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Chapter 8

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Media Studies
Michael Petit

MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction C HAPTER EIGHT:F EMINIST &Q UEER ANALYSIS CHAPTER EIGH:FEMINISTA NALYSIS “Feminist scholars concentrate on how biological categories like male and female become conflated with cultural expectations, resulting in discriminatory social systems that privilege men over women” “Feminism is marked by a political commitment to deconstruct those oppressive systems in order to transform society into a fairer, more equitable place for diverse peoples”  FEMINISM:A NO VERVIEW o Feminism – a political project that explores the diverse ways men and women are socially empowered or disempowered;it seeks to reveal and eradicate socially ingrained systems of sexism that harm all individuals o Sexism – discrimination based upon a person’s sex. o Sex – the innate, biological differentiation between men and women: anatomy, reproduction, hormones, etc  Categories: Male/Female o Gender – the culturally constructed differences between men and women: tastes, roles, activities, etc  Categories: Masculine/Feminine o Essentialism – the belief that gender distinctions are innate and natural (e.g.: women are more emotional) o Patriarchy – a system of power relations in which women’s interests are subordinated to those of men  Patriarchal systems empower men and disempower women by making constructed, gendered power imbalances seem natural and innate (Naturalisation) o Considering the Sexist Self  While we may not consciously discriminate against people, engaging in social systems that are inherently sexist makes us complicit in its perpetuation as well. Rejecting sexist social conventions makes one a feminist.  Everyone is subject to sexist social rules. o Contemporary developments – recent feminist scholarship has begun looking at how patriarchy harms men as well as women. Gendered expectations placed on women also exert pressure on men (e.g. showing little emotion, avoiding certain occupations, or act as the breadwinner of a family) MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction  STEREOTYPING IAMERICAN M EDIA o Stereotype – a misleading and oversimplified representation of a particular social group  They are damaging because they are overly reductionistic, undeservedly ‘definitive’ and ignorant of the complex characteristics of a social group.  Why do they persist?  Socially powerful groups (like men) have greater access to media outlets as a function of their privilege, allowing undue overrepresentation of their perspectives on other social groups to the widest audiences. These perspectives are typically stereotypically reductionist, but become the most widely recognised and accepted representations.  Stereotypes have a functional role – they help individuals make sense of an increasingly complex contemporary society. They allow us to quickly process incoming information about strangers by reducing the amount of information we have to take in. They form mental shortcuts that allow for snap-judgments so that we can move on with our lives.  Stereotypes are intricately constructed and often have a “kernel of truth” to them. They blend realistic aspects of life, material conditions and social roles into inaccurate assumptions and false traits. They have enough truth to sound plausible without much critical thought.  Members of socially oppressed groups will believe their own stereotypes and emulate them, actualising and perpetuating them. They mimic reality by actually creating it.  Media images that feature stereotypes gain an informal credibility because they match pre-existing stereotypes used by people to reduce information-processing.  The media create and reinforce stereotypes just as much as they use them to attract audiences  GENDERED STEREOTYPES IAMERICAN M EDIA o The constructed opposition of masculinity/femininity provides a binary understanding of gender in America society, and so gendered stereotypes also function as complementary inverses of each other MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction  Stereotypes of Masculinity - defined by power, significance, agency, and social influence  Stereotypes of Femininity – defined by powerlessness, insignificance, passivity, and limited control  Narrow gender roles for both sexes are constructed, but they reinforce patriarchal systems of power by supporting male domination over women o Active/Passive  Mediated representations of Men emphasise strength and activity. Ads tend to depict men engaging in sports, working with tools, driving, etc. Male models are also full of vitality or physically fit.  Mediated representations of Women emphasise passiveness and weakness. Ads tend to depict models simply sitting or standing beautifully (many of whom are underweight) o Public/Private  In television, Men fulfill the “family provider” role and are depicted working on the job as breadwinners.  In television, Women fulfill the “family nurturer” role and are depicted as housewives.  These may be considered grossly oversimplified, but such gender stereotypes persist in popular television programming despite some progressive programs. o Logical/Emotional  Traditionally, media texts construct logic as a masculine trait and emotion as a feminine trait.  The masculine public sphere is related to politics and decision-making, so masculinity is marked in turn by the kinds of rational thinking associated with these processes.  The feminine private sphere is concerned with family and nurturance, and femininity is defined by irrational or emotional impulses as a result.  A classic form of this stereotypical dualism is the association of men with mental processes and women with bodily ones. o Sexual Subject/Sexual Object  Masculine stereotypes of strength, ability, and intelligence translate into media texts that identify men as sexually powerful and pursuant. Maleness is in initiating and being ‘in charge’ of the sexual encounter.  Feminine stereotypes of weakness and emotions give rise to the sexual objectification of women as ‘conquests to be lusted and pursued after’. MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction Femininity is in being available, responsive, and open to male sexual advances.  Naomi Wolf: “the beauty myth tells a story: The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it.”  The subject/object distinction differs in that it often functions as the basis for a media text/media consumer relationship  Media texts feature women as sexual objects with the (supposedly male) consumer of the text as complementary sexual subjects o Gendered stereotypes of masculinity and femininity tend to structure the ‘permitted’ roles for men and women in society. Though not dictatorial, they are powerfully persuasive in constructing unconscious social rules.  POSTFEMINISM ANDM EDIAREPRESENTATION o Postfeminism – a conceptual shift within the popular understanding of feminism: an evolution in feminist emphasis from the systemic oppression of all women to the empowerment of individual women. o Context: th th  First Wave Feminism – 19 /20 Century activists for women’s voting rights (suffrage)  Second Wave Feminism – 1970s activists for women’s workplace and reproductive rights  Postfeminist/Third Wave Feminism – those who claimed that feminist goals of sexual equality and freedom had been achieved after the Second Wave – stresses women’s “Individualism, sophistication, and choice” o Rosalind Gill: Postfeminism as an emerging ‘sensibility’ made up of interrelated aspects:  1) A melding of femininity, sexuality, and the body in response to an increasingly sexualised culture  2) The dominance of philosophies of individual choice and responsibility, with a concurrent focus on self-discipline and surveillance  3) The support of theories of irrevocable sexual difference between men and women  4) A reliance on irony and ‘knowingness’ as a means of navigating cultural messages MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction  Gill remains suspicious of the supposed empowerment that postfeminist doctrines offer women, questioning women’s claim to acting sexy ‘for themselves”  “if women are just pleasing themselves and following their own autonomously generated desires – the resulting valued ‘look is so similar’ – it avoids questions about the relationship between representations and subjectivity; about how socially-constructed, mass-mediated ideals of beauty are internalised and made our own” o The rise of postfeminist discourses help explain the presence of some media representations of gender that apparently challenge classic stereotypes – since the 1980s media representations of women have increasingly depicted them as able, intelligent individuals. However, traditional gendered stereotypes continue to pervade the media landscape. o Angela McRobbie: Postfeminist claims regarding the inapplicability of earlier feminist politics are ill-founded and ignore that real, systemic, gendered inequity continues to inform the lives of many women. o Interesting example concerning the interplay between the Postfeminist sensibility and continuing issues of women’s oppression: Girls Gone Wild video/DVD series  Karen C. Pitcher: The series captures young women striping at hedonistic gatherings and in some ways exemplifies the postfeminist doctrines of choice and personal sexual agency. Some starring women state that they consciously participate in the taping as a display of sexual freedom.  However, the larger context of the series production strips the interaction of any significant, widespread emancipatory potential; Emancipation is limited to a personal level  Women’s agency is largely constructed within the filmic context, resulting in a system of economic exploitation.  The producing company always includes footage of women giving consent to be filmed, whereas the male counterpart Guys Gone Wild does not.  “For these men, consent and agency is an unproblematic given, so much so it need not be included in the footage. Guys Gone Wild reinforces the ways in which voluntarily disrobing on camera entails little from men but requires an elaborate staging of agency for women. It highlights the distorted representation of agency that GGW fosters.” MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction  CONSEQUENCES OF SEXISTM EDIAREPRESENTATION o Proliferation of Eating Disorders  Stereotypes that construct women as passive sexually also tend to emphasise the absolute necessity of a slender figure  Dieting ads that used to focus on overall weight now focus on ‘zapping’ problem areas to eliminate any signs of fat.  American television shows routinely portray female characters as skinnier than male counterparts  Jean Kilbourne: eating disorders are a primary way that
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