Friday, May 29, 2009

A Look at the Gendered Socialization of Boys through "Boys' Toys"

Children start learning what is expected of their gender at a very young age. The day they are born, the hospital outfits them in a gender specific color. Boys are automatically given blue hats, booties, and blankets; girls are dressed in pink. Even though babies do not realize this at birth, the colors represent normative gender roles. From this day on, multiple aspects of society affect the gendered socialization of children. Parents play a major role in the socialization of their children based on how they treat them. However, it also depends on what parents provide for their children, specifically toys. There is an obvious distinction between what parents purchase for their daughters and what they purchase for their sons. Products marketed to boys contribute to their gendered socialization by representing normative characteristics and activities that boys are expected to identify with.

I found evidence of this while shopping for my younger brother, Jacob. He basically shares the same interests as other 17 year old boys. However, I thought it wise to ask him what he wanted the most. Jacob’s top item on his list was a Nintendo DS, but he also stressed how much he enjoys playing outside. From this information and a few other hints, I decided on four other gifts: WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 for Nintendo DS, a Crossman Pulse M70 Full Auto Electronic Airsoft Gun, a Wilson NFL Pro Replica Official-Size Composite Football, and an Airwalk Series 3 Skateboard. Newman asserts, “Decades of research indicate that “girls’ toys” still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and “boys’ toys” emphasize action and adventure” (112). Jacob’s wish list certainly supports this idea; it contains items that are opposite what most 17 year old girls would ask for. Even before I went shopping, I was certain I would find these items in the “Boys’ sections” of the gaming and toy departments.

It could be argued that the Nintendo DS is the only toy on the list that may be considered gender neutral. It comes in a variety of colors that appeal to both boys and girls. However, Jacob made it clear that he wanted a blue one. There are also a multitude of games produced for the Nintendo DS, everything from shopping to racing. Unfortunately, this handheld game happens to be state of the art technology, and it carries a hefty price tag to prove it. The price made this item a tricky purchase because I only had $176 to spend on all of Jacob’s presents. Lucky for him, I am used to being a thrifty shopper due to our family’s income. I was able to purchase a used Nintendo DS for $80. It’s safe to say that a new Nintendo DS was unattainable. The one gender neutral toy on the list was a success, until I had to select a game.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 transforms the Nintendo DS into a gender specific toy. In this game, normative male characteristics are seriously exaggerated. Every male wrestling character is big, strong, muscular, intimidating, and extremely aggressive. The game teaches boys what is expected of them and what they are supposed to look like as they become men. Glorifying the wrestlers for violent fighting has a negative effect on the gendered socialization of boys; it shows boys that it is okay to fight. Not only do video games like this one show boys how they are expected to behave, the games also teach boys about their attitudes toward women. The only women included in this particular game are scantily clad and have seductive stares. Newman warns, “The gender messages in such games may have a detrimental effect on boys’ attitudes toward girls and women and on their conceptions of appropriate male behavior (91). The female characters in the games make boys expect all women to look and act that way. It also shows boys that they too can treat women the way the wrestling characters do. It is unsettling that a $20 video game can teach a young boy how to act and how to treat women.

The Crossman Pulse M70 Full Auto Electronic Airsoft Gun is a completely different type product, but it still promotes aggression and violence. Even though the toy gun is merely an imitation, it still signifies the negative ideas associated with real guns. Toy guns are marketed to boys, and this teaches them that society typically attributes the possession of guns to males. When playing with guns, boys demonstrate aggressive behavior. On the surface, this interaction between boys is just non-lethal fantasy play. However, it teaches boys to “shoot” each other and play “dead” when shot. This type of play provides boys with a lot more information about real world guns and violence than one might initially realize. Before they are old enough to legally posses a firearm, boys have already learned enough to develop their own thoughts on guns and the violence associated with them.

The NFL Pro Replica Official-Size Composite Football represents a somewhat more constructive outlet for the aggressive tendencies boys demonstrate. Football is a male-dominated sport due to its aggressive, physical nature. Messner found that, “sex-segregated activities such as organized sports as structured by adults, provide the context in which gendered identities and separate “gendered cultures” develop and come to appear natural. For the boys in this study, it became “natural” to equate masculinity with competition, physical strength, and skills (128). Organized sports, like football, give boys the opportunity to learn about their own gender by interacting with other boys. The team setting also allows them to develop acceptable relationships with each other, like brotherly love. Most importantly, organized sports teach boys that they are expected (by both society and other boys) to be active, strong, and competitive.

The Airwalk Series 3 Skateboard represents an activity that is not necessarily an organized sport for children, but it still teaches many of the same values. Skateboarding is a gender specific physical activity that is dominated by boys. According to Newman, “From an early age, they [children] are like “gender detectives,” searching for cues about gender, such as who should and shouldn’t engage in certain activities, who can play with whom, and why girls and boy differ” (113). From a young age, children learn that skateboarding is an activity that is more appropriate for boys to engage in. Parents feel more comfortable buying their sons a skateboard because skating can be a dangerous activity. Boys are expected to play rough and come home with scraped knees, girls are not. Skateboarding emphasizes the differing socialization of boys and girls because it did not need to be set up as a gender-separated activity, it just became one.

Toys play a major role in helping children understand normative gender roles. It is clear that toys marketed to boys teach them to be aggressive, violent, strong, and competitive. This is evidenced by the “boy toys” on Jacob’s wish list. Toys that are marketed to girls teach them to behave differently and demonstrate characteristics opposite those of boys. The differences in the toys and the values they promote reveal a gender dichotomy. Parents take part in the gendered socialization of their children by providing them with toys that support normative gender roles. By purchasing these items for Jacob, I am contributing to his gendered socialization.

Works Cited

Messner, Michael A. “Boyhood, Organized Sports and the Construction of Masculinities.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, 1990. 120-137.

Newman, David M. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. NY: McGraw Hill, 2007. 106-145.

Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. NY: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-105.

Images (in order of appearance)

Nintendo DS. Gamestop, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009. Gamestop, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from

Crossman Pulse M70 Full Auto Electronic Airsoft Gun. Walmart, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from

Wilson NFL Pro Replica Official-Size Composite Football. Target, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from

Airwalk Series 3 Skateboard. Target, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yea, "Sex Sells"... But It Also Objectifies Women

Sex is everywhere. There are “sex scenes” in movies; popular actors and actresses are often sexy. Sex is discussed in song lyrics; the singers are generally sexy. Sex also permeates another aspect of our culture: advertising. Even if we don’t always realize it, we are constantly exposed to sexuality in advertising. Nowadays, “sex” can be used to “sell” almost anything, from perfume to watches. The idea that “sex” can “sell” a multitude of products has become an incredibly successful advertising technique and it is easily found in Cosmopolitan magazine; however, this common objectification of women has serious ramifications, especially for young, impressionable girls.

The use of sexuality to sell products is extremely obvious in the above advertisements. Each one uses a woman’s body to emphasize sexuality. All of the images contain thin, overly sexy women. The models all have perfect feminine features, and their bodies are on display due to a lack of clothing. Therefore, the focus of these advertisements is really sexuality, not the products. Nonetheless, the images successfully sell the products because consumers recognize the sexuality and attach it to the product. Jhally asserts, “Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly” (253). This idea is supported by a brief analysis of the advertisement for GUESS. When a consumer looks at this image, his or her attention is immediately drawn to the model and her prominently displayed breasts. Right after this happens the consumer attaches this image to GUESS clothing. Even if a conscious association is not made, the advertisement communicates that GUESS=Sexuality. The idea that sexuality is desired makes the advertisement effective. The overuse of this type of advertising has created a society that “seems to be obsessed with sexuality” (Jhally 253). This obsession objectifies women by focusing solely on their sexuality.

Advertisements that objectify women have become alarmingly acceptable and especially harmful when placed in magazines directed at young girls. Women of all ages are bombarded with images much like the JORDACHE advertisement above. In this image, the tall, gorgeous, half-naked blonde is really viewed as an object, and the jeans are a separate object. The advertisement is supposed to be showing the jeans, but it is really showing women what they “should” look like. It tells women that they need to be beautiful and unreasonably thin; if they aren’t, they must strive for it. Kilbourne states, “Advertising is one of the most potent messengers in a culture that can be toxic for girls’ self-esteem” (259). Girls are exposed to these images so much they get the impression that they really do need to look like the models in the advertisements. As a result, young women develop unhealthy fixations on being thinner and prettier. Kilbourne notes that these images to not directly cause eating disorders, but she does point out that, “these images certainly contribute to the body-hatred so many young women feel and to some of the resulting eating problems…” (261). Many women find it difficult to view an image such as the Bebe bikini advertisement without thinking, “I wish my stomach looked like that; My thighs are fatter than that; I need to eat less to wear a bikini like that.” Society’s focus on sexuality and the resulting objectification of women have created unrealistic standards for women to live up to.

Works Cited

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, the More You Add.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Look at Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in CSI: Miami

All episodes of CSI: Miami have the same underlying themes; there’s a crime, it’s in Miami, and it needs investigating. Almost every episode involves multiple murders, a long list of suspects, and some conflict with the CSI team members. Generally, the show reinforces hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity through male CSIs and female victims. The show also disrupts these representations through female CSIs and male victims. However, “Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing” is different. This episode adds betrayal and a child in danger.
CSI: Miami regularly reinforces and disrupts hegemonic representations and understandings of masculinity and femininity; however, in this particular episode, four prominent characters display both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic qualities.

CSI team leader Horatio Caine strongly reinforces hegemonic representations and understandings of masculinity. He is pushing 50 and is still a badass in dark sunglasses. Horatio is known for his powerful one-liners including, “I say, bring it on.” [Put on sunglasses and insert dramatic, badass music here] He fits Newman’s definition of the “highly traditional stereotype” for men on television (Newman 93). Horatio is a leader, protector, and overall strong male character. However, even the tough guy has a soft spot. Horatio strays from hegemonic representations of masculinity any time a child is involved in a case. In this particular episode, a young child is kidnapped by a Russian mobster who plans to kill him. When Horatio discovers this, he makes saving the child his top priority. He immediately becomes nurturing, a trait traditionally assigned to females. This change makes Horatio part of the “new generation of leading men who are considerably more thoughtful, sensitive, and emotionally available” (Newman 93). The balance between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic representations solidifies Horatio’s character.

On the other hand, CSI Ryan Wolfe usually disrupts hegemonic representations of masculinity and reveals feminine characteristics. Ryan is insecure about where he stands with his coworkers on a professional as well as a social level. Ryan has been subordinate to the other characters since he started working in the crime lab. However, in this episode, Ryan breaks his character’s norms and reinforces hegemonic representations and understandings of masculinity. This specific case gives Ryan the opportunity to act bravely, take on a lot of responsibility, demonstrate a protective nature, and exhibit emotional strength. Nonetheless, this showing of masculinity is short-lived. By the end of the episode, Ryan is practically reduced to tears by fear and feelings of helplessness. For the majority of the episode, Ryan sports a light purple dress shirt and coordinating tie; this may be linked to the brevity of his display of hegemonic masculinity.

CSI Calleigh Duquesne almost always reinforces hegemonic representations of femininity in her social life. In this episode, Calleigh’s femininity is highlighted by her interactions with Ryan. She is the first one to notice and question Ryan’s strange behavior. In two instances, Calleigh expresses her concerns and explains to Ryan that he can come to her with anything. Both times Ryan gets irritated, ignore her offer to listen, and lies to her face. This parallels Newman’s claim, “By linguistically overexposing themselves … women perpetuate power differences between them and men” (Newman 85). In both situations, Ryan made Calleigh back down by dismissing her questions. However, Calleigh disrupts hegemonic representations of femininity when it relates to her work. She is a knowledgeable CSI and is very good at what she does. She exhibits dominance at the crime scene and in the crime lab; she sticks to her instincts and challenges what she doesn’t believe. One might not expect that from a slim blonde in hip-hugging pants and high heels.

Cynthia Lang, a character specific to this episode, initially reinforces hegemonic representations of femininity. She is the thin, attractive assistant to the foreign currency exchange broker murdered in this episode. Her position as his assistant reveals a subordinate relationship. Her looks make her a “sex object,” which she is – to an extent (Newman 92). It turns out that she is also a murderer. She shot her boss and tried to cover it up by seducing the security guard. Even though her “power over” the guard was gained by her femininity, that ability is “characteristically male” (Johnson 94). This dramatic twist shows that Cynthia actually disrupts hegemonic representations and understanding of femininity more than she reinforces them.

“Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing” proves that an entire show is not necessary to reinforce and disrupt hegemonic representations and understandings of masculinity and femininity. In this episode, the characters reinforce and disrupt these constructs on their own. Horatio’s personality is big enough for hegemonic and counter-hegemonic representations. Ryan goes back and forth between masculinity and femininity during this episode. Callie reinforces hegemonic femininity in her social life but disrupts it in her professional life. Cynthia disguises herself with femininity but finally reveals masculine tendencies. All of these examples prove that gender is not a strict constraint. The analysis of this CSI: Miami episode reveals that a show created for entertainment still embodies deep underlying meanings about hegemonic masculinity and femininity.

Works Cited

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997. 91-98.

Newman. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” 71-105.

“Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing.” CSI: Miami. CBS, Philadelphia. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2009 from

Monday, May 11, 2009

Assigment 1: Link-hunt for blogs
Blog Title: Rhetorics of Gender Activism
Post Title: Cosmopolitan magazine: empowering maybe... but feminist?
Author: Stacey Rosenthal
Blog Title: The Feminist Review
Post Title: Bi invisibility & biphobia on "Grey's Anatomy"
Author: JD
Blog Title: crucial minutiae
Post Title: Beauty in a Wicked World: Hair, Homes, and Fashion as Feminism
Author: Jennifer Gandin Le
Blog Title: Had Enough Therapy?
Post Title: Reverse Sexism in the Wall Street Journal
Author: Stuart Schneiderman
Blog Title: CSI Files
Post Title: CSI: Miami--"Cheating Death" (analysis section of post)
Autthor: Kristine Huntley

Link to main gender & pop culture blog

Big blog