I came across two new books yesterday that were immediately added to my birthday list, and that I think a lot of you will be interested in. One is more scholarly, and the other more pop, although they otherwise have a similar thrust that will seem familiar, given the conversations going on here at Harpyness and elsewhere in the fem-o-sphere.
The pop text is Susan Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done. You might know Douglas’s Where the Girls Are (1994), about pop culture’s messages to and about women in the 1950s and 60s, and her voice is much the same: sharp and relatable. Now, however, she’s focusing on the last 15 or 20 years, and the “girl power”-ification of feminism in the mass media.
You can read more about the book and even get an excerpt at NPR, where I plucked this juicy plum of an observation:
Something’s out of whack here. If you immerse yourself in the media fare of the past ten to fifteen years, what you see is a rather large gap between how the vast majority of girls and women live their lives, the choices they are forced to make, and what they see — and don’t see — in the media. Ironically, it is just the opposite of the gap in the 1950s and ’60s, when images of women as Watusi-dancing bimbettes on the beach or stay-at-home house wives who needed advice from Mr. Clean about how to wash a floor obscured the exploding number of women entering the workforce, joining the Peace Corps, and becoming involved in politics. Back then the media illusion was that the aspirations of girls and women weren’t changing at all when they were. Now, the media illusion is that equality for girls and women is an accomplished fact when it isn’t. Then the media were behind the curve; now, ironically, they’re ahead.
The scholarly text–just out in paperback–is Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World, by Hester Eisenstein, Ph.D. I’ve only had time to flip through the pages and skim her sources, but the publisher’s (Paradigm) blurb gives a nice summary:
In a pioneering reinterpretation of the role of mainstream feminism, Eisenstein shows how the world’s ruling elites utilize women’s labor and the ideas of women’s liberation and empowerment to maintain their economic and political power, both at home and abroad. Her explorations range from the abolition of welfare as we know it in the United States to the creation of export-processing zones in the global South that depend on women’s nimble fingers; from the championing of microcredit as a path to women s empowerment in the global South to the claim of women’s presumed liberation in the West as an ideological weapon in the war on terrorism. Eisenstein challenges activists and intellectuals to recognize that international feminism is at a fateful crossroads. She argues that it is crucial for feminists to throw in their lot with the progressive forces that are seeking alternatives to globalized corporate capitalism.
Obviously, Eisenstein’s book is a more global in scope, and she’s looking a bit more “behind the curtain” than Douglas, but the two seem to be inspecting the same phenomenon: the commodification of feminism, used in the service of explicitly anti-feminist goals. We discuss this all the time here, and I would highly recommend you seek these books out, whether you read them on your own and pass them to your friends, or (for the teachers among us) use them in your classrooms. Douglas is very undergrad-friendly, and Eisenstein is probably okay for upper-level and graduate students.
Happy (or, more likely, angry) reading, y’all.
P.S. These recommendations are not solicited in anyway; I happened upon these texts accidentally, and will get my hands on them for “real” reading in the coming weeks/months, I hope. Unless Douglas and/or Eisenstein decide to send me a review copy, I mean…