Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media is a significant contribution to modern feminist thought for its critical look at how women of the Baby Boomers generation were severely influenced by the popular culture. The book also acknowledged the blossoming awareness and acceptance of feminist ideologies. Douglas managed to explain that women of that time were torn in opposite directions when trying to find their personal identity, which led them to continuously struggle with defining their roles in society.
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Shaping Women’s History
Because women of the Baby Boomers generation were born in great numbers, they inevitably became the largest target group of the media that promoted consumer goods as necessary for obtaining an important status in society. Douglas spoke about how the television gradually transformed the image from obedient housewives to “witches and genies” with mystical power (123); however, even given power, women were still expected to please men. In her exploration of how women had to continuously change to fit in the society, the author mentioned a series of events that shaped their development. While the chronological order of describing important events in women’s history is the main characteristic of Douglas’s book, it should be mentioned that the timeline came full circle – from the author being obsessed with a Barbie doll when she was young to having a daughter admiring the same doll. Ironically, despite the long sequence of events that transformed women’s role in the society, the idea of a divided self-perception persisted: “one of the mass media’s most important legacies for female consciousness is the erosion of anything resembling a unified self” (Douglas 13). The dichotomy of love and hate for the mass media is embedded in each chapter of the book because the author underlined the idea that media both loved and hated women also (Simonson 168). It is important to mention that in the development of female consciousness through a series of historical events, there was a clear direction of group ideologies that facilitated the shaping of women’s movement.
The first significant event that contributed to the shaping of feminist history is linked to girls watching Disney cartoons such as the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which have a reputation of painting an unrealistic image of women as vulnerable beings who need the help from the firm hand of men. Second, it is imperative to mention the influence of Beatles on the gender revolution. The band became popular when the women’s movement was in its primary stages; the phenomenon of Beatlemania became the first largest outburst of women-led radical ideas, particularly among teenagers of that time. Many young women got their first taste of radical feminism while listening to Beatles who had a large influence on the uprising “of women’s sexual revolution” (Cura 105). The stage that followed the massive hysteria associated with Beatles was associated with women reevaluating the role of their physical appearance and using it as a sign of protest. Douglas wrote, “I had thrown away by bras […], talked about men in power, learned how to curse […] at the TV set during Nixon press conferences” (4).
On the other hand, the author acknowledged that despite the fact that there was a significant reevaluation of the role of physical beauty, she still applied makeup when nobody saw her and occasionally read Glamour magazine although Ms. became very popular. This period in the development of feminist ideas was characterized by the uprising of the civil rights movement, which served as a key contributor to outlawing sex discrimination. Douglas also mentioned the creation of the National Organization for Women that is still considered among the most influential organizations advocating for women’s rights (160). In the light of rapid changes in the role of women in the society, they started getting widespread recognition as shown by the example of “Shirley Chisholm becoming the first black woman elected to the United States Congress” (Douglas 188). The legalization of abortion is another historical event that should be mentioned in the discussion because it was a turning point in the development of feminism. It contributed to the expansion of women’s influence on societal affairs and granted them rights about which women did not even dare to think in the past.
Douglas’s contribution to the study of modern feminism should never be underestimated. The beauty of Where the Girls Are lies in the author’s real description of autobiographic memories to gain the trust of her readers and explain how valuable her experiences were in making her a true feminist who still struggled with her identity. As a representative of the Baby Boomers generation, Douglas witnessed the civil rights movement that marked a turning point in the history of women’s movement. Despite the fact that the perceptions of women in society changed, they still followed trends of mass media and could not get rid of the stereotype that they were the ones who had to raise children, keep a house clean, and be obedient to husbands.
Cura, Kimberly. “She Loves You: The Beatles and Female Fanaticism.” Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology, vol. 2, no. 1, 2009, pp. 104-113.
Douglas, Susan. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Three Rivers Press, 1995.
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Simonson, Peter. “At the Top of Her Lungs: A Review of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media.” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 15, 1996, pp. 168-170.