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
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
o Gender – the culturally constructed differences between men and women:
tastes, roles, activities, etc
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
These may be considered grossly oversimplified, but such gender
stereotypes persist in popular television programming despite some
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
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.
First Wave Feminism – 19 /20 Century activists for women’s voting
Second Wave Feminism – 1970s activists for women’s workplace and
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
o Rosalind Gill: Postfeminism as an emerging ‘sensibility’ made up of
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
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
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
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
“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