Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Being Somebody Doesn't Make You Anybody Anyway

The film Gia documents the life of a supermodel who moves from Philadelphia to New York at a young age and becomes instantly famous. Gia soon becomes caught up in a world where she is a disposable commodity, valued only for her looks and for how much money she can make advertisers. Eventually, she becomes addicted to heroin and contracts AIDS. The film can be seen as a fairy tale in that Gia attains everything a young girl is supposed to want: she is successful because she is beautiful, and because of her beauty and success she is universally admired. Thus, the main character’s lack of fulfillment and the tragedies that befall her become a poignant way to look at what myths about beauty do to women. In addition, the paradoxical nature of Gia’s rise to fame illustrates the concept of hegemony of conflict.

Throughout the movie, we hear the character of Gia narrate fairy tales she wrote as a child. The main character is always a beautiful woman, and the plot is usually the same. The basic idea is that every night people come and cut off a little of her hair to sell, thinking she won’t notice. Eventually the woman looses all her hair and everyone says she was never really beautiful. The fairy tale parallels Gia’s life, because she is valued for her beauty, but comes to realize that she is completely disposable to the people who make money from her. As a young girl in the movie, Gia learns that as a woman all she needs is beauty and her life will be perfect. This is the ideal that many young girls grow up learning from popular culture, since magazines, television, and movies all focus on an ideal of beauty.

The character Gia’s life shows that the reality of being beautiful is not the guarantee of happiness it is supposed to be. Gia soon learns that, as a model, she is expected to be many different things to many people. This is the idea of hegemony of conflict. Diana Crane discusses this concept, saying, “Kellner argues that no single elite group dominates American society and that the media provide a site for conflicts, debates, and negotiations among different interpretations of the dominant culture.” (315) The point is that people want to be able to interpret things their own way and apply what they see to their own life experience and identity. Gia embodies this idea because she was, as the character Linda states, “A different person to everybody.”

This idea of conflicted hegemony can be seen when Gia’s original manager is talking about why she is such a successful model. It is implied that her success stems from her ambiguity as a model, her ability to be, “Tough, vulnerable, old, young, decadent, innocent, male, female.” This reflects the images commonly sent by advertisers to young girls. As Jean Kilbourne states, “[Girls] are expected to be overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal.” (259) This conflicted identity is the central point of the film. Gia’s beauty brings her success, but it is an unfulfilling success and she searches for contentment in drugs. The ugliness of her addiction and how destructive it becomes is held in contrast to her beauty and success. If the film is seen as a fairly tale, then Gia got everything a girl could ever want, and all of the addiction and sadness that comes along with it.

Gia’s relationship with her mother Kathleen is revealing in that her mother lives vicariously through her successful and beautiful daughter. Gia is constantly encouraged to live up to certain ideals – Kathleen even comments on how the methadone Gia takes to get off heroin is bad for her posture and weight. The character Kathleen shows how the “happily ever after” fairy tale life of a model is deeply ingrained in women. In the movie, despite knowing what eventually happens to her daughter, she describes Gia’s modeling career as “a fairy tale come true.” Despite the fact that the lifestyle of a model led her daughter to become an addict, Kathleen still views the whole concept of this lifestyle as an abstract sort of ideal.

Seeing Gia as a fairy tale reveals success to have a certain gendered construct. Gia certainly attained success – she was rich and famous thanks to her beauty. However, success for Gia meant pleasing everyone else by embodying the “conflicted hegemony” Diane Krane discusses. Because she is so many things to so many people, it is implied, she does not know what she wants for herself. The “fairy tale” in this case does not have a “happily ever after” ending at all. In fact, almost everyone abandons Gia as she is dying of AIDS, at least in part because she is no longer beautiful. However, this is the only part of the movie where the character seems to be at peace with herself and with her life. This is part of the paradox Gia embodies. The only time she is truly happy is when the admiration and success of her “fairy tale” life are gone and she can merely be herself.


Crane, Diane. “Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 314-331.

Gia. Dir. Michael Cristofer. Perf. Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell. 1998. DVD.

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, the More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-265.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Good Life: How Advertisement Reinforce Gender Roles and Inform Identities

Today advertising is pervasive in all forms of media. You cannot turn on the TV, log onto the internet, see a movie or open a magazine without being pitched some sort of product. One thing these advertisements do is inform how people view themselves within our society. As Jackson Katz argues, “At any given time, individuals as well as groups of men are engaged in an ongoing process of creating and maintaining their own masculine identities. Advertising, in a commodity-driven consumer culture, is an omnipresent and rich source of gender ideology” (350). Thus the images used by advertisers are often representative of a larger ideological framework. The link in modern advertising between consumption and attractiveness to women forms a part of the ideology of masculinity.

The first of the two collages is supposed to show how advertisers view men. Many people (men and women) become slaves to their spending habits, but the credit card is often viewed as a status . The face of the man is passive and he is looking at the cheerleader. The use of attractive women in advertisements serves a hetero-normative agenda, links the use of a product with “the good life” (part of that life being access to beautiful women), and also separates masculinity from femininity in a way that is described by Naomi Wolf. She argues that the portrayal of women as mere objects of male desire is a result of the fact that after the feminist movement took hold, “An ideology that makes women feel ‘worth less’ was urgently needed to counteract the way feminism had begun to make us feel worth more” (124). But there is another side to the way men and women are portrayed in advertising, illustrated by the second collage, which is supposed to illustrate how I view myself in light of the forces of advertising that are constantly at work. Everyday, men are bombarded with products that are sold with the conscious or unconscious assumption that consumerism is linked with being sexually attractive. These kinds of advertisements reinforce gender roles (women chasing presumably wealthy men) and also portray both sexes as being shallow enough to link sexual desire with consumption. Thus, advertising both constructs and reinforces ideologies that promote social norms and stimulate consumerism by dictating how people are supposed to interact with one another.


Katz, Jackson. “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 349-357.

TAG Body Spray Ad. 19 October 2007.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. Women: Images and Realities. Ed. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, Nancy Schniedewind. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 120-125.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How Toys Teach Gender

Toys occupy a central role in the life of children, as everyone remembers from their childhood. What goes by unnoticed is how toys teach children to behave in a certain way and conform to certain social standards. Thus the first thing I noticed when I logged onto the Toys section of amazon.com was that I was immediately given a choice between going to the girl's section and the boy's section. Clearly there is a difference between the messages sent to boys and girls through the toys that are marketed to them. Upon further inspection I noticed a certain pattern to the types of toys that were being suggested for a nine year old girl (or 8 to 11 year old girls, as Amazon has them grouped). The ideological message sent by these toys was one that confirmed certain stereotypes about girls while leaving little room for differentiation from this trend.

The first thing I noticed about the girl's section of Amazon's toy website is that roughly 75% of what I saw was either pink or purple. I reflected on the fact that if I were to visit the boy's section of the website I would not find anything in pink or purple. These colors are used to differentiate between the two genders at a young age, often right at birth. No doubt many girls like these colors. But do girls like these colors because they have a genuine attraction to them or because everything marketed towards girls from the time they are born comes in pink and purple? Stuart Hall explains that "Ideologies tend to disappear from view into the taken-for-granted 'naturalized' world of common sense" (90). Thus, though it seems natural for everything marketed to girls to be in pink, it only appears that way because of a certain gender ideology. A study of girl's toys shows that this ideology is ingrained in children at a very young age.

Upon closer inspection of the individual toys on the page I was viewing, it became apparent that many toys were based around the concept of being able to alter the outfit or hairstyle of either a doll, computerized image, or in the case of a new Barbie product, a combination doll/MP3 player (pictured above with some of the accessories. This product came in a number of outfit colors but the basic idea was the same). By the age of nine, girls are already being taught that choosing hair and clothing styles (in other words, their appearance) is an important part of being a girl. Another series of toys that seemed to be popular are a series of hand-held electronics called Pixel Chix. Essentially a stripped-down version of The Sims, young girls control their character in a variety of different environments which are sold separately but can be combined to create a small interactive world. The scenarios offered were a house, a car, babysitting for the neighbors, and the mall (with four stores: salon, pet shop, food court and boutique). The product description for the mall even contained the phrase, "The more your Pixel Chix gal works, the more she has to spend in the mall". The work they referred to was the babysitting scenario. The stereotypes of feminine domesticity and an inherent love for shopping are thus combined.

The message sent by the majority of the toys I looked at served to reinforce many widely-held beliefs about what girls like, what they focus on, and how they interact. The third best-selling toy for this age group of girls was the "Hannah Montana Girl Talk" game, a board game version of truth or dare. There were also other games that centered on the telling of secrets and the disclosure of information about oneself. These are not necessarily bad things, but they are decidedly feminine as I can recall no male equivalent to games of this sort. As Nancy Henley and Jo Freeman note, "Female socialization encourages generally greater expression of emotion than does male socialization" (87). Thus, girls are taught at a young age that being emotionally open is part of being a girl. Girls are pitched these ideas not only as individuals but as a group. Toys are one of the main ways children interact with one another. So when young girls are interacting with one another by playing games that play up certain ideas about their role in the world as girls, they are learning that this is what will be expected of them by society at large.

Thus toys are a way for society to make sure children know exactly what their roles are in their respective gender. The age of the girl I was supposed to be shopping for illustrates the young age at which these gender roles are already being enforced. Susan Jane Gilman states that "dolls often give children their first lessons in what a society considers valuable" (74). Applying this theory to toys in general, it is easy to see how if children take their cues for what their adolescent and adult lives will be like from the toys they play with they will no doubt fit into certain gender stereotypes. An ideology is, according to Stuart Hall, "those images, concepts, and premises which provide the framework through which we represent, interpret, understand, and 'make sense' of some aspect of social existence" (89). By catering to a certain ideology, toy manufacturers teach young girls to understand the world in a certain way. Though not all the toys I encountered directly reinforced some stereotype about women, many of them did. Among the stereotypes underlying the toys being sold to girls of this age group were the idea that the color pink, shopping, domestic settings (such as the "Barbie Totally Real House Playset, pictured right), a preoccupation with appearance, and a tendency to divulge secrets are all "feminine" traits. Though many girls no doubt enjoy playing with these toys, the lack of differentiation or deviation from these general themes is evidence of an ideology that assumes that young girls only want to play with these types of toys, while at the same time teaching those same girls that this is what they're "supposed" to enjoy.


Barbie Forever Barbie Totally Real House Playset. 31 September 2007. <http://www.amazon.com/Barbie-Forever-Totally-House-%09Playset/dp/B000BCEJI6/ref=sr_1_15/103-7324622-2279828?ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1191293468&sr=1-15>.

Barbie Girls - Pink. 31 September 2007. <http://www.amazon.com/Mattel-L2936-Barbie-Girls-Pink/dp/B000PD73P2/ref=sr_1_2/103-7324622->.

Bratz P4F Sasha. 31 September 2007. <http://www.amazon.com/MGA-333821-Bratz-P4F-Sasha/dp/B000EPFEZW/ref=sr_1_39/103-7324622-2279828?%09ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1191296406&sr=1-39>.

Gilman, Susan Jane. "Klaus Barbie, and Other Dolls I'd Like to See." Women: Images and Realities. Ed. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, Nancy Schniedewind. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 72-75.

Hall, Stuart. "The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 89-93.

Henley, Nancy and Jo Freeman. "The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior." Women: Images and Realities. Ed. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, Nancy Schniedewind. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 84-92.

Pixel Chix - Love 2 Shop Mall: Boutique/Foodcourt. "Product Features". 31 September 2007. <http://www.amazon.com/Pixel-Chix-Love-Boutique-%09Court/dp/B000FNNZDG/ref=pd_sim_t_shvl_title_1/103-7324622-2279828?ie=UTF8&qid=1191298467&sr=1-41>.