Thursday, August 4, 2011

Final Blog Post: Gendered Food Discrimination

The McDonald's Corporation has been part of the dominant American culture for the past fifty years. A large part of this success can be attributed to their large advertisement campaigns, and the way in which these ads relate to the public. Through advertising McDonald's has been able to subtly perpetuate the idea of gendered-food discrimination; men are entitled to large, hearty meals, while women are encouraged to eat child-like meals. By examining the images and slogans used on the McDonald's website, one can see this clear-cut distinction between different menu items, and the gender specific audiences that they are targeted towards.

While viewing the different meal options available it appears that all foods that one could assume to be feminine contain pastel colored fonts along with their images. The font choices themselves have elegant aspects to their scripts, making them appear delicate or refined. Even the actual products are stereotypically of a feminine color scheme: the strawberry shake is pink; the fruit yogurt is pink and white. Color choices, as expressed by Kirkham and Weller, directly effect the overall feminine connotation of a product: “By comparison, the pastel colours of the “female” advertisements signal softness, purity, gentleness, and innocence- features associated with babies and infants and which suggest the more delicate, passive, and soft sensibility associated with the more traditional representations of femininity.” (Kirkham/ Weller, 269) This idea of linking feminine products to babies and infants seems to have been taken to heart by the McDonald's website. Products are described with catch phrases such as “yumminess”, as seen in the triple strawberry shake ad, or “aww...they're so sweet”, as seen in the cinnamon bun description; these phrases are typically identifiable as infantile.

In direct opposition to these dainty, infantile images of feminine-geared food products, food items which are seemingly masculine are described as bold, rugged, or dangerous. The validation of masculinity is ever present in these specific ads because, as Katz states, “One function of the image system is to legitimate and reinforce existing power relations, representations that equate masculinity with the qualities of size, strength, and violence thus become more prevalent.” (Katz, 356) These powerful male traits (dark, bold, aggressive) are mirrored in the blood red font color chosen to accompany the images. The meals depicted are oversized, containing hunks of meats, and are dripping with cheese or sauces. Further affirming the qualities of size, strength and violence that Katz mentions, masculine food on the McDonald's website has word phrases such as: “tall”, “sear-sizzled”, “granting all your wishes”, and “fulfilling.” It is quite clear that the masculine foods are meant to be filling compared to their low-fat feminine counterparts. The last line used in the advertisement for the McRib, seems to encapsulate the entire message McDonald's is sending: “We're a discriminating group who don't mind getting sticky.”

-Sarah Jablonski

Works Cited:

Katz, Jackson. "Chapter 34, Advertising And The Construction Of Violent White Masculinity From Eminem to Clinique for Men." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text-reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean McMahon Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 356. Print.

Kirkham, Pat, and Alex Weller. "Chapter 27, Cosmetics A Clinique Case Study." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text-reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean McMahon Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 269. Print.

McDonalds. 2010. Web. 3 Aug. 2011. <>.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Boys Choice? Propagation of Societal Gender Roles in Video Game Marketing

The views and wants of a pre-teen boy are easily stereotyped: sports, aggression, and more sports. These generally held ideals are mirrored in the typical products aimed at young male audiences. By examining the male hetero-normative values heralded by specific toys, we can see the exclusion of females and the penalization of males who wish to differ from stereotypically constructed gender roles. As a specific example, we can observe one such case; the entertainment wish list of nine year old Aaron, and the culture that surrounds his shopping experience.

In a proposed list of the top five wanted toys compiled by Aaron, three of the five were sports related. Aaron’s list focused primarily upon baseball, wrestling, and basketball. To view all of these activities as equally as possible, we looked at video games, which can encompass all of these sports similarly in price and presentation. Initially we viewed wrestling games; out of the three featured on the Toys R Us© website all showed only aggressive male figures. When browsing both basketball and baseball video games this same phenomenon occurs. While women play active roles in all of these sports within a real world atmosphere, there is no representation of them on the packaging. The idea of a male-only mentality in athletics is also the mentality of the advertisers for certain athletic video games, as Messner states, “When many of the men in this study said that during childhood they played sports because “it’s just what everybody did,” they of course meant that is was just what boys did. They were introduced to organized sports by older brothers and fathers, and once involved; found themselves playing within an exclusively male world.” (Messner, 127).The images on the packaging of these products only help to reinforce this negative stereotype. While Aaron is part of the inclusive sect of the male dominated sports world, this influence instills a subconscious bias towards the exclusion of females as fellow teammates or sports enthusiasts. 

In contrast to his largely masculine-defined preferences, Aaron’s other selection was a dancing game, a generally female-endorsed product. The first dance game to come up on the Toys R Us© website was “Just Dance 2” for the Nintendo Wii. The cover image of this product displays two provocatively dressed and positioned female, and one male. Here the feminine representation has drastically increased in comparison to the sports products; two-thirds of the characters shown are female. Interestingly, the only male figure represented is dressed in a pink and lime green jumpsuit with pink sneakers; traditionally this is an outfit that would be seen on females. This coloring palette alludes to the lack of masculinity in this male character and also questions his hetero-normative sexuality. The cover images also display the names of artists featured in the game, such as Rihanna and The Pussycat Dolls. These two artists, who generally cater to feminine audiences, warrant the largest font type as well as the most visible spot on the packaging.  These indications perpetuate the idea that this game is meant for a female audience. The smallest font on the packaging lists “The Rolling Stones”, a more universal music group,   however this is in a very indirect place and written sideways, making its legibility very difficult. These obstacles further discourage any males who may have been interested by this genre of game.

As a society males generally are not included in such stereotypically feminine pursuits such as dance, as Newman mentions, “For boys, life on the other side of the gender fence is much more precarious. The chances to play girl games without ridicule are rare and the risks for doing so are steep. The sissy is not simply a boy who enjoys female pursuits. He is suspiciously soft and effeminate. His sissy-ness is likely to be seen as reflective of his sexual essence, a sign of his impending homosexuality.” (Newman, pg. 8)  It seems that Ubisoft, the makers of this dance game, fall into the ideology described by Newman. Boys are strongly discouraged from the game by its lack of identifiable male counterparts and feminine color choices. The marketers take it one step further by emasculating the only male character, by giving him a non-normative and possibly homosexual appearance. Overall these signals spell out one clear message: that this is a game for females or homosexuals, not for the normative nine year old straight male.  

It appears that even though our typical nine year old has diverse interests, society has other plans; despite his varied wants, marketing professionals have created strict gender roles for Aaron to fill. As most boys, his hopes of sports-related enjoyment will go on unperturbed; male-dominated game covers may grasp his eye and give him same-gendered role models to whom he can aspire, even if they also reinforce an anti-woman sentiment in relation to sports. Conversely, Aaron’s trip down the dance-game section may cause him great disappointment; he will be punished with a loss of normative masculinity, propagated by female leads and homosexual connotation.

-Sarah Jablonski

Works Cited-

Just Dance 2. Photograph. Toys R Us. Ubisoft. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Messner, M. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, And The Construction Of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18.4 (1990): 416-44. Print.
Newman, David M. "Chapter Four Learning Difference Families, Schools, and Socialization." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011. Photograph. Toys R Us. THQ. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Male Hegemony within “Secret Life of the American Teenager”

ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” portrays different couple dynamics in an effort to attempt realistic depictions of life in high school, with a focus upon sexual intercourse and pregnancy.  However, none of the couples depicted have taken such a center-stage role as Ben and Adrian Boykevich have in season four, episode five: “Hole in the Wall”. The character of Ben Boykevich displays normative white masculine hegemonic tendencies and the abuse of power that this particular hegemony achieves. By establishing dominance over women and members of low socio-economic class, Ben is able to achieve hegemonic goals of class division and oppression. Ben also uses his hegemonic power as a white male to create stereotypical feminine roles for the women around him: either the glorified unobtainable white female, or the unstable sexualized ethnic female.

James Lull defines hegemony as “[t]he power or dominance that one social group holds over others. This can refer to the “asymmetrical interdependence” of political-economic-cultural relations between and among nation-states or differences between and among social classes within a nation. Hegemony is “dominance and subordination in the field of relations structured by power. But hegemony is more than social power itself; it is a method for gaining and maintaining power. (Lull, 61)” Within the episode “Hole in the Wall”, Ben Boykevich represents the hegemony of the upper class, affluent, white male. Ben defines differences between himself and characters of lower social classes and establishes dominance by oppressing these characters.

Such dominance over those of lower socioeconomic background can be viewed during an interaction with his wife:

“You are so selfish do you know that? I never even wanted to marry you, never even wanted to have sex with you in the first place. Every bit of pain we’ve both had has been because of you, because of you! I can’t take it any more. I know I’m supposed to be the man and not cry but I don’t care. Loosing that baby it killed something in me Adrian. It killed my belief that something good could come of the bad thing we did; it was a bad thing cheating on Amy and Ricky. We deserved to loose that baby. At least I did anyway. Because Amy loved me, and I threw it all away for one night with you, and I still feel guilty about that. I’m always going to feel guilty about that.”

Here Ben starts the construction of the hegemonic power he is party to and believes in: the white upper class. He flaunts this hegemonic entity, and uses it to abuse individuals who comprise lower class status (especially those of ethnic minority). Ben blames all of his problems on Adrian (who is Hispanic and comes from a lower socioeconomic background), comparing her with Amy (who is white and of an upper-middle class socioeconomic background). He states “Amy loved me, and I threw it all away for one night with you” placing Adrian into the role of the forbidden, sexualized, ethnic female. He goes so far in his preference of someone closer to his own elite status, that he even creates the notion that he lost his baby as punishment for straying away from this economic group. Ben feels guilty, not about abusing his wife after the loss of their child, but of cheating on someone who fits into his hegemonic group.

Ben’s flagrant abuse of lower socioeconomic groups does not end with Adrian. Ben continues in his elitist hegemonic rampage when he confronts Amy, the girl that he deemed worthy of loving:

Ben: What happened to us Amy? I really loved you, and John.
Amy: And I loved you, but Ben it was never going to work. You just couldn’t see it.
Ben: But it will never work with Ricky either, he’s not good enough for you Amy. Sooner or later he is going to hurt you that’s who he is.
Amy: That’s who he was.

In this dialogue Ben again flaunts his preference for matches between those of the same social class. He asserts that Ricky (again a character from a very low socio-economic group) is not good enough for the white, wealthy, and well-adjusted Amy. He asserts that he loved Amy, as well as her son, never mentioning any love for his wife, or Amy’s love towards Ricky. This depicts the class divide that Ben keeps at all times in his consciousness.

This type of positive thinking held by Amy goes to demonstrate one of the two types of female roles constructed by Ben within the episode: the glorified unobtainable white female. Ben states earlier in the episode after seeing Amy enter “Who knew my freshmen year would be the best year of my life” reminiscing back to the time when he was romantically involved with a worthy recipient. To demonstrate the vast difference between the two female roles within the show we can look at how they both deal with similar situations:

Ben: Where is mister bear?
Adrian: Who?
Ben: My bear, my mother gave that to me, that is the only thing I have left of her. Where is my bear?
Adrian: I guess it’s with the other stuff at the church.
Ben: You are so selfish do you know that?                         

Here Adrian is portrayed as callous, ignorant, and selfish; all incredibly negative depictions. These characteristics further perpetuate the negative ideas associated with the unstable sexual ethnic female. In contrast, we can see the dynamic between Amy and Ben:

Ben (to Amy): I hate to bother you, but is the nursery still open.
Amy: Do you want your things back?
Ben: There is one thing I want back.
(Amy pulls out bear): Mister Bear?
 Ben: How did you know?
Amy: You told me about him. Your mom gave him to you. I knew it was a mistake he ended up in the box with the other stuff.

This conversation goes very differently then the first. From the outset, Ben is incredibly polite to Amy using the phrases “I hate to bother you”. This measure of respect is utterly devoid when talking to the minority figure of Adrian. Amy within this dialogue also shows that she is socially aware (knowing exactly what Ben wants, and the back story behind what he desires) and intuitive (knowing it was a mistake the bear ended up given away). It is quite clear that Ben grants Amy respect and glorification, while Adrian is grossly stereotyped as a hardened, ignorant, Hispanic woman.

Comparatively, the only time that Adrian is shown gaining any approval from Ben is when she fulfills a normative female role:

Adrian: Morning husband, want me to make you some breakfast?
Adrian: I’m going to go for a walk every morning and get myself together.
Ben: I’m happy to hear you say that.

However, this idea of a Hispanic minority obtaining a normal place within the society of “The Secret Life of the American Teen” seems to upset the balance far too greatly, and for the remainder of the episode Adrian spirals out of control. This type of character usage is similar to the fate described by Pozner: “When included in any prolonged way, women of color are used to stroke classic racial stereotypes…More common is the hypersensitive “sista with attitude” whom everyone hates.” (Pozner, 98)  The last scene is the episode is the epitome of Pozner’s trope: a teary eyed Adrian sits, rocking in a fetal position and listening to “angry girl music”; while the camera pans out, the audience is privy to the sight of dozens of holes punched into the nursery walls surrounding Adrian, followed by a close up of her bandaged hand. This scene is successful in completely constructing Adrian as the hyper sensitive “sista with an attitude”, bringing full circle the hegemonic conventions, initially instilled in the audience by Ben.

So what can be gained from the episode “Hole in the Wall” of “Secret Life of the American Teenage?” It certainly is not positive and healthy ways to maintain relationships in high school. The male hegemonic character of Ben Boykevich is allowed to have an elitist view on matches within socioeconomic class structure. Ben’s character is also never chided for verbally abusing his wife or for having blatant feelings towards another woman. Minorities and those of low economic standings are depicted to be “not worthy” of the wealthier characters in the show, and the female protagonist of a Hispanic ethnicity is portrayed as unstable, violent, and socially inept to an alarming point.

-Sarah Jablonski

Works Cited List-

Hampton, Brenda, prod. ""Hole in the Wall"" The Secret Life of the American Teenager. ABC Family. 11 July 2011. Television

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text-reader. By Gail Dines and Jean McMahon. Humez. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage, 2003. Print.

Pozner, Jennifer L. ""The Unreal World"" Ms. Magazine Fall 2004: 96-99. Web.