The current generation of adolescents and young adults grew up with easy access to what is known as “the idiot box”. At a young age, children are not usually educated about the problems brought forth by the subtle messages within movies, commercials, and cartoons. Most would not understand the concept of gender categorizations and stereotypes even if they knew it existed. So, as they sit in front of the screen watching the seemingly innocent shows like Scooby Doo, Dexter’s Lab, and The Power Puff Girls, they subconsciously analyze the show’s characters based on the roles they play. They would look at Dee-Dee prancing around in her tutu like a ballet dancer, Freddy splitting up the gang to go with the girls, and how “girl power” always triumphs over giant monsters or mythical creatures. While the children sit with blank stares on their faces and cheerios to munch on as they watch their favorite shows, their own brains process the distinction between the two sexes as seen on TV. They grow older, unaware of the endless game of pretend they began to play as a toddler, forcing upon them the impossible quest of becoming the protagonist of everyone’s media-encompassed lives. “In reality, gender is a practice in which all people engage; it is something we perform over and over in our daily lives. In this sense, gender is something we ‘do’ rather than ‘have.’ Through a process of gender socialization, we are taught and learn the appropriate thinking and behaviors associated with being a boy or girl in this culture” (1). Now, it seems as if most males aspire to be like Jonny Bravo, and every female to be like Wonder Woman. Of course, the newest products advertised on TV and the movies aired on the big screen do not help reverse this process at all.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnGnl-UElVA (A man’s man?)
When one examines the televised ads for products, more than enough evidence is found that coincides with the following statements: “Men are foregrounded in commercials”, “Women are sexy props or prizes for men’s successful sports performances or consumption choices”, and “Whites are foregrounded in commercials”. (2) Almost all commercials aired on television go by these “rules” in an attempt to grab the attention of those who do not know any better. Here are some specific examples:
1. Nerf dart gun ads. The first video clip shown in the commercial is a large group of white male teenagers with one African American male to the far left, who immediately runs off screen as the rest of the group runs forward. There are no females in the entirety of the ad, which is based off the assumption that only boys play with guns (which is a lie). The guns themselves are given names that resemble standard military weaponry, such as the ECS-50, and some men even wear ammunition vests with darts in them. At the end, a group of roughly 50 males scream “It’s Nerf or nothing”, with only five men of color, all of which are in the background.
2. A commercial promoting clean energy using wave power. The entire ad is nothing more than a 10-year-old girl in a bikini playing in the waves while the camera follows her wet, bony, exposed body as if she were a prostitute. The provocative nature of the video does not help their cause. In fact, it makes them seem more like pedophiles.
3. A Dominos Pizza commercial. The hook for consumers? A white man with a fancy accent and an expensive coat praising the pizza in front of him while two white, young, thin, and seductive women holding puppies stand on either side of him trying to look sexy. None of that has anything to do with pizza, so the only reason any of that is included is for eye candy, pure and simple.
4. The Nutrisystem diet plan. While a white male speaks in the background about how great the deal is. The images, however, only show white women in their 20’s at the latest as they tell viewers that it is a necessity to look good before you walk in public. The one before and after comparison that was shown was the most shocking part of the commercial. The image on the left, known as “before”, showed an attractive woman in her 30’s with no weight problems and showing off her strong-looking thighs and well-kept curly hair. The “changed” woman posing on the right was nothing more than skin and bones with long, straight hair and a sloppy, fake, orange tan, claiming to have lost 50 pounds. If the image on the left was what people considered to be unattractive, then every single young woman in the University of Denver would be considered obese, and everyone who is anorexic and dying from starvation would be idolized for their “health”. Some thoughts about this ridiculous notion that being a stick is a goal to strive for are well-said by Nomy Lamm: “The most widespread mentality regarding body image at this point is something along the lines: Women look in the mirror and think, ‘I’m fat,’ but really they’re not. Really they’re thin” (3) “One of my friends read her book and said that the first half of it is all about fat oppression and talks about how hard it is to be fat in our society, but then it says: So use my great new diet plan! This kind of thing totally plays on our emotions so that we think, Wow, this person really understands me. They know where I’m coming from, so they must know what is best for me” (3).
5. A Big Time Rush concert semi-ad. The only people in the video are white. At one point, the camera moves to the crowd they are playing in front of. In the nearly literal sea of whites, there is not one single person of color to be found. What kind of message this implies should not be discussed here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC5aGCOT6bs (Sexist car commercial)
While there are thousands more commercials on television that use the theme of white males being dominant, the movies that are released are just as ludicrously choosy when it comes down to who plays the lead role.
One movie in particular that has plenty of sexist portrayals of women is the movie titled Stripes. The two main characters join the army to get away from their own lives as New York garbage. During their time in the army, they meet two attractive young women who are on duty as Military Police. However, instead of enforcing anything, they are portrayed as passive and constantly looking for a jerk to get in bed with. Later on in the movie, the same two women find the two main characters fighting with each other, and once again do not use any authority. Instead, they let them off with a warning. This quickly becomes a recurring theme for these two young ladies. However, the most scandalous part of the movie, more so than the scene where the main characters and their women partners have intercourse in a superior officer’s house, is when the whole platoon goes to a strip club to watch nude women mud wrestle. As is the case in an earlier scene, when the commander is spying on the nude women in the shower as they touch themselves, there is no censoring at all. “In this way, bodies are like cultural artifacts; culture becomes embodied and is literally inscribed or represented through the body at the same time that the objectification of women’s bodies (seeing the body as an object and separate from its context) is supported by the media and entertainment industries. Note that these norms about the body rely on the notion of the healthy and/or abled body” (4). There is enough nudity and genital flashing to classify this movie as a porno rather than a feature film, even if it is rated R.
In short, TV shows and ads act as a center for gender stereotyping on both sides of the spectrum. Because of the way women are portrayed, it is often forgotten that the color of a woman’s hair, or the type of shoes she wears, or even the brand of anti-perspirant she applies does not make her more beautiful than any other woman in the world. It is just because of how modern day culture portrays “beauty” that people feel that they cannot live a normal life without being heavily underweight. So long as white men greatly outnumber all other groups while watching the idiot box, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
(1) Learning Gender in a Diverse Society
(2) Center of Attention: The Gender of Sports Media by Michael A. Messner
(3) It’s a Big Fat Revolution by Nomy Lamm
(4) Inscribing Gender on the Body by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee