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,
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.
Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV.
Pozner, Jennifer L. The Unreal World. 97.