between profession and motherhood, by marriage and autonomy, slapped in the face with anorexic models by which they are supposed to gauge themselves, challenged to be sexy, yet virginal, women are still victims, yet somehow cherish this feminine existence.
Susan Douglas expresses that even though women are still not immune to media influence, and that the guilt of not being up to standard is still effective, perhaps the awareness of the media manipulation will relieve the pressure and guide us to our true selves.
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