Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement since 1970

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

Dr. Quinn illustrates particularly well Wendy Kaminer's observation that "we've managed to enter a postfeminist world without ever knowing a feminist one" ( 1990, p. 1). Dr. Quinn's rhetorical strategies, particularly its use of a nostalgic setting, allows it to persuasively reiterate all of the problematic assumptions of postfeminism: that patriarchy is over, that liberal feminist individualism can solve women's problems, and that our "choices" are what really determine our fates. These assumptions pre- suppose the notion that second-wave feminism "worked," that it leveled the playing field so that what some contemporary feminists (like me) see as evidence of continuing oppression (such as excessive pronatalism and the romanticization of motherhood) is really an expression of what women want rather than an expression of the continuing constraints on women's options and identities. Difference feminism feeds this perception, making it even more difficult to insist on the essential humanity of women, a goal first- and second-wave feminism have shared and that, despite postfeminist claims, we are still working to achieve.


Notes
1.
A "TVQ" rating is a measure of popularity derived by dividing the percentage of people who like a show by the percentage of people who are familiar with it. The rating for Dr. Quinn is significant because, although the show is quite young, it has strong appeal among those who watch it. Advertisers are attracted to programming with a high "TVQ" rating because they believe that viewers watch more of the shows that they like, including the commercials. In addition, Dr. Quinn scores highest among the most coveted audience in television, women age eighteen to forty-nine ( Mandese, 1993).
2.
In the rest of this chapter, I will also refer to this character as "Dr. Mike," primarily so that the reader can easily differentiate mentions of the character from mentions of the program title.
3.
For a discussion of second-wave feminism's efforts on behalf of family policy designed to make it easier for women both to mother and to work outside the home, see Davis, 1991, chapter 14. Importantly, Davis notes that feminists did not abandon the family as Friedan and Hewlett charged, but that, beginning in the early 1970s, "feminists did what seemed doable. Their demands for child care and family leave met enormous resistance from conservatives, and they made little progress on those issues" ( 1991, p. 279).
4.
Although quotations from Snitow that I use in this chapter are from the version of her essay published in Feminist Review, a substantially similar version was published a year earlier in Ms. (see Snitow, 1991).
5.
An example of such a move during the 1980s was U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder's "Great American Family Tour" in January and February of 1988. Schroeder, a self-proclaimed feminist and long-time advocate for women, used this speaking tour to publicize the need for government support for child care, medical leave, flextime, and pay equity. All of these issues have been traditionally perceived as "women's issues" which would primarily benefit women, but, in her

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