Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gender, Culture, & Children's Toys.

When toy shopping for a child, considering the roles the toys play in gendered and cultural socialization of the child is important. The child I am toy shopping for is an eight-year-old boy named Isaiah. He lives in the United States, so it was easy to find toys that would suit his interest; I chose to look on At the top of his wish list is Mr. Potato Head, and he enjoys playing in the park. I had $168 to spend, and each of these toys were accessible and within budget. Through marketing ideas of masculinity or femininity, along with different cultural influences, toys play an important role in developing ideas of gender roles and race for children.

Since at the top of Isaiah’s wish list was a Mr. Potato Head, this was the first item on my shopping list. I decided on the Playskool Mr. Potato Head Silly Suitcase because it was more up-to-date than the classic Mr. Potato Head, and kids like to keep up with the times with the newest toys and technologies. It cost $17.99 and the age range for this toy was 3-5 years old, a bit below his age level, however it was what he wanted. What I think is interesting about Mr. Potato Head is that there is also his female counterpart, Mrs. Potato Head, which may appeal to girls however seems to be less popular. A video by Mike Mozart on Youtube pokes fun on Mr. Potato head by showing that there are accessories to dress him up, one including “Glamour Spud” filled with female accessories however is still marketed as “Mr. Potato Head” accessories. ( This product could cause confusion in gender roles for young children who want to dress up their Mr. Potato Head with these female accessories.

Since I am Isaiah’s dad -_- I wanted to buy him toys that will influence his masculine qualities of aggression, through playing sports. David Newman states that, “Toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information. A quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer's catalog or web site reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines.” (Newman 112). Girls’ toys typically revolve around the theme of domesticity or fashion, such as dolls and kitchen sets, while boys’ toys focus on action and adventure such as sports equipment or action figures. Sports equipment is an appropriate gift from a father to a son to teach him to be strong, masculine, competitive, and aggressive. This also will contribute to Isaiah’s enjoyment of playing in the park.

On my shopping list I have put the Deluxe Folding Goal Set, which includes a goal along with hockey sticks and a puck. This item cost $39.99 and is appropriate for children aged 5-11 years old. This hockey set will allow for socialization because he will be able to play competitively with his friends or his father and practice an aggressive and masculine game. In addition to the hockey set, I have also added to my list a Virtual Speed Baseball, which has a digital speed indicator that will display the speed the baseball traveled at after it is thrown. This toy cost $9.99 and is for children aged 6-11 years old, though this baseball along with most sports equipment can be used at any age. Since he is living in the United States and baseball is an “American pastime,” I figured a baseball would be a good toy for his culture that he could play with outdoors and also practice socialization through playing catch. Additionally, the speed indicator will promote male competitiveness by seeing who can throw the ball faster.

Because of the fact that he wanted a Mr. Potato Head, I thought Isaiah would like other kinesthetic activities, more suited for his age level, such as K’Nex. Both boys and girls could use K’Nex, however, finding a “gender neutral” K’Nex was difficult. There is a Ferris wheel, which could typically be considered gender neutral but probably appeals more to girls, while the other K’Nex sets are Dueling Dragons or Air Rescue Vehicles, which are more interesting to boys. For Isaiah I decided to stick to a boyish theme and go with the K'Nex Heavy Haulers - Pick Up Truck. This toy was $19.99 and it is for an age range of 5-8 years old. Cars and trucks typically interest boys and this he can build himself or with help and can feel proud of what he created.

Lastly, it is important for my child to be intellectually challenged with a game or toy, because in this society most parents want their child to be successful in school and the smartest kid in their class. This will be accomplished, of course, through Disney Scene It. I added to the shopping list, Scene It? The DVD Game: Disney - 2nd Edition, which cost $29.99 and is appropriate for children aged 6-12. This is a popular gender-neutral game that is fun to play with family or friends. It promotes thinking through activities like “find the difference” and trivia from favorite Disney movies. However, this toy contributes to the consumer’s cultural and ethnic ideas through the portrayal of many Disney characters.

In Celeste Lacroix’s article she describes, “The orientation of women of color in these Disney animated films and how the representations of gender and cultural difference operate within Disney's consumerist framework which provides ‘dreams and products through forms of popular culture in which kids are willing to materially and emotionally invest.’ (Lacroix 213). She based her analysis of Disney movies by focusing on the construction of the respective female in these movies (such as Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Esmeralda). She explains, “The white characters contain traits of the idealized woman. Features of earlier Disney heroines like Snow White and Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty are drawn with tiny waists, small breasts, slender wrists, legs, and arms” (220). The characters of other races however may not be represented as accurately still containing many white features. Lacroix continues, “By contrast, Jasmine of Aladdin posed problems for the Disney animators. Her skin tone is appropriately darker for the Middle Eastern setting of the story. Yet, she retains many White features, such as a delicate nose and small mouth. Jasmine differs from Ariel and Belle in the size and shape of her eyes.” (220). Not only does Disney give a representation of the idealized woman, but it also gives an idea of culture by having female heroines of different races, which represent the stereotypes of their ethnic background. These characters, many of which are portrayed in Disney Scene It, give ideas of gender and culture that may be misconstrued because of the similarities and differences between the white and dark-skinned characters, as shown by Lacroix’s example with Jasmine.

Each of the toys on this shopping list, Mr. Potato Head, K’Nex, hockey and baseball gear, and Disney Scene It, add to a child’s construction of their idea of gender and ethnicity. There are specific toys marketed towards boys and towards girls, and they give these children ideas of what they are expected to be interested in as that specific gender. Additionally, toys give ideas of different cultures and races through either the skin color of a specific toy, or, as stated before, the depiction of the Disney characters in the Scene It game.

Works Cited

Lacroix, Celeste. “Images of Animated Others: The Orientalization of Disney's Cartoon Heroines From The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Popular Communication: 213-229.

Newman, David M. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: 106-145.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Victoria has a new secret: You can be too sexy.

In the media there are many conflicting messages presented by images in magazines, on television, or in advertising. One of the points made by Jean Kilbourne is how media images tell the audience to “be sexy, but not too sexy.” On a dating and relationship advice website, one reader asks, “I want to know how to be sexy for my man, but I don’t want to be a slut.” ( Where exactly is the line between sexy and slutty? Media images presented by magazines and tabloids depict conflicting views of what is sexy and what is too sexy.

Laurie Ouellette says, “Commercial women’s magazines offer a temporary ‘window to a future self’ rooted in male visions of idealized femininity and consumer solutions.” (121). Most women’s magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Seventeen offer women advice on “how to be sexy.” They run articles such as “be sexy for your man,” and feature dozens of photos of models in sexy outfits and makeup, which readers may see as the ideal version of themselves. They see these visions of “sexy” which the magazine suggests readers to try to look like to better themselves. Magazines like GQ put female celebrities in minimal clothing on their cover because it appeals to the male reader, but females may also see this as something they should strive to achieve or be like. Additionally, the Victoria’s Secret Angels may be models that walk around in sexy lingerie to sell products, but they are portrayed in the spotlight as role models and are icons for many women.

However, as women’s magazines list ways to be sexy and sexual images are used to sell and catch the eye of women who want to be sexy, there are also instances in which someone can be “too sexy.” Anastasia Higginbotham refers to teen magazines as “A series of catch-22s—ugliness is next to nothing, yet [a girl] who is too sexy is also in trouble.” (94). There are many controversies in which an advertisement is too explicit, a young teen celebrity’s photos are too racy, or a children’s doll is too sexy. Several of the photographs in this collage show examples of images people have said were “too sexy” or may be interpreted in that way. Miley Cyrus is an icon for young teen girls, but she was photographed wearing only a sheet, by a professional photographer for Vanity Fair magazine, which sparked much controversy over whether these photographs were appropriate or not. In another example, the new “Dora the Explorer” doll features a more feminine silhouette, a little short dress, and long flowing hair, which many parents perceived as too sexy. One article pokes fun at the situation comparing this new “Dora the Explorer” doll to the popular Bratz dolls. Jennifer Armstrong says, “And here's to hoping she stays away from those tarty Bratz dolls -- you know that's really what had all these moms so jumpy.” The Bratz dolls are very controversial because of their sexy outfits, lots of makeup, and appeal to young girls. To refer back to Victoria’s Secret, the company has used sexy advertisements to sell their lingerie, however even the CEO of this company admitted to their advertisements becoming “too sexy”. After sales declined in 2007, Victoria’s Secret toned down these advertisements to turn back to their traditional portrayal of sexy advertising.

Works Cited

Higginbotham, Anastasia. " Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem." Learning Gender: 93-96.

Ouellette, Laurie. "Gender, Race and Class in Media." Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 116-128.

Armstrong, Jennifer. “Is the new 'Dora the Explorer' doll too sexy?”

Collage Photos:




Victoria's Secret

So Sexy So Soon



Vanity Fair



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hegemonic Masculinity and Femininity as portrayed in "Beauty and the Geek"

Hegemonic masculinity assures the dominant position of men over women, and some men over others. The hegemonic male is often characterized by their aggressiveness, strength, and self-reliance. Women, on the other hand, are seen more as subordinates, and are taught to concede to men’s stronger will and provide the emotional and social support. The CW’s reality television series, Beauty and the Geek, in some instances, disrupts the ideals of male dominance set by hegemonic masculinity and in some cases the female holds a stronger representation of this role.

Beauty and the Geek, a show which they call a “social experiment” in which eight beauties are paired up with eight geeks compete in a series of competitions for a chance to survive each elimination and be the one couple to win a money prize in the end. The beauties are typically attractive yet unintelligent girls who portray femininity as wearing nice clothes, having perfect hair, a fake tan, being skinny, and wearing a lot of make up. These girls typically fit the hegemonic norm of how girls should look an act. They follow the reality television female trend of beauty and no brains. “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.” (Pozner 97) The girls play up the fact that they are ditzy and only think about beauty and shopping, as one girl states in her interview “when I see a really nice pair of shoes I have a shoegasm.” However, these girls probably make themselves seem dumber in their audition videos to fit the norm, which will gain the attention of the reality television audience. Otherwise, why would they pride themselves in being unintelligent?

As Pozner states, a brain in a bikini is not going to get any attention; this show was popular specifically for portraying beauties without brains and nerdy guys. In the trivia challenge, they ask the girls questions that may be easy for anyone to answer however geared more towards males or the “braniacs,” just so people can be entertained by their responses. “Yet when women aren’t embarrassingly stupid, they’re condemned for being smart.” (97) The smarter girls are seen as a challenge and are often first eliminated from the show, because no one wants to see the smart girl win, they want to see an underdog story in which the less intelligent girls drastically change and rise to the top. Another characteristic of the hegemonic female is that they’re most typically portrayed as white. “Not only are the women cast on these shows supposed to be hot, dumb, and licentious, but they’re also, for the most part, white.” (98) In fact, the female cast of Season 2 features one black girl, one Asian, and the rest are white.

In the first episode, the show itself disrupts hegemonic norms because the girls get to take a dominant role in choosing which geek they would like to be their partner. The geeks are all shy and do not know how to act around the girls, they are intimidated. After choosing a partner, the couple gets to go into the house and choose their bedroom. As each couple goes into the house the same pattern is visible; the girls run ahead choosing which room they want to live in and the men simply comply with the girls decision, not having much say in the matter. While moving in their luggage, one of the beauties asks, “Can I have a strong guy to help me?” This is an example of the normal expectations of a male, however the geeks in the show are seen struggling to lift the heavy luggage up the stairs.

Most of the “geeks” do not fit hegemonic male norm because they are weak, passive, and not confident in their self-reliance. While the hegemonic male may have physical strength often seen in sports, these men instead have talents such as solving a Rubiks cube behind their back in under a minute. The guys display many female characteristics including the showing of emotions, as one of the geeks, Tyson, said “I prefer not to have things buttered up, go ahead and hurt my feelings.” Another one of the geeks, Josh, also disrupted the norm of a male by wearing a “man purse.” Josh also displayed inferiority around the females because he couldn’t sleep in a room “with someone that beautiful” so by choice he slept in the closet.

There was one geek in particular who did, however, fit the dominant characteristic of a male, though it is almost overbearing. Chris definitely takes the dominant role in his pair, making all the decisions and not letting his partner have a say. During the trivia challenge, each pair got to choose which of the two would answer the question. Chris took charge of answering the first question, and for the second his partner said she would like to answer, but he wouldn’t let her and took the question again himself. Most of the other guys, however, allowed their female counterpart to answer the question. Chris and his partner won the challenge and got the privilege of being able to switch teams around, and again, in this situation he took the dominant role and went on a “power trip” asking the other players questions and intimidating the group. Though his partner didn’t want to switch the teams, Chris’ decision ruled and he got his way. While he displays this pattern of superiority, the other geeks interrupt a sense of male domination and patriarchy. “It's about standards of feminine beauty and masculine toughness, images of feminine vulnerability and masculine protectiveness.” (Johnson 94) The females in the show display beauty and feminine qualities, however most contradict the vulnerability and the males lack toughness and their sense of dominance.

Though some characters stuck to the hegemonic masculine or feminine norm, others disrupted it displaying the qualities usually represented by the opposite sex. For the most part, the males in the show took the more subordinate, passive role and the females were dominant over their partner. In the end the two learn to work as a team with their different talents and characteristics. In the words of a geek, “I’ll help you out with the computers you teach me what to wear and I think we’ll both be happy.”

Works Cited

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Learning Gender: 96-100.

Johnson, Allen G. "Patriarchy, The System." It’s Not Just About Gender: 91-98.