Susan J. Douglas. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York, NY: Times Books, Random House, 1994.
Douglas argues that growing up female with the mass media helped make her, and millions of other women, feminists. She calls growing up with mass media in the 1960s onwards as “schizophrenic” because much of the media baby boomers grew up with sent mixed messages about what women should and should not do. While the media urged women to be pliant, cute, sexually available, they also suggested women be rebellious, tough, enterprising, and shrewd.
During World War II, women joined the workforce and advertisements such as Penn Mutual Life Insurance asked ‘Lady, Do You Have a Job?!” However, just immediately after World War II, the opportunities for women to work outside the home dwindled. But shows such as The Burns and Allen Show depicted female characters who defied the complaint, womb-centered, housewife stereotype. In The Burns and Allen Show, Gracie Allen, in a move similar to Depression-era comedians Douglas discusses in Listening In, used slapstick humor to turn male logic on its head.
While mothers received mixed messages about work, adolescents received mixed messages about sex. Magazine article titles such as “If Only They Had Waited” scared adolescent women out of pre-marital sex while Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 best seller Sex and the Single Girl was both best selling and put together “sex” and “single girl” in the same sentence. Movies were also taking shots at a puritan notion of sex as James Bond’s Dr. No showed that unmarried men and women did have sex because they were simply attracted to each other. Music and magazines also provided contradictory images about sex and female adolescence. The Shirelle’s 1960 release “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” asked whether the boyfriend, after sex, would still love the protagonist in the morning while the androgynous Beatles challenged ideas of masculinity. Schizophrenia crept into television shows such as Bewitched, where character Samantha uses magic, diplomacy, and common sense to make the world a better place, even if she has to go through her bumbling husband, Darrin. She was both conforming and rebellious, giving expression to traditional norms and prefeminist aspirations.
During the late 1960s, women received mixed messages from the news media regarding the feminist movement. The New York Times coverage of the 1969 New York Radical Women’s Miss America protest made the demonstrators appear ridiculous, frivolous, and hypocritical. The press thought the protestors, who burned their bras, were not being political, but rather personal (i.e. trying to attract men). And ABC covered the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality by calling the movement “bra-less bubbleheads.”
But at the same time, CBS acknowledged economic discrimination and pointed out that women made half than men and confined to certain jobs such as secretaries and teachers. NBC followed up with a series that provided a convincing and sympathetic account of the pressing need for women’s liberation.
However, anchors such as ABC’s Harry Reasoner, Howard K. Smith, and Frank Reynolds laughed about the Equal Rights Amendment of 1972. Women would be subject to the draft, under the ERA, which Reynolds thought would decidedly end “America’s role of world policemen.”
To undermine the feminist movement, news media had “refined women” denounce “grotesque women.” Women with complaints were shown only in highly charged, dramatic, public demonstrations yelling loudly and tussling with men, while women without complaints were in more tranquil, everyday settings. Inequities in employment were “legitimate feminism” whereas inequities in marriage, divorce, and child rearing were “illegitimate.”
Whatever progress feminism made in the 1970s, it still suffered a “backlash” as shows from The Beverly Hillbillies to All in the Family portrayed feminism less than charitably. Archie Bunker’s daughter, Gloria in All in the Family, yells to Archie after having scanned a book on feminism “We’re tired of being exploited by men – tired of you holding us down and keeping us back . . . and I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.” Such shows argued that there is no basis for feminism in women’s everyday, because women truly aren’t oppressed.
But All in the Family spawned a spin-off, Maude, which like The Burns and Allen Show conveyed a non conventionally “pretty,” outspoken, and sharp-tongued female. The Mary Tyler Moore Show portrayed a single woman, living a life not dissimilar to Audrey Hepburn’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Ultimately, Douglas asks whether the mass media lead social change, or lagged behind it. But Douglas sees this as a false dichotomy, for it did both at the same time. If on the far end of a spectrum you had Gloria Steinem, a beautiful single, and childless career woman who insists that “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be sacrament” then on the other end you have Phyllis Schlafly, an attractive successful wife and mother of six who calls feminists a “bunch of bitter women seeking a constitutional cure for their personal problems,” then the middle ground is feminism and “Where there Girls Are," according to Douglas. It’s filled with ambivalence and compromise, tradition and rebellion.