March 31, 2010

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.



February 26, 2010

Spike TV Takes Advertising Cues From Hustler

A few months ago, I was driving down a busy street when I whizzed past a poster featuring a helmet with a pair of shapely legs sticking out the top. I whipped my head around but couldn’t make out the source of the ad. A few weeks later, I saw the same ad and was able to make out the tag line “College football’s never been dirtier.”

Eye roll. Cringing.

I couldn’t shake the image of that girl stuffed into the helmet with her legs popping out from of my mind. I guess the advertisers did their job. They created a reaction, an unforgettable one at that. But, ewww. That poster is the epitome of Jean Kilbourne‘s themes of objectification and dismemberment as prominent themes depicting women. Sadly, this ad proves that things aren’t necessarily getting better and that a feminist analysis of sexist media content is imperative.

Unfortunately, I was never able to find the producer of this ad until…

I’m currently teaching my dream course, Women and Popular Culture, that features a class blog. My repeat student, Rachel, posted on that same poster I had seen but was unable to source. I was so pleased with her post that I am featuring it below (the title of this post is hers.):

I’m typically not one to generalize this badly – but writing a post about sexism on Spike TV is a little bit like being shocked that cooking is featured on the Food Network.

I really shouldn’t expect more from the network that features such greats as “Bikini Poll of the Week” on their website, as well as “The Top 7 Butterbodies” (I wish I was joking), which has since mysteriously been removed from their website (likely following a widespread backlash across various celebrity and feminist blogs).  Luckily, a celebrity blog/community I frequently read posted the article in its entirety when it was originally put up on the Spike site.  However, I have noticed some bus stop ads for their new original series lately, and I felt inspired to write about it.

“Hmmm….that looks familiar” I thought looking at the poster with the girls legs sticking upside down out of football helmet.  It didn’t take long to place the reference, to one of the (if not the) most famous covers of Hustler Magazine:



Blue Mountain State is just the latest in the successful networks testosterone, breast fueled programming.  The sexism of the network runs rampant, featuring such shows as “Faster Harder Manswers” and “The Search For the Ultimate Spike Girl.”  (Unrelated – I found their website to be almost unbearable, every page click results in the loud auto-play of a commercial.)  While Spike TV, (and even Larry Flynt) are and were perfectly within their rights to publish these images, it’s important to look at the larger sociological context we live in, the pop culture messages, that allows for such images to be made.  It’s disappointing to think of this new Blue Mountain State ad in terms of how many hands it had to pass through – at ad agencies, through the network.

I know about Larry Flynt, I’ve even seen the “People Vs.” movie starring Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, and Courtney Love.  I understand both sides of the argument, although it can sometimes be a difficult distinction to make – to be a feminist, and to believe in Larry Flynt having the right to publish the image.  Thirty years after the highly controversial (June 1978) cover appeared on newsstands, the network shows that they have no problem portraying women as objects, as “pieces of meat.”

A teaser trailer that was released in anticipation for the shows premiere shows women in various states of undress, (in some cases completely naked), a lot of macho attitude, and some that’s so gay jokes thrown in for good measure.  If I had the patience, I would watch an episode to critique, but I found it difficult enough to make it through the 2 minute long trailer.

February 12, 2010

Culture jammin' ladies take a stand

Filed under: Gender,Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 10:08 am

There’s been plenty of discussion on the pervasive Super Bowl sexism this week but a few ladies decided to take action and subvert the message of male oppression and anxiety. The original ad, which appeared in’s list of “Best and Worst of Super Bowl Ads,” appears first and is followed by the culture jammin’ response that went viral yesterday.

January 28, 2009

Crushed out on Matt Damon

Filed under: Gender,Media — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 4:20 pm

As if Matt Damon’s statement about Sarah Palin wasn’t amazing enough.

His most recent statement:

”They could never make a James Bond movie like any of the Bourne films,” Damon says scornfully. “Because Bond is an imperialist, misogynist sociopath who goes around bedding women and swilling martinis and killing people. He’s repulsive.”

According to Damon, that action hero formula is played out and old skool…kinda’ like sexism.  Yeah.  Thanks for being a real man and calling misogyny and sexism out as freakin’ tired and unoriginal.

I see why Sarah Silverman was fucking Matt Damon 🙂

December 14, 2008

Sexist themes in advertising…more of the same

Bondage, rape, sluts, girl on girl, cum shots…women don’t fare well among the stereotypes.

Read full article by Alex Leo here.

October 13, 2008

Ugh: Palin Halloween costumes and sex dolls

It continues.  From Palin porn, sexy action figures, offers to appear in Playboy and a nod from Maxim

Thanks to the women at Feminsting:

Palin Halloween costumes and Palin sex dolls.  Gross.

October 5, 2008

Gender Socialization in the Media from Childhood to Adulthood

Geena Davis has been a long-standing advocate for the analysis of media images and gender socialization.  She founded the See Jane Project in 2004 and the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media (GDIGM).

In 2005, Geena Davis and her institute partnered with the esteemed media analyst, Dr. Stacy Smith at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Prompted by Davis’ informal observations regarding the portrayals of gender in media directed at children, GDIGM and the research team organized under the direction of Dr. Smith watched over 5oo hours of children’s programming that summer.

Research showed that in 101 top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2005, three out of four characters were male. Girls accounted for only 17 percent of the film’s narrators and 17 percent of the characters in crowd scenes. Only seven of the 101 movies were nearly gender-balanced, with a ratio of less than 1.5 males per 1 female character. “Although many people would argue that things seem to be getting better, our data shows that this is not the case,” says the principal investigator, Stacy L. Smith, an associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, where the research was carried out.

What was revealed was not only the disparity of images between male and female characters but the typical gender socialization that continues throughout adulthood.  As media analyst George Gerbner pointed out many years ago, it is not the introduction of one image or message that causes a change in one’s attitude of one’s self or the worl they inhabit that is worth noting.  It is the repetitive and continuous stream of images that consistently reinforce the same values and norms from our earliest years throughout the life course.  This concept is know as cultivation.  Cultivation refers to the stability of these prolific messages versus the change-oriented model.

When one considers the process of cultivation in a media saturated culture, it is the seemingly benign, obvious messages that we don’t consciously take note of that constructs our sense of reality.  In turn, this framework informs and shapes our expectations of who we and others should be and we consider these attitudes and behaviors as normative and natural.

Considering the work of Stacy Smith, Jackson Katz, Byron Hurt, Sut Jhally, Jean Kilbourne and many others that have actively studied gender and the media, it is not surprising that media directed at children hardly differs from media directed at adult men and women.  Cartoons aimed at girls and boys carry the same messages/plots/themes/characters that “chick flicks” and “dick flicks” reinforce in adulthood.

Girls/women are encouraged to focus on beauty and relationships with men,  After all, you must be beautiful to get a guy.  Boys/men are encouraged to be tough, adventurous and independent.  Considering the prolific and ubiquitous nature of the contemporary media, it is no surprise that young girls strive to be beautiful through more and more extreme measures.  They are repeatedly told early on that girls/women must be beautiful in order to be validated in order to be considered worthy of a relationship.  Boys/men are told repeatedly that real boys/men are tough and independent or they are considered weak and effeminate.

Essentialism, the notion that gendered behavior is inherent and “natural,” is not surprising considering a climate that cultivates attitudes, behaviors and expectations of girls/women and boys/men within a structured environment that provides a steady stream of images that constantly reinforce themselves.  The images become unremarkable or un-noteworthy.

In this mediated cultural climate, negative sanctions in the form of derogatory names and physical punishment is also unsurprising.  If gendered characteristics and their expected behaviors are sen as inevitable and natural, punishment for one’s transgression is seen as inevitable.  And, that’s where the danger resides.

September 27, 2008

Ralph Nader calls out Bill Maher…

Filed under: Gender,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 8:41 pm

…as Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a “bimbo.” Go to 6:20 and hang in there until minute 9.

September 11, 2008

I smell hypocrisy

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 7:15 pm

Quindlen’s article in Newsweek is another must read!

“The Republican Party has undergone a surprising metamorphosis since Sarah Palin was chosen as its vice presidential candidate. In Palin I recognize a fellow traveler, a woman whose life would have been impossible just a few decades ago. If she had been born 30 years earlier, the PTA would likely have been her last stop, not her first. Her political ascendancy is a direct result of the women’s movement, which has changed the world utterly for women of all persuasions. It is therefore notable that Palin has found her home in a party, and in a wing of that party, that for many years has reviled, repelled and sought to roll back the very changes that led her to the Alaska Statehouse.

But expediency is an astonishing thing, and conservative Republicans have suddenly embraced the assertion that women can do it all, even those conservative Republicans who have made careers out of trashing that notion. James Dobson of Focus on the Family once had staffers on his hot line saying, “Dr. Dobson recommends that mothers of young children stay at home as much as possible.” He now applauds a woman who was back at work three days after her son, who has Down syndrome, was born.

Even to state that simple fact resulted in outrage among those at the convention, who screamed double standard. But the double standard was mainly theirs. The governor was aggressively marketed in terms of her maternity, yet questions about how she managed to mother five and lead the state were dismissed as sexist. The governor’s two years leading Alaska, which in terms of citizens served is the equivalent of being mayor of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was said to be the linchpin of her appointment, but questions about her breadth of experience were dismissed as sexist. Her surrogates wanted the press to write about mooseburgers and ignore how the governor had once pursued the kind of earmarked federal funds she now insists are anathema to her. Conservatives have probably used the word “sexist” more in the past week than they have in the past 50 years.”

Thanks to my esteemed colleague for passing this on and keeping the information flowing.  We have everything to lose if we don’t.

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