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Women's Week Keynote with Susan Douglas Credit: Monica Martin , Monica Martin

The presence of female stars on shows like 30 Rock, Ugly Betty and Sex and the City may say something about women’s prominence in media, but according to the Women’s Week keynote speaker, the message is not always positive.

Susan J. Douglas, a University of Michigan professor of Communication Studies, delivered a keynote speech on the myths of feminist equality at Bodek Lounge in Houston Hall. Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women co-sponsored the event, which launched Penn’s Women’s Week.

Douglas — author, columnist and cultural critic — first garnered attention in 1994 when she published her book, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Today, she continues to analyze the normalization of anti-feminism and the mixed messages women receive in mass media.

“Effectively feminism has been … vilified in the media,” Douglas said. In fact, feminism in the media is the “ideological equivalent of anthrax,” she said.

Douglas said a stigma still exists around feminists, who are dismissed as social pariahs and wrongfully cemented as extremists and man-haters.

“I grew tired of seeing the attitude of ‘I’m not a feminist, but …’” as though it’s something to be avoided, said College senior and PCUW chair Meg Hlousek. Douglas addresses that in her work, which is why the group chose her to speak last night, Hlousek said.

Douglas also chronicled the development of “girl power,” beginning with the Spice Girls in 1994 to the notable yet unsuccessful political campaigns of female candidates like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008.

According to Douglas, women’s achievements are overrepresented in the media as a way to promote fantasies of power. These attempts are transparent, she said, because gratifying images of success “mask how much still remains to be done for women.”

This speaks to the relationship between embedded feminism, the desire to highlight women’s success in the media, and enlightened sexism, a more subtle form of sexism that embraces achievements on the surface but ultimately repudiates feminism.

“Hearing Douglas speak about enlightened sexism made me realize how prevalent it is on our campus,” College junior Yunica Jiang.”

A member of the predominately male Glee Club, Jiang said she experienced firsthand how large groups of guys objectify and put down women.

“But then the guys always say to me: ‘Don’t worry, we’re not talking about you —you’re one of us,’” she said.

Jiang said she was glad Douglas highlighted that sort of contradiction.

Douglas showed students statistics that placed women’s median income at $32,000 a year, below the male median income. The United States also fell drastically in the global gender gap index in recent years.

“Women are promised they can do or be anything,” she said, yet double standards still exist and full equality has not been achieved.

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