Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Men and Masculinity?

Society is no longer ruled by what we need. Instead the world of consumerism and advertising is at the forefront of our beliefs telling us who we should be, how we should dress, and what we “need.” In this culture the belief is that men are superior and should therefore be seen as strong, rigid and masculine. It is rare for men to be portrayed as anything but this normative ideal. This characteristic alone defines what a man should be and anything that might oppose this trait is seen as unmanly. The accepted practice of patriarchy has constructed an unrealistic ideal for men, causing a desire to prove their masculinity and dominance, exemplified throughout the world of advertising and fashion.

What the advertising industry is establishing is that “real men” need to show they are naturally masculine. Johnson explains “to see the world through patriarchal eyes is to believe that women and men are profoundly different in their basic natures, that hierarchy is the only alternative to chaos, and that men were made in the image of a masculine God with whom they enjoy a special relationship.” He goes on to explain the different strengths and weaknesses of the two genders and the basic stereotypical roles given to men and women in a family setting (Johnson, 95). Reading through them, it is obvious why men are constantly objectified as masculine. Men want to buy things that personify them as strong, lean, and capable even if the ideal is unrealistic. Apparently to be manly means to either be fit and sleek or scruffy and intense according to the ads above.

The media is an important source of information about gender. According to Newman “They promote stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, not only by choosing which kinds of men and women to portray but also by choosing which kinds of stories and programs to run” (89). Men have an advantaged position in society and because of this they take on highly traditional stereotypes of men or they have negative violent portrayals of men. There are a lot of hyper masculine characters which portray dominance. Newman goes on to explain that "far from being demeaning and destructive, these images have the luxury of being harmlessly humorous. Making fun of masculinity-like making fun of heterosexuality or of white people-bears little, if any, of the cultural and historical weight that accompanies stereotypical portrayals of women and other disadvantaged groups” (Newman, 93). These images of men being objectified are still less demeaning than those of woman being objectified. The dominance of men in the patriarchal society not only established this but often promotes such inequality. If you click on the collage above enlarging it, the white and yellow advertisement for men’s and women’s underwear establishes the different positive characteristics for men and women. You can see that the ad uses words like “large”, “prominent”, “broad”, and “strong” as words to describe male features while the female has words like “smooth”, “firm”, and “delicate” to describe certain characteristics. If this collage doesn’t exemplify the need for stereotypical masculinity among men, I don’t know what does.

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007 (75-105).

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Out Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997 (91-98).

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Journey through Target

Gender stereotypes prompt the toys we play with as a child, shaping the child’s role in society. Target was my first stop when I started shopping for my friend’s nephew, a boy named Charles, 9 years old. He’s smart, wide eyed and comes from an interracial one parent house hold. I want to appease him because he is staying with her and her family all summer and I don’t think he likes it when I pull his aunt and her attention away from him. I’m not trying to bribe him but hopefully this will help him warm up to me. He’s already a well rounded individual but everything shapes a young individual. As Newman states, “it’s important to note that the process by which children learn their own gender identity is not a passive one in which they simply absorb the information that bombards them.” We as a society and as consumers need to actively acknowledge the gender roles taught to us and rebel against those unbefitting to a positive/realistic understanding of the world around us.

So Target is the perfect first step. They have everything from electronics, to bikes, snacks and games. Just like every website the information for kids toys are very extensive and accessible. You go to the main page and hover over the word “kids” and several different categories pop up including “boys’ toys”, “girls’ toys”, and my new favorite the “Specialty Toy Shop.” Within this category was one subsection called “Understanding Diversity” under the Skill Building headline. Generally speaking, within this section there were two general types of games, various diversely colored dolls and “Hooked on Phonics” sets for learning a new language. How does that help promote and understand diversity? Girls can play with dolls and boys can do what exactly? These games don’t come close to defining and gaining a diverse outlook on life. This shell of a category exemplifies societies view on diversity; it pretends to make equality a forefront idea without truly putting thought into socializing our youth. For white children, “the assumption that race is an insignificant component of their identity is perpetuated” while for children of color “racial socialization occurs in a much more complex social environment”. This page didn’t even have games or toys that boys would even glance at, let alone gender neutral ones, yet it is prompted as “Understanding diversity”.

After my slight detour I found my way back on track, searching in the 8-9 age range. When I got to the page I was amazed to find that under “Shop by Interest” the boys and girls interested listed were so diverse. For boys they had listed Electronics, Action toys, Building Toys, Sports, Science and Vehicles. For girls they had listed Dolls, Creative Activities, Games, Tech Toys, and Dancing & Singing. These stereotypical categories are telling boys and girls what they should like, and parents what they should buy. What I found most interesting was how they advertised separately from one another. Even though there were two separate categories, Tech Toys and Electronics brought me to the same page. The fact that they did not think the word electronics would influence females’ shows you the importance of linguistics in advertising. Newman states that in some cases “gender-typed conversational behavior actually reflects power differences rather than gender differences” and in our society men are seen as more masculine and powerful.

When I clicked on Electronics I preceded to look for video games. I’m not very good at them but I know Charles and my friend play all the time, challenging each other constantly. As I scrolled through the selection of games for the PS2 I found a Power Rangers: Super Legends 15th Anniversary. It had brought back plenty of memories from when I was the Pink Power Ranger for Halloween when I was about 8 years old. I remember picking that color in order to conform to what society thought I should like. I know this because I always like the blue ranger the best but even back then I knew it would be more “appropriate” to pick one of the female ranger colors. Through the process of socialization this occurred, defined as “the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” (Newman pg. 108). Now, this Super Legends video game is conforming in the same manor by defining who the legendary power rangers are. It didn’t say on the box what characters are included in the game but the cover alone speaks volumes. The cover is a picture of four different rangers, all male characters showing their defined muscles in very masculine poses. Even though all the rangers play a large role in every victory, I guess the Super Legends are considered to be brave, strong men.

The last items I looked through were roller-skates. As someone who loves playing sports and running around I find it sad how few kids are involved in daily exercise, even if we are just talking about tag. By looking for roller-skates I hoped to find a selection for both girls and boys in order to equally encourage outdoor fun and games that my friend and Charles could do together. The thought of gender neutral skates didn’t even cross my mind until I say all the gender specific colors with drastic male oriented colors like blue and green and drastic female colors like white and pink. Just as Messner points out in his Article Boyhood, Organized sports and the Construction of Masculinity “masculinity develops and changes as boys and men interact within the socially constructed world of organized sports.” They have to look and act a certain way to be considered a masculine individual. In this instance if a girl wore boy colored skates people would think little of it but if a boy was to wear pink skates he would be teased and scrutinized. This is just one of many double standards in our society.

These simple layouts of advertisements and ads truly enforce the idea that games imply normative gender roles and gender stereotypes. The current child driven consumers market geared towards separate advertising for the perceived gender roles influences children, their main customers. As consumers we must constantly be aware of the influence that gender roles have on our childhood.

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

Newman, David M. Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality in Language and the Media. New York: McGraw Hill 2007.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Family Guy Critic

Gender- In the first scene with the daughter Meg, large gender stereotypes are established. Meg and her friends are all obsessed with one of the popular white boys, Craig, in school. Reflecting the Axe commercials, it sustains the patriarchal notion that guys are the ones that are constantly being chased by women and they dictate the relationships. The fact that Meg went up and asked him out and then was turned down by him saying “I don’t go out with dudes” re-enforced the hegemonic idea that men are supposed to ask women out and are the ones in control. Later on in the episode after Meg has a make-over, Craig asks her out and establishes his control by stating he’ll pick her up when he’s ready to go. He than states “now your cool” suggesting that he has the power to determine such a title.

Gender and Masculinity- In the scene where Peter and his friends are trying to fix up The Drunken Clam so it can stay in business there are several identities being challenged. The masculine idea that men can fix anything is challenged in this scene when they end up destroying the establishment instead of renovating it. Even though a new corporation based establishment pulls away business, the small family establishment fights to keep its doors open. In the end customers come pouring in to sing karaoke challenging corporate America while making fun of the stereotype that Americans can’t resist bad karaoke.

Exploitation of Women- Throughout the episode woman are constantly being exploited and marginalized, reinforcing sexism. In order to make her daughter sexier to attract men she tells her to try on tee-shirts that belittle women with saying like “Sperm Dumpster.” In the jail scene, Meg is used to keep the prisoners distracted with her beauty. Peter than agree to use his teenage daughters new hot image to make millions. They establish her as a sex symbol by making her blond and by keeping her half-naked, endorsing a false definition of sexy. In the Saturday Night Live scene, she is exploited as a sex symbol. In the end when Meg exclaims that its “too much work being beautiful” the idea that beauty is natural is challenged.

Race- The main characters in this series are dominantly white, middle class, and patriarchal. There was even a representation of the “token black” friend among Peter’s entourage. The minorities represented in this episode are clearly profiled. In the jail the majority of the prisoners were buff dirty looking white men. When it came to the album recording scene the family dog, Brian, represented an aggressively arrogant white male barking at the black producer for no apparent reason. By saying he got it from his father, “it was a different generation” he is trying to move the blame from himself not taking responsibility for his rude bias actions. This reinforces the American prejudices represented in our everyday society.

Sexuality- There are several homosexual references mentioned casually at various points in the episode. The first obvious reference is when Joe states that the men looked queer in their mismatching 80’s themed clothing. Then scene depicting the Tin Man as being homosexual and falling on a man “by accident” was very negative and derogatory. Another scene where Chris found his hair braided by one of the prisoners reinforced the stereotype of homosexuality in jails. To further this reference one mans ass was used as a contract, exemplifying the amount of rapes that go on in jail. These are all forms of homogeny being reinforced.

Family Guy. “Don’t Make Me Over.”

Season 4, Volume Three, Disc One, DVD. 6/5/05

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation: Beverly Hills, CA. 2005.