Friday, May 29, 2009

Gendered Consumerism

Name: Hunter

Age: 8

Favorite Pastime: Bike Riding

Gift Request: Transformer Action Figure

Budget: $168

Relation to Hunter: Cousin

Citizenship: America

Toys bring so much joy to a child, but shopping for them can be really stressful for everyone, especially when you take into consideration how gendered toys can affect a child and the messages they can send. Since Hunter is my cousin, I knew that his favorite activity was to bike ride, and I thought about getting him a bike as a gift because I knew it would make him happy. I had done some research and was able to find a bike for $79.99. It was the perfect find because it was decorated with the superheroes that Hunter requested for his gift.

Newman explains that “toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information. A quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer's catalog or web site reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines” (Newman 112). While shopping for the bike, it was clear that there are distinctly gendered stereotypes of bikes. Bikes “for girls” were painted with light and soft colors, while the “bikes for boys” had dark colors, or superheroes painted on them. I was unable to find any bikes, that were unisex or gender neutral because the gender stereotypes manifested in the bikes went even beyond the paint. The structure of the bike can either indicate strong masculinity and sends a message of rough terrain biking and adventure or a bike decorated in baskets and ribbons that suggest it is to be ridden with friends around the paved driveway.

Baskets and ribbons are not the only bike accessories that deepened the gendered stereotypes of the bikes. Since safety is an issue for all, I needed to find a set of knee pads and a helmet. The set of items cost $24.99 all together and was an excellent fit into my budget. The helmet and knee pads were silver and decorated with characters from the Transformers. Even the helmet and reiterated the gender roles implied for children and the constant message of alpha masculinity in the toys of young boys.

With that portion of Hunter’s wish list complete and some money in my budget left over, I moved on to find an action figure for him to play with. I was able to easily find a Transformer action figure which I felt was the perfect match to Hunter’s request. I was able to find the action figure at a cost of $22.99. The figure was not of a particular color that represented a certain gender identity, however it definitely portrayed masculine characteristics. The edges were rough, appeared strong, unstoppable, and physically powerful which reiterates the gender characteristics of toys marketed towards young boys. Messner suggests that masculinity in boys is neither completely innate at birth nor developed from influence others, but rather “it is shaped and constructed through the interaction between the internal and the social” (Messner 121). Messner argues that the interaction of these is what develops gender identities for children as they grow up. This Transformer action figure is an example the social component which influences gender identities in children. I was also able to find a Transformer key chain valued at $4.99, which I also included into gift bag for Hunter.

I also decided to buy Hunter a Batman superhero action figure, which also reinforced the message of alpha masculinity sent through a toy. Batman appears as a heteronormative superhero that perfectly defines the hegemonic male with chiseled features and powerful strength. I chose Batman because of the recent release of another Batman movie, and knowing many boys would want to have this toy as a result.

Since the Transformer characters are not actually human but rather machines, the role of race did not come into play when shopping for Hunter based on his request. If Hunter has asked for an action figure such as a Power Ranger, the role of race when choosing which character to get for Hunter would have been present. Batman however does not come in more than one race, so that issue did not exist.

The subject of sexuality does not come into play as much when shopping for young boys as it does when shopping for girls. The way feminine dolls and figurines are dressed can greatly affect a young girl but based on the requests of Hunter, I was able to avoid that issue as well.

After shopping for Hunter and doing extensive search online for toys, it was evident that there is definitely a barrier between gendered toys. There are different approaches in how toys are marketed and appear towards children. There are very few toys that and neutral in gender and restricts enforces a stereotype and ideology on children that they had no input on.

Works Cited

Messner, Michael. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (1990): 120-137. Print.

Newman, David M.. Identities and Equalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.

Bike. Photograph. 29 May 2009 . .

Key Chain. Photograph. 29 May 2009 . .

Transformer. 29 May 2009 ..

Batman. 29 May 2009 . .

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thin: To Be or Not to Be?

Thin: To Be or Not to Be?

Over the past few years, the incidence of eating disorders and anorexia has dramatically increased in young women across the country. This epidemic not only affects their quality of life and deteriorates their health, but for many, it can kill them. Young girls in our society look to fashion models and celebrities as the standard for what a woman should look like: beautiful, outrageously thin, and perfect. These are the images that are streamed into their homes everyday through the television shows that they watch, the magazines they read and any other form of media they are exposed to.

While international cultures have taken initiatives to try and correct this issue with body type idealism taken from the media, American society has not while young girl continue to be afflicted and the media continues to profit. The Madrid Fashion show in 2006 banned models that were too thin from walking in their show, a bold and highly discussed resolution. The models were required to have a BMI index of no less than 18, which was shocking within the fashion industry because it did not fit in with the industry’s and the media’s standards of models and the ideals of beauty they are supposed to represent.

Kilbourne explains that “the quest for a body as thin as a model’s becomes a prison for many women and girls” (Dines 263). Because the media is so inundated with images of unhealthy ideals of body type, it constantly reminds women that they may not fit that ideal. This has deep psychological effects on young women who are already trying to find their identity. Kilbourne continues by explaining that “Advertising is one of the most potent messengers in a culture that can be toxic for girls’ self-esteem (Dines 258).

In stark contrast, and in an attempt to combat these media-driven ideals, American society tries to convince young women to love their bodies. Higginbotham suggests that “ Girls are encouraged to love their bodies, no matter what they look like, by magazines with fashion spreads featuring only stick-thin, flawless-faced white models in expensive outfits”(95). However, many magazines and new advertising campaigns featuring images of the “fuller” women and the “happy with yourself” ideals, advertisement is often followed on the next page with a new diet plan, which again reinforces the “skinny” ideal.

Young women are bombarded with conflicting images and messages that tell them to love their bodies but are given advice on how to lose extra weight. In the choice between loving oneself and what they think will make others love them, young girls turn to eating disorders to reach their ideals and be like the models they see in the media. Young girls in our society take the risks of ruining their health and their quality of life because they also see that the skinny models are given money, praise and attention. As these images continue to last within the media, without earnest attempts to change these ideals for young women, the incidence of eating disorders and anorexia is likely to continue rising.

Works Cited

Dines, Gail & Jean M. (McMahon) Humez. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications: 2003.

Fernanda Tavares. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Higginbotham, Anastasia. "Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose
Your Self-Esteem." Essay.

Jaslene Gonzalez. Photograph. 19 May 2009

"Madrid bans waifs from catwalks." BBC. 19 May 2009 .

Model's Back. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Model Pose. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Model Skeleton Ribs. Photograph. 19 May 2009

Nicole Richie. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Tara Reid. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Waist Size. Photograph. 19 May 2009 .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bridget Jones Breaks Through Hegemony

Bridget Jones’s Diary: Diversions and Affirmations from the Hegemonic Representations of Masculinity and Femininity

The 2001 film Bridget Jones’ Diary is romantic comedy that amongst its humor and wide commercial success, it also showcases the prominent feminine and masculine issues that are perpetually represented in the media. The media’s representations of the “typical” man or woman are based on stereotypes which perpetually affirm instead of break them: the prominent characterizations of skinny blonde females that always get the guy and the hyper-masculine macho males out of touch with their emotions. These character types, especially in romantic comedy films, are portrayed as the ideal to strive for and are the normal (or only) paths to love and happiness for each gender. The characters in the film “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is a good example of an attempt to try and show diversions from the hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity, however, it concurrently reaffirms these gender stereotypes to viewers.

The lead male and female characters in the film are representative of a diversion and subsequent affirmation of gender stereotypes in the media. While the lead male character, Daniel Cleaver (played by Hugh Grant) is the stereotypical cinematic male role, as evidenced by his good looks and great job, the main female lead character Bridget Jones (played by Renee Zellweger) is not your average cinematic female role. Zellweger’s character Bridget gained a lot of media attention before the movie was even released to theaters because of the weight image portrayed as a lead role. In the media, this was headline news because actresses, or women for that matter, are not “supposed” to be overweight. Even in the films first few moments, the viewer is made aware that this is not a woman who had it all – all that was missing was the guy, as is the case in many romantic comedies. Right away, Bridget is positioned as an undesirable; on of the first few scenes, she was dismissed as a potential romantic interest by another lead male character at a Christmas party because she was someone who “smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish and dresses like her mother.” As in true with many people on New Years Day, Bridget’s loneliness and dissatisfaction in herself that she has no boyfriend, is overweight and falls for destructive relationships, and she resolves to change all of that. She resolves to lose weight and stop smoking in hopes of finding someone to date her, which one could presume is due to her media-acquired perceptions of how to find romance.

Clearly, as a lead female character, Bridget breaks down the barrier of what a lead character should look and act like in order to become included and accepted in the world around her. What makes Bridget such an interesting character to analyze is because she does not fit in with Pozner’s belief that “the genre teaches us that women categorically ‘are’ certain things – for example, no matter their age, they’re “hot girls,” not self-aware of intelligent adults (Pozner 96-99). While Bridget does not fit the stereotypical norm of the lead actress because she is overweight, clumsy, and chooses to wear unattractive underwear that will make her look slimmer, her struggles journalize her efforts to become the type of woman that is desired and seen as a “hot” woman. As Neuman predicts, by wearing hiked up miniskirts and revealing clothing to catch the attention of her “attractive” boss, and in doing so she falls right back into her destructive pattern of heartache because of her attracted to the desirable hyper-masculine male of the media by way of sexuality. She knows that will treat her as a second rate woman, but the opportunity to even fleetingly be the type of desirable woman society idealizes and that Bridget seeks to be is worth the risk.

Neuman continues to say that “there are social locations that determine

our position in the world relative to other people. At times, we purposely call attention to them, through how we dress, walk, and use language, whom we choose to associate with, perhaps even where we live” (Neuman). This is clearly evident is the scene where Bridget attends a work function and she attempts to seem intellectual. With Rushdie, her intellect is inferior and with the barristers she is speaking with, she is homely and simple. The issue here to note is that the instances when Bridget falls back into her desire to establish a sexual relationship with her alpha-male boss or to be included in certain circles of society are traps that have been set for her by the media. Bridget struggles even more so in her family life during the split of her parents, because it throws into jeopardy her position and inclusion within her own “nuclear family.” The stereotypical roles for women in films of this genre do not feature characters who can’t seem to find where to fit in – because they are young, skinny and beautiful, they don’t need to seek where they belong since everyone wants to be around them.

Hugh Grants character, Daniel Cleaver is the very masculine character who does break Bridget’s heart by leaving her for a younger, more beautiful and skinnier woman. Cleaver begins the film by diverging from the norm by placing an interest in Bridget who is not portrayed as a woman who would be desirable to stereotypical men such a Cleaver. Despite Bridget’s shock at finding her boyfriend in the company of another woman, this does not surprise the viewer as it does her because she was not only portrayed as disadvantaged from the beginning, but also because of the it simply affirms prevalence of this behavior in other male characters portrayed in the media.

The movie draws a clear picture of the paths to love and happiness, for both men and women. Male behavior in the media is stereotypically based solely on sexuality, and Daniel Cleaver is no different – until he is alone and dumped – and he seeks the company of a woman like Bridget who wants and needs him to validate her self worth. While female characters in the media look for love in all the wrong places, and Bridget was no different, her great victory in breaking the barriers of gender stereotypes is that she finds someone to love her – “just as she is.” The fact that her girlfriends are perplexed at this notion and question whether a man could desire her without needing to be “skinnier or prettier, with a slightly smaller nose or slightly bigger breasts,” reinforces the gender stereotypes that exist and the way that Bridget breaks through them.

Works Cited

Beam, Lindy. “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Online posting. 14 May 2009. 13 May 2009 .

Newman, Chapter 2, “Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality”

Pozner, Jennifer L. “The Unreal World.” Paper.

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