Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sex Sells, But What is it Selling?

This collage focuses on the concept of masculinity and how its representations thereof are used to market products to men. Sex is used to sell to both genders by both genders; although, a more overt depiction of sex selling is the beautiful woman who becomes attracted to the masculine man for using a certain product being advertised. However, as in advertisements for make-up or certain deodorants (such as Old Spice), a beautiful woman sells to the common woman and a “rugged” man sells a product to the common man. Therefore, sex does sell, but it sells the ideal that in order to appeal to the opposite sex the consumer needs to use a certain product to be seen as masculine (or feminine) in the eyes of the other gender.

Here I have depicted ways that would be used by companies or organizations to sell the concept of masculinity to men. For example, the Navy’s slogan of “when the entire world is counting on you, it’s best to come prepared” is showcased by a fleet of battleships sailing toward a destination, ideas like this were influenced during the 1920s when the advertising industry generated “a body of theory and research on marketing,” (Breazeale, 231). In many of these cases, the advertisements are catering to the typical “man’s man”. And as society accepts, or rather expects, these men are after one thing--sex. By catering to this stereotype, they also market to a particular type of woman; the attractive, tall, slender, woman with “perfect” features. By using these products, men expect to be able to obtain these women for their own gratification; however, these women also exemplify the fact that only women with such looks are capable of gaining the approval of the aforementioned men.

Because this is a portrait of the way that a company would advertise to a certain demographic, it does not show the way that this collage also points out what is expected of the “desired” woman by society. The women are being told that if they want to be happy and get a man who is this archetype, they should not take on any of the characteristics associated with the socially dominant and masculine nature of men. It is in this dichotomy that the hegemonic processes of male superiority are being infused into American culture. If any similarities exist between the sexes it throws off the otherwise dominant power that is being perpetuated; it is this dichotomy that must be strictly adhered to if the advertisements are to be successful. This is shown when otherwise “feminine” are trying to be sold to men. Advertisers will therefore use more masculine language and give more information to uphold the “over-determined masculinity evoked by the rest of the advertisement,” (Kirkham and Weller, 270). Therefore, in the ads I have used to shape my collage, I showcased the masculine views of society involved with movies (i.e. James Belushi as Bluto in the comedy Animal House), video games, sports, war, and food and drink. However, by showcasing what society considers masculine, what is considered feminine is also highlighted because the views of each should be in direct opposition to one another.

Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 230-243.

Kirkham, Pat and Alex Weller. "Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 268-273.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Toy Shopping: Gendered Consumers/Engendering Consumerism

As soon as a child leaves its mother's womb, it is born into a world that believes he/she should fit into one of two gender based stereotypes, male or female. If the child is not "instructed" into which gender role he or she should fill, the result is often ostracism from everyday occurrences such as playing with school mates and other social norms. The stereotyping of everyday life is compounded by everything, either subtly or blatantly; for example, having both boys and girls sports teams, and the more subtle aspects of life, such as toy shopping.

As children grow and begin to find, or rather identify, themselves based on these cultural stereotypes (which suggests “that the way the sexes are shown in is the usual and appropriate arrangement,” [Henley and Freeman, 84]), it becomes increasingly simple to determine that such subtle acts have a significant impact on the child's life. And when children are young, toys are one of the main agents of socialization; therefore, they have quite a significant impact on the way children see the world. Toys directly influence gender socialization, and to depict its severity the author, (I) went shopping for a theoretical nine year old girl named Steph. Steph has an array of toys she would like, ranging from typical “girls” toys, such as dolls, to more “unisex” toys, such as, board games.

Upon working my way through the various channels of the aisles of the toy store Toys R Us, I found myself looking at how different items were being advertised. Those being advertised to girls (my depiction of what was “feminine”) were typically brightly colored, soft, or domesticating and “instill in legions of little girls a preference for,” (Gilman, 73) these roles. To further delve deeper into the inner workings of one of the most popular outlets for toy purchases I asked an employee what a “typical” nine year old girl would be interested in. Without fail she directed me to the area where my previous conceptions were now confirmed. When I asked why she did not direct me to a different area of the store she said “this is where the girls’ toys are,” I thanked her, and went about finding toys for Steph.

Steph, for the most part, fits the “typical” nine year old girl. She enjoys playing with dolls, kitchen sets, tea sets, and board games. The only thing about her that would be “atypical” by a patriarchal viewpoint was that the board game she was most interested in is Monopoly. Buying and selling property is normatively viewed as a shrewd market, one not settled into by women; however, to make this game more appealing to females there are countless different varieties of the game, and as I asked another worker she pointed out a Disney Princess version of the game. By seeing that girls’ toys are generally geared towards domesticating women at a young age, and unisex toys have different versions depending on whether the buyer is male or female, it can be seen that today’s society is still patriarchal.

Toys allow people to see what is expected of them in society, and therefore what society sees as valuable assets. For girls society sees them as kind and nurturing, motherly stay at home types, which accounts for the high probability of finding a tea set or a doll in almost every girl’s room you enter. On the other hand, our society does not dictate that they be strong or competitive, in other words, they teach young people what society wants them to be, not what they want themselves to be. Girls are taught from a young age via the media and other agents of socialization; they have a place in the world, but that place is the home, which could lead to dissatisfaction, if they do not enjoy what society dictates for them. This brings up a very crucial point, if children do not adhere to society’s demands they are overlooked and outcast.

Finally I set out to find a gender neutral toy; one that I believed could in no way be biased towards one gender or another, sadly I found very few. The toys that were to be initially considered were the board games, but looking at the depictions of men and women in the classic game of Clue, led to its “toss out”, similar conclusions were reached about other board games as well, and then I thought about playing cards, but they too signified gender superiority. I found the card game Uno to be a neutral game only because there is no gender basis for the value of each card, only numerical.

To conclude, the demand of society for women to be submissive is apparent in all aspects of the world, including toys. Direct examples of which include domesticating play sets and baby dolls, whereas indirect examples include the “feminine” versions of the popular game Monopoly. The former toys are important to advertise to girls because society sees these qualities as valuable in girls. The advertisements help to “spread the word” so to speak about how women should act, and to get young girls to believe this as early as possible. As the children get older, the stronger the dichotomy between the sexes becomes. And, if the children do not display the stereotyped interests, they are seen as awkward and as a misfit, but thinking for oneself should hardly be considered awkward.

Works Cited
Gilman, Susan J. "Klaus Barbie and Other Dolls I'd Like to See." 72-75.
Kellner, Douglas. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publicaions, 2003. 9-20.