1. Shop ’till you drop. Spend! Consume! Flaunt! To be “cool,” you have to have an impeccable wardrobe (so you can dress to impress…guys, that is). Blair and Serena’s social group from “Gossip Girl” have strict dress codes adopted from the ever-changing fashion runway and magazine spreads. Cher, the protagonist in “Clueless,” was blessed with a lawyer daddy and consequently a black card and a closet the size of my dorm room. Whenever things go wrong, the cast of “Sex and the City” can always rely on shoes to lift their mood. After watching years of American television, I finally got the message: women want shoes. When we want to bond with other women, we go shopping. When we feel sad, we go for retail therapy. When we want to feel good, we splurge. As Madonna declares, “I am a material girl…living in a material world.” Who needs political power, financial assets and other tiny details, when we have the power to consume?
2. Ultimate Happiness = finding Mr. Right. And, so what if the cast in “Sex and the City” are successful career women in Manhattan with all the clothes and shoes one could possibly want? Their happiness still lies in finding Mr. Right, or in Carrie’s case, securing Mr. Big (which apparently is a continuous struggle considering “Sex and the City 2” is coming out). “Cougar Town” projects the same message with the new divorcee Jules trying to find the one while her friend Ellie is happily married with the most understanding husband. Let’s not forget the bedtime stories we have heard in childhood about the Prince Charming who would come one day for our “happily ever after.” Even in the “cutting-edge” new Disney movie staring the first black “princess,” Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog” chooses the prince out of love over her childhood dream of owning a restaurant, stating clearly the implication that a woman’s happiness lies with the love for a man and not for a career.
3. Be Pro-Choice, but don’t get an abortion. Women love babies–it is biological. And if you are a woman and you don’t love babies, you are probably some deviant, cold-blooded workaholic who has attachment issues. A good “proper,” “well-bred” woman would “naturally” want a family and baby as exemplified by Charlotte in “SATC.” And if by some miracle, you get knocked up like Miranda, the heartbeats from the sonogram ought to melt your heart and make you want to keep the baby–because god forbid, only evil women can go through abortion. In fact, no “good” woman has gone through abortion on screen. In “Knocked Up,” Alison (big surprise, a beautiful, skinny successful woman) has a one-night stand with Ben (a pothead and slacker whose appeal is at best below average) and becomes pregnant because Ben forgot to use a condom. The two decide to keep the baby (big surprise) and eventually fall in love–following with Ben becoming responsible (even a bigger surprise). Similarly in “Juno,” a sixteen-year-old junior is impregnated, and after visiting Planned Parenthood, decides to keep the baby (because she is clearly not evil).
She goes through a nine-month pregnancy and gives the baby to an upper-class mother who undoubtedly will give the child a great home. I thought the cinema was giving people high hopes in terms of finding Prince Charming, but the picture painted for unwanted pregnancy is even rosier; don’t worry if you accidentally get pregnant, you’ll miraculously fall in love with the father, or you’ll find a perfect home for the baby (even if you don’t, and the child stays with different foster parents every month, s/he will still turn out to be a hip and smart teenager like Lux from “Life Unexpected”). P.S. You should still have the right over your body–but abortion is evil–just saying.
So what does it mean to be an ideal 21st century American woman? The media conveys a fabulous/sexy/gorgeous woman with an impeccable wardrobe longing for Mr. Right and fulfilling her “duties” as a mother. With the female voice-over, the women are finally being heard. And the role models on screen seem to say that all women think about are dieting, shopping, men and babies. Young women have the right to choose anything we want, though it seems like we want nothing more than to be pretty and attract the perfect man. Armed with retail power, the “independent” woman still exists primarily to be a wife and mother. This is what Susan Douglas calls “Enlightened Sexism”–sexism that has been repackaged to appear to “empower” women through retail power (and ironically sex appeal), while claiming that feminism is no longer applicable when it clearly is.
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