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Feminism After Wwii

By kikim1234 Aug 06, 2007 1134 Words
I will be referring to Susan Douglas' book, Where the Girls Are, to discuss how representations of femininity in popular culture evolved before and after the woman's movement. For the children born after World War II, the media's influence was extraordinary. These children were the fastest growing market segment and were referred to as the "baby boomers". The preteen and teenage girls were the first generation to be relentlessly isolated as a distinct market segment. Advertisers knew they had to speak to the young women of this generation in a way that encouraged distinctions between teenagers and adults in order to go against the usual parental guidance in which provided fiscal restraint. "So at the same time that the makers of Pixie Bands, Maybelline eyeliner, Breck shampoo, and Beach Blanket Bingo reinforced our roles as cute, air headed girls, the mass media produced a teen girl popular culture of songs, movies, TV shows, and magazines that cultivated in us a highly self-conscious sense of importance, difference, and even rebellion.(Douglas,14)" Because the market of young women became important economically, these women started to believe that they could be of importance culturally and politically as a generation. Mass media, without trying, was able to encourage rebellion throughout this generation.

"American Women have been surrounded by contradictory expectations since at least the nineteenth century (14)." After World War II these circumstances increased with the meticulous array of media technology and outlets that interlocked in peoples homes. The contradictions in the media were heightened dramatically due not only to the changes of the audience but because the media itself was transforming in how it regarded and marketed the consumers. Mass media started to be defined by the division of age and sought to please "the lowest common denominator". Television programs sought to please the "lowest common denominator" by offering homogenized images of our culture which sparked up a great deal of debate and succeeded in reinforcing the middle class, sexually repressed, white-bread norms and values. "By the 1960's, the contradictions grew wider and more obvious, and the images and messages of this period were obsessed with shifting gender codes, driven with generational antagonisms, schizophrenic about female sexuality, relentless in their assaults on the imperfections of the female face and body, and determined to straddle the widening gap between traditional womanhood and the young, hip, modern "chick" (15)."

Female characters on T.V. were changing into witches and genies in an attempt to acknowledge the obvious increase in female power and sexual energy. "Since viewers had been socialized to regard female sexuality as monstrous, TV producers addressed the anxieties about letting it loose by domesticating the monster, by making her pretty and sometimes slavish, by shrinking her and keeping her locked up in a bottle, and by playing the situation for laughs. (126)" In such shows as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Flying Nun had women with magical powers in which the men in their lives begged them not to use, unless of course to do chores. If the powers were used in the "public sphere" the man's entire existence would be turned upside down. Bewitched for example was a show full of witches that constantly threatened the husband's manhood and authority as the head of the household. Samantha was the witch on Bewitched who embodied important contradictions, for she was a happy, respectable house wife who exerted power beyond the kitchen or the living room. Samantha had to make excuses for the odd occurrences around their home and for her husband to remain being seen as competent to his male authority figures. The husband stays true to being the superior gender in the eyes of his superiors but the audience saw a different story in that the wife with the magical powers had control.

Therefore rise of the feminist movement changed our images of women in many different ways. In the late 1960's the Miss America Pageant was the stage for the most outrageous and defining moment in America's history. This moment was when Robin Morgan, who was an actress on the show Mama, organized several buses of women to protest the pageant. They held up posters comparing women to slabs of meat, burning their brassieres, and chanting such things as, "Atlantic city is a town of class. They raise your morals and they judge your ass." "They suggested that the sense of cultural and social collectivity many young women felt when they sang along together with the Shirelles or the Beatles was about to be extended into a political movement that would change America...They put us on notice that the politically innocent word girl was about to give way to the politically conscious word women. (141)"

The effects of feminism are eventually co-opted through what Douglas called Narcissism as Liberation. Narcissism as liberation killed a lot of the principles within the women's movement. "Instead of group action, we got escapist attitude. Instead of solidarity, we got female competition over men. And, most important, instead of seeing personal disappointments, frustrations, and failures as symptoms of an inequitable and patriarchal society, we saw these, just as in the 1950's, as personal failures, for which we should blame ourselves" (266). In the 1980's women are told that their bodies should be taken control of not for political purpose or health reasons but to make them aesthetically pleasing. The "I'm worth it" campaign is what sparked this ideal. To compare a woman's self worth to the way she looks was taking media back thirty years. It became less about the awareness of female empowerment and more about shallow, hedonistic wants and desires. These ads were pushed by male dominance but masked to make women believe this will prove gratifying to them. Physical appearance was never the apart of the women's movement but in the 1980's, the media twisted around what the meaning of female empowerment was.

The "I'm worth it" campaign proved to shake up the women's movement in that it implied to women that they are "worthless" if not beautiful, wrinkle free, and fair skin because that is exactly what the ads embody. "The media's relentlessly coercive deployment of perfect faces and bodies, and the psychologically, politically, and economically punitive measures taken against women who fail to be young, thin and beautiful, have intercepted seamlessly with age-old American ideals about the work ethic, being productive, and being deserving of rewards" (268). These ads were meant to promote female self esteem when in fact they allowed women to believe that they are really not worth it at all. This one campaign was the most prevalent figure in the attempt of harming the feminist movement.

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