Monday, December 17, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bi the Way, Let's Analyze Tila Tequila...

The excitement following Tila Tequila and her shot at love is not surprising; MTV is exploring bisexuality, a topic rarely explored by mainstream media. This is a huge undertaking and though many cultural norms are being reiterated, many stereotypes are being shattered as well.

The season opens with a plethora of half naked pictures of Tila, presenting her from the onset not as a woman struggling with her sexuality, but as an object. The early presentation of the female as a sex object makes it impossible for the program to be identified as more than one of titillation.

However, Tila serves as a prime example of the disruption of the norm. She is a bisexual female yet is an internet pin-up girl. She is known for having the most “friends” on MySpace and is fantasized about by both men and women. Though it seems that her objectification is in no way a disruption of usual feminine depiction, it is her sexuality which sets her apart. As Raymond points out in her piece “Popular Culture and Queer Representation,” homosexual characters are finally being integrated into mainstream television. “Bisexual sexual identity,” on the other hand, “may be too disruptive for such programming” (Raymond 106). Bisexuals are rarely depicted as sex symbols, and though it may not be furthering women’s attempts to be viewed as more than objects, she is breaking new ground for those who identify with her.

This idea of non heterosexual objectification is evident not only in Tila, but also in the lesbians she invited into her house. She requests that these women dress in outfits that describe their personality. Not surprisingly, almost every woman dresses in a provocative outfit, attempting to display to Tila their physical attributes instead of their character. The men, on the other hand, are asked to bring gifts. She is uninterested in the man who flaunts his washboard abs, replying that she can find a good looking guy anywhere. She appreciates the men who give thoughtful or expensive presents instead. Early on, the audience witnesses the media’s common depiction of each gender: the “women are valued…for being pretty” while “all the men need is wealth” (Pozner 98).

When Tila finally divulges her secret sexuality to the men and women, there are two opposite reactions. The men exclaim that there is a God, subtly presenting the heterosexual male’s fantasy: a threesome with lesbians, while the women are shocked and upset. Most of the lesbians have had little contact with men and would like to keep it that way. However, they recognize the opportunity for the men to experience and better understand homosexuality.

Such understanding is needed, for most of the men believe that a woman’s homosexuality is simply a phase. They perceive the women to be merely experimenting instead of acting on their true sexual desires. The men believe that these women must have undergone a traumatic incident with a man; they simply need a “real man” to straighten them out.

Although the normative role for men and women is presented, the lesbians are not portrayed in the typical light. Most audiences imagine lesbians to be butch, yet Tila’s heterosexual male suitors comment on the females’ good looks. The women are aware of their sex appeal and plan on using it to knock out the male competitors.

The idea of the lesbian as a butch character is also challenged by the ladies’ compassion. Just as heterosexual men are perceived as stoic and insensitive, homosexual women are thought to be masculine, thus detached as well. On the contrary, Tila points out the lesbians’ sympathy and consideration. Two men begin fighting and while most men simply laugh at the ridiculous display, the women pull Tila off to the side because they sense she is overwhelmed by the situation. The feminine role as a sensitive yet condescending being, scoffing at the men’s inappropriate behavior, is promoted through this incident.

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila serves multiple purposes, whether or not they are intentional. The program disseminates common media constructions of the men and women, yet at times is disrupting media depictions of sexualities. The program is not thought to be one of struggle or a disturbance of societal norms, though the themes are present. They go unmentioned due to the “culture of homophobia and heterosexism” (Raymond 99) apparent in the United States, which is unwilling to deal with such issues. These themes have long gone unexplored and will continue to until media depictions include bisexuality, thus leading to a cultural change.

Raymond, Diane. "Popular Culture and Queer Representation." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 99-110.
Pozner, Jennifer. "The Unreal World." Women Images and Realities. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. 96-99.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sex Sells

The cliche "sex sells" is often dismissed as little more than a clever alliteration. However, a closer examination of the advertising industry indicates that the exploitation of sex is one of the more common marketing techniques and that it truly does sell. Heteronormativity tells us that heterosexuals constantly have sex or fantasize about it, providing insight as to the reason why sex is such a successful marketing strategy.

Taking note of the advertisement around which the collage is centered, it is easy to see why the targeted market, most likely male teenagers and young adults, would want to buy an Axe product. The marketers suggest that Axe serves not only as a deodorant and body wash but also as a female aphrodisiac. The most appropriate way to promote a product is to link it with another desirable field, and advertisers assume that in the minds of the Axe demographic, little is desired over a good bj. Jackson Katz states that "men...are engaged in an ongoing process of creating and maintaining their own masculine identities" (Katz 351), and ads for Axe items propose that their products facilitate this process.

Not only does this advertisement and ones containing similar sexual undertones successfully promote the product, but it also promotes heteronormativity. The male is fulfilling his role as a straight, well groomed, sexually active man while the female's subliminal presence supports Freeman's claim "that being a sex object for male voyeurs is her greatest asset" (Freeman 84). Surrounding advertisements promote similar ideals, namely the diamond ad in which a heterosexual couple, engaged to be married, are kissing. Engagement is considered a heteronormative fantasy, and its link to diamonds is another example of appealing to a demographic's desires.

Though society continues to label sex as taboo, it is a prevalent message in marketing, and as long as advertisements excite consumers, sex and marketing will continue to go hand in hand.

Katz, Jackson. "Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinique for Men." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 349-358.
Freeman, Jo and Henley, Nancy. "The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior." Women: A Feminist Perspective. 1995. 84-92.
Images from Google Images

Self Portrait in Consumer Capitalism

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Toys and Turmoil

From the moment we are born, before we are given an opportunity to protest it, gender plays a huge role in our existence. The most important announcement following our birth is not that we are healthy or that we look like dead Aunt So and So; it is a simple declaration of what genitalia we possess. This is followed by a ritualistic dressing. Of course, a boy must be dressed and wrapped in blue (dress him in purple and you’re throwing all chances of heterosexuality out the window) and a girl in pink (because a blue blanket may instantly transform her into a lesbian, or even worse, a feminist). Our next task is to sleep beside either a teddy bear or a doll. We lie defenseless, already exposed to the types of toys with which our gender is associated. And this scenario is most likely to repeat for the duration of our childhoods. We all accept it as “normal” to give girls dolls or kitchen sets for their birthday and boys tool sets and action figures when in reality there is nothing normal about it. These so-called innocent relics of childhood play a profound role in the gendered socialization of children.

Let’s begin by investigating some common toy stores. Toys R Us and KB Toys, for example, offer convenient online shopping. Open their websites and an option is to either choose a brand or an age to shop for. Innocent enough. However, after opening a link for a specific age or brand, we see that there is an option to choose which gender we are shopping for. Such separation reinforces the previously ingrained idea that boys and girls should be playing with different toys. Our culture forbidding children from playing with certain types of toys is restricting enough in itself but it is not solely about separating objects of recreation; it is about embedding gender roles into the minds of children. Looking at the toys advertised toward two year old children, we see that girls are offered plastic pink purses, fully equipped with lipstick, a mirror, and a comb. There are kitchen sets, vacuums, baby dolls, strollers, even a fake market to practice grocery shopping. Boys choose from construction kits, trucks, Swing ‘n Score Baseball. Coincidence that these toys match up with those all too familiar gender stereotypes? I don’t think so. The message I’m getting is that a girl must recognize by age two that she will never get away from cleaning, cooking, and caring for her future children. And boys are to transform into handymen, car salesmen, and athletes. These toys, which we are told are merely for recreation, serve a simple purpose: to allow us to recognize our roles as compliant members of our sex.

The toys are slightly different as the age group progresses, but the overall theme is unchanging. For example, instead of simple kitchen sets, three and four year old girls can have entire housekeeping sets. Why stop at the kitchen when there’s a whole house to clean? By age seven, girls are offered a plethora of toys which suggest their inadequacy. There are wigs, dress up sets, beautiful dolls, and loads of pretend makeup. Toy manufacturers and marketers depend upon girls’ insecurities to sell these products. Author Susan Jane Gilman suggests that “…dolls often give children their first lessons in what a society considers valuable - and beautiful” (Gilman 74). They perceive dolls to be society’s image of perfection and idolize this unattainable status of perfection. Girls may not realize these effects until it is too late; advertising has already set them up to become loyal beauty product consumers in their later years. But this tactic doesn’t stop with females. Marketers bombard boys with competitive games, such as sports paraphernalia and video games. Competition and winning is rooted into their heads through these toys and they become lifetime shoppers for that particular industry. Manufacturers and marketers are catching these children at their most vulnerable age and fabricating their ideal buyers.

However, the most disturbing discovery doesn’t lie in the manipulation of toy marketers, but in the ignorance of the consumers. These marketers are partially to blame because of their deliberate gendering through toys, but the consumers are the ones allowing their message to be spread. The previous toys I have mentioned all show up under the Best Selling category on both the Toys R Us and KB Toys websites. Instead of being outraged that as children, we are pressured to play with gender specific toys, we are buying into the stereotypes, literally. Furthermore, these gender specific toys don’t only hold ideas regarding the sex of those playing with them, but can carry implications concerning the opposite sex. Video games, for example, have “attracted increasing attention for their demeaning portrayal of women” (Newman 90). These games are providing boys with the sense of competition and treatment of women that they believe society has deemed “normal.”

This form of gender socialization through toys is an important aspect of American culture. It fuels the stereotypes we all associate with, facilitates our becoming accustomed to the roles we are to assume later in life, and allows us to lose all sense of hope in our society. Who needs to practice virtue and individuality when toy manufacturers and marketers reveal all we need to know about life on store shelves and websites? There are both overt and inferential messages embedded in every toy, causing children to form ideas based upon genders and roles in society, and it is essential that we attempt to eliminate such biases from the most innocent years of children’s lives.

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
Gilman, Susan Jane. “Klaus Barbie, and Other Girls I’d Like to See.” Women Images and Realities. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

images from