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.

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