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Lesson – Gender and Sexuality in Pop Culture Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2011.

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1 Lesson – Gender and Sexuality in Pop Culture Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2011

2 Feminism Saw pop culture as a construct that was subservient to the desires of the male psyche— essentially a male plot to maintain control over women’s minds and, especially, bodies. Representations of women in movies, tv and in print were degrading to women and help promote violence against women Early archetypes probably were: “sexual cheerleaders” or “motherly homemakers” Father Knows Best vs the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy

3 The sexualization of women’s bodies also paradoxically played a critical role in liberating women from the previous constricting roles of mother and housekeeper More controlling of the male psyche than controlled by it? –E.g. Madonna Is the display of women’s bodies in a sexual manner exploitative or transgressive? Deep Throat’s perceived subversiveness was that women appeared to like sex as much as men—a threat to male’s hegemony. Pornography continues to be a form of social criticism against political and religious authoritarianism.

4 The Male Gaze The Male Gaze is the idea that women are portrayed in art, in advertising, and on screen from a man’s point of view, as objects to be looked at. Fetishism of commodities takes on a whole new meaning

5 Representations of Women This type of representation of modern, liberated womanhood is somewhat in contrast to the showcasing of femininity in the broad tradition of the “sacred feminine” of the “Gaia myth” wherein the goddess of the earth, Gaia, is purported to exercise power over Nature and mankind (literally: mankind). Walt Disney ( ) tapped into these mythic views of femininity, which representations that have been both controversial among early feminists and strangely popular among women.

6 Using mythology theory: Disney’s popularity is likely due to his sense of the mythic power of womanhood in human life. –Ex: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is so popular, why? –According to feminist theory, the movie was broadly embraced because it portrayed women as passive creatures waiting for their Prince Charming to come along. –However, according to post-feminist criticism the power of women can be seen when probed beneath he textual surface. –First, the only truly powerful characters are women—Snow White and the evil queen; men are either dwarfs faithfully serving their mistress or a perfunctory role (such as providing an anonymous kiss). –Snow white is a ruler of nature. All respond to her command from the animals to the dwarfs and prince who is beckoned by an implicit natural instinct –Also evident in Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959)

7 Feminist critics saw the movies as portraying a patriarchal view of womanhood which revolved around romance. Post-feminist critics rejected this interpretation Snow White, Cinderella and Tinkerbell – the emergence of a powerful form of femininity and a deconstruction of patriarchy. –Or is the construction of weak or stupid fathers only to make patriarchy seem unthreatening? The Little Mermaid, modeled after the Shakespearean story of Ariel, a mischievous spirit. Ariel’s departure into the world above her father’s Sea Kingdom saliently showcases the fading power of the patriarchal system.

8 Beauty and the Beast (1991) entails a clever reversal of roles, wherein the accursed prince who has to wait for his rescuer princess to come and save him. Belle has carved out a place for women to take control of their own identities. Also, in Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998) the heroines are physically and instinctually superior to any of the films’ males while also possessing the “feminine mystique” found in earlier Disney characters (e.g. Snow White). Are Disney women “archetypal female rescue fantasies with essentially passive fantasies”? “Walt Disney wedded art and mass media, revitalizing fantasy for our times.” – Fishwick

9 Or… Is Ariel the perfect metaphor for the stereotypical housewife in the making? Taking away a woman’s voice? The handsome price Eric tries to kiss her anyway (because men don’t like women who talk anyway). Ariel’s happiness is tied to a heterosexual marriage after renouncing her former life.

10 At first glance Belle from Beauty and the Beast seems to be a rejection of hypermasculinity (Gaston’s a pompous idiot) but her reformation of the Beast “Implies that women are responsible for controlling male anger and violence. If a woman is only pretty and sweet long enough, she can transform an abusive man into a prince—forever.” Belle is less the focus of the film than a prop or “mechanism for solving the Beast’s dilemma”

11 Disney Films seem to assign rigid roles to women and people of color Produce a narrow view of family values coupled with a nostalgic and conservative view of history that erases injustices (ex: the Pocahontas movie bleaches colonialism of its genocidal history). Much of its attempts at displaying agency are through the participation in consumerism (yay for Hannah Montana clothing at Wal-Mart!).

12 Doing gender: the case of prime donne Much of pop music culture is about talk, like gossip and confessions. Celebrities give their private lives to the media. Take for example Jessica Simpson. Media work as pop culture watchdogs, scrutinizing and enforcing gender and sexual performances. A popular role for female celebrities is that of emphasized femininity. Yet, potentially, multiple ways of doing femininity and masculinity should be more available. More so the case for female performers, why?

13 The Slasher Film: The Killer The Killer –Propelled by psychosexual fury, –a male in distress, –usually in their 20s

14 The Slasher Film: Victims Victims: Usually in their teens Now both girl and boy but still mostly girl Usually a sexual transgressor (how did young Jason die?) Often die, mid or postcoital. Boys die because they make mistakes Girls die because they are girls Male deaths are quicker and often shot further away with less detail The murders of women are filmed at close range, in more graphic detail and at greater length

15 The Slasher Film: Final Girl The one who did not die: the survivor of the horrible ordeal Has to think the most about the possibility of death (her seemingly impending and her friends) Often show more courage and level- headedness than their cringing male counterparts

16 Final Girls Intelligent Watchful Levelheaded The first character to sense something amiss Deduce from the pattern the threat facing them The only one whose perspective approaches our privileged perspective in the audience. We identify with the final girl

17 Some Observations Males are dominant audience Cheer for killer until the final girl end portion where they cheer for her as she assaults the killer. Ostensibly then, the hero is female. How misogynistic is this? The camera angles represents the killer’s perspective We are forced to identify with the killer

18 Masculinity The killer plunging his knife or blade into women is unmistakingly phallic. The killer’s masculinity is in question—he often has psychological/mother issues, often a virgin or sexually inert, sometimes a transvestite or transsexual. Traditional masculinity does not fare well in slasher films. The man who insists on taking charge, who believes that logic or appeals to authority can solve the problem, or who tries to act as a hero ends up dead meat.

19 Final Thoughts on the Slasher Do slasher movies authorize impulse towards violence in males and victimization in females? Or, is it rather than the victimization of females being exclusively borne of misogyny is it that: The destruction of beauty on an aesthetic level bothers us; and The fact that we are more likely to sympathize with a female victim than a male victim as some critics contend? –What do we think of males begging for mercy versus females begging for mercy?

20 Dove’s “real beauty” campaign Literal text of the ad: “Real women have real curves” implying that Dove wants to celebrate those curves. The ploy is transparent. The real message is “improve yourself, by Dove products” “Dove Evolution” commercials make over ordinary women  Cinderella subtext

21 Plastic Surgery

22 Gender and the Media According to the reflection hypothesis the media only give the pubic what it expects, wants, or demands. In other words, the media content mirrors the behaviors and relationships, and values and norms most prevalent in society. However, far from passively reflecting culture, the media actively shape and create culture. –Ex: the nightly news – how much news can fit into 22 minutes?  they set the agenda for public opinion. “The way the media choose themes, structure the dialogue, and control the debate—a process which involves crucial omissions—is a major aspect of their influence.” In addition to their role as definers of the important, the media are also the chief sources of information for most people, as well as the focus of their leisure activity. Evidence indicates many media consumers (esp. heavy TV viewers) tend to uncritically accept media content as fact. Although there’s always intervening variables (e.g. kinds of shows, and behavior of real-life role models), the media do influence our worldview, including personal aspirations and expectations for achievements, as well as our perceptions of others. Symbolic annihilation refers to the media’s traditional ignoring, trivializing or condemning of women.

23 Gender Differences in Online Communication Internet is nearly evenly divided between women (45%) and men (55%). Research indicates that online communication mirrors in-person conversational styles: –Women’s messages are longer and more detailed than men. –Women use more emoticons and more intensive adverbs (e.g. really, very). –They are also more supportive and agreeable. –Men make stronger assertions and use profanity, insults and sarcasm more than women Internet for sex? Men (56.5%) were more likely than women (35.2%) to surf for sexually explicit materials, men were more likely to look at pornographic sites and masturbate while women were more likely to engage in cyber-sex with an online partner. Explanation: women use communication to build social connections and rapport with others while men use communication more functionally or instrumentally. Research also indicates online communication is mitigated by other social factors: age, sex, income, educational attainment, status and type of message of both the sender and the receiver.

24 The Written Word - Gender messages in newspapers and magazines Regular reading of the newspaper in the U.S. has declined since the mid-1980s. More men than women read it; why? Male centered stories. Women’s are in the back, “non-news” section of the paper. Trivialization of women in the stories that do focus on them. For example: “the female attorney”, “the petite blonde”, “Dr. Smith, the wife of”, or “the feisty grandmother.” Such details were rarely provided for men. Are feminists depicted as a small but vocal radical fringe group that most members of the general public dislike as portrayed by the media? Most of the staff at major newspapers are men. When women are on the staff they tend to have the same definitions of what ‘experts’ are as men do, thereby seeking people like men to comment.

25 Gender and Magazines Newspapers seek the masses, magazines are targeted to smaller populations. Traditionally women’s magazines have promoted a ‘cult of femininity’ that is, the definition of femininity as a narcissistic absorption with oneself—one’s physical appearance, occupational success, and with success in affairs of the heart. Intensified focus on sex in both adult and teen magazines in recent years. Emphasis on boldness? Makeovers  buy stuff, improve you because you are flawed! Men’s magazines: finance/business/technology, sports/hobbies, and sex. Sex in women’s magazines is usually discussed in terms of interpersonal relationships but in men’s magazines objectify and depersonalize sex. Like women’s magazines, men’s magazines only promote normative masculinity.

26 Television: The Ubiquitous Gender Socializer Most important media socializer. Americans spend 33% of her/his leisure time watching TV. More than any other leisure activity (including socializing with others; 7%!). Women watch more TV than men do, adults more than children (although TV watching consumes more time than any other non-school activity).

27 Prominent Messages in TV Women are less important than men. –Fewer women than men on prime-time TV (39% of all major characters) Characters played by women tend to be younger and less mature than male characters and therefore less authoritative. –65% of female prime-time characters are in their twenties and thirites12% are in their forties and 22% of male primetime characters are in their forties. Young female characters are typically thin and physically attractive. –In general males are given more leeway in their appearance. 46% of women on TV compared with just 16% of men are thin or very thin.

28 Gender Messages on TV There have been important changes in the portrayal of men and women in recent years. Female: more likely (than before) to work outside the home, be strong and independent women who rely on themselves to solve problems. Shown interacting with other characters in an honest and direct way. males: more likely to be shown as ideal husbands and do their share of housework. Even though they’re less likely to be shown doing it vs women (1-3% compared to 20-27%). Gender stereotypes still persist: Preoccupied with romantic relationships, shown on the job or not, defined by marital status or occupation, using romantic charm or force to get what they want. Since the 1970s: the incorporation of women’s rights and gender equality themes, often presented from what could be considered a feminist perspective. Gender stereotypes frequently intersect with racial and ethnic stereotypes on TV. Racial or ethnic people are still underrepresented (male or female) on TV. Over 80% of primetime characters are White, 12% are Black, 2% are Asian American and 1% are Hispanic. [this data is a little dated: 90s] Greatest strides towards equality: local newscasts.

29 Gender Messages in Advertisements Does Sexism sell? Ads sell less a product and more a lifestyle, needs and desires. “advertisers portray an image that represents the interpretation of those cultural values which are profitable to propagate.” For men: the message is to buy a particular product to get the “sweet young thing” associated with it, for women: buy the product in order to be the “sweet young thing.”

30 Sexism in Advertising Sexism in advertising can be very subtle. What does the way models pose tell us? –Women in subordinate and men in dominant positions. Killing Us Softy Gender stereotyping is also prevalent. –Ex: Occupation Sexually exploitative use of women had increased in ads since Women used as purely decorative. Use of men as decorative has also increased. –Men as either ‘Rambo’ or Himbo. Evidence that the industry confuses gender equality with sexual permissiveness or exploitation. The Lolita syndrome – advertising’s increasing use of children, especially girls, in sexually exploitative ways. Emphasis on youth = denigration of the elderly (particularly women) Rarities in ads: Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, gay and lesbians or people with disabilities. Average American sees more than 37,000 ads just on TV a year!


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