The sexist postcode

As a teenager I watched Beverly Hills 90210. I loved it. To the point where I’d chuck a tantrum if I couldn’t watch it. (Mind you, that’s not sayin’ much because I threw a lot of tantrums in my teens – I had a lot of unresolved anger and frustration that would just explode out of me, and without a strong relationship with my family, I felt utterly alone. I knew there were different lives outside of our shitty little town but they just seemed so very far away. I imagine a lot of teenagers feel like that.)

Anyway, as you can see in the little widget way down on the right, I’m reading Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done, by Susan J. Douglas. In the first chapter, she traces the start of enlightened sexism – using the idea that we’ve achieved true gender equality to put women back in their place, as sexually attractive playthings for men – back to this show:

So 90210 was an important early building block of enlightened sexism because it insisted that the true, gratifying pleasures for girls, and their real source of power, came from consumerism, girliness, and the approval of guys…

What was really retrograde about 90210, then – aside from the fact that there were no people of colour except for African American athletes who, duh, needed tutoring (and, briefly, Andrea’s Latino husband) – was how it magnified the absolute centrality of thinness, beauty, fashion, sexual objectification, and boyfriends to teen girl happiness… Whatever the plot lines, these young women were, first and foremost, sexual objects on display who maintained their attractiveness by buying things.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the show. Which isn’t surprising when you consider the amount of alcohol and drugs I consumed in my teens and twenties. Sheesh, it’s amazing I can still string a sentence together. (And shit, wasn’t it fun? As the tail end of Gen X ages, I suspect we’ll see a lot more dementia from all the shit we put in our bodies because we didn’t have mortages and children.)

What was I writing about? Oh yeah, 90210. There wasn’t really any “fashion” at my high school. It was always the same look – almost everyone wore surf brands (remember ripple sole desert boots and Kuta Lines streaky jackets?) and I wore a lot of Vinnies stuff but no one ever gave me shit about it. I do remember one particularly special pair of new jeans that featured wide stripes of white, maroon, green and navy. Nice. Oh, and a blue gingham bodysuit that I made. Can you believe bodysuits are back? In summer? Because nothing says sexy like a row of moist press studs on a gusset that will eventually be hanging out the back of your jeans because you’re too drunk to remember you’re wearing it.

So, not being a girly-girl in my teens (or my twenties and early thirties for that matter – I’ve only recently got into eyeliner and lipstick), I didn’t notice the hair and fashion and sex and consumerism. For me, 90210 was about escaping, albeit briefly, from my boring life in a log cabin 50km out of a town where teenaged girls were judged by the deepness of their tans and the whiteness of their socks and how long they could lie on the beach while the boys surfed (hence the deep tan). It was the only show that no one else in my family wanted to watch, so I had the living room to myself. And in a family of seven, that was pure bliss. So I didn’t pick up on any of the stuff that Douglas is writing about. But that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? We’re not supposed to notice.

I’ll write more about this book later – and make it about the book rather than just about me – but I’ll leave you with this gem from The Fauves. They were my favourite band in the 90s, I must have seen them a hundred times and I even own the hard-to-get Drive Through Charisma and The Young Need Discipline.

32 responses to “The sexist postcode

  1. Rhiannon Saxon

    On a completely frivolous note, while I NEVER watched 90210 (there is no way Mum or Dad would ever have let me…OR chew gum….OR eat Macdonalds)
    I DO remember ripple sole desert boots and Kuta Lines streaky jackets! (And could never afford them because, you know – one of 8 kids.) (Mum did finally buy me a pair of Stussy pants which I wore to DEATH to justify the ludicrous $70 price tag.)

  2. I’m kind of surprised the nuns used to let us watch 90210, but we did. It was the only night of the week we didn’t have chapel. Every time I see a kid named Dylan or Brandon inside my head I am snickering thinking that their mum watched 90210….

    We couldn’t afford ripple soled desert boots or kuta lines jackets either. I had a hand me down stussy t-shirt I was so proud of. I remember in the late 80’s (when I started high school) Apple Pie hightops were huge….I begged and begged for a pair. (They were $20 which was just huge) My Mum finally releneted and said I could get a pair if I paid for half of them. Well, three months after I got them she went ballistic. She was finally striaght enough to realise I had drawn all over them….she never let me buy anything ‘faddish’ ever again.

    • I spent years 7 and 8 at a country boarding school, and the Liberty print/moleskin/RM Williams look was BIG. Not my thing though. Never had a pair of Apple Pies either. Although now I want them. They are so cool.

      • I was the opposite. yr 7 and 8 for me were spent at our local public highschool. Years 9-12 were a country boarding school, (two actually. The first one I went to only went to yr10.) My look during high school and uni was more punky brewster meets Wednesday Addams. Never did the liberty print/moleskin thing. I did own boots. I was a farm kid, I used to wear mine with whatever. Short tartan mini’s, long flowy bohemian skirts, shorts. Tracksuit pants. You name it. If I wasn’t wearing my baxters with it, I was wearing my imitation Docs.

        My Apple Pies were awesome.

  3. thefirstJanineonthisblog

    Oooo thanks for jogging memories long forgotten. My sister had a Kuta Lines jumper. It was hideous. I had forgotten about the ripple desert boots.

    I am really surprised I was allowed to watch 90210. We were not allowed to watch Neighbours or Home and Away or Sons and Daughters. Too many arguments. Obviously, sexism is fine.

    I remember it being so new and fresh (and cool). I watched it religiously at the age when I thought all I needed to be was thin, beautiful, fashionable and having sex with a boyfriend to be happy. Was it all because of 90210? My mother should have known better. I was always annoyed about the slack behaviour towards the Andrea – the nerd.

    It is interesting to hear it was the first of its extreme sexist kind. Darren Starr I hate you.

  4. You have all reminded me of how much I also thought that Kuta Lines tops were hideous.
    I am also reminiscing about the angry angsty feminist I was in my early teens.

    • Oh gawd, me too. I was telling people off for being sexist before I even knew the word. I’ve always been a feminist and I’m a proud feminist. I just can’t understand anyone who isn’t. Do they really believe that women don’t deserve the same rights and opportunities as men?

      • I did jump on the ‘are we just a PREFIX?” bandwagon for a little while until I did some Latin and realised that a lot of the things people were getting het up about were totally irrelevant and distracting.
        Mum used to give me books like ‘The Descent of Woman’ by Eileen Morgan (I think?) which was FANTASTIC, and ‘Womansize’ by Kim Chernin and so on, and Dad (My dear Sub-Deacon of the Liberal Catholic Church Dad) used to give me books on Goddess worship. Not that, you know, they were INDOCTRINATING me or nuthin’.

  5. I remember having contempt for all the people my older sister worked with who all drank lattes, had mobiles and watched Melrose and squealed about it. And that was the men too.
    Now I also drink lattes and have a mobile, but I justify it because it is beyond uncool and is passe so it’s ok. No Melrose.

    • Never Melrose. I drink flat whites though.

      • Hehehe…I used to drink flat whites before I became intolerant of caffeine…also when you order a latte one tends to receive a latte and when one orders a flat white one tends to receive a latte.
        As a former coffee-market-stall-person I was always thrilled when people would take the caps off their coffees and say in tones of awe..’It’s REALLY FLAT!”

  6. I used to sneak into my sister’s room and kiss her Luke Perry poster. One day she caught me and I was so embarrassed. I feel myself blushing even now.

    • I had Christian Slater posters, but I never kissed them. I thought that was a bit weird.

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      Urrruuggghhhhhh I hatd Luke Perry’s corrugated forehead and permanent look of smug self-satisfaction.

      “SO yeah, I read this blog…’
      ‘What’s it about?”
      “Oh you know, feminism, politics, current events…and meat…and 90210…”

      • I was young. I pretty much liked whatever boys my sister liked (while that’s my excuse anyway).

        Now I have posters of Lemmy on my wall*. Now that is a real man *phwoar*.

        *I don’t really. I have a framed photo of him but that’s it.

  7. Rhiannon Saxon

    You what is sort of sad? *I* had a picture of Charles the First on *my* bedroom wall. No movie posters. I had a decapitated king.

  8. I had ‘Eddie’ the iron maiden mascot, axl rose and an ‘Athena’ (did you have them out here) poster of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse.. . . covering flowered chintzy wallpaper with matching curtains (thanks mum)

    • You had Eddie on your wall? LOVE YOU. I wish I’d been that cool as a teen. It took me ages to become the epic, awesome, metalhead queen that I am today.

  9. And all along I thought it was only me who watched 90210 for the escapism, and not for the intellectual plots. As an aside, when I told my mum I would call my first-born either Brandon or Dylan, Donna or Kelly, she thought I was serious – and freaked!

  10. 90210? What about Sweet Valley High?! That came way before. I think that was targeted directly at those poor kids we now call ‘tweens’. there’s an awesome blog full of snark that recaps almost every single book. I loved those books so much and used to buy piles of them with my pocket money when we came over from NC. Those Wakefield twins! Golly gosh!

  11. Pingback: Not enjoying the enlightenment | the news with nipples

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