Friday, May 29, 2009

“Oh Daddy, All the Boys Have It…Can I Have It Too?”: A Look into Gendered Consumers

Toys are a part of children’s lives as they grow older and mature. From a very early age, children see toys in advertisements and in commercials on television and instantly wish they had those toys that look so fun and attractive. Young children are supposedly the innocent, or usually unharmed, people in the world; however, children are affected by the advertisements for toys they see whether they are aware of it or not. Toys help shape individuals and show how boys and girls differ depending on the toys they play with. Toys therefore contribute to the already existent gendered socialization of children and show how normative gender roles in childhood are perpetuated through children’s play and depend on the class status of the children’s families.

I live in the United States with my nine-year-old boy named Jason. This year for the holidays, I have decided to let Jason come up with a wish list of five toys he wants. Jason chose K’NEX, LEGOS, Transformer action heroes, and some toys involving baseball and hockey. As his father, I predicted these toys would be on his wish list because, as the years go on, Jason shows greater interests in building, action heroes, and sports like most of his male friends. The amount of money I can spend on Jason’s gifts is $168.00. I decided to shop online on Target’s website. Target makes it fairly easy for parents because they have categories of toys for them to click on based on age, gender, indoor play, outdoor play, and electronics. Thus, I clicked on toys available for nine-year-old boys. Naturally, the toys on Jason’s list appeared in Target’s toy selection for young boys.

Target and other online shopping store’s decisions to separate toy lists based on gender show how gender is socially constructed in society. Jason’s wish list is similar to many other boys’ lists because Jason and his male friends enjoy common themes often associated with boys. In David M. Newman’s chapter entitled “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization”, he discusses how children obtain information: “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…” (107-08). As Newman states, toys, other children, and other children’s parents have an influence on what children like Jason like to play with and what, or who, they associate themselves with. It is important for adults to remember that “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). Thus, the first theme of toys I decided to buy for Jason involved building. This idea of building something fascinates Jason, partly because he is a boy. I bought him the LEGO Power Miners Claw Digger Set for $17.99 and the K’NEX Double Ferris Wheel for $29.99. The K’NEX set was only available online while the LEGO set was available online and in the store. Both toys are aimed at children ages seven and up.

Jason’s fascination with building and putting things together has grown over time as he continues to play with young boys. The packaging of the LEGO set, in particular, attracts young boys that are Jason’s age. The cover of the box includes what many parents and people would consider to be masculine colors. For example, the box only includes dark colors like blue, green, black, and orange. In addition, the picture on the cover is of a large tractor. Tractors and trucks are what many young boys are known to play with and are therefore thought to be masculine. The packaging does not include glamour or lighter shades of color because it is meant to attract young boys instead of young girls.

The K’NEX set cover uses colors that can be attributed to both genders; however, the main slogan on the box is “Imagine-Build-Play”. The cover clearly shows that this toy has to be built by hand first before it is played with. Thus, the toy is once again geared towards boys who like to build things and use their hands. The toy building sets and their covers I bought for Jason show young children that there is a difference within the genders: “toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information…toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines” (Newman 112). Looking at Target’s online selection for girls in order to compare the gender differences proved what Newman states. Nearly all of the items on the suggested list of toys for girls had something to do with fashion, make-up, Barbie, or dress-up. The suggested list for boys my son’s age included trucks, cars, action heroes, and sports. Newman further speaks about how certain toys are created and aimed towards a certain gender: “decades of research indicate that ‘girls’ toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys’ toys’ emphasize action and adventure” (112). Thus, one click of a button on a store’s website can demonstrate gender differences and allude to what the normative gender roles in society are.

Action heroes and this need for adventure was the next theme I saw in Jason’s wish list. As a young boy, Jason often plays with action heroes and pretends to be the hero or the villain with his male friends. The Transformer action heroes I bought Jason were only available online for $21.99. The action heroes are meant for children ages five and up, yet Jason still loves to play with them. Again, the toys contained colors most commonly associated with boys. The black and orange figures were also not included under the selection of toys suggested for girls which again implies that girls aren’t supposed to play with action heroes that are better suited for boys: “in one study, there was significant agreement among adults as to what were the most ‘male’ toys (guns toy soldiers, boxing gloves, G.I. Joe, and football gear) and the most ‘female’ toys (makeup kit, Barbie, jewelry box, bracelet, doll clothes)” (Newman 112). Here, Newman comments on what is seen throughout stores like Target. There is a common attitude present throughout society regarding what is appropriate for the different genders.

Sports were the last theme I saw in Jason’s wish list which I strongly appreciated since I am his father. I have played sports outside with Jason ever since he was a little boy. I bought Jason the Major League Baseball Pitching Machine for $40.00 and the Franklin NHL Set of Two Mini Hockey Goals for $46.00. Seven and up is the suggested age for both toys. Interestingly, the toys associated with sports and athletics cost more money than the other toys did. The class of a family determines what toys can be purchased: “some families have greater access than others to the economic resources that are associated with a comfortable childhood, lots of toys, and athletic equipment…” (Newman 128). Since Jason is growing up in a middle-class environment, I am able to buy him most of the toys and athletic equipment he desires. I did, however, shop online for some toys that were listed under $25.00 to meet my $168.00 limit and not exceed it. Especially with shopping online, it is important to watch the cost of the toys because, at the end, shipping charges are added to the final cost of all the gifts. Thus, class and economic income play a role in determining what toys parents, or relatives, can buy for children.

It is no surprise Jason is interested in sports like many other boys. After all, it is more socially acceptable for boys to play baseball than play with dolls. In Michael A. Messner’s essay entitled “Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities”, Messner comments on the association made within society that links boys to organized sports: “organized sports is also a ‘gendering institution’-an institution that helps to construct the current gender order. Part of this construction of gender is accomplished through the ‘masculinizing’ of male bodies and minds” (134). In addition, fathers, or male relatives, have an influence on children and the sports they play: “first experiences in sports might often come through relationships with brothers or older male relatives, and the early emotional salience of sports was often directly related to a boy’s relationship with his father” (Messner 127). Thus, it is no wonder that the girls’ selection of toys does not include sports toys or gear. Messner goes on to talk about the way that class status affects boys’ associations with sports: “men from higher-status backgrounds are likely to describe their earliest athletic experiences and motivations almost exclusively in terms of immediate family” (131). This is true for Jason because we are a part of the middle class, and I have educated him about sports.

All five gifts therefore support the normative gender roles in society and show how both gender and class are significant factors that determine what, or who, children associate with and relate to. Young boys and girls learn a great deal of information about societal norms through the world and through their experience with toys. Advertisements for toys, as well as the toy boxes, covers, and slogans, reveal a lot about how society perceives boys and girls differently. Toys demonstrate how gender is socially constructed. In addition, toys help society make a distinction between various class statuses since economic income often determines what toys are bought for children to play with and become familiar with. Society should therefore become more informed and modify the messages they are sending children about toys in relation to gender and class identities.

Works Cited

Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, Inc., 1990.

Newman, David M. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Images In Order Of Appearance

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Than an Image: How Advertisements Objectify Women and Make a Statement About Sexuality, Beauty, and Thinness

An advertiser’s main goal is to make money by any means necessary. Therefore, it is no surprise that advertisements in the media today are preying upon young women’s insecurities and producing more and more advertisements that show how sex sells in the media. Throughout virtually any magazine or image in the media, a reader will find more women than men shown in the advertisements. Some of these advertisements include women interacting with men in a sexual manner, women wearing the slightest bit of clothing, if any, and women posing in provocative ways to sell a certain product. Virtually all of these advertisements and media images portray women who are extremely thin, sexy, and seductive in order to sell the products to either male or female consumers. Interestingly, the male consumer products that are advertised include women either being promiscuous with other women, or with men, while female consumer products only sometimes include men, yet nevertheless portray women seductively, beautifully, and in a way that appeals to men. The above collage helps showcase how advertisers use the idea that “sex sells” as a way to objectify women and hold them to the highest standards of beauty, thinness, and attractiveness to men, while simultaneously suggesting that in order for products to sell, women must sell the products in a sexual manner.

Every image in the collage includes one or more women. This says something in itself considering that some of the products advertised are solely meant to be bought by men. For instance, the image of the cologne strategically placed between the woman’s breasts is meant to appeal to the male consumer; however, in order for that product to be marketable, the advertisement must contain a topless woman. Similarly, the image of the three men surrounding the slender and attractive woman while another man gets on top of her, is an advertisement meant to attract men to shop at Dolce and Gabbana; however, in order to initially attract the men, a woman must appear in the advertisement. In Sut Jhally’s essay entitled “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture”, Jhally discusses gender identity and images in the media: “many commercial messages use images and representations of men and women as central components of their strategy to both get attention and persuade” (253). Jhally’s analysis can be applied to advertisements, as well, and it shows the ways in which the advertisers prey upon their consumers and appeal to them through sexual images and thoughts. Women, in particular, are represented in a specific way: “in advertising, gender (especially for women) is defined almost exclusively along the lines of sexuality” (Jhally 253). Jhally’s depiction of women being represented based on their sexuality is supported throughout the collage. One of the advertisements shown is meant to persuade people to neuter their pets; however, the image used to represent the advertisement shows a woman dressed in lingerie and heels while holding a cat. This advertisement is therefore an example of the ways in which women are portrayed solely based on their sex appeal and sexuality. Thus, women provocatively displayed in advertisements clearly help sell the product and show that sex really does sell.

In addition to women appearing in advertisements based on their sexuality for both men’s and women’s products, they are also represented as beautiful, attractive, and most importantly, thin. The images in the collage show a variety of women, and regardless of the women’s ages or breast sizes, they are all thin. For instance, the image of the middle-aged women from Desperate Housewives shows the women to be as thin as the young girls in the Budweiser advertisement. In Jean Kilbourne’s essay entitled “The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size”, Jean discusses how women and young girls feel the need to be thin in order to feel beautiful and appeal to men, and she discusses the reasons why these thin women are continuously shown in advertisements: “the obsession with thinness is most deeply about cutting girls and women down to size” (262). Thus, if women are thin, or frail, men will still be more powerful. One of the images displayed in the collage shows a thin woman lying down while a man stands above her with alcohol and glasses in his hands. This advertisement for Skyy Vodka helps support the idea that women should be thin in order to attract men and that this thin woman has less power than the man standing above her. Kilbourne goes on to discuss how advertisements in the media continue to influence women: “a great deal of it [advertisements] is based on research and is intended to arouse anxiety and affect women’s self-esteem” (262). The image involving the woman whispering into the man’s ear is supposed to be an advertisement for men’s cologne; however, it is showing women and young girls that if they are as beautiful and thin as the woman in the advertisement, they will also attract men. Both Jhally and Kilbourne examine the ways in which advertisers use advertisements to attract consumers by selling sex. The collage also represents the ways in which women are objectified for the sole purpose of making money. Therefore, advertisements include images of sexuality, beauty, thinness, and attractiveness in order to sell the products and show that, at any cost, sex does sell in the media.
Works Cited
Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 258-267.

Images Used in Collage from Magazines/Websites
Cosmopolitan April 2006.

Maxim May 2006.

Maxim girls cover:

BEBE ad:

Skyy Vodka ad:

Dolce and Gabbana ad:

Organ donation ad:

Skyy Vodka ad:

Woman covered in shoes/clothes ad:

Sexy car ad:

Cologne ad:

Paris Hilton burger ad:

Shoes ad:

Desperate Housewives game:

Gossip girl ad:

Budweiser ad:

Dolce and Gabbana ad:

PETA ad:

Miller Lite ad:

PETA with Carrie Ann Inaba ad:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hegemonic and Counter Hegemonic Representations of Femininity and Masculinity in an Element of Pop Culture

Pink’s Music Video “So What”: A Woman Taking on the Role of the Aggressor and Claiming Her Independence

Music videos created today are an outlet the media utilizes in order to represent various aspects of gender and hegemony in popular culture. In most cases, America’s youth is the audience for these music videos, and the images and ideas shown in the music videos affect the way many younger people learn to view men, women, and their roles in society. The majority of music videos today are more apparent in their attempts to represent the ways in which the hegemonic and social norms related to masculinity and femininity are created and destroyed. Pink’s music video entitled “So What” is just one of many videos that delves into this idea of representing masculinity and femininity in relation to hegemony and showcasing how these common representations of men and women either help reconstruct or disturb the hegemonic norm. Pink’s video, “So What”, toys with masculinity and femininity as she takes on the role of what the majority of society would consider to be a man’s role as a way to both support and disrupt the overarching representations of the hegemonic norm.

Pink’s music video “So What” suggests that men and women behave in various ways due to hegemonic norms present in society. In the video, Pink portrays some of these behaviors and actions by portraying a man’s role and reversing what society sees as socially acceptable for men and women. At first glance, it appears that the video only showcases the counter hegemonic representation of masculinity and femininity; however, it does represent many of the hegemonic norms followed and believed to exist today. The video begins with Pink’s husband covering her eyes as she sings, “I guess I just lost my husband/ I don’t know where he went”. Thus, at the very start of the video, the man seems to be in control and in a position of power over the woman. In Allan G. Johnson’s essay, “Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us”, Johnson discusses the ways men are perceived and are thought to act according to the hegemonic norm: “to have power over and to be prepared to use it are defined culturally as good and desirable (and characteristically ‘masculine’), and to lack such power or to be reluctant to use it is seen as weak if not contemptible (and characteristically ‘feminine’)” (94). Here, Pink’s husband is displaying his power over his wife in order to demonstrate his masculine characteristics.

The music video and lyrics go on to poke fun at the ideals of a patriarchal culture. According to Johnson, “From the expression of emotion to economics to the natural environment, gaining and exercising control is a continuing goal of great importance [in a patriarchal culture]” (94). Here, Johnson is describing how men feel the need to be in control of every aspect of their lives as a way to prove their masculinity. The music video therefore reinforces this hegemonic representation through its portrayal of Pink’s male neighbor doing the yard work and through Pink’s lyrics which say, “So I’m gonna drink my money/ I’m not gonna pay his rent”. Pink suggests that by refusing to pay her husband’s rent, she is ultimately taking this hegemonic norm away from him which inevitably allows her to start gaining some power.

The interaction between Pink and her husband in this video is another example of a hegemonic norm being created. She sings to her husband in the video and tells him that he was never there for her. While she is singing, her husband has his back turned to her, yawns, and clearly ignores what she is saying. This type of behavior shows another hegemonic representation of masculinity by allowing the man to hold a silent power over the woman even when she is speaking.

As with many elements of pop culture, both hegemonic and counter hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity can be found. Therefore, Pink’s video includes many counter hegemonic ideas, as well. One example includes Pink’s decision to start a fist fight in a guitar shop and get in trouble. Here, she takes on, what are known to be, masculine characteristics by being the aggressive one: “it’s about defining women and men as opposites, about the ‘naturalness’ of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination” (Johnson 94). Here, Pink disrupts the hegemony by fighting physically and by taking the initiative. According to the patriarchal culture, she is supposed to be passive because she is a woman and should therefore possess so-called womanly qualities.

The idea of men being independent and women being dependent is a typical depiction of the genders seen throughout popular culture. Therefore, the idea of Pink exemplifying female independence is significant in the video. At one point, she cuts down a tree marked with the initials of her and her husband which shows her independence as a woman. This desire for independence is shown throughout the video and through Pink’s repeated lyrics to her husband which state, “I don’t want you tonight”. Here, she is also taking on the more dominant role by taking the initiative and cutting the tree down herself.

In David M. Newman’s third chapter entitled “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media”, he discusses the various ways multiple media outlets portray men and women. In regards to television, he says, “Boys were more likely than girls to be depicted in dominant and active roles. Girls tended to be portrayed as shy, giggly, and passive” (Newman 91). Television, in this case, is similar to Pink’s music video and other music videos since both forms of popular culture depict masculinity and femininity in these ways.

Throughout the video, Pink pokes fun at both masculinity and femininity. According to Newman, “Making fun of masculinity…bears little, if any, of the cultural and historical weight that accompanies stereotypical portrayals of women and other disadvantaged groups” (93-4). Pink reverses the gender roles in the video by driving a bike, being rowdy, and going to the bar every night. Her decision to poke fun at both genders shows that she is willing to speak against the societal or hegemonic norms. Thus, as a woman, she possesses the desire to speak up and have her voice heard while refusing to stand by and watch as the patriarchal culture does as it pleases.

“So What” is one of many music videos that illustrate the differences in gender roles. Throughout the music video, Pink creates and disrupts hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity, as well as shows that women are not subordinate to men. A patriarchal culture is accepted within society and Pink pokes fun at this type of culture while simultaneously shedding light on what is considered normal behaviors, mannerisms, and actions of men and women. Pink’s idea to take on a male role and exhibit masculine characteristics shows her ability to deviate from the hegemonic norm and prove that men and women’s roles can be altered if society will allow this change to occur.

Works Cited
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997.

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. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Pink. “So What.” Funhouse. LaFace Records, 2008. Music video. Dir. Dave Meyers. You Tube. 13 May 2009.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Top Five Blog Sites

1. Do Television Shows Such as “Gossip Girl” Promote the Concept of Being a “Mean Girl”?
By, Christine
Website: Gender and Popular Culture Blog

2. Gender in the Media Today
(For Britney Spear's Womanizer video)
By, Alan Kratz
Website: Alan's Blog

3. The Cosmo Boyfriend
By, Steve
Website: Steve's Comm 491 E-Journal (Blog)

4.Analyzing Feminine Roles in Desperate Housewives
By, Allison Sens
Website: Allison's Media Analysis Blog

5. Will Slumdog Millionaire lead to greater racial diversity in Hollywood films?
By, Carmen Van Kerckhove
Website: Carmen Van Kerckhove on race, diversity, work, and life

Link to main gender and pop culture blog

Here it is-main blog