Friday, August 7, 2009

In the words of Newman, children are like “gender detectives”

Young children are often described as sponges. From an early age, they start to observe the world around them and adopt a sense personal identity. In Newman’s “Identity and Inequalities” chapter, he poses the question, “How does one become a male or a female?” and where do “gendered traits and behaviors come from (109)? Take a brief look at commercials, websites, advertisements and catalogs that surround parents and children. Every day, children are being told through the images and messages what gender is and what it may look like. Mostly through social interaction with peers and socialization, they construct themselves as either a boy or girl in their social world. “Decades of research indicate that “girls’ toys” still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and “boys’ toys” emphasize action and adventure”” (Newman 112). Imaginary play is one specific area of children’s play; children interact with each other as they use props and create a scenario that models after real life situations. Through an analysis of toys marketed for imaginary play, there is proof that the differences send messages about gender to young children.

This is my pastor’s son, Michael. He is four years old and loves to go to Toys R Us to look at the new toys with his two brothers. Each time he steps foot into the toy store, he will be exposed to sources of gender information. The first imaginary play scenario to focus on is household chores. Michael will have a choice between the weed trimmer and the vacuum cleaner. The online website for Toys R Us includes the vacuum cleaner in both the “boys” and the “girls” section of pretend play. Even though the product is in both gender categories, the image shows a girl doing the vacuuming. Therefore, Michael might assume that vacuuming is a girl’s chore.

“From an early age, they are like “gender detectives,” searching for cues about gender, such as who should and shouldn’t engage in certain activities, who can play with whom, and why girls and boys differ” (Newman 113). The child displayed with the vacuum product is a cue that teaches Michael that he shouldn’t engage in this activity. Instead, the weed trimmer is an activity that he can engage in. Because “boys’ toys” focus on action and adventure, the weed trimmer is for boys. They can use the toy outside the house, on the bushes; it also passes on the idea that holding the power tool is dangerous, hence the goggles, and it requires strength. These images expect men to take care of the house using more “masculine” tools while women are to take care of the house by cleaning and staying inside.

Again, the next set of products defines male and female roles in the house. In the boys’ section of pretend play, there are power tools. Just as the tools suggest, they are powerful, strong, skill and work based. In the girls’ section, there is a kitchen set. Just as Newman described, the kitchen falls under the theme of domesticity and motherhood. The image of a young girl playing with the kitchen set will translate to Michael that girls not only clean, but they also do the cooking. The kitchen is full of colors such as purple, pink, and yellow and blue. But the power tools have colors such as orange, green, blue, red, and black. These subtle differences begin to show Michael his role as a boy is to play with exciting power tools rather than play house. In preschool, many children learn to play with others their age. Imaginary play is powerful because children set up their own roles in everyday situations. Children who start to think that only girls play house will determine the types of interaction between genders.

“On their developmental path, children acquire information from a variety of sources – books, television, video games, the Internet, toys, teachers, other children, other children’s parents, strangers they see on the street” (Newman 108). One of the more significant part of children’s lives is their social world with the peers around them. They spend majority of their time in school than at home with their parents. They spend more time with their peers than with their teachers. According to Newman, socialization is “the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” and children start to develop a sense of self through this process” (109). Children go to school to make friends and learn in what ways they are expected to behave in order to make these friends. Through imaginary play, they will learn what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. Through simple props such as pots and pans as well as a saw and drill, Michael will learn which ones are labeled for boys and which ones for girls.

The product of the fireman costume is titled as “True Heroes Fireman Action Hero”. In the image, a boy is wearing the fireman outfit. This suggests that firemen are heroes and are to be looked up to. The activity for playing the scenario with the face mask, fire extinguisher and axe is supposed to be full of action and danger. The seriousness of the boy’s face shows young boys that this hero means business and is confident and strong. Let’s take a look at the girls’ product. It is called “Fantasy Vanity” and a young girl sits in front of the mirror, applying make-up and admiring herself. What values of gender does this image portray in contrast to the action hero? Girls are portrayed as delicate people who are vain and spend their time beautifying themselves. This falls under Newman’s theme of fashion. While boys are out fighting risky fires and becoming heroes, girls are sitting in front of a mirror taking care of their faces and dressing up in glamorous outfits. The fantasy vanity mirror is not a product that could be gender neutral. Boys are told they do not put on make-up sitting on a pink and white stool. Children continue to make decisions about what it means to be a male or female.

“In a society structured around and for the interests of men, stereotypically masculine traits (strength, assertiveness, confidence, and so on) are likely to be valued culturally and interpersonally” (Newman 116-117). The traits differentiated between the action hero and the vanity mirror instills values of what society calls the norm to young children. Boys are to adopt the stereotypical masculine traits in order to avoid being called a “sissy”. They learn through socialization, they risk their gender and sexuality identity if they choose to play girl games. “Girls, in general, are given license to do “boy things”” yet boys are ridiculed when they are “suspiciously soft and effeminate” (Newman 116). Therefore, this says a lot about gender values. Softness is a trait girls possess because they are associated with domesticity and motherhood. Society expects boys should be associated with rough and tough play, and avoiding the “girl games”.

The gender roles and values the children learn as they grow up are important in their every day actions and behaviors. The network through which they learn the standards of society’s norms surrounds them in their everyday life. Television commercials, billboards, and peers all help shaping the associations children make with gender. Newman wrote, “Social life is never that simple. Broader values surrounding gender, sexuality, race, and class will always determine how we incorporate those features of our identity into our own self-concept” (143). Children will develop a self-concept when they are accepted by peers and feel they meet up to the social expectations of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Their identity starts when they are born and is nurtured through these values they adopt as they interact with the world around them. Toys R Us is one store that displays gender values and differences in their products marketed towards young boys and girls.

Works Cited
Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. NY: McGraw Hill, 2007.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Viva Glam: Is it really all that glamorous as they say?

Advertisements use sexualized body to sell something. Through the mainstream media of television, magazines, and the internet, advertisements are sending strong messages to young girls. In a materialistic society, it is believed that the more you have the better. Adolescents especially want to strive for a better life with better things. If they buy all the new products, they can be sexy and desirable like the models they see, or at least, try and constantly fall short of the changing definition of ideal beauty. The popular upscale cosmetic company M.A.C lures teenage girls to buy their makeup in order to maintain what it means to be feminine through their advertisements. Girls are brought up to believe that makeup will make them look older, hide their blemishes and flaws, and ultimately, to look more beautiful than they usually do. Large billboards of beautiful and sexy women are displayed for girls all over the world to see and believe that they could attain that kind of beauty. Even though some advertisements may not be overtly sexual when compared to others, the less obvious, but repeating sexual messages can be found in the media. Advertisements not only use sex in order to sell their products, they also use sex to sell underlying false messages targeted at young and innocent consumers.

According to Wolf, “the sexual revolution promoted the discovery of female sexuality; “beauty pornography” – which for the first time in women’s history artificially links a commodified “beauty” directly and explicitly to sexuality – invaded the mainstream to undermine women’s new and vulnerable sense of sexual self-worth” (121). Girls’ self-worth and femininity is defined by this beauty that they think will be sexually appealing. The beauty myth is embedded in girls’ heads from constant exposure to messages of what it means to be beautiful and feminine. Every girl is aware of how she looks and advertisers tell them what they can do to attain ideal beauty, which is unattainable even to the models that are photo-shopped and airbrushed. Yet they start to measure themselves to these models and try to find their self worth in how sexy others see their bodies. M.A.C.’s advertisements feature faces of celebrities telling girls to buy their cosmetics to look like them. Their advertisements for their line, Viva Glam, are for selling make-up; but with closer analysis, the body language, modeling and attitude tell a different story. In order to live a glamorous life of a celebrity, girls should buy this make-up. Are advertisements saying that wearing beautiful shades of lip gloss and seductive tints of lipstick will make you more glamorous and appealing? Or is it sex that really makes a woman all the more glamorous? Look at the model celebrities in the M.A.C advertisements, the promiscuous and revealing outfits do all the talking. Consumers are drawn to the ad first by the sexy models before they’re even aware of what is actually being sold. The sexual images are used to draw consumers into their advertisement. Unless girls wear these suggestive outfits along with the makeup, how can they look as sexy and desirable as Pamela Anderson, Fergie, or any of the other celebrities modeling M.A.C Viva Glam? With the process in attempting to attain ideal beauty, “women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it” (Wolfe 121). Advertisements sell the idea that sexual images are what men want because beautiful means being sexy. Also, the media tells us the roles of men and women in society, “Strong men battle for beautiful women and beautiful women are more reproductively successful” and by looking as sexy and beautiful as you can, women can get men to fight for them (Wolfe 121). Sex sells to both women and men.

Advertisements objectify women and their bodies. When they use women’s sexuality as a primary strategy to sell products, it teaches young girls that they can use and abuse sex and their bodies to sell something. Even when these images devalue women and their femininity, there are girls every day who devote their time to become just like the images. “Adolescents are new and inexperienced consumers, and such prime targets” (Kilbourne 258). Advertisements tell girls what to buy in order to look a certain way, and they are eager to try the new products. Young adolescent girls look up to celebrities and models in magazines, thinking that they are strong and sexy because of these products. The messages are so commonplace that they overlook the reality of how these models are presented, half naked, breasts exposed and posing with lustful body language. “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions” (Kilbourne 258). Innocent consumers are constantly told they are not good enough or not trying hard enough to meet the standards of beauty. The very ads that offer solutions create the issues of insecurity and anxiety. If they only had the right makeup to magically turn them into glamorous, beautiful models like in the advertisements, they would also have the confidence to show off their bodies. “The culture, both reflected and reinforced by advertising, urges girls to adopt a false self, to bury alive their real selves, to become “feminine” (Kilbourne 259). Therefore, the M.A.C. advertisement defines femininity for young girls today. Femininity is defined by the makeup they put on, the clothes they wear, or lack thereof; they just can’t be themselves because they could be so much more beautiful and desirable with all these glamorous products. Girls make their bodies and their beauty to be the most important aspect of their life because advertisements indirectly make them believe this is true. Being beautiful will help them get what they need whether it is attention, love, men, nice gifts, or even a positive self esteem and confidence. However, advertisements are helping young girls believe in the message that they are not beautiful enough; they make them feel less secure about themselves so that they would go and buy more and more products. Sadly, they will never attain the end goal of ideal beauty they think they can eventually achieve. As role models in magazines are being objectified, billions of girls want to be just like them. Advertisement in today’s society has a strong hold of young female consumers who aren’t happy about their sexuality, whether they know it or not; they are constantly reminded that they need to be a certain way in order to be feminine. Sex sells, and it’s not just selling products.

Works Cited

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media 2003:258-265.

Wolf, Naomi. "The Beauty Myth." Chapter III: Gender and Women's Bodies. 199): 120-125.


Friday, July 17, 2009

"8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter" & Hegemonic Representation of Masculinity and Femininity

8 Simple Rules: Pilot

Today, the standards of what it means to embody femininity and masculinity is constantly moving and changing to what is the acceptable norm. The elite group of society has the power to tell young audiences how they should behave dress and interact with the opposite gender to get what they truly desire. The stereotypes of women include those who are less intelligent but who are beautiful and those who are smart but not so attractive are dominated by the hegemonic representations of femininity and masculinity. Throughout the media, we see a variety of characters who reinforce and disrupt the constructs of hegemony. According to Lull, “Hegemony implies a willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules, and laws they believe operate in their best interests, even though in actual practice they may not. Social consent can be a more effective means of control than coercion or force” (p.63). Teenagers and young adults may or may not choose to follow these rules and social expectations in order to fit in or stand out. Hegemony is a process where society and the people within it try to maintain power and dominance to establish what is considered the acceptable norms. Others will demonstrate counter-hegemony and will stray away from these acceptable norms.

The hit television series “8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter” is about a father, Paul Hennessey, who’s constantly challenged to raise, discipline and connect with his children. The show focuses on the two oldest daughters, Bridget and Carrie who are trying to get through the high demands and social expectations of high school. The two daughters’ characters contrast in their looks and personalities which cause them to argue frequently; at the same time, the audience can relate to their teenage angst, desires, and experiences that overlap between them in two very opposite spectrums of the social circle. The very first piloted episode of Season 1 introduces us to the two sassy teenagers and demonstrates how their lives are dictated by counter-hegemonic and social standards and norms.

Bridget’s character is tall, beautiful and blonde. She may not be the smartest of the family, like it matters to her anyway; but her world mostly revolves around friends, shopping, and boys. Her behavior, attitude, and the way she views herself and the people around her reinforces as well as disrupts hegemonic masculinity and femininity. The episode begins with Kyle, Bridget’s date, coming to pick her up. As we are introduced to Bridget for the first time, she comes downstairs with a revealing tank top and tight pants and is sent back up by her father to change. Instead of coming to the door, there are several loud honks outside. Once inside the house, Kyle gets a call from another girl and claims he’s at a friend’s house.

Just in this brief scene alone, it shows that women feel like they should dress in a certain way they think will attract the opposite sex and men are depicted as the more powerful and dominant person of the relationship. In Johnson’s article, he says that patriarchy has become partly about “valuing of masculinity and maleness and devaluing of femininity and femaleness”, which is truly demonstrated by this scene (p.94). Kyle may believe that it is acceptable to treat Bridget this way because masculinity is seen as more valuable than women’s femininity.

Another scene where Bridget is shown to care about her looks by the way she dresses, young female viewers can relate to the father-daughter interaction. Paul clearly does not approve of what Bridget is wearing yet she believes that it’s what people wear in her generation. The dialogue between Paul, Bridget and Carrie went like this:

Paul: Bridget, why are you dressed like that?

Carrie: It must be casual sex day at school.

Bridget: Hey, at least I get…look good.

Paul: Okay cupcake, I think you missed the word under in underwear because I can see your bra and that sling shot you’re wearing under your pants.

Bridget: It’s a thong.

Paul: It’s floss.

Bridget: I can’t wear anything else. Panty lines, hello.

Paul: Panty lines, hello, are fine. Actually, they were a pretty big deal in my day.

Bridget: Well, we’re the thong generation.

Paul: Well maybe that’s why your generation is so angry, you’re always walking around with wedgies.

Through this interaction, it is true that hegemony and popular culture is a process that develops and has no finite ending. Status quo and social standards change as time passes. By dressing this way, Bridget believes she is following what society categorizes as the norm and to viewers, she embodies beauty, femininity, and sexuality. And as Carrie points out, Bridget’s sense of fashion promotes that sex sells in order to be popular and to draw in attention of the opposite gender. Popular culture tells her and the audience that if you’re not up to date with what everyone else is currently doing in this generation, you put yourself at risk of major social consequences to come. Chapter 1 in the text-reader states, “[The media] contribute to educating us how to behave and what to think, feel, believe, fear, and desire – and what not to. The media are forms of pedagogy that teach us how to be men and women” (p.9). As described in the article The Unreal World, Pozner would identify Bridget as the Perfect 10. She is pretty, passive, and intellectually unthreatening. Pozner also says that “the real concern is the millions of views, scores of whom are young girls, who take in these misogynistic spectacles uncritically, learning that only the most stereotypically beautiful, least independent women with the lowest-carb diets will be rewarded with love, financial security and the ultimate prize of male validation” (p.99). Although, not quite a reality show and although “8 Simple Rules” reinforces family and morals, in many ways, Bridget’s character depicts women as someone who needs love and male validation.

Bridget not only demonstrates hegemonic representations, she also reveals counter hegemonic representations that disrupt the constructs of femininity. She sneaks off to the mall, hoping to bump into Kyle so he would ask her to the homecoming dance. He approaches her with a few smooth lines, “Check me out, checking you out…checking me out, checking you out! Yeah, I’m checking you out”. Bridget is carried away by this guy and can’t stop smiling until another girl walks by and Kyle leaves her to use the very same lines on her. Here, you see Bridget crying, in a vulnerable state which makes the audience feel sorry for her. According to Johnson, the system of patriarchy establishes that women are to be vulnerable and caring while men are tough and aggressive (p.94). This only reinforces that women depend and base their happiness and self-esteem on men. However, turns of events show that Bridget disrupts her character build up. We later find out that she already has a date to the dance but thought she could do better. Now, power has shift from the man to the woman. In the same way Kyle believed he could dispose of Bridget for another woman, Bridget believed that she could easily dump her pre-established date for someone better because she can and deserves to because of her looks. Society teaches teenagers that the opposite gender is just someone you can play with, tease, excite, and control. Throughout the episode we see that men dictate how women see themselves when in fact, women are just as guilty for participating in the expectations and norms of society.

In contrast, Carrie is short, rebellious, and a redhead. She is nothing like Bridget but seems not to desire the popularity her sister has established for herself. She dresses very differently and is always moody. She has a lot of attitude as most teenagers do. She is the typical angry-at-the-world, not as beautiful, yet smart and artistic. Usually a good, well-behaved student, Carrie surprisingly gets suspended from skipping school one day. Her parents and the audience are left with the mystery of why the sudden rebellion. When she is questioned why she isn’t attending the homecoming dance, she responds by saying that it’s stupid and is for idiots when the truth is, she didn’t get asked by anyone, which isn’t a surprise to Bridget. When Paul approaches Carrie, she asks her dad if he thinks she’s pretty. She is tired of boys considering her as just a friend, not looking at her in any particular romantic way. Paul tries to understand by suggesting if she didn’t dress so baggy, maybe boys will start to notice her developing figure. Carrie desires to feel pretty yet even when her dad reassures her that she is, his opinion doesn’t matter due to the age gap. Here we see a change in hegemonic representation. Carrie’s character embodies a teenage girl who supposedly doesn’t care what people think of her or whether she dresses more like her sister. Secretly, however, she wants to be accepted by society and noticed by the opposite gender. Like Bridget, she depends on boys around her to make her feel beautiful and feminine. In the end of the episode, her usual scowl changes to cheerful and upbeat because a boy is coming to hang out with her. It’s not until after this conclusion of the episode that she seems freed from her insecurities and she demonstrates gratefulness for her father’s love.

The contrast between her and her sister tells the audiences that if you’re smart and independent, yet don’t dress as sexy to show off your body, you will not be noticed or as popular. Carrie’s character is assumed to be set apart from the popular crowd and she “deviates from the codes of mainstream femininity” (Johnson p. 94). Her sarcasm, rebelliousness and bad attitude “endorse counter-hegemonic values and lifestyles” (Lull p.65). She is all about being very different from the people around her and going against the trends. Yet, little does she, as well as her father knows, society has shaped her thinking just the same as her sister in terms of the way she feels about her own femininity to the standards of other teenage boys. Even though she does not desire to dress in any way like her sister, she can’t help but to feel she lacks beauty as she stands in the shadow of her older, more popular sister. According to Kellner, “[The media shows] us how to dress, look, and consume; how to react to members of different social groups; how to be popular and successful and how to avoid failure; and how to conform to the dominant system of norms, values, practices, and institutions” (p.10). She hates the very thing she wants, which is to be noticed and to be considered as feminine in her own beauty.

Hegemonic and counter-hegemonic seem to dominate the world of the young audiences still, as seen in the show. In the episode alone, you can analyze each character and conclude that they each represent hegemonic femininity and masculinity. In reality, young audiences are learning these standards of what it means to be a woman and a man through the media. Within the social constructs, both Bridget and Carrie demonstrate these hegemonic and counter-hegemonic representations. Bridget portrays femininity in the way she dresses and by her popular social status. She also displays counter-hegemonic femininity when she takes control and power over the men she can easily have as opposed to the guy she actually wants. Carrie depicts counter-hegemonic femininity by being different and not following the social norms but she also displays a longing to be feminine as she reflects her own relationships with the opposite gender. These representations can be found in this series of shows and can be easily paralleled to society today.

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System. An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us” 93-94.

Kellner, Doughlas. “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture”. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications Inc. 9-19.

Lull, James. “Hegemony”. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications Inc. 61-65.

Pozner, Jennifer. ”The Unreal World”.98-99.