Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real World XX: Hollywood: Sarah

Over the past decade or so, the numbers of “reality TV” shows have increased significantly. These television shows give people all of the “how-to” tips in order to become a better functioning citizen. In Jennifer Pozner’s piece, “The Unreal World”, Polzner states, “viewers may be drawn to reality TV by a sort of cinematic schadenfreude, but they continue to tune in 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.” (Polzner, 97). Hegemonic sexuality, including masculinity and femininity, are constantly being played out and challenged on MTV’s the Real World. One character this season, Sarah, plays out hegemonic femininity embodied in a modern female.

This season is based out of Hollywood, and just like every season, “picks seven strangers to come live in a house…have their lives taped. To find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” (The Real World intro) Looking at episode 6, “Greg VS. the House”, I chose to observe 21 year old Sarah from Pheonix, Arizona. Sarah falls straight into playing out hegemonic femininity as lives her life as a stereotypical modern female. Her time on this show has forced her out of her shell and has challenged her conservative lifestyle and her hegemonic femininity.

Sarah’s hegemonic femininity is challenged from her time spent on the Real World XX: Hollywood. She has strong conservative views coming from a religious and nuclear family, which are sometimes compromised living in the fast-paced and liberal city of Hollywood. This episode opens with Sarah’s boyfriend coming to visit from home and Sarah is shown, all in make-up and perfectly done hair, folding her laundry and cleaning her side of the room preparing for his arrival. When asked if she is excited about her boyfriend, Ryan, visit, she simply says, “yes”, with a huge smile on her face. She leaps into his arms when he arrives, but when he is introduced to a male in the house, Will, that has/had a crush on Sarah, the tension arrives. Later that night, when all of the roommates are having fun goofing off with one another, Sarah and Ryan can be found laying together in bed, not participating in the fun. According to James Lull, “hegemony implies a willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules, and laws they believe operate in their best interest…Social consent can be a more effective means of control than coercion or force.” (Lull, 63). By Sarah not participating and being a “good girlfriend”, she commits to living her hegemonic feminine lifestyle. She may say and/or believe that she really does want to see her boyfriend who she has not seen in a while, but she is actually living by the “good girlfriend” rules that have been engrained into her.

While spending quiet alone time with Ryan, Sarah is antagonized by another housemate, Greg, telling her to mind her own business when his female “associates” come over to the house. She gets mad and storms out of the room telling him to be quite and to leave her and Ryan alone. The fighting continues and Sarah, the rising feminist, yells at Greg for calling his “associates” “hoes” and not “females”. She finds it disrespectful to all women. By Sarah calling Greg out, shows that she believes in female empowerment and understands that the male hegemonic beliefs of being more powerful than women needs to be broken. Quickly, Sarah’s emotions run too high and Ryan steps in to stand up for her. Ouellette and Hay explain in their book, Better Living Through Reality TV, how reality TV make it possible for its characters to become better versions of themselves by exemplifying their flaws. They stated, “The mastering of techniques for applying, conducting, and cultivating oneself in the best way possible is a component of improving oneself as a matter of self-governance.” (Ouellette and Hay, 15). In a car ride, after the fight, she explains how she needs to choose her battles more wisely and to remain calm, similar to Ryan’s personality. By her admitting her flaws, the audience is getting the message that this woman is not “as good” as her male partner. She needs self-improvement, will receive it from being in the show, and falls into the stereotypical woman form of not being as good as men are.

Sarah, being a 21 year old female growing up in the United States, has been brought up on being bombarded with fashion and body ideals. She is always shown in a mirror, checking her perfectly done hair and touching up her layered make-up. Even when her boyfriend came to visit, her make-up and appearance does not falter. It is as if, she does not want anyone to see her without her make-up because stereotypical women would never let her boyfriend see her without it. Polzner states, “The genre teaches us that women categorically ‘are’ certain things –for example, no matter their age, they’re ‘hot girls’, not self aware or intelligent adults.” (Polzner, 97). With all of her make-up and “cute clothes” she appears as a “hot girl”. One other episode she even admitted to once having an eating disorder and obsessing about food. She has not gotten over her battle, but she still keeps up her appearance and is still skinny. Sarah appears beautiful and is accepted by the audience as a “hot girl”, therefore she categorically follows hegemonic femininity.

The Real World casts certain character types in order to create a more interesting cast dynamic in order for viewers to tune in weekly. Ouellette and Hay’s book explains how reality TV can create, change or play out hegemonic standards and characters. Sarah consistently plays out her femininity by not always participating in the roommate’s fun and partying. She is quiet and reserved, more so in this episode when her boyfriend came to visit. Sarah typically takes the “mothering” role by being responsible, not drinking a lot, not going out as much, and being insightful. By seeing her character on television, illustrates to the audience that in every home there needs to be a “voice of reason” and this voice usually will come from the person who has the most stereotypical traits of being a feminine female; in this case, it is Sarah.

Seven strangers living in a house together, without any outside communication such as television, and having their lives taped to be televised to the public, is bound to challenge hegemonic norms. Being on the Real World reaffirms stereotypes about how people act and what they are like. Strangers go in to this situation with his or her own prior knowledge and then are challenged to learn about other people lives. Sarah, from The Real World XX: Hollywood, plays out typical hegemonic feminine norms. Her strong conservative views and attractive feminine appearance confirm her identity as a hegemonic female. She knows and embodies the hegemonic “norms”, and even though, in this episode, did speak up for something she believes in, still manages to have her boyfriend stand up for her when her emotions get in the way. Sarah, is a very modern woman, however she does fall into and beautifully play out stereotypical hegemonic feminine norms.


Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Sage Publications, Inc, California, 2003.63.

MTV. “Episode 4 Flipbook: Joey’s Intervention”. (Online Image). 28 May 2008.

MTV. “Episode 6 Flipbook: Greg VS. the House”. (Online Image). 28 May 2008.

MTV. “Sarah” (Online Image). 28 May 2008.

MTV Networks. The Real World XX: Hollywood. 2008. 28 May 2008.

Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008 . 15.

Pozner, Jennifer L. “The Unreal World”. 97.

Streiber, Art. MTV. “The Real World XX: Hollywood Cast”. (Online Image). 28 May 2008.

“The Real World Logo”. (Online Image). 28 May 2008.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Women for Sale in the Media Meat Market

If the idea that “sex sells” is so profitable to marketing and advertising firms, than the media places women for sale in the media “meat market”. Women are marketed to consumers in half-naked ads selling products that the audience does not need and they are objectified to appear as body parts and not as human beings. As history can show, women’s features have always been exemplified and marketed to an audience to make them believe “this is what you should look like” and you should own this product, otherwise you are nothing. Media advertisements have typically advertise products that the public does not need and tells us who to be, what to look like and how to feel.
Advertisements of nonessential goods are constantly being flashed to the public and Sut Jhally said in Image Based Culture: Advertising and Poplar Culture, “in this stage we do not see representations of ‘real’ people in advertisements, but rather we see representations of people who “stand for” reigning social values such as family structure, status differentiation, and hierarchical authority.” (250). According to Jhally, the media shows images of people who are not real and show us the product that we can purchase in order to come one step closer to closer to the unobtainable. The media picture people showing us what to feel, who we should be and who we will never be. The women in the advertisements and commercials are so airbrushed and digitally altered, that the actual real women are made to feel that they are not good enough, according to the socially constructed constraints. Since our culture is socially constructed and decides what is “masculine” and “feminine”, Jhally suggests that as an audience, we need to stand up and reconstruct the cultural definitions of these images. Women should feel good about themselves and not made to feel as if they will never be good enough according to the media meat market. It is important for all women to not follow the “guidelines” of the media and to help promote images of actual real women so others know that they are good enough and beautiful, without the unnecessary products.
Women’s features are constantly being exemplified in advertisements showing them as pieces of meat for sale, but at a price that no one can afford because looking the way models do, it unobtainable. No wonder why women and girls have poor self esteem because no matter how many products they buy, no matter how much and effort they put into her looks, they will never achieve what the media teases them with. In Jean Kilbourne’s piece The More You Subtract, the More You Add, she talks about how the media causes women and girls to have a loss of confidence in herself because of how their bodies are under constant scrutiny. The media shows women in positions of submission, being super skinny, silent and half-naked and girls see these images feeling as if they need to look that way as well. Kilbourne states, “Girls seeing these images of women, are encouraged to be silent, mysterious, not to talk to much or too loudly. In many different ways, they are told ‘the more you subtract, the more you add.’” (264). They are forced to cut down their size so that they can be “beautiful” and silent. The girls that see these images, grow up believing that they need to be like the women in the pictures and to be super skinny wearing “barely there” clothing in order to attract attention. The media meat market advertises women as submissive objects that are meant to attract men and not to speak or think for herself. Since the idea of “sex sells” is so profitable, advertisements sell women as if in a meat market to cause consumers to desire only the prime cuts.


Absolute Vodka Advertisement. “Absolute Hunk”. 22 May 2008.

Bluefly Advertisement. “Subway”. 22 May 2008.

DeBeers Diamonds Advertisement. 22 May 2008.

Diesel Advertisement. “NY Diesel Night”. 22 May 2008.
Dolce & Gabbana Advertisement. 22 May 2008.

Hard Rock Café: Las Vegas Advertisement. 22 May 2008.

Jhally, Sut. “Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Sage Publications, Inc, California, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Sage Publications, Inc, California, 2003. 258-265.

Lynx Shower Gel Advertisement. “Wash Me”. 22 May 2008.

Nike Advertisement. 22 May 2008.

Three Olives Advertisement. “Three Olives Mart”. 22 May 2008

Victoria’s Secret Advertisement. “Very Sexy Makeup”. 22 May 2008.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gendered Consumers/ Engendering Consumerism - Toy Shopping

Toys are cultural products that are marketed to innocent children in order to gender them. People are brought up on consumerism; it is all around each one of us and it is almost impossible to escape. If we are born biologically as males and females, then American toy companies make it their business to construct the “boy” and “girl” genders. Children are handed “scripts” to play out in order to become gendered. Television commercials consistently show boys and girls toys so that they can “correctly” perform his or her gender”
Gender is learned in many settings in a child’s life; the school, the home and the after school program, help in the gendering of children today. However, in order for the home and school to gender children, tools are necessary and that is where toys come in to play. For my shopping trip, I decided to visit and shop for an 8-year-old girl,
who without a doubt has been to a toy store at least once in her life. While shopping, I found the following items: A pink Nintendo DS and the “High School Musical 2” game to accompany the game system. I also found “Hasbro’s Designers World” game where girls can plug in the game to her TV and create clothes for characters to wear. An 8-year-old girl would also like “Bratz” dolls and the “Hannah Montana Concert Dress up Kit” where they can mimic Hannah Montana and sing along to their favorite songs. All of these toys were priced between $9.99 (Designer’s World game) and $129.99 (Nintendo DS).
When I first went on to the Toys ‘R’ Us website, I noticed that you could choose how you wanted to shop, by action figures, board games, indoor, outdoor and by gender. Since I am shopping for a girl, I chose “girl” and then narrowed it down by age range. Through the toys shown on the site and from the items that I chose, I found that the majority of the items marketed to girls promote creativity, beauty, and being indoors. While toys generally marketed to boys were more “logical” and promoted the ideas of violence and outdoors (exploring). According to David M. Newman, in chapter 4, he states, “As a consequence with differential treatment, both boys and girls learn to adopt gender as an organized principle for themselves and the social world in which they live.” (qtd. In Newman p. 113) . In Newman’s piece, he feels that gendered socialization is a process that primarily occurs at home and at school because that is where kids spend most of their time. Toys and toy stores are a kid’s gender inundation zone, where they learn what it means to “be a girl” and to “be a boy”.
Children are socialized into gender roles based on their sex. Therefore, toy stores take this idea and create toys around that in order for children to play out their “appropriate” gender role. Toy stores make it their job to help decide what rules will fulfill the gender roles handed to children before they are even born. When children are in toy stores, see commercials or play with someone else’s toys, they learn what is “normal” for his or her gender role and therefore continue to carry out those stereotypical roles that are built during childhood. The use of television “provided a relentless flow of information and persuasion that placed acts of consumption at the core of everyday life.” (Lipsitz, 43) Commercials on television show children images of what is appropriate for each gender role. These toy commercials are “scripts” for children to act out in their lives for how to “play a girl” and how to “play a boy”. Lipsitz believes that by the production of the television, the economy was allowed to grow and expand in ways never possible before. The television showed images of products that men, women, boys and girls did not necessarily need, but wanted. These products were and still are, carefully marketed to target audiences. Today toy commercials show boys and girls playing with toys that are carefully colored and crafted to be the “most appealing” to boys and girls.
Using this idea, the Toys R’ Us website told me that 8-year-old girls would only be interested in playing dress-up to be like Hannah Montana or to play with the “Bratz” dolls that only come with tight jeans and small tops and dresses. I was happy to choose the Nintendo DS system and the “High School Musical” game because that boy was marketed to both boys and girls. However, numerous other games were nothing like the “boy games” all about violence and being tough. The Nintendo DS game
system came in black, white and pink to accommodate boys and girls stereotypical colors. Other toys on my list, such as the “Designers World” game, the cover had a tall, skinny blonde girl wearing a pink shirt surrounded by “her cartoon friends” that also were tall, skinny and were wearing skimpy clothing. All this cover told young consumers was yes, you can learn to peruse a career of clothing design, but in order to be beautiful and successful, make those clothes small, tight and pink. Barbie’s in miniature clothing littered the web page telling girls what is beautiful. The “Hannah Montana Concert Dress up” kit does the same thing, by selling a box of clothes that an idealized character wears. According to Lipsitz, girls do not need this kit, but a commercial would tell girls that they could pretend to be just as rich and beautiful as Hannah Montana if they (or their parents) bought the dress up kit.
While shopping, I looked for toys that would appeal to girls around the age of eight. In the 8-11 years old, category, I found many games that kept girls indoors playing dress up, kitchen or video games. Since children are, according to Newman, socialized based on this or her sex, toy companies and children learn to use toys, colors and media to become a “girl” and a “boy”. Adjusting my search to girls 12-14 years old, I found the Toys ‘R’ Us website showing me more electronic games and less dress up games, but games and toys that still kept them indoors and beautiful. I found numerous pictures of video games about designing their own clothes, creating their own roller coasters, and “High School Musical” themed. This page showed pictures of Nintendo
Wii and games that accompanied the system. Girls are shown to play board games such as “Scrabble” and “Up Words”. Other items marketed towards girls between the ages of 12-14, are creating and designing their own jewelry, a computerized makeover, and learning how to play a {pink} guitar. Even the older groups of girls are told to be beautiful, wear fabulous clothes and to stay inside in order to not get dirty. This follows Newman’s idea of learning the difference between the genders through the media.
Walking through a toy store, girls are on one side of the store while the boys are on the other side browsing at “their” toys. I found the “High School Musical” themed item marketed to both boys and girls, showing that video games or that theme is only for girls or only for boys. It seemed like
that was a gender-neutral toy. There are other video games and gaming systems that are advertised on the girls page, which may cause people to believe that toys are becoming more gender neutral. However, those games that are on the girls page show games of pet adoption, “Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends” for Nintendo DS, and “Bratz” dolls. Yes, girls are now a new target audience for video game companies, however they are sending the same message they sent when they sold just a kitchen set and Barbie dolls: “girls should be indoors, cooking, cleaning and playing with dolls”. Toy companies market these items in order to keep girls in the “private sphere” of the home, while boys are allowed to go out in the “public sphere” and explore. If I really had to choose a toy that would be considered “gender-neutral”, I would have to choose the board game “Scrabble” because it allows children to practice their literacy skills. Boys and girls may choose to make words that are gendered, but the game itself is a blank slate and the players build it.
Overall, gender is a learned concept that begins even before children are born. Kids play out what they have learned through observations of others, their parents and their setting. Toys help gender children based on their sex. Toy companies carefully develop toys that act as “scripts” for children to follow as they grow into male and female consumers. Kids are the most influential consumers, so marketing to children is easy because they are sponges to information. Children will take in the information they see and buy into their “script” so they can grow into gendered consumers. Toys send messages of “how to be male” and “how to be female” to boys and girls so that the gendering of new generations continues. Boys are told to be active explorers who are emotionally unavailable; while girls are told to stay inside, be beautiful and to be emotionally available. These gendered “scripts” are handed to children at home and at school, molding them into who, according to society and toy companies, should be.


Lipsitz, George. “The Meaning of Memory: Family Class and Ethnicity in Early Network Television.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Sage Publications, Inc, California, 2003. 40-47.

Newman, David M. “Chapter 4: Learning Difference: Families, School and Socialization” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw Hill Companies, Inc, 2007. 113.

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Bratz Hairplay Doll: Yasmin”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Cooking Mama 2: Cooking for Friends for Nintendo DS”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Disney’s High School Musical 2: Work This Out”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Hannah Montana Concert Dress-Up Kit”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Hasbro Designer’s World”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Nintendo DS Lite in Coral pink”. 19 May 2008. .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Scrabble”. 19 May 2008. .