So now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes

At the recommendation of more than one commenter here, I’m reading Susan J Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism. It explains a lot, and matches a lot.

The core idea is summed up on page 7:

…the media’s fantasies of power are also the product of another force that has gained considerable momentum since the early and mid-1990s: enlightened sexism. Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceieved threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism – indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved – so now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.

Long exhalation. Ohhhhhhh, so that’s what it is.

That would explain what I’m always fretfully wondering – why, when we learned that sexism was bad decades ago, are apparently reasonable people talking this shit? Why isn’t sexism taboo the way racism is taboo? Why do people who would never call someone a nigger in anger call women bitches, whores, cunts without hesitation?

If Douglas is right it’s because they think oh hai, feminism is over because women have all the things, so no problem calling them every degrading name that comes to mind, iz edgy and funny and cool to do that.

Strange thing to think, isn’t it, even if the premise were true, which of course it isn’t close to being. Now you have full equality, so we the rest of us can freely insult you, because that’s what equality is. Eh?

Ashley has a useful summary.


  1. eric says

    Now you have full equality, so we the rest of us can freely insult you, because that’s what equality is. Eh?

    Funny thing how the same logic doesn’t apply to men. Despite us being better than equal for, oh, longer than the English language has existed, English doesn’t even have words equivalent in vitriol to use on men. And if it does, those words are probably variations on calling a man a woman.

    So yeah, in full agreement with you. The whole ‘you’re equal so we can insult you’ thing seems to be doublespeak for ‘I’m tired of not saying things to you I would never say to a(nother) man.’

  2. Steve Bowen says

    Well, I suppose in a world where true gender and race equality existed, ironic banter around long lost stereotypes could be considered humerous. If someone can point me towards the appropriate parallel universe…?

  3. woolybumblebee says

    “Why isn’t sexism taboo the way racism is taboo?”

    What rock do you live under? Wow…

  4. says

    No doubt sexism and such has been giving up ground since the sixties, but only to draw new lines.

    I think the challenge is more fundamental; our institutions are inherently sexist. Equality (of any flavour) is not compatible with most of our structural systems. For example, the labour market is driven almost exclusively by capitalistic efficiency, to the detriment of social justice values. Progress is only either imposed or coincidental.

  5. Brad says

    They have their place- being subverted (Get out of the kitchen) or as pointing out how far we’ve come/how ridiculous the past was. This newspaper clipping even if fake, is terrible and hilarious by way of absurdity when viewed through a modern lens.

    Also, “get back in the kitchen” is a subversion (because it’s really saying “get back in the chem lab”) when the kitchen in question is the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory Kitchen in Bellevue, Washington (Which is the fucking awesomest kitchen ever. Molecular gastronomy is amazing and has some great videos about the lab.)

    It’s a bit like rape jokes though, if you’re going to play anachronistic sexism for laughs, you have to be very good at comedy. One non-Colbert example is from Weird Al’s movie UHF:

    Pamela Finklestein: Yeah, but…Yeah, but…”Broads don’t belong in broadcasting”?! Is that the kind of professional courtesy you teach your news department?
    R.J. Fletcher: Why, that’s a terrible thing. I don’t know how many time I’ve told those boys, never call chicks broads.
    Pamela Finklestein: [incensed and not fooled at all by Fletcher’s “sincerity”] WHY YOU SLIMY!!…OOOOHH!!!!

    R.J. is, of course, the villain.

  6. says

    I hope I’m not derailing, but I want to point out that enlightened racism is alive and well. Thunderfoot may not call black people “boy,” but his fans are from Youtube, and Youtube is infested with casual racism. Just watch any video with a black person in it, even a child, like this one: Funniest Kid On Ellen EVER

    And look at the comments:

    being a nigger is an embarrassment

    everyone knows niggas don’t go near water

    Funny niglet

    Original comments

    That’s actually tame by Youtube or reddit standards. Anyone who objects to this is labelled politically correct. I hardly ever read comments on the internet anymore. The comment sections on most sites should be nuked from orbit.

    It’s not just the internet. Among my generation, using words like nigger, wog, curry, abo, coon, leb or gook is fashionable again. No one wants to be seen as fuddy duddy and stuffy like our parents who were so politically correct. If you object to this you’re just oversensitive and soft. You need to harden the fuck and stop being offended by words and stop being such a pussy (or bitch or cunt). Racism is over, like sexism and all other kinds of prejudice. Take a fucking chill pill, bro.

  7. dirigible says

    “You need to harden the fuck and stop being offended”

    Oh hipsters are easily offended, but by failure to respect male privilege as filtered through identity politics in my experience.

    We really are not at the point where any of this is ironic.

  8. Dave says

    Hasn’t all this been bleedin’ obvious for a good, long time? I suppose the only mildly original thing one might observe is that the dominance of the internet by adolescent males, who are in fact afraid of real women and their potential power, has sharpened the verbal antagonism of late; but that is only the scum on the pond of structural inequalities that are inherent to patriarchy, and which the feminist movement of the late C20 was derailed from ever coming close to really threatening.

    What is perhaps most sad is that public culture has become caught in the vicious loop of ‘not daring to offend’ out loud, through official deeds, policies and statements, thus giving the impression to the casually-ignorant jerk observer that PC reigns supreme; while in fact all the old barriers are still there for most people, and most women in particular – just a bit softer, a bit more insidiously difficult to point the finger at.

    To step slightly sideways, that the West is currently making such a big deal about ‘gay marriage’ – as brutal a co-option of the radical margin into the centre of reconstructed heteronormativity as one could imagine – points to how far the identity agenda has stopped being an agenda for actual social change. Nobody ought to give a shit who marries whom; nobody 40 years ago imagined that such a trivial thing could possibly be a component of liberation. A lot of people wouldn’t have believed that something as confining as the institution of ‘marriage’ would, or ought to, survive another generation. And yet, here we are, making a big deal of it. Yes, because the ‘other side’ wants to make a big deal of keeping people ‘out’ of it, but it really is a fight on their turf. And even when they lose, it’ll still be their turf, where nuclear families are the norm, regardless of the sex of the spouses. And all the energy that could have been spent on manoeuvring for some real changes in social and cultural structure will have been expended on letting a few more people into the tent of ‘normality’ instead.

  9. Godless Heathen says


    True. Marriage comes with a lot of benefits, but it would be better to just get rid of those benefits. That way, those of us who are single, wouldn’t be so screwed. Or we could access those benefits (e.g. getting a non-spousal person on our health insurance, giving our social security benefits to someone else, etc.)

  10. Pluto Animus says

    Everyone should read Susan J. Douglas’ terrific 1995 book “Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Media”. Truly outstanding stuff. It’s worth reading just for the funny and trenchant chapter that compares “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”.


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