Catherine Redfern reviews Susan J. Douglas’s book.
An excellent, entertaining, amusing and easy to read analysis of the female baby-boomer’s experience of growing up with the mass media. Douglas’s key concept is that when it comes to women, the media is schizophrenic; promoting feminism on the one hand, and negating it on the other, even in the same song or TV programme.
All through her life, Douglas says she has been given contradictory messages on what women should be. As a result, women are pulled in opposite directions, drawn to the glossy images we see, yet hating them at the same time.
This idea that the media is neither one thing nor the other and can present opposing ideas at the same time is one of the best and most accurate analyses of the media I have ever read. Her other basic idea is the absolute viability of women’s cultural history. Complaining that male figures such as Elvis or the Beatles are seen as trailblazing cultural icons of massive importance, whereas female acts are seen as superficial and somewhat embarrassing. Douglas reclaims them, saying that singing your heart out to ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ is something to be celebrated, not dismissed as irrelevant.
‘Where the Girls Are’ takes us on an exhilerating tour from the 1950s to the early 90s, from the Shirelles to Madonna, from Beatle-mania to Charlie’s Angels, through to the growth of second-wave of feminism in the 60s and 70s, and the bizarre obsessions of the 80s. This is an excellent overview of a woman’s experience of the last 40 years.