Book Review: *Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and Television History*

Soap operas are entertaining, attention-grabbing daytime shows full of drama and emotion. They are shown in the middle of the day, originally meant for housewives completing housework, waiting for their husband to come home from work. Soap operas may seem like a corny, somewhat outdated genre of television show, but Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History by Elana Levine describes how their impact on the development of society has been essential. Since they no longer have the impact they once did, people may be surprised by the power they held for decades, but soap operas are a monumental phenomenon in television history, and have contributed so much to the advancement of not only broadcast television, but women’s culture as well. 

Levine’s central argument is that “the history of the US daytime TV soap opera is a history of a media form, but it is also a history of a prominent cultural construction of femininity and its imbrication within the institutional and artistic evolution of the primary mass medium in American society for nearly three-quarters of a century” (6-7). The power and influence soap operas have had on American broadcast television and women’s culture in general may be largely unknown by many, but is essential to understanding many aspects of the development of society.

Elana Levine is a soap opera enthusiast, enthralled by the unique daytime television they have provided since the 1940s. She earned an undergraduate degree in English and Telecommunications from Indiana University, and graduate degrees in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Levine is a professor of media, cinema, and digital studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the English department, with areas of teaching and research in television studies/history, gender, sexuality, and media, as well as cultural/production studies and feminized popular culture. She has several publications related mostly to television and media history, with a focus on women’s studies. 

Levine’s uses mainly qualitative methodology, but includes others as well. Much of her research includes archival research of countless scenes from different soap operas, interviews, articles, and other monographs to reference important examples of the impact on women’s culture. Though few, Levine also includes some quantitative research and visuals, such as a graph used to represent the cost per minute of network daytime television ad time (85). She also incorporates some text analysis and close reading from works by prominent feminist writers. For example, Levine analyzes Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, including critiques that “spaces included varied expressions of the dissatisfactions of the white, middle-class, patriarchal ideal, and did not simply parrot the dominant ideology” (45), and comparing this to the world of Hollywood and gender and femininity altogether. The use of many different methods of research give different and interesting sources of support that all work together to emphasize the impact soaps had on the development of network television and women’s culture.

Part 1 of 3 in Her Stories includes chapters 1 and 2 from early the early 1940s to late 1960s. It describes soaps’ transition from radio to television, specifically its economic and creative contributions to television. While transitioning to television, soaps were some of the first broadcasts to pay close attention to visuals and sound, focusing closely on the details of production and set design such as how to maximize emotion through “face-to-face cutting,” or creating minimalistic sets for more emphasis on “working out of emotional conflicts” (24). By 1954, sponsors, networks, creators, and audiences proclaimed that soaps were here to stay. Soaps became more and more popular, and were becoming so lucrative that CBS was encouraging other networks to invest in them. It also describes the “social construction of gendered identities… offering up understandings of the struggles of postwar American life, shaping notions of gender, marriage, and family desperately in need of therapeutic intervention” (43). In this chapter, Levine brings in examples from popular texts, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Though Friedan does not specifically mention television or soap operas, it explains that “the focus of soap opera on the very matters of femininity, masculinity, marriage, and family life so central to the feminine mystique make it a crucial space for considering popular culture as a site for constructions of gender identity” (45). This was important to understanding how soap operas became helpful for viewers, particularly women, after the war and served as a sort of escape and relaxation from stress postwar. Many elements were used to define women as housewives, such as advertisements for items like kitchen appliances, or even the time of day at which they run, reinforcing women’s role as such. 

Part 2 includes chapter 3, 4, and 5, focusing on the mid 1960s to late 1980s. Levine that the soap opera was the foundation of the network era business model. Sponsors, audience members, and many others were extremely invested in soaps, and the relatively low production costs allowed for a fair amount of profit. Overall, soap operas were becoming even bigger and influential in business and television, and the narrative later “turns to relevance” and focuses on the social changes made in soaps. There began to be more pushback on the “white, middle-class, reproductive femininity” that put women into a box (11). Levine argues that soaps implemented more liberal-leaning views on relevant issues at the time such as racism, abortion, sexuality, and expectations of gender. Culture changed as soaps changed, and with such a wide viewership, soaps had tons of influence on what it meant to be a woman at the time.

Part 3 includes chapter 6, 7, and 8, from the late 1980s to the 2010s, focusing primarily on soaps’ downfall. The feminine “housewife” viewership that was often the main audience no longer needed soaps to relate to or define themselves because the concept of femininity and what it meant to be a woman was much broader than what it once was. Femininity in soaps was expanding, but they were not able to maintain viewership because of how quickly and widely women’s culture was growing. This part highlights struggles not only to keep up culturally, but economically since the decline in viewership. In order to maintain their audience and keep people coming back for more, production tried switching things up, doing their best to be as inclusive as possible, or completely rejecting the formula of soaps in hopes of staying afloat. These attempts did more harm than good, and the demise of soaps seemed inevitable. 

One noticeable strength in this monograph is the immense detail Levine uses to describe the many different aspects that contributed to the culture and creation of soap operas and how it impacted viewers. Within every chapter, there are several subsections that highlight different aspects of the time and topic. For example, Chapter 4: “Turning to Relevance” focuses primarily on soaps beginning to include relevant politics and culture into their shows. Just a few subsections of this chapter include soaps’ “generational conflict” (110), “racial and ethnic difference” (115), and “stories of pregnancy and abortion” (120). Each of these subsections contribute to the overarching idea of soaps’ incorporation of relevant information at the time, but with specific focuses on different aspects that contributed to the shows and relevant culture outside of it. While they mainly focus on gender and femininity, they also include important elements that had a prominent impact on culture at the time, adding nuance to the chapters and the monograph as a whole.

Although there is plenty of detail and information on the many different topics and aspects of the history of soap opera, not until towards the end of the monograph do we see any sort of pushback or other-sided perspectives on the left-leaning stances soap operas often incorporated. Soaps often highlighted liberal views in their shows concerning abortion, rape, sexuality, even just giving women more freedom and breakaway from gender roles, and many more, but since these were newer views at the time portrayed on such a big scale, surely there must have been more pushback and implications than what is included in the monograph. Including all peoples’ perspectives at the time would create more depth to the already very nuanced history of soap operas, and would not only give readers a better view of America’s reaction to their favorite television shows, but also America’s social development as a country. 

Overall, Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History was an interesting and entertaining read. As someone who is a bit too young to have experienced soap operas’ peak, delving into the world of soaps provided an unexpected perspective into the progression of gender roles and norms, and other social issues. The format of the book made it concise and easier to read, working chronologically chapter by chapter through the history of soap operas while describing its influence on media and culture, as well its downfall and why that was. Throughout every section, there is a clear topic about how the phenomenon of soap operas influenced US broadcast network television or culture in general. Soap operas may not be what first come to mind when I think of the change in women’s culture and politics, but this was an eye-opening book on such a realization, and how it was a central part of the history of television and women’s culture.

Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera & US Television History. Duke U.P., 2020. 

Book Review: *The Tragedy of Heterosexuality* by Jane Ward

For the dominant form of sexual orientation, heterosexuality sure looks disappointing. Consider the oft-referenced statistic that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Another statistic, that one in six women in the U.S. experience rape, shows a troubling rate of violence within heterosexuality. Such troubling information indicates that received ideas that queerness is harder than straightness may be quite misguided (4). In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward describes the contradictions inherent in straight culture, and provides a lesbian feminist perspective on how heterosexuality might become less problematic and more fulfilling for both women and men (4). Her book is a salient and strong argument for a reformation of straight culture to be more feminist.

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How the Clueless Creators of “Clueless” Contributed to a Harmful Culture Around Gay Men

Amazon.com: Clueless : Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy,  Paul Rudd, Donald Adeosun Faison, Dan Hedaya, Justin Walker, Donald Faison,  Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Aida Linares, Wallace Shawn,  Twink Caplan,

Arguably, one of the most iconic movies ever created is “Clueless.” This movie features everything you could want and more from a classic 90’s high school movie. The lead, Cher, is the “it girl” at Bronson Alcott High, and she seems to have her life fully figured out. With her side-kick Dionne, she takes on some typical challenges accustomed to the privileged teenage life, like failing her driver’s test, going to parties, and meeting a cute boy she might have a crush on. His name is Christian, and, despite Cher’s keen eye, she fails to realize that he is gay. 

Cher tries every play in the book to try and seduce Chrisitan, she drops her pen to bait him into picking it up for her, invites him out to parties, and brings him to her house when her father is away. She puts an entire roll of cookie dough in the oven, in the hopes that the warm, sweet smell in combination with her domestic abilities will be enough to woo him. She ends up burning the cookies, and they move on to tour the house. As they walk through the backyard, Chrisitan is telling Cher what a beautiful art collection her father has and comments on all the statues talking about the various artists and meanings behind the works. This is a stereotype associated with gay men, a love and appreciation for art. This is only one of many different stereotypes the creators of “Clueless,” put on Christian, however.

Clueless': Cher's Love Interest, Christian, Was Almost Played by This  'Twilight' Star

All the characters from the movie continuously point out the effeminate qualities Christian has. His love for art and fashion comes to mind. He is also the most well-dressed and groomed man on the show. All these things are associated with and are stereotypical qualities of gay men. After the not-so-romantic night between Cher and Christian comes to an end, the movie flashes forward to Cher in the car with Dionne and her boyfriend, Murray. Murray is trying to teach Dionne how to drive while the two of them listen and try to counsel Cher about her failed date. After she says she was ready to, “go all the way,” and have sex with Christian, Murray laughs out loud and says, “are you bitches blind or something? Your man, Chrisitan, is a cake boy.” The sexist language he uses here and throughout the film is enough for a whole other essay, but he uses an old derogatory term, “cake boy,” meant to put down and make fun of effeminate men. He then goes on to list more stereotypically gay things that Christian does, like enjoying disco music and reading Oscar Wild. He then finishes his line by saying “he’s a friend of Dorthy if you know what I’m saying.” After all of that, Cher finally realizes that Christian is gay.

While the creators of the movie did a good job at making Chrisitan a likable character, they abused gay stereotypes and the “gay aesthetic” of the time to perpetuate a misguided view of what being gay means. The Hollywood interpretation of gay men specifically, was one of two character archetypes. Either a creepy, predatory character that you are meant to hate and fear, or an effeminate one that is clean, pristine, and loves to shop. Chrisitan is clearly the latter. 

Having this “gay aesthetic” be so wildly loved, admired, and used in media is damaging to gay youth. We’re told this is what it means to be gay. You have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and like specific things to be “gay.” This puts pressure on young gay men especially to behave like this idolized character of fashion, art, and shopping. If you don’t look put together you aren’t good enough to be gay. If you don’t love shopping with your girlfriends then you’re either in the closet or some kind of outcast. These characters often become the “gay best friend” of a powerful female character as well. Effeminate gay men were never portrayed as powerful or independent, they always had a popular girl to take care of them and protect them from the rampant homophobia and toxic masculinity of high school. This is damaging to watch as a young gay child. You are told that to fit in and be accepted, you have to be feminine and hide behind other people for safety. When you stand up for yourself a bully will knock you down, and if you don’t act “gay enough,” neither the gay nor straight people will want to include you. Yet, this feminine gay aesthetic was one of the only positive representations of gayness from before the 2010s. Despite how damaging it is to be told you must be and act a certain way, it was the only way to survive.

Gayness is more than being effeminate and liking clothes and Britney Spears, however. As more modern media is starting to realize, gayness looks different for everybody and there isn’t one box of mannerisms and inflections that you can sort us into. Gay people each have their own personalities, behaviors, and interests. Being gay is just one part of us, one identity we have, nothing more. It can mean to you whatever you want it to. That’s why having this kind of representation (as in characters like Christian) is damaging to the gay community. Although Christian is seen as this perfect, sexy man better than all the other men in Bronson Alcott High, his character perpetuates a harmful culture around being gay.

written for Autostraddle | autostraddle.com

work cited:

Heckerling, A. (1995). “Clueless” movie poster. Amazon. Paramount Pictures. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.amazon.com/Clueless-Alicia-Silverstone/dp/B01M9B4FDS.

Heckerling, A. (2021). Cher and Christian watching a movie. cheatsheet. Paramount Pictures. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/clueless-christian-was-almost-played-by-this-twilight-star.html/.

Changing Gender Roles: Get Tattoos. Scare People!

Written by Patricia Raudales Calvario for Wear Your Voice/ https://www.wearyourvoicemag.com

The animated comedy The Simpsons is widely known by the media for “predicting the future.” Scenes from past episodes are scaringly connected to current events. Whether or not you believe this theory to be accurate, you will find many Simpson reference memes on social media. Scenes from the show have contributed to meme culture. The meme culture is rapidly growing on many social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. People see memes everywhere, and the description following the meme, although used to entertain, can show a lot about society’s current views.  

When she’s the one who’s tattooed” meme shows the fear of Homer Simpson (the person on the left) as his wife, Marge Simpson (the person on the right), leans over him with a seductive face. This interaction goes far beyond Homer and Marge; the facial expressions themselves depict gender roles in society. Although women are now empowered in all aspects of life (social, educational, political, and psychological), seeing a woman embodying more “masculine” traits still frightens many, as seen in Homer’s face. Women who show confidence and are assertive are considered more “manly.” Women can be confident but also need to spread warmth and bring joy to others. Rather than being strong, women are expected to be relaxed and easygoing. Anything that contradicts these ideas is quite scary to society. 

Beyond the facial expressions shown in this meme, the creator edited a tattoo sleeve on Marge’s arm to create his “When she’s the one who’s tattooed” meme. This meme is looked at, laughed at, and then people move on to the next meme. However, it is crucial to be aware that memes such as this one tell us a lot about gender roles and identity in society. Memes go beyond giggles and laughs. Memes have meanings and values. 

Why does Homer look afraid in this meme? A tattooed female is leaning over him. This meme does a great job of showing the perception of women and men with tattoos that society holds. When a man has tattoos, he is a “strong man,” a “brave man.” This is why this meme would have not been successful or considered funny if the roles were reversed. Although more and more women are now getting tattoos to represent the femininity and morals they hold, they are not always viewed as “strong women” or “brave women.”  Instead, women with tattoos are described as “aggressive” or “more masculine.” This meme shows how it has become more socially acceptable for a man to have tattoos than a woman. 

The type of tattoos put on Marge’s arm is also specifically picked, creating a more masculine image. A simple google search of “tattoos for women” and “tattoos for men” can show what type of tattoos are acceptable for each gender. For example, Marge’s tattoos would be found within a “tattoos for men” Google search. A simple “tattoos for men” google images search will suggest dark and more frightening tattoo ideas. Tattoos of skulls, fires, lions, snakes, and “king” phrases will be the first to come out. Googling “tattoo ideas for women” would give you the complete opposite: sweet and fragile ideas. Top suggestions would include flowers, hearts, and butterfly tattoos. Google searches for tattoos should be nothing more than inspiration and should not determine the tattoo you think would be the most socially acceptable. No matter your gender identity, get a butterfly tattoo, a skull tattoo, get both. 

Memes like the one described above are dangerous and can complicate people trying to understand their gender identity. A woman can wear “masculine” tattoos and still hold more feminine characteristics. A man can wear “feminine” tattoos and still have masculine features. Tattoos are now becoming more popular in American life. Our role is to dissociate ourselves with putting labels on the type of tattoo one chooses to put on their body.  

Tattoos can have personal meanings to some people, and to others just be a form of art put on their bodies. Tattoos are not gendered, and one should get tattooed with whichever design they desire. Tattoos can be hidden from the public view, or they can be exposed for everyone to see. Regardless, get whatever tattoo you want. Be as creative, bold, and SCARY with your tattoos. Be Marge Simpson and frighten society!         

Gay Tok: Hook-up Culture and Discrimination in the Gay Community

Tik Tok is home to a variety of trends from new dances to popular audios. There are many sides of Tik Tok, and you may be in multiple, depending on how diverse your ‘For You’ page is. However, I will be talking about a specific side of Tik Tok today, and this side of Tik Tok is referred to as Gay Tok (the side of Tik Tok created by and for the gay male community). There are innocent Tik Toks about gay couples on a date, but there are also videos that showcase the problematic side of the gay community. These short videos shine light on hook-up culture while other videos touch on the discrimination gay men of color face in the dating scene.

The first Tik Tok, created by @itslucasmorales, includes him sitting still in a room with the caption, “me remembering the time in high school where I thought I would find the love of my life on Grindr and ended up losing my virginity at 2am to some random guy in a tank top.” The audio in the background exclaims, “Don’t you feel silly, don’t you feel stupid, don’t you feel a little ashamed,” with an ominous sound playing in the background.

This short, twelve-second video shows the difficult dating scene gay teenagers face. The gay community’s dating pool is extremely small. Some people are closeted and not ready for a relationship, others are not queer, and some are already in relationships. The lack of a dating pool created a different pool within the gay community: hook-up culture. Younger gay people are thrown into hook-up culture through Grindr: a dating app intended for gay men. However, Grindr is used primarily to seek potential hook-ups instead of potential relationships. The way Grindr is used exposes teenagers to predators and potential grooming, which leads to gay teenagers engaging in sexual activities with older men. Early exposure to hook-up culture shifts gay teenager’s perception of relationships and their functioning. Instead of a relationship being seen as an emotional connection, it is perceived as a physical connection; gay teenagers will focus more on their bodies than their mental health.

The unhealthy, toxic atmosphere of hook-up culture perpetuates the idea that appearance, especially body shape, is a deciding factor in whether one deserves love or not. The fixation on bodies is deeper than expected. Each body type has their own category, such as twink (hairless, thin bodies) to otter (hairy, thin to athletic-build bodies) to bear (hairy athletic-build to larger bodies); there’s a category where any body type fits. This body categorization has been normalized to the point that there are quizzes, such as this one, to help identify your body type! Hook-up culture creates this body categorization and physical damage, but it also causes emotional damage. There are no emotional relationships. In hook-up culture, there are friends with benefits and sex with no strings attached. This goes back to the physical harm hook-up culture can cause with body fixation, but these issues also cause a mental toll on the person involved. The emotional aspect of relationships is not taken into consideration, making it difficult for gay teenagers to define a healthy relationship, especially if they are deeply involved in hook-up culture.

Hook-up culture is the root of most of the problems in the gay community. Hook-up culture leads to the creation of body categorization, physical over emotional relationships, and the use of preferences to justify discrimination in the gay community, which leads to my next Tik Tok.

The second Tik Tok involves a queer, black man talking about dating as a black person. This person discusses discrimination they have faced in the gay community from other black men. He starts his Tik Tok with the quote, “I’m getting to realize that I’m lowkey not in the mood to date black men anymore, and here’s why.” @Miamiboykhai explains the standards black men face in the gay community and the standards forced upon him. He mentions how black men have commented on his femininity, his skin tone, and his height in comparison to his position during sex, “What I’ve often heard towards myself was I was too feminine […] too dark while being feminine, and then I had people tell me I’m too tall for my position.”

Caption: @Miamiboykhai talks about the struggles he faces in the gay community when dating other black men

@Miamiboykhai discusses how the “outside world” already treats him differently, and now, he is ostracized from his own community. Many gay people feel out of place even within the gay community. They are treated differently due to their gender expression, body shape (as described in the first Tik Tok), and skin color. Grindr also plays a part into these standards. Many profiles have bios that exclude many people (no fats, no fems, no Asians), and the discrimination within the gay community creates an unsafe environment for people of color because of the intersectionality we face. Our cultures and religions are homophobic while the gay community is racist and discriminatory.

Another important argument this Tik Toker brings is, “[…] and I watch you guys pick and choose who you allow to be feminine, who you allow to date, you guys have many rules in the dating world as black people.” Femininity in the gay community is used to categorize gay people; it is associated with thinner body types, bottoms, and submissiveness. However, we need to move away from these stereotypes and realize femininity is a gender expression, and it does not dictate one’s position during sex, their likes and dislikes, or their behavior. Another thing that I should mention is that anyone can be feminine; it is not an exclusive trait reserved for people who are “allowed” to be feminine.          

So, what can we take from this? Tik Tok is a social media platform filled with a variety of genres and videos. The ones spoken about here display problems within the gay community in distinct ways. The first Tik Tok only used an audio and a caption, but it still made a strong point about the dating scene in the community, and it leads to discussing how the gay dating scene became what it is now. The second one was more of a rant, but it also showcased discrimination from someone’s personal experience. Tik Tok allows several people to discuss matters like this one, and it gives the younger generation some insight and information about several other issues in our world. In this case, we see how hook-up culture has perpetuated the idea that appearance, specifically body shape, dictates how desirable and valuable a person is and the assumptions that are made about a person through their gender expression.

Writing for Wear Your Voice | www.wearyourvoicemag.com

Between Women: The Diversity of Same-Sex Relationships of Women in Victorian England

Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England by Sharon Marcus is a convincing, captivating, and original analysis that uncovers the importance and significance of the relationships between women in typical Victorian life. Marcus discusses how not many women in Victorian England had sexual relationships with each other or lived together in long-standing relationships like marriages. However, she also examines how women in Victorian England were involved in close and intimate relationships, which people at the time “believed cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism”—that often had an element of objectification and closeness and affection (in a sexual manner). Marcus’s assertion that female bonds were “not only tolerated but promoted as necessary elements of middle-class femininity” (259) proposes an essential counteracting to the domineering opinions today that people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships as disgraceful and appalling.

Marcus goes on to argue that the wishes and needs of women at the time were motivated by consumerism and capitalism, and their friendships were recognized, reinforced, and strengthened by their “families, societies, and churches.” As she explains across a sequence of close readings, same-sex relationships and intimacy occurred in tandem and agreement with and even often promoted heterosexual relationships. Therefore, of course the people around women would support these same-sex relationships because these relationships in turn promoted heterosexual relationships, which led to reproduction and other societal expectations of women at the time.

Marcus goes on to support that images of women in the media at the time did not turn women into submissive and passive people, but on the contrary, represented the “erotic appetite for femininity” of women at that period. The appeal for femininity and fulfilling the ideals and expectations of being a woman in Victorian England drove women to this “erotic appetite. ” Marcus also showed how the relationships between women were a vital and central element of femininity through the analysis of literature, memoirs, letters, and more, and her immense collection of evidence further proves her argument.

When exploring the array of different types of female friendships, she focuses on how in many cases, female friendships just meant regular friendships, and how other times it meant lesbian relationships. Marcus goes on to describe how when same-sex “female marriages” were formed, that to her, they were not the controversial topic that same-sex relationships are today or that people thought they were. Even though these marriages were not legally formed, they were acknowledged in more wide scale social groups. Marcus also writes about a different sort of same-sex relationship between women and that is the relationships between mothers and daughters, and daughters with their dolls that were depicted in illustrations, and how these images had deceptive masochistic and sadistic insinuations and implications.

Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her area of study is 19th-century British and French literature, specifically, she focuses on “performance studies, theater, and the novel; literary theory; gender and sexuality studies.” (Columbia U. Website) She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (University of California Press, 1999) and also won the Perkins Prize for best study of narrative for Between Women, along with several other awards for this book. Her essays have appeared in The Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature, The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature, and more. Marcus has also written for The Boston Globe, The Chronicle Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Book Review. Marcus was also the recipient of Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and ACLS fellowships, and a Columbia Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2014, Marcus was appointed Dean of Humanities at Columbia University.

In conclusion, Between Women by Sharon Marcus is a persuasive and unique examination that unearths the meaning and substance of the interactions between women in standard Victorian life. Very few women in Victorian England had sexual or long-lasting relationships like marriages. Marcus discusses how women in Victorian England were often involved in close and intimate relationships, which they thought encouraged the feminine features of compassion and selflessness. Her claim that female relationships were not only allowed but encouraged and endorsed as necessary for conventional femininity suggests an fundamental response to the widespread opinion that the people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships (no matter the degree of sex or sexuality played in the relationship) as outrageous and horrifying.

Pretty in Pink? A Media Analysis of a “Progressive” Toy

 

Pretty in Pink? Media Analysis of a “Progressive” Toy

Gender as a concept is a systemic structure that begins affecting children at a young age. The manipulation of gender and sex starts with advertisements for items such as toys, clothes, and furniture that mold the way children see themselves as soon as they are old enough to register what they see and hear on television and in print. Mass media and industry pushes the binary as a way to sell more items and this process requires children to pick a side: either the feminine side, where the toys are centered on appearance and homemaking, or the masculine, where the toys are more aggressive and active. The push towards a more inclusive toy industry is warped, and is seen through a recent advertisement for a toy called GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a set of building blocks and is focused on attracting a young, female audience. The commercial seems to reject the pink, princess-centric world of girls’ toys for a more scientific, active toy. What this commercial does not address, however, is the reinforcement that there are two types of girls: one that enjoys the norm and one that does not fit what we traditionally perceive as a girl’s toy. When the girl does not fit the norm, she is automatically placed in the other category, in which it is imperative that she maintains her femininity even though she rejects the traditional set of toys. In this way, the toy industry’s push to design more “inclusive” toys still remain solidly in the gender binary.

This GoldieBlox commercial, aptly named “The Princess Machine” begins by showing three girls sitting in front of the television, bored by the advertisement for a girly toy. The commercial proceeds when the girls don safety goggles and decide to construct an elaborate machine from their girly toys, such as baby carriages and tea sets. The girls work together to create a series of pulleys, levers, and ramps that extend throughout their whole house, creating a domino effect that moves a ball along the trail of toys. The girls run alongside the ball as it travels from room to room, eagerly awaiting the finale. The advertisement shows them enjoying their final product, which changes the television channel that originally showed the feminine toy commercial to an advertisement for this specific toy. The girls then cheer and celebrate their invention.

This advertisement is expertly crafted in order to appear to be advocating change in how toys are marketed to children, but only breaks down the feminine stereotype enough that it is comfortably available to the mainstream. An example of how it remains entwined in the binary is the toy’s pink packaging, showing a smiling blond girl on the box, plays directly into preconceived and accepted notions of what young girls should look like and how they should spend their time. This toy is no more evolutionary than a Barbie, and is a exemplary instance of Judith Halberstam’s argument in An Introduction to Female Masculinity that, “tomboyism may even be encouraged to the extent that it remains comfortably linked to a stable sense of a girl identity” (6). Girls are allowed to express themselves through traditionally masculine toys only until they hit puberty, when they are expected to become feminine, docile, and disinterested in masculine pursuits. Another interesting aspect of this commercial is its name: The Princess Machine. The name is not mentioned anywhere in the video, but can be found by searching it by name. The naming of this commercial is crucial to the argument that social norms can only be pushed so far, and not broken, as to create discomfort for the audience. The title of this commercial asserts that, although these girls do not want to be princesses, they can still create something feminine and acceptable to the gender binary. Notable, as well, is the race of the girl on the packaging. The use of a blond girl, though cartoon, asserts the argument that this toy is focused on maintaining what the media sells as acceptable for girls to be: white, “pretty”, and feminine. Not only is this toy selling the binary, its selling what society is groomed to think of as beautiful. The commercial, much like it does to the binary, pushes the idea of inclusivity just barely, by including one Caucasian and two girls of colors in it. The packaging tells the consumer that this is the ideal and is the first part of the toy little girls will see, which is no different than any other of the white centric, mainstream advertisements see across all industries. All these aspects of the commercial and packaging are, in a not so subtle way, asserting society’s views that being white, blond, and cis-gender is the ideal identity of a child.

The binary further asserts itself in the sub context of this commercial, narrowing the entire female gender to one of two categories: those who enjoy baby dolls and tea sets, and another, which rejects these items. The commercial seems to, at first glance, break down the stigma that girls enjoy playing solely with baby dolls and tea sets, but the makers have only given females one other option. By discussing femininity by only giving an alternative, this commercial’s message is very similar to the mainstream, exclusive message of the gender binary. This message is reminiscent of Wilchins’ Queer Theory, Gender Theory and her idea that, “Woman could do anything men could do and still retain their femininity” (8). Wilchins is discussing how, instead of completely breaking down and eradicating gender norms, it is popular now to offer an alternative to the “girly girl” while still remaining what is commonly thought of as feminine and therefore comfortable for the general population. Wilchins’ assertion is related to an image seen at the end of the commercial, with the three girls standing shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, wearing their construction belts and safety goggles. Although this would be considered a common frame if it were little boys, the girls have to remain feminine by wearing girly clothes as to not disrupt the binary. Another pertinent topic discussed by Wilchins is the idea of gender expression, which she defines as, “the manifestation of an individual’s fundamental sense of being masculine or feminine through clothing, behavior, grooming, etc.” As long as the toy user’s gender expression is one that has been seen before and accepted by society, she is allowed to freely enjoy her blocks or dolls. If she were to start acting like or identifying as more masculine, Wilchins says, “[people] will probably be shocked, disgusted, or at least turned off” (9). GoldieBlox is an excellent example of the cunningness of advertisers, who play to their consumer to sell more products.

GoldieBlox is a toy marketed towards an apparent shift in commercial industry towards a more inclusive, neutral business. When analyzed, however, GoldieBlox and its corresponding advertisement do nothing to break down stereotypes and expectations placed on children and the activities they enjoy doing. The resulting advertisement is a misrepresentation of what is it to be a girl with interests that do not include traditional girly toys and fails to acknowledge that feminine ideals are ever present and still being embedded in the minds of the girls watching these commercials.

Works Cited

GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg. YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug.

  1. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIGyVa5Xftw>.

Halberstam, Judith. “An Introduction to Female Masculinity.”

Introduction. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. N.

pag. Print.

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant

Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004. Print.

 

Burger or Blow Job?

“Sex sells.” This is a phrase that is ever popular in the advertising world and is used to sell products, services, and businesses alike. This strategy is usually seen as effective, but sometimes advertising companies purposefully push boundaries past what is deemed acceptable in order to evoke shock value in their viewers. In 2009, Burger King did just that with the release of an advertisement promoting their new “Super Seven Incher” burger. The advertisement had a limited release; it was only made public in Singapore, but was pulled from the market very shortly after it began circulation due to its controversial nature.

The images of the advertisement are overtly sexual and intend to depict a woman performing oral sex on the “Super Seven Incher.” The woman is the focus of the advertisement, as her profile from the neck up is shown on the left side of the ad. She is a white woman, has a blonde bob, and a face full of makeup. Her eyes are wide and her red lips are parted in an oval shape. Coming out from the right side of the page is the Super Seven Incher, aimed directly at the woman’s mouth. The advertisement is shaded darker at the corners and becomes increasingly lighter as the focus moves inwards towards the mouth and the burger. Below the image of the woman and the burger are the words “IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND AWAY” in white, bold letters. Below the phrase is a yellow panel depicting the burger along with a drink and fries and a price of $6.25 for the whole meal. The description of the meal is in the lower right hand corner of the ad.

The target audience of this advertisement is very obviously the heterosexual male and it is supposed to be viewed through the framework of the male gaze. The sexual nature of the image is attention grabbing and conveys the message that by eating the Super Seven Incher, they will receive as much gratification as they would from receiving oral sex. By depicting the act in this way, the ad is designed to create a fantasy for heterosexual males, which can be fulfilled by eating this burger. Eating this burger will make heterosexual males happier, more satisfied, and more appealing to women, according to the ad.

Depicting the woman in the advertisement in such a hyper-feminine way insinuates that the woman’s sole purpose in the advertisement is to provide pleasure and act as a sexual object. Creators of the ad specifically used a young white woman with bright red lips and blonde hair, characteristics that are routinely associated with sex appeal, to target their audience. Although the advertisement was released in Singapore, the woman is white which reinforces the westernized beauty ideals that we see across most media. By portraying the woman in this way, the ad creators have established that this is what a “real woman” should look like and this is how she should act. The woman is submissive to the man and his desires (as represented by the burger) and the ad links her femininity to sexual objectification. Sex sells, but usually only if it is in a heteronormative way. If the roles had been reversed and an image was insinuating that a male was performing oral sex on a female, the reactions would have been different. People would have been taken aback by the overt sexuality, since a male gratifying female sexual desires is not something often portrayed in contemporary media. The same goes for if a woman was illustrated performing oral sex on a woman, a man on another man, or any other combination of gender identifications.

The imagery of the advertisement is extremely sexual and this is furthered by the use of language surrounding the ad. The name of the burger itself, the “Super Seven Incher,” has nothing to do with the taste appeal of the burger. It does not describe what is on the burger or its quality, but instead describes the length of the burger. This burger length is a not so subtle reference to male genitalia, adding to the visualization of the sexual image that is portrayed. In the quote under the burger, the words “IT’LL BLOW” are larger than the rest of the words on the page, immediately catching the viewer’s attention. Slang terms for performing oral sex are “blowing” or “giving a blow job,” so the use of this specific language was no accident. The most glaring use of language to conjure up sexual images was in the description of the burger in the lower right hand corner of the advertisement. The advertisement tells its audience to “Fill your desire with something long, juicy, and flame grilled” and “Yearn for more after you taste the mind blowing burger” Both of these particular quotes describe the burger, but they do so in a way that expresses the longing and need of the heterosexual male to have his desires fulfilled. The “yearning” and “desire” that is expressed can refer to the male’s need for sexual gratification, but can also refer to the female’s desire “for more,” not in reference to the burger, but alluding to it as a representation of male genitalia. Using the images along with the specific choice of words furthers the message of the advertisement and adds to its shock value.

Although the ad was removed from the market, it was successful in the regard that its shock value made it widely circulated and talked about. It successfully perpetuated the image of traditional gender roles and used sexual imagery to maintain heteronormativity. Its purpose was to push boundaries, spark conversation, and evoke a strong emotional response from its viewers, whether it was one of desire or disgust. By this ad fulfilling its purpose, Burger King got the publicity that it wanted, a publicity that has lasted longer than they could have imagined.

Works Cited:

Stransky, Tanner. “Burger King’s Super Seven Incher Ad: Subtlety Is Dead.” EW.com. N.p., 24 June 2009. Web.

“Top 10 Tasteless Ads.” Time.com. N.p. Web. <http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1907218_1907236,00.html>

Respect Me For My Brains, Not My Body

Picture this. You are a blonde, caucasian woman. Perhaps you have large breasts. Perhaps you are frustrated with societal assumptions that because you are blonde, you must not be intelligent. Perhaps you are on the lookout for a company to purchase new glasses from, as you just got a new prescription. Enter Oogmerk Opticians, an eyewear company from Belgium. Their ad campaign, entitled “Get The Respect You Deserve”, contains a simple depiction of the same blonde, white, large lipped, large chested woman with one difference. One of the women is wearing a pair of glasses. In what is an extremely simple cartoon, both women are gifted a singular descriptive adjective below their depictions. The woman without glasses is labeled “easy”; the woman with glasses is labeled “hard”(See picture to the right). oogmerk_hard_rgb_1While the intended purpose of this advertisement is to get women to buy glasses, its main success is perpetuating effects caused by the sexual objectification of white women, namely through self-objectification. Furthermore, this advert does not even skim the surface on the wide ranges of stereotypes and objectifications unique to non-white women.

Culturally, women are objectified in a number of ways. The most prominent kind of objectification seen is sexual objectification, which occurs “when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as an object of male sexual desire” [1]. This dynamic is constructed through a society-wide hierarchy that places white, cisgendered, heterosexual males at the top. Sexual objectification of women can lead to a variety of outcomes on a scale from seemingly harmless to some of the worst experiences people will have to go through in their lives. A direct offshoot of this practice can be seen as the societal scrutiny of women’s bodies which create a wide range of standards and, often, unattainable images for how women can and should look and act. This analysis will focus namely on the experiences of white, heterosexual, cisgendered women, who exist at the top of the femininity hierarchy. However, it is extremely important to remember that these interactions and expectations exist in a wide range of unique ways the varying intersections face these challenges.

Stylistically, this advertisement makes its message crystal clear. The subtle nature of utilizing so few words in this advertisement draws up the image of a picture being worth a thousand words. The secondary sex characteristics, both the enhanced breasts and enhanced lips, depict an obvious statement about the assumed sexual behavior of the women. The viewer is then coerced in a simple manner to adopt this train of thought. Namely, that women who wear glasses are smart and/or stuck up, and therefore are “hard” to get into bed. This parallel structure seen is in no means a novel idea and claims its foundations around the segmenting of the female body. The females depicted are segmented so that the points of focus are their breasts and faces. Societally, women are commonly “seen as parts, rather than a whole”, namely their sexual body parts [2]. This stems from a depiction of sexual desire that reduces women to “a mere tool for sexual purposes,” or to a “sex object” [3]. While this conversation focuses mainly on cleavage, of any variety, as a depiction of a marker for essential female sexuality, the linking of the lips in this instance only aids in painting the portrait of a sexualized woman. Considering the unique role breasts play in conventional femininity, it is not a surprise that they are such sexualized part of the female figures in this advertisement. Breasts are utilized more than any other part of female anatomy in advertising and media images, that society “can barely catch a glimpse of side boob without thinking it’s sexual” [4]. However, an intriguing focus is made in this advertisement as well by enhancing the lips and linking these sex characteristics through color. This makes a subconscious association for the viewer regarding sexual acts that only works to underscore the overarching message.

This sexualization of secondary sex characteristics is solidified with the conquest related terminology applied to each woman. By stating the ease in which, if wanted, a heterosexual man could bed these two women, the objectification is internalized and able to cause a cascade of self-objectification and its effects. Furthermore, this diminishes the ability of women to appear educated, which reinforces the societal threat of women’s intelligence to the patriarchal hierarchy. By viewing these images in a sexual connotation, this concept of women being educated is erased from the thoughts of any potential customers, which allows the grounds for the tag line “get the respect you deserve”.

The language used, albeit simplistic, is probably the most problematic part of this advertisement. The message that women have to control their image in order to be respected, and that one can only be respected if they are “hard” to get into bed, constructs a pre-existing societal framework in which women are judged, as beings, solely for their appearance and not for their character. By evoking these images and concepts in this advertisement, the company is pining to tap into the appearance anxiety of the women viewing it. Appearance anxiety and body shame have been seen heavily in women who have been objectified, due largely to self-objectification [5]. The coopting of these symptoms of sexual objectification has one purpose: to trick women into feeling that they can change societal beliefs about their sexual promiscuity by buying Oogmerk glasses. This is a clear example of the rhetorical appeal of pathos, as its intention is to sway the emotions of its audience [6]. Through an explicitly minimalist approach, combining visual and verbal messages, these effects caused via sexual objectification are exploited to make sales and inherently reinforce these standards and requirements for existing as a “successful” woman. All of this ultimately ties to support the deeply ingrained societal dynamic of sexual objectification of women, which “no woman can opt out” of [7].

While ultimately this is not the most problematic use of objectified tropes surrounding the ties between female sexuality and female body parts, it highlights an overarching problem seen in the advertising industry today. Too often, there are problematic outcomes, like the power dynamics of rape and sexual assault, that stem from these beliefs that women exist as objects for men’s sexual desires.

 

[1] Szymanski, D. M., L. Moffitt B., and E. Carr R. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Web.

[2] Pappas, Stephanie, and LiveScience. “Our Brains See Men as Whole and Women as Parts.” Scientific American. N.p., 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

[3] Papadaki, Evangelia. “Sexual Objectification: From Kant to Contemporary Feminism.” Contemp Polit Theory Contemporary Political Theory 6.3 (2007): 330-48. Web.

[4] By 50 Million Liters Since 2007. “The Sexualisation of Breasts – The Circular.”The Circular. N.p., 03 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. <http://thecircular.org/the-sexualisation-of-breasts/>.

[5] Szymanski, D. M., L. Moffitt B., and E. Carr R. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Web.

[6] “Pathos.” Writing Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

[7] Fischer, A. R., S. K. Bettendorf, and Y.-W. Wang. “Contextualizing Sexual Objectification.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 127-39. Web.

Blu Electronic Cigarettes – The Reinforcement of Sexual Norms and the Co-opting of Rebellious Smoking in Cigarette Advertisements

blueCigs

Image from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/03/284006424/e-cigarette-critics-worry-new-ads-will-make-vaping-cool-for-kids

Blu Electronic Cigarettes markets themselves as a healthier, cooler alternative to tobacco cigarettes. To that end, in 2014 the company released a full page advertisement featuring the body of a woman in order to attract primarily young, white consumers. This advertisement is in a format that is suited to magazines, webpages, and billboards. It was found in Sports Illustrated magazine and on Sports Illustrated’s website, which suggests that the advertisement is intended to target men. However, the images and text in this advertisement are strongly in line with historical strategies intended to market cigarettes to women, which suggests that women are also an intended target. Either way, Blu’s advertisement relies on and perpetuates images of sexualized femininity in order to sell their product, and in doing so finds a place in the continuing relationship between women and cigarette marketing.

Instead of burning tobacco, electronic cigarettes heat and vaporize liquids that contain nicotine, which the user then inhales[i]. In this advertisement, Blu ignores promoting the supposed comparative health benefits of electronic cigarettes or their ‘cool’ factor, and instead opts for the lowest common denominator of advertising – sex sells! The advertisement is dominated by the body of a young, thin, white woman at a beach in a bikini bottom labeled ‘Blu Electronic Cigarettes’. She is only shown from just below the rib cage to halfway down her thighs, centered on her groin. An image of the product itself occupies a small space in the lower right corner of the page, opposite the slogan ‘Slim. Charged. Ready to Go.’, directions to the company’s website, and health disclaimers in the smallest of small print.

The focus on the model’s sexual appeal instead of the product being sold reinforces the sexualization of femininity in American culture. The model’s genitalia, figure, and race are all highlighted as elements of her physical attractiveness. The viewer’s gaze is drawn directly to the model’s crotch, where the company’s name is stamped across her bikini bottom. Thus, the Blu Electronic Cigarettes brand is literally attached to the vagina. The image is constructed so that you can’t miss that association. If, by some chance, the viewer missed the model’s groin on the first look, all the lines of focus direct the gaze back to the model’s vagina. The model’s fingers, the insides of her thighs, the packaging of the cigarette recharge kit and the jewelry in the model’s belly button all act as arrows pointing the viewer’s attention straight back to her vagina. The focus on the model’s genitalia sexualizes her femininity. When one recalls the phallic shape of a cigarette itself, the sexual overtones of the image are overwhelming. In this context, the words in the slogan ‘Charged’ and ‘Ready to Go’ take on a sexual connotation, suggesting the primary importance of the female body is its sexual potential. For the purpose of this advertisement, the model’s function is entirely for her sex appeal. A further examination of the model shows that she is thin around the waist, and her impossibly photo-shopped ‘thigh gap’ is prominently displayed. An implicit comparison between the slimness of the model and the slimness of the cigarettes is drawn by word ‘Slim’ in the slogan. According to Blu, sexy women must be thin. Men viewing this advertisement internalize that thin women are sexy women, and women themselves learn that they must slim down for men to find them physically attractive. Thus, this advertisement reinforces the notion that thinness is required for sexual attractiveness in women. Finally, the model is a white woman, which perpetuates the default of whiteness as the sexual ideal in American culture.

Unfortunately, Blu’s advertising strategy appears effective, as young people are exposed to electronic cigarette advertisements and are using electronic cigarettes is larger and larger numbers. Even though tobacco cigarettes cannot be advertised to minors, those restrictions do not yet apply to electronic cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69% of middle school and high school students in America viewed electronic cigarette advertisements in 2014[ii]. All this advertising is having an effect. Again from the CDC, from 2013 to 2014 the usage of electronic cigarettes among American middle school and high school students tripled, increasing to 3.9% of middle school students and 13.4% of high school students[iii]. Aside from the well-known adverse effects of youth nicotine use, these numbers show that the next generation of Americans are still witnessing and likely internalizing outrageously sexualized images of women as the norm of glamorous, sexy and cool.

This advertisement fits comfortably in the long history of cigarette advertisements aimed at women. In 1928, Edward Bernays orchestrated an Easter Day parade featuring “a number of genteel women” publicly smoking in a New York City on Fifth Avenue. He then ran a series of advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes aimed at women, knowing that women were an untapped, potentially lucrative client base. Thus began the co-opting of women smoking as a sign of defiance by cigarette companies and advertising agencies. Early slogans included “You’ve come a long way, baby” from Lucky Strike, referencing the women’s liberation movement of the 1920s[iv]. In the 1930s, A Chesterfield advertisement suggested that, “Women started to vote… just about the time they began to smoke”. Philip Morris followed suit, exclaiming “Believe in Yourself!” above the image of a glamorous smoking woman. These advertisements also capitalized on sexual norms, suggesting that smoking would keep women skinny with the slogan “Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet”[v]. Much later, Camel released a brand called Camel No. 9, designed to evoke the glamor and sex appeal of perfumes and pop songs. Of course, all of the women shown in the advertisements were thin white women. The advertising succeeded in changing cultural norms. Women began smoking in larger numbers as they saw smoking as a glamorous, independent act. The effects carry over to this day. Twenty percent of modern women smoke[vi], and in modern culture, smoking can give women an air of power and eloquence, as seen in the television show Mad Men and the feature length movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Blu Electronic Cigarette’s advertisement fits in the pattern of previous cigarette ads aimed at women. It markets its product to women with vague allusions to women’s sexual liberation, promises of thinness, and the allure of the white sexual ideal.

The advertisement promoting Blu Electronic Cigarettes perpetuates the social norm of white sexualized femininity. The product is advertised solely by an attractive, thin, white model, or more precisely, the model’s barely concealed vagina. In doing so, Blu finds a comfortable place in the tradition of marketing cigarettes to women by co-opting women’s liberation and promising that their product will make women sexier, skinnier, and cooler.

 

Citations:

[i] “How VaporFi E-Cigarettes and Vaporizers Work.” How VaporFi E-Cigarettes and Vaporizers Work. VaporFi, Inc., International Vapor Group, Inc., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <http://www.vaporfi.com/how-it-works/>.

[ii] “E-cigarette Ads Reach Nearly 7 in 10 Middle and High-school Students.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <http:www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0416-e-cigarette-use.html>

[iii] “E-cigarette Use Triples among Middle and High School Students in Just One Year.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0416-e-cigarette-use.html>.

[iv] Lee, Jennifer 8. “Big Tobacco’s Spin on Women’s Liberation.” City Room Big Tobaccos Spin on Women’s Liberation Comments. The New York Times Company, 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/10/big-tobaccos-spin-on-womens-liberation/?_r=0>.

[v] Christian, Wendy. “Torches of Freedom: Women and Smoking Propaganda – Sociological Images.” Sociological Images Torches of Freedom Women and Smoking Propaganda Comments. W. W. Norton & Company, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/02/27/torches-of-freedom-women-and-smoking-propaganda/>.

[vi] “Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Aug. 2002. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5112a4.htm>.

Tom Ford Media Analysis – Erica Miller

Erica Miller

GSS 101

7 February 2016

Professor Gonzalez

Media Analysis: Tom Ford

            Tom Ford utilizes stereotypical gender roles to promote his latest line of eyewear. In the print advertisement, Tom Ford depicts the different genders in their clichéd form. This not only strengthens gender ideals enforced since childhood but also reiterates these ideas to grown individuals.

The Tom Ford ad was originally published in Elle magazine, which is catered towards ‘Fashion-forward’ individuals. Tom Ford is a high-end label that only the upper-middle, to upper class could afford. This advertisement is intended to educate men on the proper way to dress to obtain an ‘ideal female.’ It also insinuates that by wearing Tom Ford eyeglasses, a man achieves a look of ‘ideal masculinity.’

One of the main issues is how the ‘ideal woman’ is portrayed. She is a white, heterosexual female, who is lean, but also shapely in the right areas. In addition, she is portrayed as being completely obedient to her male partners demands, ironing his clothing before even putting on her own. This advertisement also misrepresents the majority of men by arguing that the ‘model’ male is a Caucasian heterosexual, who dresses in a suit and bowties. He is also perfectly groomed, and his suit appears to be wrinkle free, which we can assume is from the female’s efforts. The underlying message that this conveys is that men are superior to women, and biologically dominant to the female body. As he is reading the paper, participating in outside work and connecting to the world, the female is expected focus completely on satisfying the male and staying inside the sphere of her home. While ironing his clothes, she is staring intently at the man, although she is receiving no attention back from him. This sends the message that she is completely reliant on him and his approval.

The image of the naked female holds a lot of underlying patriarchal messages. The use of the old-fashioned iron that appears to be from the forties encourages the cult of domesticity and retaining the image of the female in the household that was strongly held in that time period. Although she did not have time to put on clothes, she did have time to fix her hair, apply makeup, put on jewelry, and strap on high heels. This strengthens the cultural idea that females must always look presentable regardless of the time or circumstance. This idea of this woman’s physical perfection strengthens the social norms that promote feminine perfection, and discourage anything that falls short.

Without specific assumed social norms, this advertisement would fall apart and would not succeed in grabbing the attention of the majority of the American public. By displaying the man as an educated, work-driven individual, it reinforces the idea that men are ‘too good’ for housework, and that the woman’s position is in the house. In addition, the female is seen as having housework as her number two duty, right behind her number one duty of pleasing her man. It is also presumed in this advertisement that white, upper class, and ‘beautiful’ individuals dominate the professional sphere. Sexually, the advertisement appeals to the cis-gender, heterosexual audience. The advertisement promotes the idea that having the ‘ideal’ body type will in turn, attract the ‘ideal’ man. This also promotes the idea that cis-gender individuals, specifically cis-gender men, dominate the professional field.

This piece should appeal to the white male in the work force, and encourage him to purchase Tom Ford eyewear. It also promotes the idea that successful individuals, and white-collar workers will own their own pair of Tom Ford glasses. If one wants to obtain the ‘luxurious’ lifestyle, one would assume from this advertisement that they needed to purchase Tom Ford eyewear.

This advertisement would be highly effective for the working, upper class, male spectrum. However, as females have begun participating in the feminist movement, many have started realizing issues with promoting the patriarchy. By creating Tom Ford advertisements like this, women are completely objectified and devalued as human beings. Instead of being appreciated as humans in society, they are viewed as personal servants for the working male that supports them. In response to the backlash received from publishing of this ad, Elle magazine pulled it from publication, and “banned its printing due to inappropriate images that may be seen as degrading to women” (www.elle.com).

Tom Ford capitalizes on societies way of thinking to create an ad that appeals to the majority of Americans by focusing on expected gender, racial, and sexual norms. However, the complete objectification of these roles has lead to major pushback from feminists, resulting in the discontinuance of this specific advertisement from being printed. Although it was created to appeal to the general audience, it has instead raised awareness of the problems of objectifying women, and assuming these broad social norms.

 

Works Cited

“Cara Delevingne’s Tom Ford Ad Gets Banned.” ELLE. Elle Magazine, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.