Media are resources which many of us drawn upon when formulating our sense of self and modes of expression and the ubiquity of Western popular media means that they are significantly entwined with people’s sense and understanding of gender and sexuality. Today, more than ever, media messages about gender and sexuality are complex and contradictory. On the one hand gendered marketing enforces a rigid gender binary that is most evident in the symbolic pink/blue colour saturation of children’s wear, toys, and adult cosmetics and toiletries. But On the other hand, we are now more likely encounter characters in film, TV and games who challenge traditional gender roles and complicate notions of normative sexual representations. In this lesson, we will interrogate these normativities and explore some of the ways that the construction and representation of gender and sexuality are beginning to shift in popular media.
Gender is a concept we often take for granted. Men and women are physically different and therefore they have different tastes and needs. Would you agree?
Women, for example, need pink earplugs or special bread designed to enhance their ‘well-being’ while men need specially designed tissues and sunscreen. Or do they?
Watch the following video and decide for yourself…
Take a look at these Lego ads from 1980 and 1982 then watch the following Feminist Frequency videos on Lego’s attempt to market to girls in more recent years.
Why have we gone backwards?
So why are boys and girls marketed to so differently and what are the implications of this treatment?
The answer to this question requires us to dig a little deeper and explore the social institution, cultural concepts and regulatory systems that construct us as gendered subjects. Gender is not something that is essential or innate. It is a series of learned behaviours that we often mistake for something that appears ‘natural’ or ‘normal’.
Watch this 8-bit introduction to feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir. de Beauvoir once said that “one is not born a woman, but rather, becomes a woman”. What do you think she meant by this?
Learning to do gender
🎥 CRITICAL VIEWING TASK
Watch the series of videos below and respond to the relevant discussion questions in your Campus Online discussion forum.
Here’s just one example of how one is trained to behave as ‘man’ or ‘woman’.
After you have watched the video below, take a moment to make some notes about your thoughts. Can you recall experiencing this kind of gender training as a child or adolescent?
Nasiruddin, Q. (2013). Nursery Rhymes and the Social-Construction of Gender Roles. Journal of Educational and Social Research. http://doi.org/10.5901/jesr.2013.v3n4p77 …
Do you think girls inherently do things differently than boys or vice versa? If you can’t recall any personal experiences of gender training, do a google search for some nursery rhymes or children’s stories that recite the differences between girls and boys. There are lots so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one to share with your tutorial group.
Unfortunately it’s not only sporting skills that are presumed to differ between the sexes. Below is a list of traditional gender stereotypes. You may recall our week two lecture on poststructuralism in which we explored the concept of binary oppositions. As you can see, gender functions according to this logic.
How many of these stereotypes do you identify with?
Do you find them offensive, or realistic?
Do you think the implications of these stereotypes are positive or negative?
How might they work to structure gendered power relations?
Come to your next tutorial prepared to discuss these and don’t forget to bring along any examples you might find in the media to confirm and/or contradict these assertions.
Feminist and queer theory
Cultural theories of gender and sexuality argue that we know ourselves as gendered and sexual subjects through discourses, institutions and practices that are historically contingent and socially constructed. Gender, as an objective, natural thing, does not exist:
“Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (Butler, 1990, p. 278).
Gender, according to Butler, is by no means tied to bodily facts but is solely and completely a social construction, a fiction, one that is open to change and contestation:
“Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis” (p.273).
That genesis is not corporeal but performative, so that the body becomes its gender only “through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time” (p. 274).
By illustrating the artificial, conventional, and historical nature of gender construction, Butler attempts to critique the assumptions of normative heterosexuality or ‘heteronormativity’: those punitive rules (social, familial, and legal) that force us to conform to hegemonic, heterosexual, gendered standards for identity.
Butler, Judith. (1990). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. In Sue-Ellen Case (ed.). Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, (pp. 270-282). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.
Take a closer look at this poster below. It gives a brief summary of heteronormativity. Be sure to read all the text and then complete the activity that follows.
Once you’ve digested the information on this poster, examine the set of images that follow and identify any part of the text or image that you think reinforces heteronormativity.
Feminist and queer theories ‘trouble’ the logic of heteronormativity and gender role rigidity. But how does theory relate to everyday life and culture?
While this may at first seem like lofty academic theory, feminist and queer critiques of gender provide us with a helpful framework for understanding presentations of gender and sexuality that do not align with heteronormativity. Choose at least two of the recent news stories below and read them. These articles all provide examples of gendered bodies that problematise heteronormativity. Such bodies and their gendered self-presentations cause, what Judith Butler (1990) calls Gender Trouble.
Gender Trouble is a canonical text of queer theory and postmodern poststructural feminism. In this book, Butler develops the notion of gender performativity. If gender is a performative constitution that one is trained to perform according the birth-assigned sex, then we can reveal its social construction by acts of gender trouble.
Feminist and queer media criticism
Hey Hetero! is a public art project collaboration between artist Deborah Kelly and photographer Tina Fiveash. The project’s six pieces have appeared in 30 illuminated public advertising spaces in Sydney streets, a CBD billboard, magazines, newspapers, bus ads, Avant Cards, galleries, and online. Hey Hetero! appeared in Sydney, Adelaide and Wellington, NZ in 2001, and was invited to Berlin and Melbourne in 2002. The project won the major arts award of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival 2001.
Hey Hetero! returns the gaze at heterosexuality: the privileged sexuality which makes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movements both possible and necessary. In the form of simulated mainstream ‘advertisements’, the artwork invites heterosexuality into public discourse.
Why is it important to invite heterosexuality and the gender roles implicit in the successful execution of heteronormativity into public discourse?
Poststructuralist feminist/queer approaches to the study of gender urge us to deconstruct its perceived essentialism. Understanding gender as having a purely cultural function thus reveals how gender is frequently used as an operative modality of social control and gender role regulation (or what Foucault might call a regime of power (see The History of Sexuality (1979).
Deconstructing the masculine/feminine binary.
Crossdressing, drag and genderfuck
How do you ‘do gender’? Perhaps you’re male and perform ‘traditional’ masculinity? Perhaps your female but regard yourself as a bit of a tomboy? Perhaps you’ve never given much thought to how you perform gender and if your performance is regarded as a legible form of masculinity or femininity?
Take this PlayBuzz quiz and find out? This is purely intended to be a bit of fun and get you thinking about the various ways we might choose to ‘do’ gender.
📚 PRESCRIBED READING TASK
This week’s reading is Taylor, J. (2012). Playing it Queer. Bern: Peter Lang. You can read it online or download it by clicking on this link.
📌 VERY PINTERESTING
Be sure to make use of the resources on the SAE Media and Cultural Studies Pinterest board. Here you will find links to texts, images, audio, video and other media that help you make more sense of the subject.