Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gia as a Fairy Tale: A Less Erotic Re-Telling of Rumplestiltskin

    Fairy tales usually have a happy ending. Some fairy tale purists, as well as literate people who are curious, would argue that fairies should be a more important component to fairy tales, but happy endings seem to be just as important. And so, it becomes difficult to try and look at the film Gia through the perspective of a fairy tale. After all, the life of Gia Carangi was one filled with family problems, drug abuse, and death from complications from AIDS. These components do not lend itself easily to the genre. In fact they are the ingredients for a rather grim fairy tale*. Yet the filmmakers for Gia frame the movie as a modern day fairy tale: a tale about a young girl and her meteoric rise to the top of the fashion industry, only to free fall, but regain herself, and die with dignity. Gia is lionized as a type of ideal bastion of beauty; a success story that was only too short because of personal demons and disease.    Using these standards, Gia works as a fairy tale. She was a young girl that came from a background of family troubles looking for happiness. And so she moved out to the big city to become successful. She failed early on, but with the help of her fairy godmother, Wilhelmina Cooper, she was able to become successful. The success then leads to a reunion with her parents, and then she prematurely passed. And so, one can examine the film through the scope of a fairly tale and then point out the various conflicting messages about gender, sexuality, success and beauty.

    This idea of using a fairy tale type frame for the story of Gia's life is based on her diary. The young Gia Carangi (according to the movie makers) kept a secret diary that told her life as a fairy tale, an escapist catharsis for a young girl caught in the mist of domestic problems. This aspect of Gia's life is rather common within the genre of fairy tales. Many fairy tales start with a young child, usually a girl, being alienated from the family. This can be a wicked stepfamily, being sold to a witch, or a myriad of other family troubles. In the case of Gia, her mother seemed to be gallivanting around town, and her jealous father was reaching a point of violence. Now under the traditional guidelines of fairy tales, a female child that is detrimentally affected by the decisions of the family finds salvation and happiness by being so beautiful that you would be rescued by a prince or by Prince himself (see: Appollonia in Purple Rain), and male children find salvation through work, cunning, and monetary success. This message to children seems pretty simple: one day, your family will leave you or simply go away, and if you are a female the way to sustain yourself is by being pretty and sinking your fangs into a rich, handsome man. And if you are a male, you must attain a certain level wealth to support yourself and make you a viable option of a woman.     

    Gia does stray from the usually storybook construct in the sense that even though she is a female, her salvation, or what could be considered a happy ending, is more so tied to her success as a model than her pursuit of a Prince Charming. She does not sit and wait for a prince to whisk her away, but was aggressive (re: masculine) in her quest to succeed. In fact, she didn't desire a prince at all, but instead took the normative male role as the pursuer of another female. Gia is portrayed as a girl in a fairy tale that tries to achieve happiness through the standard means of a male in a fairy tale. At face value this seems like a positive message, where a girl can do what a boy can do and be successful. But when one looks at the context of this movie, while Gia was famous and successful, she lived a difficult life marred by drugs, unrequited love, violence, and complications with AIDS. While sending a message to young girls that they are not limited to the option of waiting for a man to save them, Gia as a fairy tale also provides the caution that if a young girl is willing to deviate from the normative path of gender expectation, that there are many dangers out there that they will not be able to handle and will impede they're success.

    These kinds of contrasting messages in the fairy tale or in Gia are typical of the conflicting messages women receive through popular culture. As Higginbotham calls it, it is "a series of catch-22's" and a "blur of contradictory messages about how to navigate life as an adolescent girl" (96). The message given in this example of "don't confine yourself to normative standards, but don't stray too far or bad things will happen to you" is strikingly similar to Higginbotham's examination of magazines that tell young girls to be pretty, but to not be so pretty that they'll receive unwanted sexual advances from older men. By sending messages that encourage women to do one thing and broadcasting a contradiction, society places a guideline on women. The illusion of freedom is given, but the contradicting message provides a limit to the freedom. Thus society keeps women in line within the guidelines in which society wants them to conform to by appeasing women with encouragement, but quickly drawing the nets with warnings and restrictions. Crane quotes the work Robert Goldman when Goldman states that the media is an indication of "internally contradictory hegemonic processes-on ongoing dialectic between dominant and oppositional discourses" (316). The film, as well as fairy tales, provides examples of the dominant and oppositional discourses that are being portrayed in popular culture. The film praises female independence from the norms, but also dissuades women to follow that path due to the dangers that may lie ahead. Beauty is taught to Gia by her mother as something that is to be loved, yet during a photo shoot, fellow models are encouraged to show disdain to Gia for her beauty. The models who came before Gia are told to fit into a certain criteria of what beautiful is, but are cast aside as if they were repulsive as soon as someone redefines what the standard of beauty is. The film showed that Gia was loved and became famous for her attitude and aggression as model, yet when she was strung out and was nearly dead, she was photographed with great success. Gia is ripe with contradicting messages, but why?
As a part of a larger construct of society, the interplay between dominant and oppositional discourses serves to obfuscate sources of power in regards to sexuality. As Foucault pointed out, if the messages were simple and were all the same, it would become easy to point out the source of power, and make appropriate changes to usurp power (101). But by providing hegemonic messages, power is untraceable, and thus change is nearly impossible.

    The last thing to examine about Gia in regards to the fairy tale genre is the initial issue of "happy endings." If one were to force a happy ending from this film as if it were storybook fiction, it would probably be from the fact that Gia was reunited with her parents at the end of the film, and found peace before she died. While this is a nice message, when one analyzes the film, the ending doesn't seem too happy. Gia's mother seemed to love her daughter on a strictly superficial level. The first appearance of Gia's mother is her along with Gia in front of a mirror talking about each other's beauty. She then doesn't speak to Gia for an extended period of time, until Gia becomes a supermodel. Gia's mom is sure to save glamorous photographs of Gia in which she takes an enormous amount of pride in. Her obsession with the superficial can last be seen upon Gia's death in which she made sure that Gia looked flawless for her funeral, sparing no expense for it. This "happy ending" sends the message that even though Gia tried through non-normative gendered means try and reach happiness, ultimately her beauty is what leads to her happy ending. Although she tried to achieve success by being aggressive, working, and accumulating money, her happy ending is still tied to being passive. Gia's acceptance to her family, which is what she wrote as her happy ending in her journal, was reached in the same way female fairy tale characters reach their fortunate conclusions: by being attractive and hoping for the best. It relates back to normative expectations from fairy tales. The fairy tale of Gia sends the message that while it is ok to break normative gendered expectations, but ultimately the normative ways are the one's that work out the best. This could also be seen in her romantic relationships. Sexuality discussed with the same type of messages. By breaking the hetero-normative mold, Gia is shown to be happy, but also suffers through rejection, heartache, and pain. Yet when in a heterosexual relationship with the character T.J., Gia seems happy, and is even able to successfully get rid of her drug addiction. This reinforces the message that breaking normative rules, while allowed, will only lead to failure and it is best to revert back to the normative ways.

    Gia, while a horrible movie, was lush with examples of contradictory messages within the media, the fashion industry, and society in general. By framing it as a fairy tale, the contradictions and the messages only become more glaring. Women are bombarded with a constant stream of counterintuitive messages from film, other sources of media, and even fairy tales. And these contradictions shape women's understanding of sexuality, gender, and beauty.







* I hate myself for that pun. I really do.


Works Cited

Crane, Diana. "Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines." Gender, Race, And Class In Media. Second Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003.

Higginbotham, Anastasia. "Teen Mags: How To Get A Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, And Lose Your Self-Esteem" Women, Images, and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology. New York. McGraw Hill. 2003.

Foucault, Michel "Method" New York. Random House. 1978

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blogging in Collage: How Advertisers Sell the Adea of "Being a Man" To Push Their Products To the Ideal Consumer and Me.

The above collage is a visual representation what advertisers would consider the ideal, male, middle-class, college student consumer. He is an indolent, almost infantile male, who is unwilling to question advertisements because of sheer laziness. The ideal male consumer is willing to purchase anything peddled as long as the advertising involves sexy, scantily clad women, a fast car, or sports (all things that by normative standards contribute to the definitions of a “man”.) In Katz’s analysis he states that instead of trying to sell a good or service, “what they’re really selling is a vision of masculinity-adventurous, aggressive, and violent-that provides men of all classes with a standard of “real manhood” against which to judge themselves “(355). This is similar to how advertising that is aimed for women sell the idea of beauty: if a woman doesn’t purchase a product, then she will not be deemed beautiful. Masculinity is defined by advertisers, and if one does not buy the advertised product then one can not be truly masculine.

Advertisers view males as insecure beings that will spend as long as the product will help them laid or seem tougher and manlier. This can be seen in any commercial or advertisement geared towards men. Invariably, regardless of the product, advertising contains attractive women, a sports hero, or an attractive male doing something rugged and normatively masculine. Commercials and ads for televisions, candy, cars, shaving cream, clothing, power tools, and anything else that advertisers want men to buy all utilize the same images of trying to sell “being a man,” as if it was a challenge extended to the consumer, and if they do not purchase the product, they will fail as men. Advertisers “incorporate more rough, tough, and vigorous qualities, in an attempt to validate the products within the range of masculinities acceptable to the type of purchaser,” (Kirkham & Weller, 272). By tying the products to masculinity, the ideal consumer feels inadequate for not purchasing the product, or feels that not purchasing the product will lead to being ostracized for being feminine. To an advertiser, the ideal male consumer is someone who is so wrapped up in societal definitions of masculinity (sexual prowess, athleticism, strength, etc.), that they will buy anything that hints at making them more masculine, which is in sharp contrast with who I am as a consumer.

I don’t perceive myself to fall into this stratum of the ideal male consumer. I don’t find the need to fit myself into the mold of masculinity as defined by advertiser. I don’t purchase products because I believe myself to be inadequate, or because I don’t embody the typical ideals of masculinity. I don’t know anything about cars, I’m not particularly successful with girls, and I’m not particularly good at sports (that’s kind of a lie), but I know that buying products won’t rectify the situation. I’m more than aware that regardless of what a Sketchers advertisement says, a pair of shoes won’t make me an overnight sensation with girls. I know that taking Viagra won’t give me the ability to swing a big stick like Rafael Palmiero. I know that drinking Gatorade won’t make me as good as Peyton Manning in football. And while I do drink Gatorade, I do so because of the quality of the product, not because of the messages sent by the advertising. That perhaps is the biggest difference between the ideal consumer and me. I purchase products based on quality not the promises made by advertisements. A drink could be marketed as “The Drink that Only Impotent, Fat, Ugly Future Bums Drink,” and I would drink it as long as it tasted good. Ultimately the perception of masculinity, while undoubtedly important to almost all males, is not something I am consumed by. Thusly I find myself unaffected by advertising for products that promise the appearance of brute, rugged, sexually virile masculinity.


Kirkham. P, & Weller, A. Cosmetics, A Clinique Case Study.

Katz, J. Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinique for Men.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"There's no crying* in baseball**!"

*By “crying” it is meant “audience”
** By “in baseball” it is meant “for professional women’s sports”

Editor’s (My) Note: This is pretty damn long. It was written during weekend peyote & coyote binge.
Also, it is severely un-edited/proofread

My Sunday routine at this time of year is rather simple. I wake up around 11, make myself an omelet that I would categorize a just bit shy of “an effrontery to God,” and then put on a pair of basketball shorts. This sweet and gentle foreplay provides me a base for the sweet love making that will occur between the television and me for the next few hours. From here on in, the day consists of watching football from the noon time pregame until I pass out around 6 p.m. because of an illness I have, which doctors have diagnosed as “eating too much chili.” After an hour or so, I recover from being drunk on chili, just in time for the Sunday night game. Throughout the entire duration of this Sunday sacrament at the altar of blasphemous gluttony, nothing without the stamp of the NFL makes an appearance on the screen. The only possible exception to this is what ESPN immediately airs after its pregame show, which invariably is women’s bowling. Just as invariable is my forgetfulness in regards to football scheduling, and forgetting that ESPN doesn’t show a football game right after the pregame show. And so, a mad scramble ensues as the TV says things like “Split,” “Gutter,” “Turkey,” and “Liz Johnson.” While those things put together may constitute a tragically funny Thanksgiving Day disaster worthy of being portrayed on Frasier, when heard in context though, those words are as boring as female bowling. After a few minutes of utter confusion, I usually find a moment of clarity, and am able to rock myself back and forth, until I get enough momentum to get up from my nest of cushions and blankets, and waddle up to the television to change the channel.

My aversion to women’s bowling is not a strange one. I don’t like bowling, nor would I like to spend any of my waking life watching other people do it. After watching the film Kingpin, I assumed the world of professional bowling was a glamorous one, filled with Amish oafs, hook-handed has-beens, and John Popper cameos. Instead what I get is tedium and John Popper look-alikes. This general disdain for a pseudo-sport got me thinking though on one particular Sunday. To me, bowling is bowling, and bowling is boring, regardless if participated in by males or females. I would change the channel every time there was a bowling telecast shoved in my face by the Pro-Bowling Lobby that controls much of these United States, regardless of who is involved. This, however, can not be said about all sports (the real ones anyways). There are certain sports that I absolutely adore and love to watch, but I can not watch the female equivalent of the same sport. (I doubt it’s a sexist thing, because let’s face it, its 2007. Sexism died in the sixties, much like with racism, intolerance, and a couple of Kennedy Brothers.) And so, the entry will probably be about why professional sports played by females have been largely unsuccessful, and why for the life of me I can’t watch the WNBA. I admit that this entry will probably be devoid of any real arguments.


First thing that should be addressed when discussing gender and sports is the fact that women’s sports have come very far since the days in which the only sport a girl could participate in was the sport that resulted in a clean house, dinner, and a male heir (I think the Canadians call it “curling”). Since the inception of Title IX (which forbade the gender-based discrimination in any federally financed educational programs, including athletics), there has been a dramatic increase in participation in women’s sports. Today, about 1 in 2 teenage girls participate in sports.

A real pioneer in the sport of Mopping, Ruth Hafner perfected the one-handed mop twist that is still prevalent in competetive Mopping.

But while the progress has remained steady for the amateur levels of high school and college athletics, it has not translated to popularity of women’s sports in the professional domain. Professional women’s sports are currently missing from the American landscape. Other than the WNBA, one would be hard pressed to find any other professional, mainstream league that is exclusively for women. This lack of representation could be attributed to two things: lack of big time investors and a lack of support from the general public. One could hardly blame investors for not putting money into a women’s professional league. The WNBA is undoubtedly the most successful women’s professional sports league, and yet, as of 2006, has never turned a profit. The only reason the WNBA has remained afloat is because of subsidies from the NBA, and the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern’s dedication to the WNBA. For an investor, putting money into the WNBA or any other women’s sports organization is like investing in typewriters, asbestos, or the advocacy of pedophilia: while it’s nice to dream about all the potential profit, ultimately no one is going to buy it.

The next hindrance to the success of women’s sports is public support and public perception. Fairly or unfairly, women’s sports are considered secondary to men’s sports. Currently on TV, there is a commercial that receives a fair amount of airplay that seeks to address the perception the public has about women and sports. In the commercial, various female athletes and coaches, and even some male coaches, approach a megaphone and scream about the following topics: women’s sports have the stigma of not being as good as men’s sports; men may be bigger, stronger, and faster than women, but those qualities aren’t the only things that account into being an athlete, and finally that sports are not about gender, but about skill. The commercial seeks to have women’s sports respected and embraced as their male counterparts by explaining that women’s sports are just as good as men’s, and that there is more to being an athlete than being bigger, stronger, and faster. These claims, at best, are dubious. To say that there is more to being an athlete than being big, strong, and fast is like saying that is more to a ham and cheese sandwich than just ham, cheese, and bread. Sure you can add a tomato into it, and make it with love, but at the end of the day, I’d have to say that the ham and cheese sandwich with more ham, cheese, and bread is the better sandwich. By admitting that men possess these qualities that make them more athletic, these female athletes concede the fact that the men are indeed superior to them in sports, enforcing public perception that states men are better athletes.

The commercial does provide one great insight into perhaps why some female sports are so unpopular compared to their male counterparts. The last statement made by the commercial is that sports are not about gender, but instead about skills. This reasoning, coming from female athletes, ultimately absolves people like me from being deemed sexist. I agree that sports are about skills, and while these women are undoubtedly athletic, and talented, they are by no means the most skilled individuals in their field. In the realm of basketball, football, hockey, or baseball/softball, the disparity of talent, between male and female professionals, is cavernous. To watch the WNBA after being used to watching the NBA is like going from drinking an ice cold Coke to a warm, flat, no-frills brand of cola that no one cares about. If the best WNBA player was transplanted into the NBA, she would have a difficult time cracking the starting line up of any team. This is ultimately relates back to the idea that men are bigger, strong, faster, and are also skilled. In certain sports, being bigger, faster, and stronger is everything. The reason I can’t watch the WNBA without fighting the urge to take a cyanide enema is because the skill level is not as high as it could possibly be. It is settling for a product that isn’t as good, when there are vastly better alternatives. The reason I don’t watch the WNBA is the same reason I don’t watch high school basketball, or Division III college basketball: the level of play is low and it’s not fun to watch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, it seems that women themselves don’t watch the WNBA. A survey conducted showed that there were three times as many women following the NBA than there are following the WNBA. Some of this could be attributed to horrendous marketing by the WNBA and that the NBA has been around longer with more recognizable names. Yet it still shows that even women who like basketball, a target demographic for the WNBA, still prefer the better product provided by the NBA.

The idea of level of skill & talent being the determining factor as to why female sports aren’t as popular can also be seen when it is compared to women’s sports that are actually watchable and popular. Professional women’s tennis would probably be the best example of this. Women’s tennis has produced more easily identifiable female athletes than almost another other sport. This can be partially attributed to the fact that the disparity between men’s tennis and women’s tennis isn’t as spacious. Tennis is a sport in which skill is not necessarily tied to how big or how physically strong someone is. If one were to put Serena Williams into a tennis match with a top men’s pro (barring Roger Federer, who at this point is the Scott Latham of Tennis), it would be an entertaining competitive game. The same could not be said if Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi were put against LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. The level of skill and talent on the women’s tennis stage is about as close to the pinnacle as men’s tennis. Thus, women’s tennis retains a level of popularity and credibility. The most obvious historical example of the parity when it comes to tennis talent between genders is the Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (although this hardly seems fair as King was still in her prime when this occurred and Bobby Riggs was actually a myopic badger and wristbands on). One could also cite Martina Navratilova’s play and dominance in mixed doubles as evidence that in tennis, the difference in performance between men and women are not too different. And this equality in skill could possibly explain the equality in popularity. In fact, one could argue that women’s tennis has been more popular recently (especially in the good ol’ U.S. of A.) than men’s tennis. Tennis shows how gender is overlooked when the talent is relatively equal among genders. It shows that the audience does not automatically assume a sport being played by females is worse than its male analogs because of the gender of the participants , but instead, the audience makes a conscious choice on what they prefer based on how entertaining and how skilled the participants are.

After beating Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King finally showed that in tennis AND in life, women and badgers were equal
It would seem unfair to write this, and state how sexist attitudes and gender differences don’t contribute to the failures of women’s sports, without addressing social influences that would show how perhaps sexism does play a role in women’s sports. As much progress as women have had in advancing their prominence in the arena of sports, athletics is still identified as a masculine construct. As Messner points out in his interviews with athletes, sports are ingrained into a young male at such a young age, that most don’t remember when they were first introduced to sports. Sports and the characteristics that go with being an athlete such as physical and emotional strength, toughness, durability, violence, endurance, are characteristics that are traditionally viewed as masculine. It is almost a rite of passage for a young boy to play little league sports; trying your best to not disappoint your dad until the 4th Inning, because by that time, he’s no longer sober or conscious. And so, for boys, rejecting sports are usually interpreted as a rejection of masculinity. For the parents of a male child, the rejection sports could be taken as a foreshadowing that the boy will participate in musical theater all through out high school, make fake girlfriends to placate their suspicious friends, and develop an unhealthy obsession with whoever plays Batman lately. This of course isn’t true. A lack of interest in sports does not mean one does not have the normative masculine values, and even if a boy didn’t have the normative masculine values, it shouldn’t be frowned upon (Although I think developing fixations on British actors in hard plastic costumes isn’t the best for a person. I mean, I know he was handsome in 3:10 to Yuma, but he’s not that great).

"Struck out four times? Say buddy, do you wanna go visit that "magic farm" we took your dog to after it got too sick to live with us..."

It works the same way with girls, only in the opposite. A girls’ participation is sports goes against the normative roles put forth by society. It is embracing traditional definitions of masculinity, and denying what has been historically accepted. Even though now girls are more apt to participate in sports, at the end of the day, liking sports is still a quality that is attributed to males. When a girl takes interest in sports, especially in the professional realm, it is still, to an extent, going against the grain of what is expected. As Henley & Freeman point out in their work The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior, the appropriation of behavior and values that go against expected gender roles is bound to be met with resistance. Perhaps this provides an insight on the acceptance of women’s professional sports in society, and why I can’t stand to watch softball or the NCAA Women’s bracket. By participating in professional athletics, women are challenging the old, accepted paradigm; by refusing to accept women’s professional sports as readily as men’s sports, one could interpret it as society as a whole reacting to this shift, as a way to maintain the old ways of understanding sports and gender.

Concepts of beauty also must be considered when discussing women in sports. While I stand firmly with the idea that pro women’s tennis is more popular because it is more competitive and an overall product than women’s basketball or professional softball, one can not omit from the argument basic aesthetics. Women’s tennis has produced such popular stars such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Chris Evert, Anna Kournikova, and others not just based on their skills, but also based on the fact that their looks were marketed to a male audience. These women were able to be both marketed to women as heroes and to men as both athletes and sexual objects. It seems that society is more than willing to accept women in sports if they are talented, but also if they are visually pleasing as they do it. This seems to be a pervasive idea not just in tennis but in all female sports. The female athletes that seem to receive the most attention and popularity are usually the ones that are both good at what they do and look good while doing it. It’s no surprise that the most enduring image of women in sports is probably Brandi Chastain scoring the game winning goals in the World Cup, celebrating without her jersey on. The image shows the dichotomy that society seems willing to accept: talent in a masculine field is accepted, but it is embraced when it’s juxtaposed with feminine beauty. Jenny Finch, Amanda Beard and Danica Patrick all benefit from this dichotomy. While they are all very skilled, the fact that they fit the traditional mold of beauty helps them take their career to a level that many of their peers can not. This superficiality can be seen in men’s sports also, but not the same extent. People like Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant (not as much within the last four years though), Derek Jeter and others have definitely been marketed to both men and women in the same way attractive female athletes have been. These are highly skilled individuals who also unfairly happen to be dashing men who look terrific in a tailor made Italian suit. But in the male arena of sports, one could garner attention and sign endorsement deals based on skills and not looks. This speaks to the ability for male athletes to be marketed for the sole purpose of their talent, devoid of any sexual connotations. You could pick any of the various commercials with Peyton Manning and see that his commercials are based on him being attractive, and there are no overt sexual messages in the commercials. But when takes an advertisement with a female athlete, sex is as much a part of the advertising campaign as sports. This social binary in aesthetics points out that in order for female athletes to get any sort of publicity or any sort of a following within our culture, they must be attractive and willing to capitalize on her sexuality.

"Hi, I'm Tom Brady. I'm so damned talented and handsome that I make Christian Bale look like Carlos Mencia."

Are you still reading this entry? Christ, you are a trooper. It’s long, isn’t it? I was going write more, but honestly, I’m tired of writing, especially about this topic. Here’s a synopsis of the last few paragraphs I was going to write: I was going to make the argument that women were a protected class, society won’t allow them to get hurt or too physical, football is the most popular sport but has the least female participation, lack of participation is because football is more violent that an American business man with a school aged Burmese prostitute, show that the most popular female athletes participated in non-contact sports, show how this fits society’s views on feminitity which explains why these sports are more readily accepted. So instead of writing what could be another page, I whittled it down to that.

Societal influences on what is normal, and the fact that certain women’s sports are simply not as good as men’s probably explains why women’s sports aren’t popular. And if it doesn’t, then I just wasted everyone’s time. But I’m sure reading this was still like twelve times better than watching women’s bowling. I mean, those broads can’t bowl for shit!

Referenced Material
1. Messner, M. Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities.
2. Henley, N. & Freeman, J. The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior
Nike Assembles All-Star Cast Calling for Equality in Women's Sports
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/wnba/316263_wnba18.html?source=rss Other Voices: Women don't watch WNBA, either

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Toy Story...Well, not really “story”. More like an “assigned blog posting”.

My toys never meant anything to me. They were mere instruments for my enjoyment, devoid of any semblance of a meaning. Toys were not social constructions with messages; the only message I received from my toys were that I should not be "afraid of no ghost." Yet at a young age I was cognizant of the idea that certain toys were for boys and certain toys were for girls. For example: guns were for boys and Mall Madness was for girls. Wrestling figures for the young dudes and Barbie dolls for the young gals. Creepy Crawlers for the little boys, and EZ Bake ovens were supposed to be for…you guessed it: little ladies. And obese little boys. The distinctions were clear from the start about which toys were admissible for me to play with. The only time I considered it acceptable for me to play with what could be considered a doll is when I would mash it together with Batman, celebrating his success in saving the world with simulated, hard plastic coitus. If I were caught with one of these dolls in my possession, the owner of the doll (usually my cousin Louise) would claim that I shouldn't be playing with Skipper because dolls are for girls, and then she would call me a girl. At the time, it seemed like nothing more than childhood teasing from a cruel, Angelica Pickles-type cousin, but in retrospect one could derive a lot of meaning from that one instance. While toys are a way for children to use their imaginations, toys are also used by children to understand the world around them. In this case, toys were used to define gender. Without knowing it, children shape their definitions of which values are considered masculine and feminine based on what they play with. What children do not realize when they are playing is that toys are tools used within society to fit children into molded, traditional, definitions of gender.

In The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior, Henley and Freeman state that "Environmental cues set the stage on which the power relationships of the sexes are acted out and the assigned status of each sex is reinforced" (85). As an integral part of any child's environment, toys are important in assigning status within the sexes to children. Toys are used within a society to ingrain at an early age what is valued, and what is to be expected from a child. For a young boy, action figures of superheroes and larger than life characters embody the physical strength as well as the emotional strength expected from males within the society. Not only do these characters have idealized physical prowess, but these toys symbolize the bravery, aggressiveness, leadership, and toughness that is considered "masculine" within society. For females, the idealized images presented to females are a bit different.

Upon doing my toy shopping for a ten year old girl, the first toy on the list was a virtual pet. And so I went about looking up the most popular virtual pet there is: the Tamagotchi. While ostensibly being gender neutral toy, Tamagotchi had a primarily female consumer base, at least 60% according to www.tamagotchi-connection-virtual-pet.com. At face value the Tamagotchi is nothing more than another Japanese import that kids gravitate to, but has no social ramifications, much like Hello Kitty Doll's, karaoke, or the bird flu. Yet at a closer look the Tamagotchi provides young girls with a very powerful message about what their role should be in society.

A Tamagotchi, while considered a "virtual pet" could easily be interpreted as a "virtual child." It has to be fed, played with, put to sleep, changed when they virtual poop, and generally maintained or else they die. And so in order to play with a Tamagotchi, one had to keep it alive by nurturing the tiny electronic bundle of joy. As a plaything, the Tamagotchi teaches girls that it is important for a girl to be maternal. Girls are taught that it is a very important to be able to take care of a helpless little being. Ultimately the Tamagotchi is a training ground for young girls in order to fulfill their future in the traditional role in society as a mother. The importance of maternal values are stressed in this toy, so much so, that if one stops simply paying attention to this toy, the Tamagotchi dies. In a weird type of way, the Tamagotchi not only advocates maternal values, but it also seems to be a proponent of young girls growing up to be stay at home moms. A message is sent to these girls that if they don't keep a constantly vigilant and if they pursue other activities, their little electronic mistake may cease to live. Now compared to the messages boys receive from their toys, the gender roles endorsed by the Tamagotchi is a bit more subdued. While the playthings of boys preach aggressiveness and strength, the Tamagotchi's domestic message preaches a type of submissiveness that is tied to being a good wife or mother, a certain acceptance of one's maternal duties as the definition of a female's life.

In the case of the Tamagotchi, toys dictate to children what is to be expected from them in adulthood, and which gender defined values would be acceptable to society. But toys also define gender by teaching children which characteristics within society they should value. Plastic manifestations of people define to children what the ideal male or female look like. Action figures are not made in all shapes and sizes. Almost all action figures depictions of men (with the exception of Antonin Scalia dolls) are made to look muscular, defined, and rippling in a bathing suit. To a young boy, this toy is what a real man should look like. Meanwhile, females live in the tall, leggy, svelte shadow of the Barbie doll. Like many age appropriate girls, the girl I must shop for played with Barbie. While it is specified that Barbie was played with, with the intentions of popping off her head, she none the less had these dolls. For generations of girls, Barbie dolls defined what a beautiful woman looked like. Heck, as an eight year old boy who didn't know anything about girls, I knew that Barbie had terrific legs. Much like the action figures for the boys, the Barbie doll sends a message to girls that there is a concrete definition of what a woman should look like, and Barbie encompasses that look. For girls it creates what Gilman calls an "aesthetic obsession" (73). And so it is no surprise that upon adulthood many girls dye their hair blonde, and get physical enhancements. While they don't necessarily undergo these "improvements" with the notion of looking like Barbie, the end result of these "enhancements" leave them looking closer to Barbie's definition of what is aesthetically pleasing than anything else. Ultimately, children are taught that identification within their gender is tied into looking like their toys. In order to be considered a real man, boys must grow up looking gruff and toned like a G.I. Joe, while in order to be a beautiful woman, a girl must grow up looking like they are smuggling Christmas hams in their shorts and traffic cones in their blouse.

    While Barbie may not have been designed as a self-esteem assassin to little girls with a terrible message for little girls, and Tamagotchi's weren't designed to mold young girls into June Cleavers, these toys do represent cultural values that accepted within society. These values go unnoticed to a child, and slowly these toys begin to shape the way a child thinks about gender. While seemingly innocuous, toys play a large part in the development of a child, as they mold children's definitions of gender through the various messages they send.






  1. www.tamagotchi-connection-virtual-pet.com
  2. Gilman, S. J. (2000) Klaus Barbie, and Other Dolls I'd Like to See
  3. Henley, N. , Freeman, J. The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior