How many times have you looked at a model in a magazine or an actress on TV and thought, “Hey, that doesn’t look like me or anyone I know”? This group of students decided to talk back about the difference between media fantasy and their reality.
It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject – the liberated voice.
Let’s face it, we’re plugged into an awful lot of media. Sometimes we’re aware of what we’re consuming, like when we turn on the television, go to a movie or download a new song off iTunes. But much of the time it isn’t an active choice. Think about all the billboards and ads we’re subjected to without our consent. Add up the images from the voluntary and involuntary sources and you’ve got a tidal wave of images —and most don’t look anything like us or the girls we know. Several of the students in my Women and Pop Culture class decided they’d had enough-they were going to talk back to the media and tell them what “real” women look like.
I feel his body against mine, and then I feel his erect penis on the small of my back. I squirm, pressing myself against the wall, but he puts a hand over my mouth, hissing into my ear to be quiet so no one hears. He pulls my underwear down and struggles to align his penis with my vagina as I try to push him away and utter muffled cries. He penetrates me.
He flips me onto my stomach, repositioning himself on top of me. He pushes my face down, his weight crushing the breath from me. I struggle to say, “No,” and he growls, “Quiet bitch,” as he yanks my arms back.
“Aw fuck – red! Red!”
“Oh god, I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”
I sit up, immediately released from his hold, and roll my shoulders. “Yeah, you just grabbed me sort of weird and it hurt…and not in a good way.”
He apologizes again and I assure him it’s all right.
I shower, dress, and kiss him on the cheek as I depart for SlutWalk LA.
My toddler son has a thing for all things wheeled. He can easily distinguish a skip loader from a backhoe and a semi-truck from a dump truck. He’s also intrigued by my jewelery box, stacking bracelets high up his pudgy arms. After watching Mommy’s daily morning ritual of applying some eyeshadow and liquid liner on countless occasions, it’s none too surprising that he’s fascinated by my make-up box, eager to smear eyeshadow across his eyelids (forehead, nose and cheeks). My friend’s little boy loved sparkly ballet flats and dollhouses while another’s had a penchant for his sister’s pink tutu and glittered angel wings.
These boys are commonplace-and not represented in mainstream pop culture. There’s no room for these normal explorations in our hyper-segmented world of marketing. And, as a tragic example further down in this post will show, these normal, healthy childhood curiosities and small pleasures are usually quickly beaten out of boys, figuratively and literally.
And, advertising happens to be a major player in the active construction of culture and the socialization of it’s members (us!), a socialization process that shapes our expectations of ourselves and others, our desires and our relationships. In other words, the values and norms of a society are framed by the branded images and lifestyles consciously and carefully constructed by advertisers seeking to maximize profit.
J. Crew’s ad presents the idea that pink isn’t just for girls, just as blue isn’t just for boys. It expands the range of possibility for what girls and boys can do and be. It may be one ad running counter to a stream of narrowly defined ads that eliminate a full range of possibilities for boys and girls, but there it is.
And it makes me hopeful. And, sometimes, given the material I regularly work with, celebrating small victories and becoming hopeful is vital and necessary.
The above image/title is reference to a very popular Ryan Gosling meme. For more on that, see here or here.
Appeals for film ratings are not uncommon. Filmmakers frequently protest when the MPAA dishes out a verdict they feel is undeserved. So when Blue Valentine was rated NC-17, it wasn’t surprising when the producers filed for an appeal. (An NC-17 rated film won’t be carried at most major theater chains, can not be attended by anyone 17 and under, and television networks and newspapers won’t run ads.)
As part of the appeal, the films stars, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams each composed letters defending the film, which ended up receiving a lot of press on a variety of blogs. In his letter, Gosling stated:
“You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.”
“The MPAA really needs to…There is something very distorted about this reality that they’ve created, which is that it is OK to torture women on screen…Any kind of violence towards women in a sexual scenario is fine. But give a woman pleasure, no way. Not a chance. That’s pornography.”
It’s surprising to hear anyone in Hollywood discussing the patriarchy and repression of women, even more so to hear a male movie star do so. The Notebook may be bad for you, but Ryan Gosling is good for feminism. The filmmakers won their appeal, and Blue Valentine was issued an R-rating. The film will open in limited release in the U.S. on December 31st, 2010.
I recently watched afternoon cartoons on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and I was shocked to find a flood of highly gendered toy commercials. These ads not only market toys to children but it also promotes and encourages gender specific values that are very limiting to boys and girls in different ways. The values and skills promoted in these commercials can play a critical role in the socalization of youth and their development of emotional expression, conflict resolution, the confidence to pursue various careers and the ability to maintain healthy relationships as adults.
Related Links and Articles:
Read Media Literacy, an article by Cynthia Peters discussing and analyzing media literacy programs and how we need to transform them and hold the media accountable.
The Reel Grrls remix was made by Sahar & Diana, check out more remixes made by Reel Grrls participants here.
Reel Grrls is an amazing after school program that teaches girls and young women video making skills in a safe and encouraging environment.
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is an organization whose mission it is to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers. They are a coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents, and individuals who are working to stop the commercial exploitation of children
To learn more about what “Male Identified” and “Male Dominated” means read Allan G. Johnson’s The Gender Knot and check out articles and videos on his website agjohnson.us
Your breasts may be too big, too saggy, too pert, too flat, too full, too apart, too close together, too A-cup, too lopsided, too jiggly, too pale, too padded, too pointy, too pendulous, or just two mosquito bites.
We all know that ads exist for one sole purpose- to sell products by appealing to our emotions and socially constructed desires. In a culture that has an insatiable breast fetish, our breasts have consistently appeared at the top of the ever-growinglist of unacceptable body parts and there’s always some product to fix our pesky problem areas or avoid them in the first place with “preventative maintenance.”
And here we’re offered Kush Support, the miraculous sleep support for big breasts. Because now we don’t have too merely worry about their size, shape and degree of perkiness but we can fret over the potential chest wrinkles big breasts create as a result of sleeping on our sides. And because of our increased insecurities and body anxieties, we’ll buy a cheesy plastic cylinder that actually looks like a cheap dildo and our problems will be solved!
A few years ago, Apple released a brand new ad campaign. “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” was an instant hit, starring hipster movie star Justin Long and John Hodgman, and ran for years, generating lots of revenue for Apple. Microsoft‘s rebuttals to this fell flat for quite some time, but their new ad campaign for Windows 7 proved successful. Instead of focusing on mocking Apple, they highlighted the features of the new operating system, as told by “real people”, stating “Windows 7 was my idea.” The first two ads I saw featured overweight, older men who are shown imagining idealized versions of themselves (as male models) when they “get the idea” for Windows 7.
I laughed, I loved it, and then I watched a commercial break a couple months back – same campaign, one major difference. This ad utilized the same concept, except the latest ads featured women, all of whom are pretty enough that they could be the “ideal” person, the model that someone imagines themselves as. Their “ideals” are women who are heavily made-up, and appear to be digitally enhanced.
I think those pictures speak for themselves, yes?
There are two theories that I hold about where Microsoft is coming from with this approach. Either they are completely unwilling to show an “unattractive,” overweight woman in their ad because, ew, that’s gross. Or they deem these women “not worthy enough” and think they’re on the same level of attractiveness as the “regular” men in their ads. One of the criticisms of the “beauty norm” is the doublestandard – men are allowed to be unattractive, women aren’t – I’d say that applies here. The YouTube upload dates on the Windows 7 official page shows they set a precedent with the original ads – Steve, Jack, and Widmark were uploaded late last year, followed by Charline and Crystal in more recent months. I would have deemed this a successful and funny campaign if they had been equal in their treatment of both genders. Instead, they just cemented the fact that I’m a Mac.
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.
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.
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.
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.