Friday, May 30, 2008

America's Next Top Patriarchy

Tyra Banks has ascertained a large amount of power through succeeding in an industry that reaffirms and legitimizes the hegemonic ideals of male dominance and female exploitation. She then becomes an idol for girls and sends the message that if you play by the rules that exist, you can become rich and famous like me. The problem with so many aspiring to become her is that her story is a deviation from the norm. Her idea of empowerment is actually condoning confinement in the patriarchy. What may have benefited her as an individual is helping to restrict her as a woman. Through her show America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks perpetuates the current patriarchal system by rewarding behavior that reaffirms male dominance and punishing behavior that empowers women.

In the book Better Living through Reality TV by Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, America’s Next Top Model falls into the category of televised talent/job search, which is a subset of “makeover television.” “The televised talent/job search is a form of makeover TV to the extent that experts, teachers, and judges seek to transform raw human potential into coveted opportunities for self-fulfillment through the realization and expression of talent” (Ouellette and Hay 127). Tyra is telling these girls that they are not yet valuable to society, but if they act in a manner that will win the competition, they will become of value to society. This is furthered by the elimination of a girl in each episode who fails to properly be objectified in a photo shoot. The audience sees girls who aren’t pretty enough as not being valuable enough to stay on the show, which leads to the belief that attractive women are more valuable.

According to Johnson, “to live in patriarchy is to breathe in misogynist images of women as objectified sexual property valued primarily for their usefulness to men” (Johnson 96). Tyra Banks uses this show to reward women who act precisely in this manner. She even breeds girls to perpetuate this idea. The winner of the show is given a modeling contract along with a large sum of money. She creates this reward for behaving in a manner that allows the patriarchy to thrive. She is also instilling this idea into the audience of the show that if you behave like the models in the show, you will become successful and popular. She uses herself as an example to the path of fame and fortune. She acts as though she is empowering these girls by laying the foundation for them to follow, but she is really trying to constrict and conform them into the system.

Jennifer Pozner wrote a piece called The Unreal World, in which she condemns reality television shows because “The genre teaches us that women categorically “are” certain things-for example, no matter their age, they are “hot girls,” not self-aware or intelligent adults” (Pozner 97). When women become “hot girls,” they become things used for the amusement of men, which fits into the patriarchal society. She continues this argument with an example of Tyra Banks ostracizing a girl eliminated form America’s Next Top Model for being too smart (Pozner 97). She is punishing a girl for trying to be an intellectual being rather than just a piece of meat. This fits into the patriarchal idea of men being the intelligent educated gender while women stay at home and learn how to cook, clean, and look pretty. Tyra has become an unofficial police officer for the patriarchy.

The photo shoots that the girls participate in act in a manner that furthers the patriarchy. These girls take photographs that portray the typical gender roles of women; vulnerable, promiscuous, and male dominated. Tyra then judges these women based on their ability to fit into these specific gender roles. She and her panel of judges pick apart every little nuance of the girls’ looks. This analytical judgment turns girls with personality and a brain into different subjects to compare and contrast. When Tyra critiques girls for being “too fat” or “too short,” she not only undermines the confidence of the girls, but she tells the audience the manner in which girls are supposed to look and dress.

Tyra Banks uses her show to judge, eliminate, and reward women based on whether they look and act the way she thinks would benefit them or not. The problem with this is that the industry Tyra is so intricately involved in perpetuates the patriarchy. So essentially, Tyra is trying to make them into females who are successful at being dominated by males. She may be helping these girls succeed at the individual level by transforming them into “valuable” fashion models, but she is setting back any attempt by women to eliminate the patriarchal system that exists in society as defined by Johnson. As long as there is an audience for her show, she will continue to destroy the self-esteem of contestants and viewers by telling them what they are not and what they should be.

Works Cited

Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2008. 95-98.

Pozner, Jennifer L. The Unreal World. 97.

Johnson, Allan. Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. Temple University Press, 1997.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Selling Sex at What Cost?

The use of advertising to sell products has evolved throughout the twentieth century. Advertising agencies will try whatever tactic that works in order to sell their product. A long time ago, product utility was a focus of advertisements, a practice that is exponentially diminishing in today’s world. Many efforts of advertising include the use of the female body; whether it be showing half-naked women holding their product or women completely naked, promoting a brand image. In either situation, women are used as tools, easily disposable when their usefulness has reached its end. The use of the female body as a tool for profit is morally unjust because it negatively affects women by lowering their self esteem, making them body obsessive and perpetrating false ideals and attitudes.

Our consumer culture has allowed advertisements to sneak into as many outlets as it can. We usually accept them without question because most are aesthetically pleasing; either portraying an “attractive” person or a comical scenario. “As we head toward the twenty-first century, advertising is ubiquitous-it is the air that we breathe as we live our daily lives.” (Jhally 250-251) It would be fair to say that advertising has a great deal of power over the general public. This power allows the media to promote ideals and needs that may undermine the truth. “Fundamentally, advertising talks to us as individuals and addresses us about how we can become happy.” (Jhally 251) The answer provided in advertisements is “buy our shit.” They do this by showing people that are having the most fun in the world with a particular product or by using a woman’s body as a tool to promote their product. “Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly.” (Jhally 253) This massive portrayal of women used as sex tools for selling products has desensitized us into accepting the image of women as vulnerable sexual items. This desensitization is perpetuating our society’s long held idea that men are greater than women; a flawed perspective that we have been making progress to erase.

Mass media has accumulated a vast power, and it has a responsibility that it is not living up to. Allowing advertisements to set the bar for acceptable norms in our society is like giving a five-year old a bee-bee gun; people are going to get hurt. Our perceptions of beauty are skewed by what advertisements say is beautiful even when their image contradicts what the overall belief really is. The problem is that advertisements have the means to get their opinions out there and everyone buys into it, thinking “that’s what I need to look like to be attractive,” when in reality it’s not. In order to get this message out, they use the female body. To go beyond that, there is something flawed at the ground level which has been accepted for years; that you need to look a certain way to be happy. “Girls are extremely desirable to advertisers because they are new consumers, are beginning to have significant disposable income, and are developing brand loyalty that might last a lifetime.” (Kilbourne 259) So advertisements use this accepted and perpetrated image of “beauty as the key to happiness and you won’t be happy without our product,” to prey on confused adolescent girls. These girls are very insecure about themselves, especially during adolescence when their bodies and minds are going through rapid changes, because they get all these images of the skinny pretty girl having all the fun. “Primarily girls are told by advertisers that what is most important about them is their perfume, their clothing, their bodies, and their beauty.” (Kilbourne 260) Advertisements create this false chain of being skinny and prematurely sexually active leads to being sexy and being sexy leads to happiness and social acceptance.

Works Cited

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

G.I. Joe, the Gender Hero

Societies assign certain gender roles to both males and females. These gender roles are expectations of members of that gender to behave in a predefined manner, neglecting the individual’s true desire. Deviation from this “norm” is frowned upon and often met with social ostracization or punishment. “Toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information.”(Newman 112) They are one of the many tools used by society to reaffirm the gender roles of boys and girls; teaching them how they should behave early in life. Toys meant for boys teach different ideas and attitudes from toys meant for girls. Action figures are toys meant for boys, and the most famous of which, the G.I. Joe, has been shaping boys into their gender role since 1964.

G.I. Joe is a soldier who travels the world fighting the bad guys on land, air, and sea for America. He symbolizes freedom, violence, strength, and being number one. This parallels what is instilled in American boys throughout their youth. Boys are encouraged to play outside and explore the world, rather than girls who are taught to stay inside and learn how to nurture. G.I. Joe is seen as more of a strong, emotionless figure, very much like how boys are “supposed” to be. Boys are also encouraged to participate in athletics, in which being the best through physical competition is rewarded. “The sports world is extremely hierarchical, and an incredible amount of importance is placed on winning, on "being number one."” (Messner 129) G.I. Joe engages in physical competition (violence) to defeat the bad guys and be number one. I would also have to say the idea of competition and being number one transcends to adulthood in our capitalist economy.

The physical look of G.I. Joe instills gender upon boys as well. He is generally portrayed as a Caucasian male with huge muscles in an army uniform carrying a very large gun. Large muscled men fit into the dominant physical hegemonic role in our society. Physical dominance is what we value over skinny or overweight people. The G.I. Joe ties strong muscles with being good. Dominant colors are another way of reaffirming gender. G.I. Joe isn’t the best example of this because he wears camouflage so he won’t be seen by the enemy, but other action figures will include dominant colors like black, blue, green, and red. You won’t see very many action figures with shades of pink or purple in them, since those are girl colors. The large gun that G.I. Joe wields can be compared to the insecurity of men in American culture who need to compensate for shortcomings elsewhere.

According to, “G.I. JOE has become the single greatest brand in the history of boys' toys.” This led me to wonder if there were any G.I. Joes for girls, so I searched the Hasbro website going through the history of G.I. Joes. I did find one interesting action figure for girls made in the 1960’s, G.I. Action Nurse Girl. So G.I. Joe says girls can play as long as they stay away from the violence and take care of the men when they get back. This fits into society’s understanding of the military, where it is expected of women to be the nurses and men to be the soldiers. The soldier/nurse expectations reflect Johnson’s idea of patriarchy. He claims that patriarchy is, ”about defining women and men as opposites, about the "naturalness" of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination.” (Johnson 94)

G.I. Joes help shape boys into their expected gender roles by showing them how society expects a man to act. He is supposed to be dominant, violent, competitive, adventurous, and have a great physique. These are the traits society wants men to have, so they use toys as one of many tools to show boys how they should behave. Not having all of these traits means that you are flawed in society’s view. We live in a culture where being different from what’s considered “normal” is bad and often met with severe repercussions. This is especially the case during childhood, since children hold very little of their thoughts back and are extremely cruel. The use of toys to reaffirm gender roles is especially influential for children because they spend so much of their time playing with toys.

Works Cited

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class,
Gender, and Sexuality.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Johnson, Allan. Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. Temple University Press, 1997.

Messner, Michael. Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography: Sage Publications, 1990.

"G.I. Joe Every Generation Needs a Hero." Hasbro.Com. 19 May 2008 .

"GI JOE Action Figures & Toys in the 1960s." Hasbro.Com. 20 May 2008 .