Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sexualized Masculinity & Sexualized Femininity

Jaime Paetz
Maxim's Hometown Hotties

Audrina Patridge
Maxim's Hometown Hotties

Pierce Brosnan
James Bond

Nintendo DS
Good Girl/Bad Girl Ad

Nike Advertisement

Mark Wahlberg
Calvin Klein Ad

It isn’t difficult to find examples of sexualized masculinity and sexualized femininity in the media and these six images are prime examples of this. Maxim magazine is chalk full of images of nearly nude women so that magazine would be an obvious place to look when looking for any type of sexualized image but the two I chose were particularly pointing out Maxim’s idea of what femininity is or at least what it should be. Both artifacts #1 and #2 come from the online form of Maxim in the section titled “Hometown Hotties” where they feature everyday women (non-celebrities).

Artifact #1 is an image of a woman named Jaime Paetz who is posed nearly nude with only a large leaf to use as cover. She is looking away from the camera and seems withdrawn from the situation in what Nicole Krassas calls “licensed withdrawal” in her article titled Master Your Johnson: Sexual Rhetoric in Maxim and Stuff Magazines. Licensed withdrawal makes the model seem disoriented in the situation and dependent on the protectiveness of others. This photo shows Paetz as the Eve character of Adam and Eve and she is pure, innocent, and vulnerable to the wicked ways of the world and therefore needs protection from Adam. Maxim shows this to be the perfect image of woman because not only is the woman, Eve, beautiful and innocent, but she is also vulnerable and disoriented and needs help and guidance from the man, Adam.

Artifact #2 is an image of a woman named Audrina Patridge who is posed in a playful yet cliché setting of everything girly. She is wearing ruffled pink lingerie and surrounded by pink shoes which according to Maxim is what defines femininity. Feona Attwood’s article Fashion and Passion: Marketing Sex to Women talked about how women are shown to be and need pretty packaging and accessories. Women are not shown or told that they can want sex or that they can be seen doing instead of being and the self fashioning shown in this photo is a way in which a woman can “better” herself physically. The model is making eye contact with the camera but is also displaying what Krassas calls the “feminine touch” where she is holding or touching an object but not putting it to use as she is kneeling on a bed with a stiletto in her hand. This photo says that Maxim portrays femininity as being pretty pink accessories and fashion and that women are and should be “being” and not “doing”.

Artifact #3 is an image of Pierce Brosnan as the character James Bond. Often media portrays masculinity as being tough, handsome, and heroic. According to this idea, what could be more masculine than a sexy man holding a gun, fighting bad guys, all the while surrounded by beautiful, helpless women? Gary Brooks article The Centerfold Syndrome gives a theory as to why men have to act in prescribed ways when it comes to the subjects of sex, love, and intimacy. When boys are young they are yearning for the affection and intimacy of their mothers yet they are pressured to distance themselves from the female body and to take their social place next to other males. This affects the boys from growing into men who are comfortable with intimacy and sensuality in connection to a woman’s body. I think the Centerfold Syndrome also feeds into the need for men to be tough and heroic and have beautiful women but only as trophies at their side and of course as James Bond does, never sticks around one woman long enough to form intimacy outside of sex.

Artifact #4 is an advertisement for Nintendo DS and it is the image of the good girl/ bad girl that men are taught is what they need in a woman (or in this case a video game). Often the type of femininity that men are programmed to look for is the good girl/bad girl. A socially constructed trait of masculinity is the thought that men should be having lots of sex with many partners and very often and this is where they need the bad girl that “likes to play around” as this advertisement says. When men are done playing with the good girl then of course she is seen as used goods and they can’t settle down with her so they then need to find the good girl who “likes to play nice” as this advertisement says. The ideal version of femininity would be this good girl/bad girl in which the woman can both be sexy but can also be brought home to meet the parents. Since it is impossible for a woman to be both a slut and a virgin then the idea of the perfect woman and what femininity should look like is often skewed.

Artifact #5 and #6 are both examples of what masculinity looks like in media where there is often a competition on who has the biggest balls, penis, muscles, and etcetera in order to prove who is the most “man”. Artifact #5 is a Nike advertisement where the winning athlete is shown naked with only a shoe held up by an erect penis. The athlete is the winner of the athletic event but he is also the winner of the competition for masculinity as he proves he has the biggest or most powerful penis and is therefore the most masculine. Artifact #6 is a Calvin Klein advertisement featuring singer/model/actor Mark Wahlberg where he isn’t only selling underwear but he is selling masculinity. From top to bottom the image is portraying the idea of masculinity from the models rebellious backwards baseball cap to his tough guy facial expression to his bare muscular chest to the way he grabs his crotch. All of this proves his part in the competition for masculinity and by having him grab his crotch proves to others that he is a “real man” and he has the parts to prove it.

All of these images are socially constructed ideas that the media uses to tell us what femininity and masculinity is. Since these ideas and messages are socially constructed then as Brooks said, “like all socially constructed realities, it can be deconstructed.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Class is Presented in Sexualized Media

Anna Nicole Smith on the cover
of New York Magazine

Kevin Federline Portraying
the Working Class

Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie
Experiencing the Working Class
in "The Simple Life"

Jerry Springer & his
Tabloid Talk Show

Geneva & Kyle from the
Country Music Television show
"My Big Redneck Wedding"

Class is presented in sexualized media and many times it is the lower class that is exposed and in many cases purposely constructed for sell ability. Media artifact #1 is the cover of a past issue of New York magazine which headline says “White Trash Nation” and features model and Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith. The article was obviously about “white trash” celebrities and celebrity stories as it advertised to feature “Tonya. Lisa Marie. John & Lorena. Roseanne & Tom. Paula & Gennifer & Bill. They’re everywhere. Lock up your Twinkies.” but Anna Nicole claimed that the magazine told her the photo shoot was for the ‘All-American-woman look’. The model was upset when she later saw that they had featured this photo that was apparently taken as a “just-for-fun outtake” and it portrayed her as white trash. Magazine stories such as these lend support to Constance Penley’s point in her article Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn. Penley states that “white trash” is more than a low economic status but that it is a “never-ending labor of distinguishing yourself, of decoding your behavior”. She also makes the point that white trash is sometimes purposely constructed in sexualized (and sometimes non-sexualized) media such as Howard Stern, Hustler magazine, porn, America’s Funniest Home Videos, WWF wrestling, and Mad Magazine. Penley says, “…you do not have to be white trash to use white trash sensibilities as a weapon of cultural war…,” so it makes sense to believe that “white trash” is constructed for media but in the case of New York magazine (and many other cases), real white trash is just as sellable.

Media artifact #2 is a picture of celebrity Kevin Federline acting as “man of the house” or more appropriately, doing household chores of the common class, not of the celebrity class. Minette Hillyer questions in her article Sex in the Suburban: Porn, Home Movies, and the Live Action Performance of Love in Pam and Tommy Lee: Hardcore and Uncensored if what is done in the private can be considered public and what is done in the public can be considered private. Although Hillyer’s article is based around porn versus home movies, I think the same question can be applied to this picture of Federline. Is it the fact that a man is posing as “man of the house” or is it the fact that it is a celebrity that is posing that is news worthy? By showing an average Joe posing as himself doing household chores wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as showing a rich celebrity posing as the working class.

Media artifact #3 is that of celebrities Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in their reality television show ‘The Simple Life’. This show takes these upper class socialites and places them in lower class situations where they have to work low-paying, manual labor jobs. This show is another example of Hillyer’s argument of the public and the private and class. If this show was about regular people (non-rich, non-celebrities) doing their everyday jobs and chores then there would be no appeal but because the show is about these two wealthy ladies who know nothing about the lower class and manual labor then the show is appealing. The show feels like getting a private snapshot into the lives of these upper class celebrities as they do the work that their lower class viewers have to do daily. Is the work or the working class private or public? When it is done by celebrities on camera then it becomes public and it becomes entertainment.

Media artifact #4 is that of Jerry Springer’s tabloid talk show ‘The Jerry Springer Show’. This show is a mess of white trash and often sexualized themes as it exploits the guests’ personal lives. Sex sells and as Penley’s article suggested, white trash sex sells even more. ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ seems like real life home grown white trash but a lot of work also goes into the creating and framing of the show to create that magical white trash feel that we all know and love from jerry Springer. As Penley suggested, could this be another way that white trash is used as a weapon of cultural war?

Media artifact #5 is a picture of the couple Geneva and Kyle from Country Music Television’s reality show ‘My Big Redneck Wedding’. This show finds “redneck” couples and follows them through their country styled weddings including all the must haves of camouflage, beer can canopies, mud wrestling, horses, ex-cons, shot guns, roasted squirrel, and baked beans. The shows host and narrator is the white trash icon Tom Arnold which only lends to the fact that this show may be titled “redneck” but it is all about white trash. To these couples they may be fulfilling their dream weddings but to the audiences watching they are giving us great white trash entertainment in the form of love and marriage. Viewers get a glimpse into the lower class lives of these couples or at least a glimpse of what Penley calls the labor intensive work of distinguishing themselves as white trash despite their economic class.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obscenity and Violence in Sexualized Media

Celebrity Paris Hilton
all tied up

Jimmy Choo
advertisement for shoes

Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana
advertisement for a purse

America's Next Top Model
Cycle 8

When looking for examples of obscenity and violence in the media I was overwhelmed with examples, most of which were in the form of advertisements for designer fashions. Several of the examples I chose to use are from designer Dolce & Gabbana who thrives on creating a look that is “all about sexiness, a glorious type of sluttishness,” (Mixing Business and Pleasure,,,1418613,00.html). Dolce & Gabbana’s image #3 is that of a man forcefully holding down a woman while three other men stand watch. This image can be said to be violent in that it shows a man using force against a woman as the other men stand by waiting to take their turn. According to Robert Jensen and Gail Dines in their article
Pornography in a Pornographic Culture: Eroticizing Domination and Subordination, this image shows violence against a women which in case causes the degradation of this women. They are of the belief that images such as these are glamorized (the high fashion industry in this case) and it causes more men to act sexually dominant and more women to be tolerant of this violence which increases the degradation of women in our society. On the other hand Nina Hartley (In the Flesh: A Porn Star’s Journey) and Veronica Monet (What is Feminist Porn?) believe that images like this can empower women to act out their fantasies or at least get a chance to see their fantasies acted out for them.

Dolce & Gabbana images #4 and #5 can also be said to glamorize violence for the sake of high fashion. Image #4 shows a man lying dead from the gun shots fired from the hero whom the beautiful naked female is sexually clinging to. This image reinforces the ideology that men are powerful and take action and women are sexy and stand by their sides. Image #5 shows two beautiful women, one ready to murder the other while the victim gracefully and gently holds the arm of her enemy. Although this image shows violence in the act of murder, it also says that women are not as violent and dominant as men are and that they love each other which is the tiresome fantasy of the girl on girl action.

Image #2 is an advertisement for Jimmy Choo shoes and it again glamorizes violence for the sake of selling fashion. The sexy women in the image lays slumped in the trunk of a car while a dominating male figure digs her grave in the middle of a remote desert. I personally can’t see how Hartley or Monet could defend that this is supporting women’s desires or fantasies of being murdered and I have to agree with Jensen and Dines on this one that the image depicts the power and dominance of the male over the female.

Image #1 is that of celebrity Paris Hilton. Not only is Hilton extremely wealthy but she is seen as extremely sexy too. These two things give her too much power for her male audience and she is shown here tied up and powerless which gives male viewers more power in their sexual fantasies about her. It is images like this that bring to question how much power does sex, fame, and fortune really give a person? Does the power a female holds have to be taken away from her (by tying her up, verbally or physically abusing her, etc.) in order to make her a seem even more desirable because she is now more vulnerable?

The fashion industry trains their participants to glamorize violence right from the beginning. Image #6 is that of a photo shoot from cycle 8 of the television show America’s Next Top Model. This photo shoot was trying to show beauty in the form of death and most of the images were taken to look like a violent death. Murder, drugs, suicide, they were all glamorized and sexualized and these aspiring models were trained to believe that these are important elements of the fashion industry.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Social Construction of Sexuality

Wikipedia's Portrayal of Popular Girls

Rey from The New York Times article "When Girls Will Be Boys"

Thomas the First Pregnant Man

"Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex" by Judith Levine

"Flirting 101" from Cosmo Girl!

I chose these five pictures as representations of how the social construction of sexuality is presented in the media. This week I chose all artifacts from online sources yet I am certain that there are many similar examples right in our faces everyday even when we aren’t in front of the computer.

The first and last artifacts (Wikipedia and Cosmo Girl!) grabbed my attention after reading “Mass Media Influences on Sexuality” by Jane D. Brown. The article touched on many important issues including how the mass media is a huge influence on today’s youth and could be used to teach valuable lessons or positive habits but in reality typically teaches risky behaviors and bad habits. Brown explains that the Cognitive Social Learning Theory predicts that people imitate the behaviors of others such as in the Wikipedia article about how to become a popular girl. Girls are exposed to these “How to” guides and this is the behavior that they begin to imitate in order to seem popular, normal, or whatever the goal and photo show. In the Cosmo Girl! flirting guide girls can imitate what they read is the normal procedure for girls their age. Articles such as this assume that all teens are heterosexual and do not give flirting tips for bisexual or homosexual teens or even raise the important issue that many teens are still unsure of their sexual orientation and that that is what is normal. The reader is forced to imitate the actions of all the “normal” heterosexual teens by following the flirting how to guide.

The fourth artifact is the cover to the book “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex” by Judith Levine. From what I could tell through my research this book speaks about what can happen to children that are shielded from sex and why they should be free to learn and express sex throughout their lives. The description of this book reminded me of the article “The Social Construction of Sexuality” by Ruth Hubbard. Hubbard explains how children should be encouraged to express themselves sexually by encouraging them to explore their own bodies and those bodies of their friends of both genders. She suggests that by doing so then these children will grow to have a better understanding of their own desires, the desires of others, and a better chance at having open communication about sex and contraception with their sexual partners which in turn will hopefully lead to safer sex. Hubbard explains that in the Unites States we typically try to shield our children from sex in hopes that they won’t have it without acknowledging that they are having sex at young ages and aren’t knowledgeable about consequences and/or sexual exploration and desires. Children in the Unites States are supposedly shielded from sex which in reality they are learning about sex through the media when they should be learning about sex from day one from a trusting person and the freedom to explore it on their own terms.

Media artifacts two and three (Rey and Thomas) are artifacts that I thought also related to the article “The Social Construction of Sexuality” by Ruth Hubbard and also the article “Prurient Interests: Sexuality, Ideology, and Popular Communication” by Jane Banks. Rey was the subject of The New York Times article “When Girls Will Be Boys” and Thomas was the subject of a recent Oprah interview. Both Rey and Thomas were born as females but lived their lives feeling like the opposite gender. It wasn’t until later in life that they both came to terms with their true self and realized that they were transgendered and began treatments to correct the issue. Rey’s story focused on the fact that he is attending an Ivy League all girls’ college and was admitted when he was still female and now has undergone hormone treatments to become male. Thomas’ story focused on the fact that he was once a female and has undergone a sex change all except for his female reproductive organs which is how he has become the first man to become pregnant and soon to give birth. The two examples are related to Hubbard’s article in that they were not free to explore their sexuality when they were young which has caused them to live confused lives without knowledge of their own sexual desires or a firm grasp on their gender identity. The two lived as they were taught was “normal” for their gender without the freedom to explore who they really were. The two examples are related to Banks article in how they are portrayed in the media. Banks explains how the media deals with homosexual or transgendered couples versus heterosexual couple’s very differently. In these two cases it is as if Rey and Thomas are on display for everyone to see how “un-normal” they are compared to all of the “normal” heterosexual non-transgendered people we see everyday in the media. Rey and Thomas are definitely not the typical Hollywood glamour types that the media loves to parade around but instead they are another type that the media loves to parade around to show how “different” they are from what has been established as the norm.

All five of these are prime example of how the social construction of sexuality of presented in the media and again, I am confident that we are exposed to artifacts such as these everyday without even having to look for them.