June 20, 2010

Doll parts: Barbie, beauty and resistance

Barbie is a cultural icon. With her long, silky, blonde hair, perky breasts, cinched waist and mile-high legs Barbie represents mainstream definitions of physical perfection, the paragon of beauty and ideal femininity. Her shiny pink corvette, swanky townhouse, and oodles and oodles of perfectly accessorized outfits indicate her success within the consumer culture machine. Collectively, her physical and material assets (Eurocentric beauty, white-skin and class privilege rolled up into one statuesque doll), represent the collective dream spun by post-WWII advertisers and reinforced by the culture at large.

For more than 50 years, she has not waned in popularity (gained a pound, developed a wrinkle or gray hair) even in the face of mounting criticism.

Despite some of the negative headlines Barbie is still a hit with girls across America and the world.

More than one billion dolls have been sold since her inception, and according to the dolls makers, Mattel, 90% of American girls aged between three and 10 own at least one.

While Barbie is a manufactured fantasy, she remains an emblem of idealized femininity and a key element of gender socialization.

Barbie fan Danielle Scott, 16, said: “Playing with the hair, the brushes, switching outfits. It really just made girls be girls.

“All the characteristics of what to look forward to and what girls really could do…” she said.

While it is true that Barbie has had approximately 125 jobs over the last half-century (jobs that presumably allowed her to purchase her multiple homes, extensive wardrobe etc. etc)., Barbie is not famous for her resume. She is most well-known for her flawless figure and coveted beauty.

She is a beauty icon.


May 5, 2010

Monster Mommies

Despite our culture’s supposed reverence for mothering, “mother blame,” monster moms and the consequences of “bad mothering” are staple features in our society.  We’re a society fixated on the “mommy myth,” the idealization of mothering as an extension of the cultural notion of  “true” femininity. This cultural ideal, known as emphasized femininity (the counter to hegemonic masculinity, socially constructed definitions of “real” manhood) includes the assignment of emotional work, the responsibility for maintaining and nurturing relationships and raising “morally sound” children.

Because we continue to relegate women the domestic sphere, the domain assigned to women after the introduction of the public-private split, and assign primary responsibility for the emotional and moral development of their children, mother blaming becomes inevitable. In fact, “bad mothers” or monster mommies have been blamed for: creating homosexual or womanizing men, pedophilia, autism, the glass-ceiling, alcoholism and violence.

Hey, I had my own issues with my mother growing up. But as soon as I had my son, all my mommy issues disappeared. Within hours, I realized how tough it is to be a mother, how much pressure and how many expectations are plopped on moms. I could relate to the frustration, stress, and loss of identity mothers face but feel ashamed to speak about. If we admit that we don’t always enjoy mothering, are exhausted, angry or taxed, we run the risk of being accused of being a bad mother.

Hollywood has a long list of films that portray the monster mommy to blame from Mommy Dearest (who doesn’t know the “no more wire hangers” reference?) and White Oleander to Monster-in-Law.

But mother-blame doesn’t end with films, the current mom that people seem to love to hate is Kate Gosselin. Feeling the “Kate-hate,” Kate is featured on the cover of last week’s In Touch crying, “I’m not a monster.”

That’s why episode 620, Epiphany, of Desperate Housewives (which aired on April 25, 2010) bothered me so much (besides the fact that the show just sucks on multiple levels). The Fairview strangler’s past is revealed and offered as an explanation for his serial murder ways. So, what’s the explanation offered, the “epiphany?”

His monster mommy.

The episode starts with a young Eddie sitting outside as his parents argue. His father storms out, suitcase in hand, with his mother at his heels sobbing uncontrollably. She begs him to stay. Without one look at his son, he drives off, never to return.

The episode continues by depicting Eddie’s mother as the stereotypical monster mommy. She wants to go out, have drinks, meet men, have some autonomy and independence. Hey, I can understand that. I’m not a single mother, have a partner that is devoted and actively involved in every stage of our son’s development, and I still have moments wherein I fantasize about being a single woman sans baby. I think it’s normal and we should be able to discuss and vent freely without guilt or sanction. While I don’t condone child abuse in the form of emotional neglect or physical violence and love my child, I can relate to the desire of freedom and independence, the frustrations and heartaches that accompany motherhood and parenting, in general

But there is no mention of the complexities of single motherhood, of the enormous responsibilities of providing for and raising a child by yourself, emotionally and financially. Mothering is hard work that is expected and is often devalued. There is no mention of the father that abandoned them without  remorse or a glance back at his young son.

Essentialism assumes that all women want to become mothers, know how to mother, enjoy all aspects of mothering and are naturally willing to abandon all concerns for themselves as a sign of good mothering. And, good mothering is a sign of femininity itself. Eddie’s mother is depicted as unnatural, a monster responsible for creating the Fairview strangler.

The final line of the episode is: What makes monsters? Monsters are created by other monsters.

And that right there, reinforces the myths and stereotypes about mothers and skimps on any other explanation that could explain serial murder.

April 11, 2010

Gamer Girls Gone Wild

Filed under: Gaming,Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Rachel @ 9:12 pm

If you’ve ever played an immensely popular online video game on Xbox Live, you know how annoying it can be.  It’s usually seconds before you end up pausing, going to the settings menu, and selecting an option to turn off the sound of the other players – screaming 13-year olds, racism, homophobia, and more swearing in a 15 minute Call of Duty match than at your average frat party.  Seriously, playing online can (and usually does) suck.  People cheat, players drop out, and internet connections go down.  Bummer!

Okay – so those are the problems faced by your average gamer playing online (read: male).  Being a girl introduces a new set of issues: sexual harassment and misogyny run amok.  Women won’t participate in the smack talk so their gender isn’t revealed, saving them the verbal abuse; they’ll avoid using feminine slanted usernames for the same reason.  A fellow female gamer I know, who has a feminine descriptor in her username, is frequently bombarded with pictures of male genitalia and sexually explicit messages.

A few weeks ago, a website was set up to appeal men who do want women involved in their games – GameCrush.com The site offers men the ability to play online with girls specifically.  Currently the site is down, “…due to the incredible user response.”  Interested parties can pay $6.60 for ten minutes of game play with the girl of their choice.  The trailer boasts “Thousands of Profiles” to choose from.

GameCrush’s press release positions the site as empowering for women, advertising that “PlayDates can make up to $30 or more per hour while having fun playing online games.  After a game session is completed, Players rate their gaming experience, and top-rated PlayDates are rewarded with enhanced site promotion and additional benefits.”

Now – I’m not one to throw around the word “prostitution” lightly, but the site feels it could be headed that way.  Alas, the site is down so it’s impossible to tell what the average profile pictures looks like, or what an average “chat” consists of.  But telling women that they can make money and reap the benefits by impressing the men who pay to play sounds like a fast way to promote a “Tits or GTFO” mentality in the interactions.

The site was built on a negative assumption – video game playing men are nerds who can’t get girls.  If a guy has girl-friends or a girlfriend who plays video games with him, what would the appeal of this website be?  There wouldn’t be any!

Sample screenshots of the website show conventionally attractive women, and the homepage preview displays a “Featured Player” pulling down her top.  This:

is GameCrush.com’s profile picture on Twitter.  They’re already using sex to sell, as evidenced by their promotional campaign.  GameCrush readily admits it “…does not monitor, moderate or otherwise control the interaction between its users.”  Sounds like a recipe for a creepy party.

For a supposedly overwhelmingly popular site, their Facebook fans are less than 500, and they haven’t even achieved 1000 followers on Twitter.  I’m certainly curious to see what the site actually has to offer once they go live.

March 31, 2010

Thinking Pink

Filed under: Gender — Tags: , , , , , , , — Melanie @ 9:12 pm

Jezebel’s post, Pink Think: The Sexist Toys of Our Youth, is a response to Time’s online piece, Not So Pretty in Pink: Are Girls’ Toys Too Girly?, an article raising questions about the one-dimensional caricatures that girls’ toys offer.

The list of products that pigeonhole girls in the clothes and makeup category goes on and on. Disney sells pink vanity tables for girls as young as 3, for example, and the European retailer Primark stocks a T-shirt in a 2-year-old size that’s emblazoned with the motto “S is for Super, Shopaholic, Soon-to-be-Supermodel.” Even old classics now offer girls’ versions, such as an all-pink Monopoly game in which the houses and hotels have been replaced by boutiques and malls, and a “Designer’s Edition” Scrabble that has letters on the front of the box spelling out fashion. It wasn’t always this way. A couple of decades ago, children’s clothing mostly came in primary colors and princesses were confined to the occasional film or Halloween costume. But as marketing to children has burgeoned into a multibillion-dollar industry, and our consumerist ethos has saddled kids with mountains of stuff, the gender divide has grown wider.

There are serious ramifications to all this marketing, the Moores say. The tidal wave of pink toys and clothes suggests there’s only one way to be a girl — pretty, princessy and fashion-minded. And this segues disturbingly quickly into often sexualized images of tween girls a few years older, says Lyn Mikel Brown, an education professor at Colby College in Maine and co-author of the book Packaging Girlhood. The not-so-subtle pressures of this marketing can damage self-esteem and feed worries about body image and appearance later in life, the sisters say. They also link it to a celebrity-obsessed culture that undermines adult women by glorifying glamour figures like Paris Hilton while neglecting those women engaged in more serious pursuits.

The Jezebel article questions the long-term effects of these toys that promote what Lynn Peril terms “pink think.

Yet here we are, studiously deployed in the combat of such messages to girls and women. We somehow emerged intact — not immune to internalized sexism, of course, but able to think clearly and beyond it. Was my love of Perfect Wedding a form of Stockholm Syndrome, its effective antidote parents who expected me to be more than a future wife and an internship at Ms.? Or was it just a really, evilly fun game and not much more?

To answer the question posed above, I say no. My students analyze children’s toys and clothing utilizing a critical gendered lens every semester (in fact, I graded this semester’s papers this afternoon). In many ways, toys created and marketed to children today are more sexist and confining than those from my childhood. To say that the writers at a critical and conscious blog emerged unscathed from the messages promoting beauty and domesticity as the sources of happiness for girls and women is not a conclusion that is representative of the mass population. Those Jezebel writers are sassy, smart and conscious. They can sniff out things like misogyny, sexism and sexist stereotypes quickly and easily.

Like the writers at Jezebel, I consider myself conscious and equipped with the ability to detect double-standards, sexist stereotypes and gender expectations. And, like the writers and individuals commenting at Jezebel, I liked my girl toys. I owned over 40 Barbies, the vacation home and the 3-story townhouse with elevator. I had the pink corvette and bags full of clothes and accessories. I loved grooming and dressing my Barbies, getting them ready for parties and dates (and engaging them in naughty behavior with Ken). Given a choice, I would have played with and had my Barbies proudly on display well into my teens. My mother eventually convinced me that it was time to put them away when I got my first boyfriend at 14.

Clearly, I loved Barbie and all the pink paraphernalia associated with Barbie. But I also remember the scale that was perpetually fixed on 110 pounds. 110. The last time I weighed 110 was when I was 5′ 2″ and in 6th grade. But that number, Barbie’s impossible measurements and “perfect” body were stuck in my mind as examples of what a woman should weigh and look like. I am not blaming Barbie and her pink scale as the sole variables that impacted my distorted and negative body image through most of my life. But I do recognize Barbie as one toy and one aspect of gender socialization that is part of a larger cultural onslaught (see here and here) that encourages girls and women to focus on beauty and relationships (the former as a way to nab the latter).

I agree with Irin Carmon’s statement “We somehow emerged intact — not immune to internalized sexism, of course, but able to think clearly and beyond it” only because I spent years deconstructing and decoding the messages reinforcing these gendered themes my entire life. I don’t blame my toys alone and I don’t pretend that these toys didn’t bring me hours of immense satisfaction and fun. But I also don’t discount these toys as agents of gender socialization that helped frame my expectations of my self, my place in the world, my relationships and possibilities. I recognize my ability to transcend these messages and “think clearly and beyond” them thanks to Sociology and Women’s Studies courses and becoming media literate.


Is raping women only a game?

CNN reported on the latest [apparently, not the latest: see comment below] atrocious video game that allows the player to rape a woman over and over again while choosing a variety of methods to initiate the assault.

That’s right.

RapeLay, a video game that has gone viral since people, especially women’s rights groups, have reacted in outrage (and rightly so). Rapelay, a video game that, as CNN reports, makes Grand Theft Auto (the game that stirred up a firestorm of criticism upon its release in 2008) appear as harmless and “clean as Pac-man.”

Given the statistics on domestic violence, assault, and rape, it is difficult for me to conceptualize this video game as a “game.” Our media landscape is (and has been) populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.

Viewing repetitive and stable images decreases our sensitivity to an issue, it normalizes the images and themes contained therein. Violence against women is an issue that we, as a culture, are already desensitized to on many levels. The systematic objectification and dismemberment of women (see Jean Kilbourne‘s film Killing Us Softly 3 and read her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel) is rampant in and a staple fixture of our mediated culture, reinforcing images of aggression and violence against women as normative and unremarkable.

“Games” that continue to use images of gratuitous and unapologetic violence as a source of “entertainment” frighten me because the inevitable results are horrifying. We know that dating violence among young people is increasing. We also know that the level of mediation and amount of time young people are exposed to messages constructed by the mass media, including video game makers, is increasing (there are even treatment programs for young people addicted to video games). Taking these variables into consideration and recognizing the correlation between the level of mediation and one’s attitudes, expectations and behaviors creates a dismal picture for girls and women (and this isn’t even taking the construction of gender and the corresponding expectation of violent masculinity and submissive femininity as normative into consideration).

Given that, I think it is safe to say that rape, virtual or real, is never simply a game, at least not for the victims of that violence, virtual or real, and its social, physical and emotional consequences. In the end, we’re all negatively effected by a culture that makes violence against *anyone* a game.



March 17, 2010

Would Hollywood ever make "He's Out of My League?"

We think not.

I loved Fredrika Thelandersson’s post at Ms. Blog on She’s Out of My League, the latest male comedy/fantasy flick. No, I haven’t seen it. Along with so many other films, this one will have to go straight into my Netflix que. That’s mommyhood, people.  Mommyhood=Netflix.

But, honestly, I don’t think viewing it is a prerequisite to this particuar post.

To start off on a positive note, Thelandersson blogs about the film’s surprising exploration of contemporary masculinity despite the “standard guyfest” advertising. I love that. According to Thelandersson’s post, the film explores male insecurity, male friendship and a gender change-up that has the female hottie earning more money, holding more power and, obviously, being more attractive than her goofy male love interest.  Good enough.

But, its the last part of this post that interests me:

Reading the narrative in these ways turns the movie into a rather refreshing piece of pop culture, carrying the message that strong women can continue to be strong rather than weakening themselves to fit traditional gender roles. On the other hand, have we not seen enough big-screen male losers being desired by perfect women by now? The chances for the roles to be reversed–the “loser” being a woman who nabs the successful guy–are slim to none (unless, of course, she’s a prostitute!).

It’s precisely this male fantasy of the geeky, awkward, less attractive male pursuing and snagging the hot, possibly successful, female hottie without losing said geek status and awkwardness. This is a perfect example about the feminist complaint and critique of representations of men and women in the mass media: the double-standard. We see it all the time. It was one of many reasons I couldn’t stand 2005’s Hitch. I mean, really, Kevin James and Amber Valletta? That pissed me off. You’re telling me you can be short, stout, overweight and missing a neck and still hook up with a friggin’ supermodel based on charm and wit alone? Well, in the real world that might happen if you’re carrying a thick wallet and/or have an impressive stock portfolio.

But, in films or real life, the reverse scenario would never happen nor would it be considered as the basis for a film, even a comedy. If some variation is offered, the woman always transforms into a more culturally pleasing version of her former self. You know the drill: the glasses come off, the hair comes down and her wardrobe shrinks from overalls to teeny skirts and tops. Said transformation is not a requirement for the male geek, even those missing a neck.

Girls and women have to be hot to land the hot guy. End of story. We’re constantly bombarded with endless images and messages reminding us that without flawless skin, toned abs, thighs, legs and butts, and large breasts that stay perky no matter their size or age, we are not going to land the hot guy. Shoot, we probably won’t land the no-neck, awkward geek. The ultimate message remains that we must embody the culture’s beauty standard or we will lose value and eventually become invisible (and we’ll definitely remain single).

So, yeah, I dig the exploration of contemporary masculinity. It’s important. It truly is. But I’d like to see Hollywood tackle the “beauty and the geek” scenario honestly and accurately without turning the awkward, “unattractive” female character into a caricature. Will we get that story? Hmmm. I doubt that it will happen any time soon and that sucks.


March 1, 2010

I am a hungry, pizza-eatin' flower

Filed under: Gender,Media,Media Gallery — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 7:43 pm

Gendering food is a common angle in TV commercials: the woman eats salads, the man craves steak. I actually like this Cici’s commercial because it pokes fun of the usual stereotypes.

Click here and here for older and more detailed posts from me on gender and food.

February 19, 2010

An unhealthy diet of "chick flicks"

Harding’s piece at Salon’s Broadsheet was inspired by one man’s attempt to “understand” women. How did he conduct this bit of anthropological research? By ingesting 30 “chick flicks” in 30 days. I can only guess that this endeavor nauseated him as much as McDonald’s greasy fried bits nauseated Morgan Spurlock in a similar challenge in Supersize Me (afterall, these films are as unhealthy for you mentally and emotionally as the Golden Arches’ fat-packed, artery clogging menu offerings are for your heart, intestines and colon).

As Harding points out, few films are directed by women and Waters, the man seeking to understand the female creature, only watched 8 female-directed films out of 30. She also calls out the heterosexist and “white” roles and story lines. The point being, uh,  not all women are white, not all women are straight. And, of course, the primary goal in the bulk of these films is marriage (preferably in Vera Wang). Last, not all women want to get married and many who do, want a divorce.

I’ve copped to my sick addiction to romantic comedies and “chick flicks” on numerous occasions.  With that said, I’ve actively employed my media literacy skills in deconstructing and examining these messages. Yes, I watch too many of these homogeneous films that recycle the same characters and plots time and time again. But, I am able to recognize the fallacies, stereotypes and sexist remarks while most theater (or Netflix) patrons do not. They ingest these images, roles and messages over and over from childhood to adulthood and these messages become normative, expected and unremarkable. Men come to believe that women are unintelligent, self-absorbed creatures seeking a ring and a baby. Women learn that this is what they should aspire to as a goal and the way to achieve that is through expensive and time consuming beauty practices. They are led to believe that this is what will land them the relationship they’ve dreamed of since girlhood when they’d scrawl their crushes name all over their notebooks.


April 17, 2009


Another ad featuring a naked woman and a fully clothed male. This time it’s rapper Kanye West and his model girlfriend, Amber Rose. This is a tired, boring, played out theme in advertising that objectifies women and consistently portrays the female form in a state of undress or near undress.  Rarely, do we see ads in which the men are nude, with or without a dressed female in the picture.  It just doesn’t happen.

What are young girls and women learning about the culture’s view of the female body when all around them images of teen girls and women are scantily clad if dressed at all. Viewing this phenomenon through George Gerbner‘s lens of cultivation, the building and maintenance of a stable set of images that reinforce one another and collectively construct reality, girls grow up  in a  culture in which it is not uncommon and is actually expected that girls and women will be highly sexualized objects.

This doesn’t even take into account the body language in this photo that reinforces stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.  The strong, active and in-charge male with the passive female.  In fact, Amber Rose doesn’t even appear human.  She’s more of an accessory.

We see these themes in advertising time and time again.  So, it’s not this one ad.  It’s the countless ads that reinforce these themes over and over and over and over….

A player is not born…

…he is made.

According to the website, Become A Player, men can learn the secret tools of the trade and “evolve” into a “real man” by becoming “a player” on this self-proclaimed “seduction mega-site.” One can learn some interesting things by browsing through this site and I am not talking about the men. I’m referring to heterosexual women.  This site is the first one out of 153,000,000 that Google pops up in the organic search when you search “how to become a player.” 153,000,000! And this site is tops.

So, what does this site offer?

Tips and tricks, a rule book, products that teach men how to become an “alpha male” (“how a strange discovery by a 22 year-old virgin can hypnotically draw women to you”), how to double their dating, boost their confidence, meet women online, learn the “seduction science,” “sexual mastery,” “deep inner game,” the art of approaching, and a guide that proclaims to teach men “all about women.”  The site also offers personal coaching and pick-up lines.  All this in order to “double your dating” and “evolve” into a “real man,” “the alpha male” that “the most beautiful women want.”  The banner at the top features a man with three women in line waiting for his attention.  This is the last stage of evolution.  The stage before is a man on his knees apparently begging a woman for her attention.  THAT is not a real man.He’s a pathetic creep with half a dick.  A real man is the cocky male that has his pick of the litter so to speak.  In fact the site even offers “cocky humor” for the budding cock-to-be.

Now, while this is interesting, slightly nauseating and, in many ways, down right stupid and silly men are clicking on this site and this site is not much different than the messages boys and men receive across the culture.  The main difference is that the site offers these messages in one concentrated package. And the messages, lame or gross as they might be, are similar to the messages heterosexual girls and women receive except with a twist.

Girls and women learn how to find and keep a man. How to please a man.  How to find a man to have a relationship with. Heterosexual men, on the flip side of the same gender socialization coin, learn how NOT to have a relationship.  Rather, they learn how to be independent, cocky players that bed multiple women at the same time or over time.

That’s why I say women have a lot to learn from this site. It helps explain why the men they are trying to “catch” or “trap” behave the way they do.  All around them, these boys and men learn how to avoid a relationship, that they should avoid a relationship and seek to sleep with as many women as possible.  Given these divergent and contradictory messages I can’t help but wonder how most heterosexual couples work. Oh, right, most don’t.


Go check out the site and pick up any “lad mag.”

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