Women's equality: Perception does not mirror reality

March 10, 2010

(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 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.

Equality is not a reality. Prof. Susan Douglas says women have not gained full equality, which is opposite of what media images show.

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."

Explore further: Rethinking sexism: Study examines how society maintains the status quo

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5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2010
High schoolers earn considerably less than graduates. We know why that is: fewer skills. We don't conclude the same for women, but women too have less of certain things. Female physicians work fewer hours and balance work and family obligations. Rare, high paying skillsets such as STEM are rare amongst men, and even rarer amongst women. Finally, I don't see the uneducated ones working in coal plants or doing lumberjacking. Perhaps their risk aversion factors into it too?
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2010
This story reminds me of the similar case about race. The more special interest race proponents gain ground, the louder they shout at everyone about how its not real and there hasn't been any real progress. Nothing is ever enough because they aren't after equality. What they really want is the superior position. And, what they can never accept is the reality of differences among people and gender will produce different outcomes.
not rated yet Mar 11, 2010
the "enlightened sexism" as a duplicitous means for "keeping women in their place" sounds pretty bad. But it's not supported and is fairly paranoid thinking.

also statements such as "as the media exaggerates women's achievements by showing them in positions of power" completely neglect to mention that the media also exaggerates mens achievements by showing them in positions of power. Media does all sorts of distorting and the evidence I've seen is media does this to make a better story, get more attention, readers and money. To claim this is a deliberate decision to keep women in their place does not seem to be substantiated.
not rated yet Mar 12, 2010
You will always be able to collect 'evidence' to support the statement that "women have not gained full equality to men"; 'men equal women' ('men = women') would require a population of hermafrodites.
(PS: since I am a man, not having gained full equality to women in terms of social intelligence, this statement may very well be disturbing for women. I don't know).

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