Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adam M.'s Blog Post #2- You Are Who We Say You Are: A Visual Study of Sexuality in Advertising

After creating a collage in class that represented the ideal image of men as it is constructed by the media, I chose to analyze the way in which both genders are objectified in images of masculinity and femininity. In order to determine how and why “sex sells”, I set out to find the most blatantly sexual advertisements that I possibly could. Most of the advertisements did little to show the benefit of the actual product and simply assumed that by creating this illusion of sexuality the product would sell itself. This Abercrombie and Fitch mentality of selling an ideology rather than selling the actual product has proved to be a successful marketing technique.

Although men and women are both objectified in advertisements, the way in which the two genders are presented vary significantly. The ads of men always show them with a very detached look, as if to say, “I’m doing my part by being attractive, so women should flock to me”. It was figured out long ago that “with the right demographic, a male-identified magazine could arouse widespread interest among national advertisers” (Breazeale 232). However, it was then the task of advertisers to create images of males who men wanted to be and females who men wanted to be with. Contrasting the advertisements of the beautiful yet disinterested men were a myriad of ads showing females who were practically jumping out of the page to have sex with the reader. The expressions on the faces of many of these females seemed to scream out, “I want you now!” Unfortunately, it is these types of depictions that teach girls that “the pretty girl who knows how to play the game wins the prize” (Higginbotham 93). By selling sex, the message that the public interprets is that sexiness is more important than anything else, and without it, you’re doomed for failure. “Beauty is a currency system…determined by politics” (Wolf 121). If you do not conform to the accepted view of beauty that society has created, you are immediately put at a disadvantage in the world. The idea that sex sells may be clichéd, but in no way does that mean that it isn’t true. Now more than ever, sex is used as a selling point for all kinds of products, and even the people who are smart enough to understand that they are being targeted are susceptible to its forces.

Breazeale, Kenon. In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer. (1994): 232.

Higginbotham, Anastasia. Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem. (1996): 93.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. (1991): 121.

Monday, October 8, 2007

some thoughts on patriarchy...

The following is in response to an article entitled Patriarchy, the system: An it, not a he, a them, or an us by Allan G. Johnson.

Despite the generally understood fact that patriarchal societies exist, and exist in some form in almost every culture, the word itself elicits a certain level of defensiveness, not only by males who feel guilty, but also by females who refuse to acknowledge that they too are part of the system. The confusion lies mainly in the failure to understand the difference between patriarchy as a type of society and the people who participate in it. As it so happens, being part of this system does not necessarily imply taking specific actions to advance sexist stereotypes, nor does it imply oppressing women in any kind of obvious way. However, one’s inaction or decision to stand idly by when hurtful or oppressive comments are made indicates a choice if not to actively support patriarchy then certainly not to hinder the advancement of various prejudices. The simple fact of the matter is that most men feel that sticking up for women (or for that matter any frequently ridiculed group) will make them look too sensitive. Unfortunately, solving a problem proves difficult when the problem is not acknowledged by the population that continually strengthens it, albeit unknowingly at times.

Determining why oppression occurs in seemingly innumerable ways proves to be an exercise in futility. However, understanding our context within the system can at the very least give us the opportunity to make certain changes, even if only on a very small scale. As Johnson so perfectly elucidates, our participation both molds our lives and gives us the chance to either change or perpetuate the issue (p.93). Patriarchy is so deeply ingrained in our society that it seems nearly impossible to break out of the social constraints that we, to a large degree, have put on ourselves.

In order to attempt to change the generic mindset of male domination, one must first acknowledge the reality of the situation. The goal must be to comprehend the social roots of the problem in order to understand where certain philosophies originate (p.92). Trying to change the world is about as logical as teaching abstinence-only sex education, for the simple fact that it denies inherent inevitabilities of life. A certain population of people is so set in their ways that expecting some sort of epiphany is an utter waste of time. With that being said, there is always hope that the situation can be improved significantly if not remedied entirely. One must also acknowledge that change is neither a quick nor an easy process, and expecting it to be is pointless.

Despite the advancements in women’s rights in recent years, and particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, men and women alike still perpetuate certain stereotypes. When men and women are defined as opposites, men as strong and women as weak, women as more loving parents and men as the bread winners, these expectations can sometimes become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is most-assuredly not true of the entire population, but some people act in certain ways in the belief that they are required to adhere to societal norms. This includes “acting ladylike” or being “one of the guys”, and until this conformity is diminished, no alternate solution even seems viable.

Determining how to change such deep-seated beliefs is without question an uphill battle. Anyone who attempts to alter the values that are widely accepted by those living in patriarchal societies flies in the face of literally thousands of years of male privilege and domination. The important vision that we must understand is that as individuals, we all in some way support patriarchy, even if entirely unintentionally (p.98). Only upon realizing this can we adequately assess how we participate in the system and then try to alter our behavior. As the old cliché goes, the first and most crucial step is admitting that there is a problem and blatant denial leaves little room for improvement.

It’s hard to draw the line between vision and strategy in this case, because as one might expect, the entire article makes the point that there is by no means an easy solution to this problem. The necessary steps that must be taken in order to improve the situation begin with self-realization and acceptance of a very real problem that often goes ignored or unnoticed. Once this is achieved, the natural progression would be for people to feel confident enough in their beliefs to defend them openly. This, however, does little to change the mindsets of those people who are too deeply consumed by their own narrow-mindedness to listen to any logic whatsoever. Ultimately, the process is arduous, but even small steps must be looked upon as significant achievements if coupled with similar steps from a majority of the population.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Online Toy Shopping Field Work: Gendered Consumers/Engendering Consumerism

In a society in which most people believe that gender stereotypes are a thing of the past, a simple trip to the toy store solidifies the fact that the public still categorizes children in a disturbingly overt way. These stereotypes are instilled in children, and they often grow up believing that they must adhere to the expectations that society has created. While it would be ridiculous to expect young boys to begin playing with Malibu Barbie or for girls to avidly collect wrestler action figures, the fact that toy stores are arranged by gender reveals a very telling fact. To a large degree, children are not encouraged to be themselves; rather, they are brainwashed by the media and by their peers to conform to societal norms that have seemingly existed forever. Boys should like sports and violence, and girls should like cooking and playing with dolls. These preconceived notions continue to be reinforced, creating a vicious cycle that is all but impossible to escape.

In shopping for an imaginary 9-year-old girl, I stumbled upon the KBtoys website, only to find that the gender classifications were obvious. The toy search feature attempts to help the shopper by providing links for boys and girls. After clicking on the link for boys, the website took me to a page of best sellers of toys and games that were the most popular among consumers. Included in the most popular items for boys were Transformers action figures, WWE wrestling toys, Power Ranger toys, collectible NFL player statues, and something called “Forces of Valor: U.S. 82nd Airborne Division - Normandy 1944”. Although these toys don’t seem out of the ordinary, they reveal underlying messages that are continually sent to young boys. The expectation is that boys will be interested in fighting and playing sports, and anyone who strays from these preconceived assumptions will be looked upon as a social outcast.

The webpage for girls was no less disturbing in its rampant categorization of gender. The best selling items for girls were somewhat predictable, but still revealed a very important truth about society’s expectations of girls’ interests. The top-sellers included a Hannah Montana costume wig, a doll high chair, the Girl Crush Jewelry Maker, and my personal favorite, 2007 Holiday Barbie – Caucasian. The implications were simple: from an early age, society encourages girls to believe that beauty is their most important feature. Concerning themselves with sports and action figures is not ladylike, and it is not proper behavior. Instead, learning how to make jewelry and play with Kate Moss-lookalike dolls is the norm. The overt nature of these marketing techniques makes little attempt to abandon gender stereotypes.

Through these toys, important and destructive messages are being sent to children throughout the country. For boys, this message dictates that being sensitive or engaging in activities that are considered strictly for girls makes you sexually questionable, and thus susceptible to criticism and ridiculing. From a very early age, young boys have a strong sense of what is acceptable and normal and what is “girly”, a term that has developed such a stigma that boys avoid it like the plague. Sports, cars, and violence reign supreme, and anything outside of these categories is generally looked upon as being weird and unusual. For girls, the message is all too clear. Being pretty and playing with dolls is the first priority, and concerning themselves with sports and toys meant for boys will only garner them the tomboy label. Despite any advancements made in society, young girls are still to a great degree expected to look like Barbie dolls. This expectation is apparent in the blond Hannah Montana wigs that are sold, as well as the constant best-seller: caucasion, blond, fake, disturbingly skinny Barbie dolls that create unreasonable expectations. “If you didn’t look like Barbie, you didn’t fit in. Your status was diminished. You were less beautiful, less valuable, less worthy” (Gilman 73). Toys facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes by bombarding children with a barrage of amorphously constructed expectations and values on which they should base their behavior. Of course, they have the choice to break away from these social constraints, but they must do so at the peril of being derided and emotionally abused for the duration of their childhood years. Different is bad, and toy companies do nothing to help change this assumption. If anything, they define what is considered to be “normal”. “Terms like ‘diversity’ and ‘variation’ imply that there is a standard way of being from which others deviate” (Newman 16). Deviating from these norms is a dangerous and challenging undertaking for a child.

When attempting to find a gender-neutral toy for any age group, one becomes immediately frustrated by this seemingly impossible task. Until a person tries to find a completely neutral toy, he often does not realize how categorized most toys truly are. Aside from board games, yo-yos, and bicycles, which are only nominally “toys”, there is little on the market that is truly gender-neutral. Based on the 9-12 age range that I searched, it seems that the messages further instill various ideologies that determine what is acceptable and unacceptable in society. The same values that are taught to children at this age continue to be reinforced as they move into adulthood. The only difference is that they are portrayed in more subtle ways. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that the marketing of toys for children is a microcosm of society as a whole. There are certain expectations we use to classify people based solely on their gender, with no real consideration for the person’s actual identity.


Gilman, Susan Jane. "Klaus Barbie, and Other Dolls I'd Like to See." (2000): 73.

Newman, David M.. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. (2005): 16.