Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Real Girls Next Door

The number of reality television shows in the United States has skyrocketed in the past few years and is now becoming as, if not more, popular than traditional programs. These shows both subtly and inconspicuously demonstrate the norms of American society, thus convincing the viewer that what they are seeing is how the world is “supposed to be”. Issues such as gender, race, class, age, and ethnicity are frequent topics in reality television because the characters supposedly have no scripts and are voicing their own true feelings and thoughts, which can also be a recipe for disaster. As Pozner states in “The Unreal World”, “Viewers may be drawn to reality TV…because these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men, love, beauty, class and race” (Pozner 97). The Girls Next Door, featuring Hugh Hefner and his three playboy girlfriends, is a perfect example of how gender norms are played out in TV. The character that I decided to take a closer look at was Kendra, the sportiest of the girls. Kendra reinforces, yet at the same time defies hegemonic norms of what it means to be a woman in this society.

In one episode called “Dangerous Curves” from season three, Kendra was asked to race in a celebrity car race to raise money for charity. She was ecstatic to hear the news and quickly agreed. Because Kendra enjoys activities commonly seen as “manly” she is deemed a tomboy by society. As Newman puts it, “We have a tendency to identify people in ‘either/or’ terms-as white or black, rich or poor, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual” (Newman 37). This is why Kendra might bring some viewers a bit of uneasiness because they cannot easily categorize her as either man or woman since she is somewhat androgynous. She also disrupts the norm that girls are quiet, polite, caretakers; by the way she speaks alone. In this episode Kendra curses over and over, mainly during the scene where she is talking about wanting to win the race. It almost seems as though the person videoing draws extra attention to this behavior since it is “unladylike”. However, her character is multidimensional and it would be unjust to only look at this side of her.

Kendra on the other hand, also serves to represent the slutty type of girl who is not ashamed to show off her body to anyone. She is the typical white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, thin girl that is the most common ideal of beauty seen in American society. While Kendra was waving the flags at the racetrack she decided that she would get the drivers’ attention her own way by pulling up her shirt and exposing her breasts to all who drove by. This severely contrasts her role as a tomboy because she is using her female assets to gain attention from the opposite sex. Kendra reflects her femininity through the skin-tight, low-cut tank tops she appears in from time to time, as well as her barely-there skirts. Although Kendra is a female who engages in “masculine” activities, she is still seen primarily as a female sexual being and her womanhood is hardly questioned, possibly because her body still reflects the typical sexy girl on the outside.

Although most people might take The Girls Next Door as a light-hearted type of show, this is not to say that there is nothing notable to be taken away from it. One with little knowledge of American culture would pick up on the fact that beauty is important, and that the definition of beauty is to be blonde, skinny, and white. They would also get the impression that men dominate women in everyday life. According to Newman, “The status of one group is always defined in terms of its relations to other groups: There can be no controlling males without women whose options are restricted” (Newman 37). Hugh Hefner has the ability to date and have sex with any woman he wants, yet his girlfriends are forbidden from engaging in sexual activity with anyone else but him, in return for living at his mansion and being provided with luxuries. This accentuates the idea that America is a patriarchal society where men are the dictating sex. Reality television shows do a great job of perpetuating stereotypes according to gender, race, class, and any other categories that are used to group people and these are very obvious when they are watched through a telescope.

Not only does The Girls Next Door reflect women poorly, but it also says something about men through the behavior of Hugh Hefner. He stands for ideals of heteronormativity and patriarchy, which is seen by the way he always has at least one sexy woman on his arm at all times and is rarely even in the company of another man other than one of his staff. Although he has control over his various girlfriends, he is perpetuating negative stereotypes rather than just highlighting his dominance. Through the girls Hugh Hefner chooses to date, it is obvious that his ideal of beauty is blonde, skinny, white girls and all three of his girlfriends fit this description. He is a millionaire, yet he is attracted to seemingly unintelligent women who really don’t have careers aside from modeling in his magazines occasionally. If a man is successful one would think he would strive for a woman of equal status and success, but this is not the case. One can also assume that these twenty-something women would not typically be attracted to an 81-year-old man if he did not happen to be extremely wealthy, which makes one think that all men need is money to win women. As Pozner says in relation to this issue, “This standard not only demeans women, but thoroughly underestimates men’s inherent worth as people” (Pozner, 99). Even though The Girls Next Door’s primary focus is on the girls, Hugh Hefner’s behavior, when examined, reveals a lot about the stereotypes and norms associated with men in American culture.

Reality television, whether it is truly “real” or not, has a way of dispensing cultural norms and stereotypes to its viewers by convincing them that what they are seeing is how people just like themselves do or should behave. This in turn makes the audience compare themselves to the characters they see in order to justify their own actions, looks, and personality traits. According to Ouellette and Hay, “…reality TV circulates informal ‘guidelines for living’ that we are all (at times) called upon to learn from and follow” (Ouellette and Hay 2). Characters like Kendra therefore act as models of gender norms for the rest of society to look after. However, Kendra is unlike many women typically seen on reality television since she is heterosexual, yet she encompasses characteristics that both reinforce and defy the unwritten codes of how women should act.


Dodgers. [Online image] Available, May 28, 2008

Hay, James & Ouellette, Laurie. Better Living Through Reality TV. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

Hugh and his girlfriends. [Online image] Available, May 28, 2008

Kendra sexy. [Online image] Available, May 28, 2008

Newman, Chapter 2, p. 37

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World" p. 97, 99

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Advertisements- What are they really selling us?

These pictures may strike some as inappropriate and down right disturbing, but the truth is that these types of advertisements surround us on a daily basis. However, their prevalence has made American society accept that this is "just the way it is". The messages being sent about women in particular are both insidious and degrading and perhaps taken much more lightly than they should be. “Sex sells” seems to be the motto for all advertisement from perfume to post-its. Most marketing agencies have adopted this route for it has proven to be an effective strategy in selling any product. A deeper look into any sexualized advertisement of a woman will unravel the idea that “the perfect woman” is something both men and women strive for, whether it is to conquer her sexually or become her.

Naomi Wolf’s article, “The Beauty Myth”, discusses what beauty means to a woman and why it is important to males and females. She analyzes the “beauty myth” and comes to the conclusion that its entire existence is really about men and the standards they set for women, which results from living in a patriarchal society. As Wolf describes beauty, “Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it” (Wolf, 121). Sexualized women in the media do not merit upheaval because women use these images to police themselves and make sure they are on their way to attaining the “ideal” body and look society has convinced them to obsess over. The picture above of the woman in the shower with the words “wash me” on her stomach is an example of an advertisement that men respond to because a sexy woman is involved. The message behind the product tells the consumer that by using this shower gel they will either have the confidence or the power to get a naked woman in the shower with them, which may be reason enough for a man to buy the product. The woman in this advertisement has not even been given a head or face, as if those are the least important parts of the body. This encourages male viewers to think of women as objects of sex rather than human beings. The disembodied woman in the purse advertisement above goes so far as exclude all other body parts but the legs, which of course are long, lean, and are complimented with four-inch high heels. The only purpose of these legs is to provide support for the table and the purse which sits on top of it. It is interesting to notice that this ad is directed at women and female objectification is still the tactic of choice.

Women amount their own self-worth to the reactions they receive from men. If a woman is frequently told she is pretty or sexy than she has earned a higher status for herself because she has been approved by a man. Hesse-Biber quoted Delia, a college senior, describing how she determined her self worth saying, "My final affirmation of myself is how many guys look at me when I go into a bar". (Hesse-Biber, 11). This seems to be quite an arbitrary way to assess one's value, but so many women truly do this. If a woman is a bit overweight and spends less time on her appearance then she will not get much attention because she has obviously not worked hard enough to reach the "ideal" beauty in our society. She might even be ostracized for not caring enough or just being lazy because our society actually believes that these ridiculous stnadards of beauty are attainable. One advertisement particularly shocking is for DeBeer’s, a large diamond and jewelry company. In this picture the viewer should assume that the man gave a woman a diamond ring and now she “pretty much has to” give him oral sex. This is a perfect example of how women aren’t valued the slightest bit and their only purpose of existence is to serve their dominators- men. It insinuates that women will also do anything for material objects, a common "gold digger" stereotype. This woman as well as the woman in the BMW ad are simply sex objects for men. The BMW advertisement says "the ultimate attraction" as the man has covered the woman's face whom he is having sex with a magazine flipped open to a picture of the new BMW. This shows how the man has conquered this beautiful and seemingly perfect woman, yet she is still not good enough and finds more beauty in an inanimate object. Sexualized advertisements reinforce women what they should be working to look like and tell men that women's only value is for sexual purposes, so they should strive to have sex with only those who are ideally beautiful.


Deckadance [Online image] Available (dj mixing application), May 22, 2008.

Dolce and Gabbana [Online image] Available, May 22, 2008.
Handbag [Online image] Available, May 22, 2008.Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N. The Cult of Thinness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2007.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N. The Cult of Thinness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Post-it [Online image] Available, May 22, 2008.

Wolf, Naomi. "The Beauty Myth" Chapter III: Gender and Women's Bodies, p. 120-125, 1991.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bratz Dolls- The Future of Our Children?

In an ever-growing media-based society, it is easy to see how gender roles are being assigned to children before they can even speak. In America, television has become one of the easiest methods of communication, and the marketing world has begun to take advantage of this. However, television isn’t just a source of entertainment anymore; it is a way for the media to drill messages into its viewers in an inconspicuous way. Commercials are designed to sell products, many of which are directed to the youth of our nation, as they are seen as easy targets. There are many large product lines such as Barbie, Bratz Dolls, and Legos, which say a lot about the way gender is viewed in our society. These values are instilled in these children from such an early age that it may almost seem like these separate values for boys and girls are inherent, however there is much more to it. The Bratz Dolls collection and many other childrens’ toys are marketed to perpetuate specific gender roles in America.

In the second chapter of Newman’s book, he discusses the theories of essentialism and constructionism. If you look at gender from a constructionist’s point of view, then gender is seen as a product of culture and the way we act is not dependent on nature or biology (Newman, 36). Therefore, society determines how males and females should act according to the roles and criteria we have assigned. The way we have constructed gender is clearly separated into a dichotomy where males and females are seen as opposite sexes. Newman also expands on this idea by saying, “Thinking in terms of ‘either/or’ dichotomies also reinforces the view that these identifiers are permanent fixtures in all human societies, a biological imperative (Newman, 37). This teaches the young that there are a certain set of behaviors to follow according to the sex, and therefore gender, given at birth. These gender ideals are embedded into the minds of the young and old via the media, especially television. Commercials subtly tell little girls that they should stay indoors and learn how to make themselves beautiful by dressing dolls in skimpy outfits and makeup, while boys build their masculinity playing with trucks outdoors. If these messages of how girls and boys should act continue to exist, they will continue to perpetuate the norms we have established in our society.

The Bratz Dolls product line is one of the top-selling lines and although it is a relatively new brand, its popularity with young girls can be compared to that of Mattel’s Barbie Dolls. While searching the internet and toy stores for Bratz Dolls, I found it hard to find any dolls that symbolized intelligence. The heavily made-up, short skirt-wearing, pole-thin girls insinuate that females should shoot for beauty over brains. This is also a main theme of reality television and can be seen in shows such as The Bachelor, The Swan, and America’s Next Top Model. The
creators of these shows condone stupidity in women and even go as far as to deter those who show their intelligence. Tyra Banks, the host of America’s Next Top Model gave advice to one of the show’s contestants in saying, “One thing with [your] intelligence is that it can intimidate people” (Pozner, 97). Hearing this, it is not surprising to see the accessories associated with girl’s dolls. Not only do the accessories that come with Bratz Dolls work on the dolls themselves, but they can be used to beautify the girl playing with them in order to encourage wearing bright blue eye shadow and dying their hair. And keep in mind, the suggested age for these products is six and up. One must figure, if girls cannot be smart, they might as well be pretty.

Even though women are much more frequent in the workplace today, messages are still being sent to girls that they should expect to be housewives. For example, products such as the Bratz sewing machine are a great way for female consumers to get acquainted with the products they will use most in their futures. Kitchen and home accessories are also included in this product line, and of course always come in the color pink. Another set that you can purchase for your Bratz Dolls is one directed toward mothers, also known as “the caregivers”. This set comes with a stroller, baby pen, baby swing, and other pink accessories the mother Bratz Doll would need. Girls are being taught first of all, that it is only normal for a grown woman to have babies, and secondly that they will be the primary caregiver once the child is born. On the other hand, none of the toys in this collection are considered suitable for boys. If you were to do a search on any toy website to find toys for boys, Bratz Dolls would never appear as a suggestion. Neither girls nor boys are oblivious to this fact and know exactly for whom these toys are appropriate.

The products sold in the Bratz Dolls line stress female sexuality most of all. Just about every doll is provacatively-clad in a mini-skirt, skin tight jeans, or a plunging top, which can be seen in the pictures below. It is interesting to note that the images these dolls portray are completely unrealistic and unattainable by the majority of society. Even some of the clothing that comes with the dolls goes so far as to include a black tank top with rhinestones that spell out “BABE” across the chest. This may strike the average consumer as startling since the suggested age-range of these dolls begins at only six. The mass media sees society as targets for the products they sell. “Television commercials, for example, encourage audiences to think of themselves as ‘markets rather than as a public, as consumers rather citizens’” (Gitlin, 1979: 255-Lull 62). These product lines sell more than just toys, but rather norms for society to follow.

Toys such as Bratz Dolls say a lot about our society as a whole. If these are treated as artifacts in the future, one would believe our society was driven by beauty, sexualization of women, and might also associate girls with anything the color pink. There are also few if any boy dolls that can be bought from the Bratz collection, so one might think these dolls are perpetually single or perhaps not heterosexual. By looking at these dolls it seems like they are meant to be homemakers whose sole jobs are to take care of the children as well as cook and clean. These products are not at all discrete about the messages they are sending children about gender identity.

Children are extremely influenced by the media and have such easy access to advertisements that are directly targeted towards them. Marketing companies take advantage of this and continue to perpetuate gender ideals, especially to young girls. Television is a simple way for society to perpetuate its codes for gender and helps shape children into conformists. These messages tell girls that they should only wear and play with things that are pink, and should stay indoors practicing becoming beautiful girls with no intellectual stimulation. Adults are the ones sending these images to young boys and girls and simply view children as objects of manipulation. Toys, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are marketed for a specific gender and influence the way children construct their own gender identities.


“BABE” Bratz Doll. [Online image] Available, May 18, 2008.

Bratz Baby Carriage. [Online image]. Available, May 19, 2008.

Bratz Doll with silver dress. [Online image]. Available, May 20, 2008.

Bratz Fashion Designer Mini Sewing Machine. [Online image] Available, May 18, 2008.

Bratz Hairplay Accessory Pack Blonde Hair. [Online image] Available, May 19, 2008.

Bratz Magic Fashion Nails Chloe. [Online image] Available, May 18, 2008.

Bratz Movie Starz- Yasmin Styling Body. [Online image] Available, May 18, 2008.

Dines, Gail, Humez Jean M, eds. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.

Gitlin, T. (1979). Prime-time ideology: the hegemonic process in television entertainment. Social Problems, 26, 251-66.

Lull, James, "Hegemony," in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader , eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 62.

Newman, Chapter 2, p. 36, 37

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World" p. 97