Thursday, July 31, 2008

Consumerism's Prostitution

If you want to sell a pair of shoes, be sure to have a skinny white model with a tan and smooth long legs to wear the shoes. If you want to sell a hat, be sure to have a skinny white model with a tan, flawless skin, and painted make-up on to wear the hat. If you want to sell perfume or cologne, jewelry or a watch, purse or luggage, or even food, be sure to have a skinny white model with a tan, full pouty lips, perky round breasts, maybe a nipple if you are a risky photographer/advertiser, a flat stomach, and a round butt in the advertisement. Disregard the model’s personality, intelligence and educational level, social status, family background, religious and political views, or even her name because those aspects of a human do not enhance or increase sales. Women are objectified and disembodied in advertisements as symbols of sex in order to sell a product that may be, scratch that, is unrelated to the act of sex itself, whether for pleasure or procreation. Not only is the product on display for sale, but so is the model; you buy the product, you buy her. The collage was created to display all the images from only two magazines that objectified, disembodied, and demoralized women in a sexual manner in order to sell a product, encourage charity funds for diseases and animals, and to promote a healthier lifestyle. However consequently, these models sell their bodies to the public, encourage a patriarchal society of female oppression, and promote sexual objectification of women’s bodies.

A problem with our advertising market is that they abuse the image of women as dehumanized sex objects to increase the effectiveness of their advertisement and sales of their products. As to however obvious it is or not that advertisers use sex to sell products, Jhally states, “many commercial messages use images and representations of men and women as central components of their strategy to both get attention and persuade” (253). It appears that it is not the product that we are captivated by, but instead by the scantily clothed model in a seductive pose. Ouellette describes “…the desirability of the model [is] constructed through class-coded signifiers such as exposed cleavage, teased hair, heavy make-up, and flamboyant and suggestive costumes” (123). Ouellette even goes as far as to describe that the models, “appropriate the look of a prostitute…” (124). Now since a product apparently can not sell itself, it requires the aide of unrealistic however idealistic models with “…wigs, false eyelashes, tinted contact lenses, fake beauty spots, false toenails, false fingernails, nose surgery, padded bras, false derrieres and fake jewelry…” which will actually provide the product with a greater chance of selling (Ouellette, 121). Even when a “…cover girl was exposed as a fake [with] her breasts made to appear more alluring with masking tape and Vaseline,” advertisers and companies still profit from this illusion of a sexual woman (Ouellette, 121). Kilbourne reinforces this marketing strategy with the statement that “this mass delusion sells a lot of products” (263).

If you notice in the collage, there is a lack of diversity among the models. There is a reason behind this selection by advertisers. Since advertisers have strict hegemonic standards for their models, there is one type of model that most advertisers deem as non-effective and therefore not profitable: the black model. Higginbotham affirms this blatant standard stating “…the ideal girl is evidenced by the cover models: white, usually blonde, and invariably skinny…[and] there’s a traditional expectation that African Americans don’t sell magazines” (94).

What is amazing about our patriarchal society is that “…the ability of [our] culture to turn women into mere products, [and that] are society encourages women to see themselves as objects” (Hesse-Biber, 44 & 62). According to Higginbotham, even though “some girls criticize the magazines for being too white, too into skinny, and too superficial, but [they] readily admitted to delighting in them anyway” reinforces the patriarchal belief in our society that it is acceptable to objectify women as sex objects even if you may disagree with this exploitation (95). Newman corroborates with this notion that “…we continue to see the stereotypical image of the exhibited woman: the seductive sex object displayed in beer commercials, magazine, advertisements…” (91). Kilbourne determines that “advertisers are aware of their role and …if we looked only at advertising images, this would be a bleak world for females” (258-259). What current and future female models need to stand against is the objectification of their bodies as sexual commodities and not stand against a pole, wall, or an import car. This will be difficult and take time to accomplish because “…our bodies have been objectified and commodified for so long” (Kilbourne, 260).


1. Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Men and Women: Mind and Body. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
2. Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
3. Higginbotham, Anastasia: Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem.
4. Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.
5. Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.
6. Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
7. Ouellette, Laurie. "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams."
Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We R Toys - Children Learn Gender through Toys

“We’re all born into a preexisting society in which the criteria for determining difference have already been constructed and have largely become a taken-for-granted part of social institutions and belief systems” (Newman, 39). Children are born into a world that is full of choices: black or white, boy or girl, cheap or expensive, masculine or feminine; that is, if you believe that choices are dichotomous. I believe choices are more complex than a cut and dry dichotomy, but that belief goes against our patriarchal world of superiority, domination, and oppression. As Johnson states, “if a society is oppressive, then people who grow up and live in it will tend to accept, identify with, and participate in it as “normal” and unremarkable life” (93). Even though we are led to believe that we have choices, do we honestly? For example, when a person is shopping for toys for a child, what is one of the dichotomist classifications? Any website or catalog will more than likely ask you to choose between either “for a boy” or “for a girl.” In each of these classifications and sections, you will find a gendered-biased selection of hegemonic normative toys for the different sexes; everyone knows that sex and gender are synonymous, right? Wrong.

Children learn who they should be, how they should behave, and what they should think from their parents, peers, schools, and the media. As Johnson states “to live in a patriarchal culture is to learn what’s expected of us as men and women” (95). It’s not surprising that children are not only shaped by animate beings but also inanimate objects and concepts such as toys and language. “People are not born with a gender,” however from birth, we are conditioned to be either macho brave boys or sweet innocent girls, be masculine or feminine, and believe boys are superior to girls (Newman, 53). In agreement with Newman, “they cultivate it over time as they learn the cultural expectations associated with being a boy or a girl” (53). Children are given different yet gender-normative nicknames such as sweetheart for girls or champ for boys. “Because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them” (Newman, 111). Even toys use gendered-labels differently according to the sex of the child, such as action figure for boys’ toy or doll for girls’ toy. As Jhally stated, “…images having to do with gender strike at the core of individual identity; our understanding of ourselves as either male or female … is central to our understanding of who we are” (253). Once children are brainwashed into their specific gender, toy companies and others have created the ideal ignorant consumers because “…the context within which kids play is now structured around marketing considerations” (Jhally, 254). In this case, hegemony works because “its effectiveness depends on subordinated peoples accepting the dominant ideology as normal reality or common sense…in active forms of experience and consciousness” (Lull, 63).

Do children’s toys display purely fantasy and merriment, or do they symbolize the conditioned gender-normative of our hegemonic society? According to Newman, “…toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines [in which]… girls’ toys still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and boys’ toys emphasize action and adventure” (112). This is a problem I would like to address concerning gender-normative toys. I am aware that parents and their parenting styles, peers and social groups, television, movies, and music all influence children’s gender development however, I would like to focus on gender influences in children’s toys.

For this blog, I asked my 8-year-old niece Caitlin to participate in this assignment. My niece is influenced by her peers and commercials as to what she should and must have in order to be popular and fit within her social group. She disregards how much money her family has or how much a toy costs. She focuses on what she wants rather than what she needs. She is an ideal target consumer for hegemonic toy companies. I asked her for a wish list of 4 toys and they are: the dragon Webkinz, iPod Nano, American Girl doll Kit Kittredge, and a few Nintendo DS games such as Wild Petz Dolphinz, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and Guitar Hero. I will analyze the toys from my niece’s wish list and the online shopping adventure in regards of gender normativity.

When I searched for the first toy, the gendered-colored pink whimsical dragon Webkinz, I thought to myself for a moment. A pink colored dragon, how interesting. A dragon that is colored pink represents how people have to alter the original gender-normative image of a dragon to make it more appealing and appropriate for girls. In the search, most of the pictures showed either only the toy itself or a young girl holding the Webkinz. Why would a boy want to hold something that is soft and cuddly and needs love? I browsed around and noticed one can purchase not only a Webkinz stuffed toy, but also accessories such as clothes to dress it in, purses to carry it in, lip glosses, and other feminine normative extras. The one my niece chose is pink and appears soft, glittery or metallic in some areas of its body. The toy is expensive with a lack of purpose except for the online code that endows points towards the child’s online Webkinz account. I examined this online point system further to stumble upon Webkinz child consumerism. There is a store to purchase virtual items for the online pet and virtual furnishings for the virtual home the child designs for the pet. Webkinz website is using the propaganda system effectively with children because “in [this] image-system as a whole, happiness lies at the end of a purchase” (Jhally, 252). There were options for boy consumers and Webkinz owners, however the dominant consumer for Webkinz appears to be the girls. With the bright colors, fluffy structures, feminine normative accessories, I determined that Webkinz is a feminine gendered toy designed mainly for girls.

Then I searched for the iPod Nano. My niece did not specify which color she would prefer, but they do offer a pastel pink color in case she wants to match it with her pink dragon Webkinz. The iPod Nano is an expensive gadget for a young girl, but it does provide her with access to gendered-language and images in music and videos. If she wants to explicitly warn others of her femininity, she can add a flower design or shiny rhinestones to her iPod Nano; likewise, if boys want to boast their masculinity, they can add silhouette images of naked women onto their iPod Nano.

Next is the American Girl doll. The name itself reinforces hegemony by using gendered language, that a girl’s toy is labeled as a doll and not a boy’s toy. When I searched for this doll, I was also provided with pictures of the other America green-eyed girl with freckles, who wears a bonnet, pink sweater, flowered sn Girl dolls, books, a magazine, clothes and accessories, a movie, and some video games; all of these displayed bright or pastel colors, joy and hope, and a hegemonic normative image for a feminine girl. The one my niece wants is Kit Kittredge, a blonde,kirt, dressy white shoes, and carries a clutch-purse; it doesn’t get much more American than that. All the American Girl dolls appear happy by constantly smiling, frolicking through life, however they have manners and life skills, and provide each girl with a story and moral. The American Girl doll coincides with gender appropriate normatives “for girls and women in the United States, [such as] not burping in public, sitting ladylike, paying attention to appearance, wearing make-up and jewelry” (Newman, 54).

The last toys on my niece’s wish list are Nintendo DS games, Wild Petz Dolphinz, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and Guitar Hero. When I searched for Nintendo DS games, they already have a gender label on them from their gender normative images. There are games for boys that involve heroes, action and adventure, mystery and suspense, violence and crime, car races, and “female characters [that] are often provocatively sexual, scantily clad, and voluptuous” (Newman, 91); there are games for girls that involve cooking and taking care of pets, clothes, make-up, fashion and beauty, exercise and body image, and simple play and dreams. These observations extend Newman’s discussion on gender in the media in which he stated, “traditionally female interests [are] deep communication, emotional bonding, intimate relationships, and motherhood,” whereas “…for men, …[they] will contain little emotional introspection and plenty of gore, fast cars, and explosions” (89). The only gender neutral options are games that involve Sims and Tycoons to build theme parks, zoos, aquariums, etc, brain games, and ones that teach a foreign language. There are even games that explicitly state in their titles “Smart Girl’s Playhouse” and “Smart Boy’s Playhouse” reinforcing the hegemonic and patriarchal belief that boys and girls play differently and obviously cannot play together. “The gender messages in such games may have a detrimental effect both on boys’ attitudes towards girls and women and other their conceptions of appropriate male behavior” (Newman, 91).

In this analysis of children’s toys, this blog exposed their explicit or hidden loyalty to hegemony’s gendered differences and belief that gender and sex are synonymous. Toys are just as influential as parents, peers, and the media on children about what is gender appropriate according to hegemonic normative standards. Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Since this hegemonic belief system has been influencing and conditioning our lives for so long, it is hard to say if we can reverse the tainted and engraved beliefs. Newman agrees with this point in stating, “…some sociologists…question whether parents or anyone else ever has the ability to change such deeply ingrained lessons as gender roles” (115). These beliefs have become part of our unconscious and most of the time we are unaware when we are conforming to gender normative standards. However, it is possible that we can change or vanquish gender normativity and defeat the passive oppression from patriarchy because we have a choice to do so, do we?


1. Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.
2. Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997.
3. Lull, James. "Hegemony," in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.
4. Newman, David M. “Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
5. Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
6. Newman, David M. "Learning Differences: Families, School, and Socialization." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Family Hegemony Guy

In this blog, I will dissect a few scenes from an episode of Family Guy to expose the hegemonic and patriarchal ideals behind the characters and their situations.

The first example involves the characters the daughter Meg, her girlfriends, her mother Lois, and a boy named Craig. The characters are predominately white, of the middle-class, all females expect for Craig, all assumed heterosexual, and they are all teenagers except for Lois. In the main scene between Meg and her friends and Craig, the media reinforces hegemonic ideals for femininity, race, and sexuality. Meg and her friends pursue the stereotypical masculine Craig who is considered a rebel and attractive. When Meg is denied a relationship with Craig because she is not considered attractive enough by society, her friends and her mother decide to help her; and the only logical solution to this dilemma for an unattractive girl is a makeover! In by acknowledging that beauty is merely cosmetic and materialistic, Meg, her girlfriends, and her mother maintain the hegemonic, sexist, stereotyped ideal of beauty in a patriarchal society. When Meg receives her emergency makeover, she is transformed into a blond-haired, half-naked, sex object and now labeled as popular, attractive, and desirable. Her new wardrobe consists of low rider jeans, and t-shirts that say, “Little Slut,” “Porn Star,” and “Sperm Dumpster” written in glitter. These slurs reinforce and maintain the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. Meg later on realizes that beauty is hard work confirming that there is no such thing as natural beauty in the world.

The second example involves Lois, Peter, their kids, and an elderly lady. The characters are all white, of the middle class, consist of female and males, and all assumed to be heterosexual. There are two scenes with subtle images of patriarchal gender ideals. In the one scene, Lois and the kids state that they have a duty to stand by their father’s side, even when he is making a complete fool of himself on stage. In the other scene, an elderly lady and other people are leaving a church for the funeral of her husband. When the coffin slips from the coffin bearers’ hands, everyone runs away except for the elderly lady, at least at first. Lois and the elderly lady immediately and unconsciously perform stereotyped gendered behavior. Both of these scenes display the hegemonic ideal that women are dependent on men in a patriarchal society.

The third example involves Peter as the masculine father figure. Peter is white, middle class, and heterosexual. He portrays the hegemonic heteronormative ideal of a masculine, heterosexual male. Throughout the episode, he is not nurturing towards his daughter, uses sexist language/slurs as humor, and focuses his actions on competition, aggression, and violence. Peter displays heteronormative masculinity in which it is unacceptable to show emotion or empathy towards others, even his daughter, but it is more acceptable to defend his daughter through violence. He also maintains a hegemonic patriarchal ideal that men are superior to women by using sexist language/slurs to produce humor and laughing at the concept of natural beauty.

The fourth example involves Peter and his male friends. The men are of mixed races, assumed to be heterosexual, and of the middle class. In one scene involving all of the men, they decide to remodel their favorite hangout location, a bar. In the scene, they perform physical labor, compete against one another, gawk at a female passerby, and sing karaoke without losing their manhood. This scene depicts the hegemonic ideal for males in a patriarchal society by the men using gendered and sexual slurs/language toward the woman and acting in accordance with stereotyped masculine ideals; the woman is devalued as a human, and therefore turned into a sex object. Even though the men perform gender-specific tasks such as physical labor and competition, their heterosexual, masculine status is never minimized during their karaoke performance. They all still maintain their hegemonic status, however some of the men show their higher masculine rankings by using homosexual slurs towards the other men.

The fifth example involves an imitation of the original 1972 character of Fat Albert. This character is black and appears to be of the lower class. In the brief scene involving this imitation, there are ethnoracist symbols that reflect the views of a patriarchal society. Surrounding the character are garbage, tires, old newspapers, and etc that which conforms to the racist symbolism of blacks in a hegemonic patriarchal society.

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.