Sunday, April 27, 2008

sexualized femininity/masculinity in the media

The images of masculinity and femininity portrayed in the media sets the status quo for what it means and looks like to be feminine or masculine and how we, as individuals, relate to ourselves in terms of our own femininity and masculinity. I find it disheartening that much of what is portrayed in the media sets the standards at a place that is difficult to achieve for most average humans (like the woman in example one), which likely means that many people are struggling with these identities within themselves. This is evident in the rampant advertising of products for both men and women aimed at making us look and feel sexier, thinner, cleaner, more toned, muscular and so on. In addition, the fact that media images represent such clearly set, and distinguishable boundaries between what constitutes masculinity and femininity is limiting to the broad range of characteristics and roles that men and women can encompass. The images I selected for this assignment are mostly extreme examples of the way this is perpetuated in the media.

"America's Next Top Model" presents a material world where style supercedes substance. Femininity is represented not only in the physical attributes of the women on the show but also through characteristics of competition, sexuality, vanity and jealousy as they compete to become the object of desire. Cosmopolitan magazine, the equivalent to Maxim for men, acts as a "how to" guide for femininity. The styles, articles, and concerns featured in the magazine act as a reflection of what women should concern themselves with, the majority focusing on how we are supposed to look or act and most importantly, how to get, keep and please a man. Pleasing men seems to be the topic of importance in much of the features of Cosmo and in turn sends a message that femininity is about how we, as women, relate to men, how good we are at pleasing them and how attractive we are to them. In addition to setting standards of femininity for women, Cosmo also dictates masculinity for men. Articles that speak to issues such as, what men want women to know, what turns men on, and how to tell if he is really into you create (often unrealistic) expectations for women about how the men in their lives are supposed be and react to them. Cheerleaders, the object of many typical male fantasies, personify a stereotype of women as bubbly, sexy and unintelligent. Cheerleaders are present at (mostly male) athletic events as a decorative element for the pleasure of male viewing. Their presence can diffuse the masculine energy and provide an outlet for male desire in an arena that is made up of mostly men. They are sexualized by the scantily clad outfits they wear and the femininity that they encompass is represented only by their physical aspects, as they are rarely, if ever shown as having an individual identity of their own.

Music video's, especially rap music video's often portray constructions of both masculinity and femininity. Masculinity is often defined by how attractive or desired the man is by the women around him as well as by material possessions such as cars (big cruise ships in this video), jewelry, shoes and clothes (or lack of for most of the women!). The assumption is that if the man has these material things, he is more desired by women. The more women shown in the video with the man, the more masculine he is. Physical attraction is seen as important but not as important as it is for women to define their femininity. Women are shown with little or no characteristics other than their physical attributes. Physical characteristics are less important for the men, who are often defined by their material posessions and the beautiful women that surround them. There are often very large (fat) men pictured with women hanging all over him, but his physical attributes do not seem to matter because he has money or material things that are desired by the women. These images send messages that women should desire material possessions over other characteristics from men and that women are desired only for their physical attributes.


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2. America's Next Top Model

3. Cosmopolitan magazine

4. Cheerleaders

5. Jay-Z "Big Pimpin" music video

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