This clip was shown as a commercial on MTV advertising highlights of the VMA’s to viewers. It briefly shows the now infamous and controversial twerking move performed by Miley Cyrus – when she bended over and danced on Robin Thicke. In the context of this class, I thought about how her behavior might me perceived to a huge audience of girls/women. Although Miley technically should have the freedom to behave as she pleases, I do believe she has a responsibility to the millions of fans that allowed her to become famous; that allowed her to become what she is. Is it possible that her extremely sexual dancing might project to women that this is how all women should act? It appears that although Miley may not have been performing solely for a heterosexual male audience, that audience was watching as well and analyzing her behavior. Perhaps women might think that in order to gain attention from men, they need to pattern their behavior after their role model, Miley – further polarizing gender binaries and defining what it means to act like a woman/act like a man. Even worse, it might be extremely influential on a huge population of young girls. In this unit we explored gender as a social construct through authors like Judith Butler and Judith Lorber. Lorber especially emphasizes that gender is constantly being done through our day to day interactions. With this in mind, Robin Thick and Miley Cyrus are indicative of cultural norms; or with this performance, they are establishing a new cultural norm that men and women will strive to imitate. I think that women who have platforms like Miley Cyrus have the capacity to further perpetuate societal definitions of what it means to be feminine, and in this case, the definition isn’t exactly a good one.
Lorber, Judith, and Susan A. Farrell. The Social Construction of Gender. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991. 113-18. Print.
While it is certainly a combination of biological and social factors that have contributed over the centuries to our western concept of what femininity and masculinity look like, the denigration of characteristics associated with what is female and the assignment of negative attributes to the female identity has been a purely social construction. For example, traits that are assigned to femininity often include sensitivity or emotionality, and while awareness of other peoples’ feelings and an ability to express emotion are not innately negative, western conventionality teaches us that these traits go along with weakness, they become insults. While the origins of the association of, for example, emotional intelligence and women is debatable, the devaluing of this intelligence is a result of oppression and the writing of our cultural history by the oppressors.
In Barbra Ehrenreich’s The Sexual Politics of Sickness, the association between women and frailty is explored through a historical lens. An epidemic of chronic illness among upper class women in the late 19th century appeared to provide proof for the idea of female weakness, when in fact it was symptomatic of wide spread depression and a desire for some autonomy among women who were allowed no power and intellectual stimulation. This is indicative of a greater historical pattern: the oppressors create the conditions under which women are treated as if they are feeble minded and then exclaim that women are innately feeble minded because, hey look at them, wandering around the house all day feeling faint and not being involved in the outside world. The narrative designed by the privileged sex becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they hold the power to write our cultural and social guidelines.
Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deirdre English. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Expert’s Advice to Women. New York: Anchor Books, 2005, second edition.
Only one in seven engineers is female. (Huhman) GoldieBlox, a toy company that seeks to alleviate this gender imbalance, recently debuted a commercial for engineering toys targeted towards girls. In the advertisement, three girls are bored watching pink princesses on TV, a traditionally feminine image. They grab tool kits, hard hats, and goggles, building a complex machine that eventually turns off the television. In the background, a different version of the song “Girls” by The Beastie Boys plays. “Girls, that’s all we really need is girls/To bring us up to speed it’s girls/Our opportunity is girls/Don’t underestimate girls.” While encouraging girls to take part in traditionally masculine activities, the advertisement also avoids demonizing femininity. Some of the machine and toys advertised are bright colored and pink, but still seen as fun.
Part of the reason there is a large gender gap in “masculine” fields is because girls are not encouraged to pursue them. “[Parents’] treatment of girls and boys is often different and produces gender differences.” (Martin 475) Since “it is widely accepted… that parents, schools, and the media shape gendered behavior to some degree,” (Martin 467) advertisements like this are important in encouraging women to enter technical fields, rather than discouraging them from a field they may love.
Huhman, Heather R. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 June 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Martin, Karin A. “William Wants A Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender & Society 19.4 (2005): 456-79. Print.
The above video shows a mildly clothed thin woman on the beach eating a large sandwich. This video is from a Hardees television commercial that depicts Nina Agdalin in provocative poses in comparison to the sandwich. When I first viewed the commercial I noticed the way she devoured the food in a sexual manner. After viewing a second time I noticed how this commercial has the potential to promote disorderly eating. As Biber mentions “The media bombards us with images of every imaginable food…at the same time women are subjected to an onslaught of sources devoted to dieting and maintenance of a sleek and supple figures” (67). Physical perfection is displayed in advertisements of thin women eating immense portions of food. Physical perfection is often associated with thinness but yet foods that are harmful to the heath and have the possibility to make people fat are promoted along side skinny women. The representation of a skinny woman eating unhealthy food is damaging to a society that polices body conformity. Many people try to control their body weight by not eating fast food in order to obtain a similar body to ones viewed in commercials such as Hardees. These kinds of advertisements promote disorderly eating in an environment that juxtaposes unhealthy eating habits with unattainable figures.
Source: The Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Nagy Hesse- Biber
An article titled “The Real Boy Crisis: 5 ways America tells boys not be girly” on Salon.com lists five behaviors that are unacceptable for boys because it diverts from masculine gender norms. The article reveals the notion of men and gender representation. Gender norms and its association with masculine and feminine traits create gender oppression. Gender oppression often focuses on the oppression of women in a patriarchal society because women are constantly encouraged to assert feminine characteristics. Women are seen as the oppressed gender and men are seen as the suppressors. However, gender oppression also has an affect on men’s behavior as they are constantly bombarded with images that tell them how to assert masculinity. Masculinity limits men’s ability to express their feelings. The idea of masculinity needs to be proven by asserting strength in the forms of aggression and independence. Being a man implies that a person is able to handle situations on their own without expressing any emotional empathy or vulnerability. These characteristics aim to devalue feminine traits men may obtain that are associated with being unmanly. Feminine traits are described as showing emotions such as compassion, love and sensitivity. Boys are told not to act like girls because it is shameful to their masculinity. These limitations allow men to be criticized when acting in a feminine manner. Men are encouraged to conform to these gendered stereotypes, which lead to an oppression of true thoughts and actions. Performing masculinity prevents men from being themselves. These ideas shape the way men and women treat one another because men are devalued for expressing the same traits women are expected to perform.
The DiGiorno commercial ties very well with the main ideas discussed in Beauvior’s text titled The Second Sex: Introduction and Lorber’s text titled The Social Construction of Gender. In this commercial both genders are stereotyped into traditional gender roles as the men are seen relaxing outside while viewing sports and the woman is seen heading into her home with two large grocery bags. The men decide to order a pizza – but the main male character decides to call his spouse instead to demand her to make him a pizza the way he likes it. She replies, “you know I hate when you do this” as if this is an everyday occurrence between the two of them. He then demands her to make the pizza quickly. This commercial resembles how Beauvior discusses gender: “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” (Beauvior 33). Her existence is dependent on serving men instead of being independent to do the task she enjoys. Lober’s belief that gender “creates the social difference that define woman and man” because people “learn what is expected…thus simultaneously construct and maintain the gender order” (Lorber 115). This construction is seen as the woman is expected to make the pizza for the men as she always does. After making the pizza the woman retaliates by turning the sprinkler on the three men. The men have no reaction and continue to watch sports, as if they are oblivious to her existence. Their actions demonstrate that men are seen as the supreme and the woman is only significant in service to men. Therefore, the woman is only defined according to the men’s terms.
Judith Lorber, “The Social Construction of Gender”, 1990.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex: Introduction.”, 2003.
This commercial provides an example of the social reinforcement of the institution of femininity. The narrator, a well-coiffed, feminine young woman in a 1940s-inspired party dress, promotes a product that conceals, as she describes it, “the subtle scent of a 300-cow dairy farm,” a clearly non-feminine phenomenon. She spends much of the commercial graphically and enthusiastically describing her own bowel movements–again, seemingly subverting a feminine gender norm. But while acknowledging, with great gusto, that girls do poop, the narrator repeatedly reminds us that they should pretend that they don’t: “how do you make the world believe … that you never poop at all?” By saying this, she suggests that women must adhere to feminine gender norms, despite how clearly those expectations are socially constructed.
Lorber, Judith. “The Social Construction of Gender.”