Book: Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media
Author: Susan J. Douglas
Published: 1994 (Three Rivers Press)
Oh man, you guys, this book had me humming the Shirelles for like a week, because it captures that fun spirit of popular culture while dissecting it in a thorough, evenhanded, but personal way. It was just so damn catchy. “The mass media objectifies women” is so familiar that everyone can hum along, but do you really know what it means?
Well, probably, and if you’ve taken women’s or media sociology courses, you’ve written a few dozen papers on it, but Douglas lived it. She came of age right along with mass media and the women’s movement, grew up watching both collide and warp and try to evolve, and she’s got some nifty details that flesh out just exactly how many contradictions were bombarding women at a pace that got faster every time she changed the channel.
I especially loved her discussions of girl group pop and domestic-based sitcoms. On the surface, the music seems pretty modern, right, with girls singing about love and sex just as frankly as the fellas. But it’s still ultimately “pretty” music, steeped in lush orchestration and devoid of the really raw sounds of rock ‘n roll.
And then most of the sitcoms portray ladies who, okay, so they’re mostly housewives with the occasional Mary Tyler Moore thrown in. But they’re at least portrayed as being smarter than their husbands and thus secretly running everything, right? Well. Kind of, except they had to be granted impossible, other-worldly powers (Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie) before they could be allowed to be seen as that powerful, or if they do have a job, be treated the same way by their male boss.
It was these little details and how they affected Douglas as a girl and how she brought this into a whole bigger picture that still is screwing us over today that made this an easy, fun read even when it was delving into exactly what needs to be changed about the portrayal of women. (A lot.) Bookshelf! But only after I lend it to a lady who makes cheesecakes and used to be a sports journalist.