Marjorie Jolles, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Roosevelt University, never marketed herself as an expert on Oprah Winfrey.
However, when the queen of talk television said a tearful goodbye last week to viewers after 25 years on the air with The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jolles was one of the experts whom national and even international media turned to for a quote and expert opinion.
“I was asked, ‘What has been Oprah’s major contribution?’ “ said Jolles, who was contacted last week first by the Washington Post and then by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The World Today. “And I said, above all, that Oprah has mainstreamed the concept of female empowerment and female authenticity,” said Jolles, who first wrote about the topic in a book of scholarly essays entitled The Oprah Phenomenon in 2007.
According to Jolles, the kind of female figure that Oprah represents and advocates is a strong individualist. “I’ve studied and written about Oprah quite a bit,” said Jolles, who has used Oprah and some of the host’s talk show material in her Global Feminist Ethics class. “Oprah comes up a lot because she’s such a dominant presence and symbol of what it means to be a successful woman,” said Jolles. The Washington Post reported on Monday, May 24 that “the Oprah Winfrey Show had wrested the concept of women’s empowerment from feminists and put it in the hands of the masses.”
“I would even call it a spiritual empowerment,” Jolles told the Post. “I see Emerson as her main rhetorical ancestor, in thinking that the individual is something that unfolds in a divinely-inspired way.”
Jolles doesn’t put much stock in the idea that Oprah is yesterday’s news. “She’s not going away. She’s just shifting what her media outlets are going to be and creating more niche markets for her message,” said Jolles.
The Roosevelt professor told Australia’s The World Today in a segment that aired on Thursday, May 26: “I think Oprah Winfrey has helped the very concept of women’s empowerment to enter into mainstream popular discourse. I would say that is Oprah’s brand. Not necessarily political empowerment or economic empowerment but she has introduced the rhetoric of women’s personal sort of individual spiritual empowerment.” http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3227688.htm
Jolles also has researched and written extensively on women’s fashions, including scholarship that delves into the meaning and message of First Lady Michelle Obama’s mix-and-match wardrobe. She is co-editor of a new book, Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style, an anthology that will be published in 2012. Currently, Jolles is studying Sarah Palin and the cultural message that equates “going rogue” with female empowerment.
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