Tag Archives: gender roles

Sexist and Sexualized Advertising: On the Rise

A new study released by University of Buffalo sociologists discovered something truly ground-breaking: there has been an undeniable and increasing hyper-sexualiztion of images of women in popular media over the last several decades.

This is something that I would normally take notice of and file alongside the slew of reports that have similar conclusions and continue to confirm what I’ve always felt to be true about advertising and media presentations of women. Being a major theme of my blog, I occasionally worry that I’m Not Tired Yet will begin to sound like a broken record as I continue to write about how damaging media portrayals of women and girls truly are, and how it impacts human development, sense of self-worth, and definitions of beauty for both sexes.

That being said, as long as women and girls continue to be hyper-sexualized in images, videos, and advertisements, there have to be just as many consistent criticisms of them. Creating a chorus of opposition that shows growing girls this is not normal, not healthy, and that they have much, much more to offer than what our culture’s media is telling them they do through a ceaseless blasting bullhorn.

In this particular study, researchers’ conclusions did offer a concrete example of gender disparity in this realm. While representations of men and women have become increasingly sexualized, it was the intensity of the sexualization of women which was particularly shocking and far exceeded that of men. A scale was developed to rate the intensity of the level of sexualization of images, which showed evidence of women being far more likely to be in positions of submission or of offering pleasure as tools of hetero-male sexual desire. This sets a dangerous precedent – women are those who satisfy, men are those who are satisfied.

In the grand scheme of things, media not only influences our decisions and impacts our thinking, but is a reflection of these things as well – it’s a circuitous pattern of reinforcement and ever-heightening intensity. The more these images are sexualized, then the more it is socially expected for women to act as sexualized as they are portrayed, then the more sexualized the images become, building upon themselves as viewers need increasingly overt sexualization to feel excited or as though advertisements are pushing boundaries – which is what advertisements do to draw in a receptive audience. This causes two immediately obvious problems – first, that this pattern leads one down a path that ends in unquestioned and irrelevant nudity and commodification of the sexual identity of girls;  secondly, we move farther and farther away from the objections that this kind of imagery is entirely inappropriate, sexist, pedophilic, and harmful.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to guest speak on a radio show about the effects of sexualization and violence in video games and media. One of the last questions the host asked me was, “So, what’s the solution? Should we censor these video games and movies?”

My response to this was no, of course I am against censorship. The free speech I advocate protects the video game developers (and advertisers, fashion labels, films, etc etc) as well as my criticism of them – which I will stop as soon as I see the egregious violence against women, forced sex acts and trivialization of women stop. That being said, there is an element of self-censorship — editing, if you will — that could certainly happen on the part of the creators. Until the developers want to change the games, they aren’t going to change – which is why I said that the ‘solution’ as it stands is keeping up the constant conversation, the constant writing, the constant research, that refutes the idea that these games (images, advertisements, movies, etc etc, that send the same messages) are just harmless entertainment. We know they aren’t. But the games (images, advertisements, movies, etc etc) keep selling and people keep buying because it’s seen as normal, and the media’s bottom line – $$ – is different than that of a parent, educator, coach, sibling, etc, who have concerns (hopefully) centered around the health of their children. So the ‘solution’ is to keep up the commentary, keep up the research, keep up the discussions about why these media messages are harmful, and ensure that parents, teachers, siblings, and, of course, anyone who are concerned about healthy children growing into healthy adults, are aware of why media matters and the kind of influence it is having.

Curbing the effects of non-stop media is difficult, but not impossible, and involves even more talking – this time directed at the kids. Getting media to change its tactics can feel damn near impossible, but keeping up a constant dialogue with children about the kind of messages they’re on the receiving end of can certainly help.

In the end, it comes down to what kind of society we want to cultivate – for us and our future generations. The kind of culture we want to look upon as having created – the definitions of gender, success, individual expression, and love – and having fostered. Is it one in which the bottom line is comprised strictly of financial and monetary goals, with little regard as to what happens to members of our communities and how our actions impact children and youth in pursuit of that goal? Or the opposite?

Wanna answer that question on Twitter? Follow me here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Feminism, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism

A Bunny’s Return

“The Playboy Club,” a show debuting on NBC’s fall lineup has had its fair share of publicity. A Salt Lake City NBC affiliate is refusing to air the show for moral reasons, Troy Patterson’s thinly veiled assault on Maureen Dowd’s coverage of the show, in which he quotes Amber Heard – the show’s leading Bunny – as saying “what’s wrong with being sexy? Why is that subservient?” Even NPR covered the show’s bizarre claim that it was empowering for women because, as Hefner says, “a bunny could be anything they wanted;” an odd claim since the identity of a bunny was scripted with a hard line and came with a hefty set of rules and guidelines.

One of those rules that Gloria Steinem revealed in her great expose “A Bunny’s Tale” about going undercover as a Playboy Bunny, was STI examinations and a physical. This logically leads one to the assumption that the bunnies were expected, encouraged, or even forced to engage in sexual relationships with the clients under the identity of Bunny – why else require a waitress to get an STI test? This is where my first retort to Ms. Heard’s bafflingly short-sighted comment comes into play. The Bunnies have to get tested so they don’t infect the men – what about the men infecting the Bunnies? Were they swabbed upon entrance to the club to ensure that they weren’t putting the waitresses at risk? It seems they were excused because they were funneling money into the pockets of Hefner, and this is a perfect example of why Ms. Heard is serving above all else. Catering to the whims of the customers with the most money without protection or regard for the workers doesn’t make it seem like those workers are so empowered after all. Seems more like they’re at risk.

Ms. Steinem had a great response to the show, in which she said: “It normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance.” She has hopes that it will be boycotted, and I fully share in Ms. Steinem’s vision of what the show projects. Normalization of unhealthy behaviors and images is a primary topic of my blog. Despite it taking place 50 years ago, witnessing the power dynamic between the bunnies and the customers reinforces how damaging those scripted gender roles truly are – and for viewers who still think those gender roles should remain as scripted, this show and the participants’ comments that it’s all just fun and games helps to serve their ideal. Why would we want to bring back – even as a source of entertainment – the vision of a reality that restrained women from being seen in their workplace as anything more than a decoration? Beyond that, this show isn’t even an attempt at parody, it’s an attempt to glorify this world that Ms. Steinem points out resulted in “women…[telling] me horror stories of what they experienced at the Playboy Club and at the Playboy Mansion.”

There are also serious flaws with the idea that these roles were empowering for the women simply because the men were told “not to touch” the bunnies. This creates the false notion that the best way for a woman to maintain a position of power is to withhold sex. The bunnies could have had this “power” which was limited to withholding sexual pleasure while in a sexual pleasure palace taken away from them easily, through direct assault or coerced sexual relationships that they felt they needed to engage in given their role as servers. Withholding something is not in and of itself an act of positive power but one of passivity masquerading as control – which can easily yield to the money these customers had. An act of positive power would be intellect, a skill set, developed talent, cultivated life experiences leading to the fully fleshed out self not entirely composed of a sexuality and not reliant on the financing – whether in tips or in marriage – of men. True power exists when the reliance on others or threat of others ceases to exist. This isn’t to say that sexuality isn’t a part of an identity, I most certainly think it is. However, the bunnies – infantilized, presented as reward, reduced to the image of a cuddly baby rabbit – are not actually presented (in this show, and in Ms. Steinem’s brilliant ‘A Bunny’s Tale’) as women who have a deep understanding of their sexuality and identity. The power in sexuality lies in one’s ability to articulate what their sexual needs and wants are, to respect those of others, and to communicate with partners. That is what prevents one partner from feeling or being subservient to the other – something The Playboy Club doesn’t seem to promote.

Leave a comment

Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism

Bill O’Reilly, You So Crazy

Oh, Bill. I never cease to be amazed by some of the things you teach me. For example, how the brutal and horrifying rampage in Norway was not committed by a Christian (despite the rambling Christianity-soaked manifesto, and your O’Reilly-esque insistence that all terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims regardless of any indication of their Islamic faith), simply because you don’t think a Christian would do that. Or like how your three visits to Africa assured you that you just can’t “bring Western reasoning into the culture.” Oh, and that the ACLU is second only to Al-Qaeda in how dangerous and threatening it is. And that poverty is a result being lazy and irresponsible, and if you just work hard and go to school, then, you know, you’ll make bags and bags of money and be just fine regardless of anything else or circumstance. Which sounds totally on point, since you also taught me that conservatives “see things in black and white, and liberals see gray.” Which sounds like nuance, and uh-oh, you’ve made me see that nuance makes things complicated…

And this past week, O’Reilly taught me this: “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex and [are] not going to use birth control anyway.”

(First of all, if the women O’Reilly and the men he knows are having sex with are blasted out of their mind, I’d be interested in hearing how that consent discussion went. Perhaps his definition of consent is a little hazy. Recall – if she’s too drunk to consent, it’s not consensual sex.) 

But back to what he’s taught me. With this latest statement, I’ve learned that women – regardless of their sobriety level – are exclusively the ones who need to be concerned with contraception and infection (and that, in fact, they do a terrible job of this). Only one person in a two-person sexual encounter is responsible for ensuring the woman doesn’t get pregnant (hint – it is not the man). He’s also informed me that contraception is something only considered the exact moment before a sexual encounter occurs – not hours or days or months before – just in that whisper of a moment before the magic happens. If O’Reilly had actually engaged in sexual activity with the woman he harassed, maybe he would have just crossed his fingers that she was both sober and using birth control and not have give it a second passing thought or considered it his concern. So let’s all just do the same moving forward.

More seriously now – it’s unconscionable that someone supposes men should be able to have sex with a woman (a drunk or sober one) whenever they want and also not have to worry about or share the burden of responsibility to avoid pregnancy. We need to utilize as many tools as we can to prevent pregnancy, and that prevention should be shared equally between the two partners engaging in sexual activity. It would be great if health insurance took the lead and incorporated 50% (or 100%, if they were so inclined) of the cost of a partner’s contraception of choice into a man’s health insurance plan. I think that would be even more of a fighting point than co-pays being covered under plans.

Nancy Northrup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, did a great job and broke it down over at CBS News about why the hysteria over insurers now eliminating co-pays for women with contraceptive prescriptions that is bubbling over is not actually all that hysterical. In fact, it’s something that 28 states require to be covered by health insurance, something already covered (with those pesky co-pays) by government health insurance, and something that 99% of all women have used, regardless of religious affiliation.

Additionally, under the Affordable Care Act, virtually all of us will be required to have or purchase health insurance (a contentious point, still, largely among Republicans, but others as well). With what will be an added cost to the personal budget of many Americans, let’s take a snapshot of what the cost of birth control is: the pill is up to $50 a month (over $500/year), the NuvaRing is up to $70 a month (over $800/year) $500 – $1,000 for an IUD; even the morning after pill, used if other birth control methods failed or were forgotten, costs up to $70.  If you are currently one of the millions without healthcare and one of the millions without a job and an income, these costs are likely to be the first that are cut as you struggle to keep you and your family afloat. However. Pre-natal care costs, the cost of delivery, well visits for a newborn – and, you know, the food and clothing needs of a baby – are not going to be cheaper than the contraception options. Bottom line – prevention can be costly, and beneficial to all. Absence of prevention is even more costly, and frequently puts a lot of burden on all parties involved.

Remember how in O’Reilly’s world everyone is super wasted when they’re having sex – too wasted to worry about a condom? All these methods – the IUD, the birth control pill, the NuvaRing – can be taken or inserted well before sex. Some don’t ever come out, some devices like the NuvaRing are changed monthly. This is why these are called preventive measures. You are utilizing them well before you engage in sexual activity, so when you’re in O’Reilly’s alcohol-soaked sex fiesta and about to engage in consensual sexual activity, pregnancy is already well on the way of being stopped in its tracks. (Not STIs, let’s not forget. None of these protect against sexually transmitted diseases.) His excuse that they aren’t thinking about using contraception holds no water in the argument of preventive techniques like these that take the worry about pregnancy prevention out of the immediate sexual encounter (not 100%, though – no method is 100% effective, and I actually recommend using one of these birth control methods as well as condoms). I’d also add here that many women when drunk are still concerned with pregnancy prevention, so that weasle-y move of trying to make intoxicated women look like reckless players shooting for a fertilized egg is also inaccurate.

Bill’s “black and white” take on the issue of contraception seems to boil down to: women need to pay for their birth control, they need to pay for their pre-natal care costs and gynecological exams, they need to pay for the cost of having the baby. But the fetus was not put there by her alone. The desire to not get pregnant is not hers alone. Communicative partnerships and cost coverage in these areas leading to happy, healthy mothers and children would benefit everyone.

1 Comment

Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Health Education, Media, Politics, Pop Culture, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health