(PhysOrg.com) -- Women have not achieved full equality despite media images that suggest the battle for equality has been won, according to a University of Michigan researcher.
Television shows, movies and advertisements depicting women as high-powered lawyers, surgeons, judges and police chiefs suggest that women now "have it all," but these are mere fantasies of power that excuse, and even justify the resurrection of sexist stereotypes, according to Susan Douglas, chair of the U-M Department of Communication Studies.
Douglas describes this as "enlightened sexism," a new, subtle form of sexism that seems to accept and even endorse the achievements of feminism on the surface, but is really dedicated to keeping women, and especially young women, in their place.
Douglas's study begins in the 1990s when the media focused on "girl power" and women's empowerment. By the early 21st century, marketing campaigns and consumerism urged girls and women to be sexy, obsess over boys and men, and go shopping.
As the media exaggerate women's achievements by showing them in positions of power, the reality is women earn considerably less than men, Douglas says. And, she argues, these portrayals not only distract us from the real-world challenges facing women today, but also drive a wedge between baby-boom women and their millennial daughters.
Young women are constantly told they can be anything they want and do whatever they want. Yet when college women graduate and enter the workforce, many of them learn about the challenges women—including their employed mothers—face, such as ongoing discrimination and low wages.
"There is a real gap between the image and the reality," said Douglas, the Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, "and the image seduces us to think that we've got it 'made in the shade' and the reality is that women are, forty years after the height of the women's movement, still second-class citizens."
Douglas' findings appear in her new book, "Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work Is Done."
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