Feminism, Postfeminism, and Ideologies of Femininity

“Feminism has fought no wars.  It has killed no opponents.  It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties.  Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety on the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.  If someone says ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ I ask ‘Why? What’s your problem?’

–Dale Spendor, Man Made Language

Our reading, “Feminism, Postfeminism, and Ideologies of Femininity,” began with the quote above.  Immediately after reading the quote by Splendor, I knew I would enjoy this article.  I found the quote to be empowering and brought up the crucial message that the idea of feminism has developed a “bad” name in the past.  Also, many men think of feminism as  “a girl’s thing” and something that doesn’t relate to them.

The reading defined the differences between sex and gender.  Gender is based on “cultural and social roles, behaviors, and personality traits that are deemed socially acceptable for men or women in relation to masculinity or femininity.” Sex is the “biological difference in genitalia, chromosomes, and hormones.”

There are also two main theories on gender development: genetic factors and social expectations.  The biological essentialist position argues that women are naturally more emotional and nurturing because they are designed to breed and care for children and men are more aggressive, smart, and competitive in order to protect their partner and offspring.  The social constructionist position “sees gender characteristics as a consequence of how people are socialized and raised.”  Social pressures and ‘norms’ construct our identity.  For example, Mary in The Donna Reed Show mimics her mother’s style in clothing, cleaning, and precise physical appearance.

There are three main waves of feminism:

First-wave feminism: 1880 and the 1920s; emphasis on legal advances attaining full citizenship, legal equity, the right to vote, and recognition that women should have the same right and opportunities enjoyed by other citizens; feminists raised questions about women’s rights, duties, and responsibilities.

Second-wave feminism: late 1960s; acknowledged the oppression of women in a patriarchal system also extended into the private sphere.  Focused on the exploitation of women through sex and on how women’s bodies and appearances are controlled and valued, objected strongly to media texts in which the female body was sexualized; negative connotations of feminists began, claiming that “feminists are hairy, unfeminine, butch lesbian separatists who aim to oppress men.”

“The personal is political” merged into the discussion of domestic violence, women’s reproductive rights, childcare, and sexuality.

Second wave feminists point out that, “make-up can be used as an instrument of power in relation to men, allowing women to assert their sexual attractiveness as power over men.”

I really enjoyed this quote; it made me think about the sexual power women really do have over men.  I hadn’t ever really thought of make-up as an instrument of authority until reading this article.  The advertisement in the article depicts a strong woman with her hands on her hips standing on top of a man.  The caption reads, “it’s not make-up, it’s ammunition.”  The advertisement portrays the female as tough and forceful, not weak and enticing.  The ad allows female viewers to take pleasure in objectifying the man compared to the usual opposite.(men sexually objectifying women in advertisements)

Third-wave feminism: 1980s; “new era” of thinking; it recognizes women’s desires do not necessarily revolve around men, marriage, and family; attention to difference and diversity; focus on youth movements and issues, and a critical resistance to earlier codes of feminist behavior or appearance; Example: Madonna

Women and Advertisements

The article mentions Ella Bache’s Every Body is Beautiful campaign.  Currently, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty advertisements offer a non-stereotypical image of female “models.”  The ads feature normal, everyday women that are not size 0 supermodels.  This advertising strategy aims to adjust the unrealistic way women look at themselves, models, and other women.

For my Marketing class, Promotion Strategy, we recently were assigned to analyze any advertisement of our choice.  I think this marketing assignment/advertisement relates to Bache’s and Dove’s strategy and represents a new wave of representing “real women” in advertisements.

The following is the advertisement I chose and my opinions/analysis.

“My Butt is Big”

The 2005 Nike print advertising campaign, “Real Women,” features confident athletic women with “real bodies” and descriptions of their “tomboy knees,” “strong shoulders,” and “big butts.”  Each of the ads focus on a body part that does not fit the current ideal of beauty and is narrated by a woman with a brief story about why she loves her body.  The ad does not show any other body part other than the body area being described.  The advertisement was featured in popular teen and women’s magazines such as Vogue, Glamour, Jane, Self, and Health.

The advertisement’s main objective is to raise women’s self-confidence and embrace an athletic image of a woman’s body, therefore encouraging women to purchase Nike brand athletic clothing and increase traffic to http://www.NikeWomen.com.  The media has trained men and women to idealize the bodies of size 0 supermodels and reject everyday women’s bodies as physically attractive, simply because they are larger than models.  The ad raises awareness to both men and women that even though women are all different shapes, sizes, and ethnicities each of them can still be considered beautiful.

The ad successfully conveys a message of women’s empowerment and intelligence.  Nike’s ad also encourages women to look past the advertisements that further you to dislike your figure and instead accept a more realistic version of a woman’s body.

Nike’s bold and authoritative text, “My Butt is Big,” combined with the zoomed in picture of a woman’s buttocks, and the colorful background grab the reader’s initial attention.   The advertisement keeps your attention throughout because it contains a series of text statements about the featured woman’s body.  Well-chosen jabs at the status quo include: “My butt is big, and ten-thousand lunges have made it rounder, but not smaller, and that’s just fine.”  The ad sticks in your memory due to its uniqueness in appearance and usage of self-assured, strong wording.  The Nike advertisement remains in the memory of many women because it is easy to relate to because most women have experienced some feelings of insecurity regarding their body image at some point.

The target market is female athletes ages 16-30.  The message strategy works exceptionally well because it works off of already existing brand themes.  For example, “beautiful” or “ideal” to Nike is a sweating runner pounding through the mud and rain; not a woman in seven-inch high heels.  The “real women” theme is a natural fit for Nike and complements its existing brand strategy.  The message strategy is very fitting and exceptionally successful for the target market because women, especially female athletes, struggle with balancing the idea of being a physically fit competitor and also appearing feminine.  This ad acknowledges female athletes’ struggle between being an athlete and conforming to society’s common norms in regards to body image.  Nike’s ad addresses the larger issue of self-critical female body image but still remains lighthearted and humorous by using phrases like, “My butt is big and that’s just fine.  And those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it.”

The ad conveys a feeling of self-confidence and power for athletic women.  The advertisement stretches the pre-conceived judgments of a “perfect woman’s body” by taking the opposite stance on women’s beauty and advocating an athletic woman’s body instead of the typical size 0 model.  In today’s media, female models are portrayed as overtly thin, which causes many young girls and women to believe in unattainable body images that can lead to insecurities, low self-esteem and for some, eating disorders.  The ad represents an average size woman that is not usually shown in magazines and encourages women to be comfortable in their own skin and embrace a realistic body.

The ad was featured in many teen and women’s magazines such as Glamour, Vogue, Health, Self, and Jane.  I think the ad was displayed in the correct media form and target audience because many young, active women read those magazines.  The ad takes advantage of its medium and target market by placing the ads in the magazines of young women that are easily susceptible to the media’s unrealistic representations of the “perfect body.”

The advertisements are full-page, in color, and are usually placed at the beginning of the magazine, where even the casual reader will notice it.  The bright pink, purple, and orange color droplets combined with the black and white photo create an eye-catching contrast.  The polished 10x zoom photograph of the featured body part is beautifully done, eye-catching and draws the reader in.   The text, wrapped seductively along the buttocks draws attention to its size.  It is sassy, feminine, and flirty.

The advertisement was exceptionally well done and made the reader forget that the company’s foremost intention is to get you to purchase their product.  Nike’s advertisement makes the reader feel good about their body and encourages them to embrace the athletic form.  The ad is very successful and there is currently a marketing trend of creating ads similar to this one.  It could be argued that Nike has not created an ad that is immediately brand recognizable as its main tagline, “Just Do It” is hidden with the Nike swoosh at the end of the ad, both in small text.

“The Ideal Wife” vs. “That Damn Donna Reed”

Class date: February 7, 2011

The Donna Reed Show depicts a stereotypical 1950s suburban nuclear family and “perfect” housewife.  The Donna Reed Show is a model representation of a conventional middle-class family and submissive women in an ethnically homogeneous environment.  The show takes place after WWII, during which the woman’s place is back in the home again.

The episode we viewed in class, “The Ideal Wife,” started out with Donna Stone fully put-together wearing a neatly ironed dress and pearls with the children’s bag lunches and school books in hand.  Throughout the episode, Donna’s “goody goody” housewife tendencies shine through.  She adjusts her own schedule of going to “Death of a Salesman” to go to her husband’s Gallbladder operation movie on Friday instead.

However Donna begins to rebel against her “sweet” tendencies when she realizes she is being taken advantage of.  This time, she demands that the dry cleaning service deliver her dress by evening.  Donna gradually becomes more and more resistant and “disobedient” when it comes to her typical housewife expectations and duties.  She starts to stand firm when it comes to requiring Jeff and Mary, the children, to fulfill their household duties and also does not blatantly hand out money or new clothes.

By the conclusion of the episode, Donna is back to her regular “ideal housewife” habits and ultimately gives the children and husband exactly what they each want.  Mary is once again treated as a “housewife in training” and Donna purchases her new cardigan sweaters.

Alex Stone recognizes that her behavior is back to normal and comments, “the revolution is over, we can all go back to our peaceful ways.”

In contrast to The Donna Reed Show, we also watched an episode of the Gilmore Girls titled “That Damn Donna Reed.”  The Gilmore Girls features a single working mother Lorelai and her daughter Rory.  The episode begins by Lorelai, Rory, and Rory’s boyfriend watching an episode of The Donna Reed Show and eating delivery pizza in front of the television.  The differences between Donna Stone and Lorelai are glaringly apparent even from the start of the episode…Donna would not have allowed such an informal dinner in front of the television!  The two women express disgust for the way women are portrayed in the show, but Rory’s boyfriend, Dean, sees it differently and remarks, “so what, she[Donna Reed] really liked cooking!”

Lorelai convinces Luke that the diner needs a new coat of paint.  During the painting process Lorelai suggests doing some stenciling on the walls:

Luke: “Does Martha Stewart do stenciling?”

Lorelai: “Yes, she does.”

Luke: “Then we’re not doing stenciling.”

Luke’s objection to stenciling, based on the fact that Martha Stewart does it is, represents the rejection of the modern “ideal housewife.”  Martha Stewart is a symbol of cooking, sewing, cleaning, and homemaking; everything that Donna Reed was too.

Later in the episode, Roary explicitly references Donna Stone when she dresses up as the “ideal housewife,” complete with high-heels and pearls, and cooks dinner for Dean.  Dean begins to recognize that not even his own mother is like Donna Reed.

Lorelai visits her parents and ends up telling them about Rory’s recent “dress-up” experience and sarcastically says, “We’ve decided to give up on that pesky Harvard dream and Rory will become a maid.”  Lorelai’s mother says, “That’s horrifying, why would you say something like that!”

Lorelai’s mothers’ reaction represents a complete change in the way women are viewed.  In Donna Reed’s era a woman’s place was in the home and even thinking about attending Harvard was simply not something a “good woman/wife” would do.

Throughout the two episodes, the representation of women clearly evolved from Donna Stone, a “sweet” homemaker mother to the outspoken women, Lorelai and Rory.  The Gilmore Girls illustrates the societal progression of women.  Lorelai is a single working mother that drinks a beer or two and orders pizza for dinner and Rory is a vocal young woman with many academic aspirations beyond cooking and cleaning for her future husband.

Current society’s representation/imitation of the 1950s housewife:

Representation of the Housewife in “Housekeeping Monthly”, May 1955:

Mittell, Television & American Culture

Class date: January 31, 2011

What is television?

According to Jason Mittell’s book preview, Television and American Culture, television could be defined as “the most powerful and prevalent mass communication medium in America and in the world.”  Television has multiple roles:

  1. Commercial industry: profitable industry—advertisements, fees, sales
  2. Democratic institution: informs people through news and electoral coverage; the FCC cannot censor/pre-judge content prior to its airing, but can levy fines to broadcasters who air “indecent” material causing broadcasters to sometimes over-edit controversial or important things, decisions made to either include or exclude some things
  3. Textual form: creative form; broad mix of production models: live broadcast to filmed programming, in-studio to on-location production; the medium ultimately controls what viewers see
  4. Site of cultural representation: shapes our perceptions of various groups of people, complexity of different character representations, we begin to believe our stereotypes are true –> our idea of normalcy changes, what we see more of becomes “normal” to us.  Example: representation of women as only doing “girl” jobs: nurse, teacher, homemaker
  5. Part of everyday life: viewing and talking about television is part of our everyday routine; television events often become the content of public debate and discussion
  6. Technological medium: it’s a technology—digital media in the home, DVDs to video games, video camera/cell phones are now used to capture live events as they happen

All of these functions link together in different ways.  Different disciplines approach television in different ways, but the truest picture arrives when we understand television across all of these divisions.

There are three specific eras of American television:

1. The Classic Network Era: mid-1940s-1980s, emergence of television and outgrowth of radio, nearly all programming was by ABC, CBS, and NBC

2. The Multi-Channel Era: 1980s, television shifted from being dominated by national broadcast networks to new technologies of cable and satellite, new technologies like remote controls and VCRs, people began having multiple televisions in their home

3. The Convergence Era: aka Post Network Era, happening right now, viewers are taking control of schedules and using new technologies (TiVo) to resist advertising as the primary source of income for the television industry, norms of the past will be challenged and redefined in unforeseen ways

“American viewers have few opportunities to see television from other countries—the United States exports a great deal of media around the world, but imports almost none onto its television schedule.”

I definitely agree with this statement by Jason Mittell.  While visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2009 I was shocked by the abundance of “American” television shows and cultural influences.  For example, my Argentine friend watches “The Simpsons” on a daily basis and has seen every episode. While in Argentina I was still able to watch MTV’s “Teen Mom” television show in English too.  In the U.S., I can’t think of a television show that’s imported from Argentina or any other country except Canada.

Terminology

Episode level character: characters that appear in a specific or given episode

Program level character: characters that regularly occur in the episodes, core cast members

Reflection: exact representation

Refraction: we see the same image but it’s distorted and manipulated

Intertextuality and the Study of Texts

January 31, 2011

Today, we discussed Jonathan Gray’s first chapter of Watching With the Simpsons.

Jonathan Gray’s chapter “Intertexuality and the Study of Texts” discusses how each text and genre influences others and feed into one another.  As readers, we can enhance our understanding of the work if we allow texts to “become intermingled.”

Intertextuality

  • Texts talking to texts, endlessly feeding/connecting into one another
  • Text and context bleed into each other, becoming intermingled
  • The shaping of text’s meanings by other texts
  • The constant give-and take of meaning-making with the text
  • Texts do not end when we reach the work’s physical end

Historically, the Romantics denied any influence from previous literary works or authors and proclaimed their own text to be “utterly unique.”  This idea is an example of “overly text-centric analysis,” meaning that texts can be studied individually.

“To Wordsworth, the poet did not write to be read, and as such, the reader became irrelevant” (Gray 20).

In the past, texts were not written to allow the readers to construct meaning themselves.  However, now it is more widely accepted that different people can produce vastly different readings and understandings of the same text.  A person’s societal ‘status,’ experiences or individual worldview affects how he/she interpret the text.

“An individual reader’s positioning within societal structures and groupings…frequently inflects what meanings that reader will ‘find’ in the text” (Gray 22).

Intertextuality allows each reader to produce vastly different interpretations of the same text.

“Intertexuality offers a text the chance to mean multiple things at once, so that the text may propose one meaning for itself, while each intertext may add others” (Gray 27).

There are four main models of interaction…

Hierarchical model: teamwork, intertextuality is restricted to influence, texts draw upon other texts or references, meaning travels from the past to the present

Example: “The Simpsons”

Working Together model: the object of study becomes their combined work, each text is seen as fulfilling the same role within the “team,”

Example: the role of the media in depicting violence –> sometimes draws unrealistic representations, the use of violent imagery leads people to assume the world is a violent place

Divided Responsibility model: divides responsibilities or roles between different team members, different genres fulfill different tasks

Fully Interactive model: involves a more complex interaction between texts, seeing texts working on each other’s ground, “every utterance begins as a response to something else, and ends, prepared or otherwise, as something responded to, the conversation never ends. (Gray’s preferred model)

Genres and Intertextuality

Genres are categories that are each based on a loose set of shared stylistic elements.  According to Gray’s piece, “genres help us taste-test and select what to watch.”  Genres are broad groups; they are not easily defined and quite complex.  The reader’s understanding of a genre affects their interpretations of the text and vice-versa.

“Not only do genre and expectation partially control our understanding of a text upon entrance, but that text can partially control our understanding of the genre upon exit” (Gray 31).