Friday, May 29, 2009

Gender Specificity in Toy Shopping

We live in a culture where it’s uncommon for boys to dress up dolls and girls to fly toy fighter jets. Its obscurity lies within our society’s rules of gender. In particular, gender roles are a set of culturally defined norms. These norms are reinforced in many different ways to children. As Newman states, “gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them.” (Newman 111) This should be a very alarming point to parents as it becomes evident that they are unintentionally passing down certain ideals to their children. However, how can this type of gender learning take place and through what means? I believe that the roles toys have in children’s lives greatly contributes to the realization of certain gender norms. Corporations have marketed toys to children in a very gender specific way through means of reflecting social expectations and identities of gender in their products, which has perpetuated the male and female children to adhere to normative gender roles.

To verify that corporations are doing such, I went out on a toy shopping spree with a $126 budget. My objective was to find toys for my 10 year old cousin Zahra from Poland. Upon entering the store I quickly was able to recognize the bifurcate of girls and boys toys, and Newman’s point that “decades of research indicate that ‘girls' toys’ still revolve around theme of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys' toys’ emphasize action and adventure (Renzetti & Curran, 2003)” (Newman 112) proved to be correct. It was helpful for me to know that Zahra had a keen interest in sporting equipment, stuffed animals, and watching movies as I shopped around.

The store had a very large selection of sporting equipment, offering all kinds of products kids would enjoy. One item I focused on was roller skates. There were several brands however I noticed a distinct difference between male and female skates. Male skates were advertised with rigorous terrains as well as vibrant and flashy colors; whereas the female skates were flashier and overwhelmingly pink. Messner states that “organized sports are a ‘gendered institution’” and everything associated with sports “reflect dominant conceptions of masculinity and femininity.” (Messner 134) The product selection illustrated this point very well because it seemed as if the female skates had to be more materialized and lacked the true essence of the sport. There was one such product that depicted TV show star Hannah Montana. Realistically speaking Hannah Montana has seldom to do with skating, yet she is being used to advertise a skating product. Corporations are using a popular female figure amongst young female children to sell this product.

In addition to roller skating, Zahra enjoys playing softball. I was quickly able to distinguish in the sporting section the different between baseball and softball. Since this sport has already been differentiated based on gender, I was presuming to find more gender neutral items. However, it was to my surprise that the softball section offered basically the same items as the baseball section but also in pink. I came across a pink baseball glove and was puzzled. Is there really a need to “feminize” sporting equipment for a women’s sport? By our social standards of feminine appeal, girls are being pressured into buying more “girly” items, even in the sports world.

I decided to do the stuffed animal shopping online at I simply selected the category for stuffed animals/dolls and was redirected to the stuff animal/dolls home page. To the left there were several sub-categories specifying the type of stuffed animals/dolls, prices, and to my delight age and gender. Our society places the notion of playing with stuffed animals/dolls to girls, so I thought it would be interesting to first see the selection for boys. Out of over 2,000 items only 300 were male specific. Furthermore, as I selected different age categories I saw the number of items diminishing as the age grew. It became evident here that corporations design less toys of the stuffed animal categories for older males. “By the age of five or so, most children have developed a fairly extensive repertoire of gender stereotypes (often incorrect) that they then apply to themselves (Martin & Ruble, 2004). They also use these stereotypes to form impressions of others and to guide their own perceptions and activities.” (Newman 113) This quote by Newman has been recognized by the toy corporations. The corporations realize that the market for stuffed animals for boys five and up is not too strong, that is why there are substantially less stuffed animal products available to boys than girls.

I still had to find a stuffed animal Zahra would enjoy, so I looked through the girls section. The girl’s sub-category provided different results. There were over 2,000 items available and these items were predominantly female or had feminine features. Some of the best sellers were baby stuffed animals which came with several accessories. This type of item allows for little girls to act like mothers, where they can put the baby to sleep, feed it, and do other such motherly acts. Most baby stuffed animals/dolls products were targeted to little girls by advertising little girls playing with the product. The corporations can thus use these types of toys to instill in female minds that motherly behavior is a normative feminine behavior.

Lastly, the final item I had to get Zahra was a movie. I again used to narrow my search. Zahra had always been a Disney fan so I hoped to find a Disney movie as a top seller. There were several but I selected Sleeping Beauty. Zahra as a ten year old Polish girl can relate to Sleeping Beauty in many ways. Perhaps the most prominent relation would be in physical looks. The predominant top sellers in the girls sections were mostly romance movies, and Hannah Montana. An interesting top seller I came across was a movie entitled Laugh and learns about Childbirth. This DVD goes through the different aspects of child labor and has been recommended for ages 10 and up. Finding such film in the girls section was quite astonishing and the fact that it is a best seller demonstrates the interest among young girls in motherhood. This aspect of motherhood has become a profitable area for corporate toy makers.

After this toy shopping spree, I came about some startling results. Toys play a large part in gender socialization as the differences between male and female toys demonstrate. Most boy toys showed a more aggressive nature, especially in sports. Girl toys were more sensitive and predominantly pink, as well as many toys relating to motherhood. The social agent attached to our gender identities is evident in the toys I bought for Zahra. In our society, it is very difficult to raise a child in a gender neutral environment, as traces of gender realization lies in almost all aspects of popular culture.

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.

Hannah Montana Adjustable Quad Skates - Size 1-4

Youth Girls' Softball Glove (11") Black/Pink - Player Series - PL1109P

Fur Real Friends Newborn Kneading Kitten (Marmalade)

Sleeping Beauty 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sell "it" with Sex!

In a capitalist society we are surrounded by the constant nuisance of advertising. There are advertisements for every single product imaginable. In every media form there are advertisements, as they provide excellent sources of revenue. It is safe to say that the top advertising industries have found a certain niche that has provided excellent results in promoting their products. This specific tool is simply sex. The use of sexual imagery in advertising has enabled these industries to not only employ feminine sexuality to successfully sell products but to characterize gender and define the notion of beauty in society.

In the past decades, the advertising industry has seen a perpetually rapid growth. It has become the basis for several companies and individuals to generate more profits, and thus seems almost necessary in a capitalist economy. However, its growth has led it to become a fundamental part of people’s lives, to the extent of not just inhabiting physical places but societies general though process. As the images suggest, advertisers use feminine sexuality to instantly communicate with a consumer. This tactic is being utilized regardless of the actual purpose of the products that are being advertised. The representation of women in this manner pushes towards the idea that they are solely defined by their sexuality. This point is supported by Sut Jhally who says “In advertising, gender (especially for women) is defined almost exclusively along the lines of sexuality” (Jhally). The Calvin Kline and Dolce & Gabbana ads are examples of this argument. In both ads the men are seen with women in a sexual manner, making the women seem more subservient. These imagistic depictions of female sexuality in the advertising of male products aids to a mindset of females being inferior and a sexually pleasing gender.

Furthermore, in order for these industries to sustain the representation of females exclusively through sexual means, they display similar images in an effort that women find them appealing. This creates the false illusion that true beauty in essence lies in sexual portrayals of the self. Women then turn to these advertisements and magazines which are immersed with such images in an attempt to become “beautiful” and please their men. Several magazine covers show women In the mean while the advertising industry and magazine corporations are capitalizing off the insecurities of women. Naomi Wolf argues that “We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth” (Wolf 120). Therefore, the latent function of these images of female sexuality is to keep women suppressed by defining the female gender as those concerned only with their sexual appearances.

Works Cited

Wolf, Naomi. "The Beauty Myth." Chapter III: Gender and Women's Bodies (1991): 120-125.

Jhally, Sut. “Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” The World and I article 17591 (July 1990)

Pictures from:

“Kate Moss Covers Purple Fashion Magazine”

“Adriana Lima Covers DT”

“Kieselstein Cord”

“Kieselstein Cord”

“Apple Pulls "You Can't Be Too Thin" Ads

“Kewl Commercials / Weird Ads”

“Deepika Cover Ups”

“Jessica Simpson lathers up for men's magazine cover”

“Your Fitness Motivator”

“Christina Aguilera is not sexy”

FHM Philippines July 2008 Cover Girl is DIANA ZUBIRI

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The show the Office is a comedy series and depicts the everyday lives of office employees from the suburban town of Scranton. The episode Boys and Girls from NBC’s the Office contains several scenes in which the hegemonic views of masculinity and femininity are portrayed in their perceived notions, as well as instances where these views are disrupted and demonstrate counter-hegemonic representations.

The work place environment is often scrutinized to ensure that gender discrimination is non-existent. Although most corporate management ensures compliance by taking several measures to provide equal opportunity to males and females, statistics still show men are “dominating” the work place through means of upper management, pay scales, and upward mobility. Newman states “Gender…designates the psychological, social, and cultural aspects of masculinity and femininity…they cultivate it over time as they learn the cultural expectations associated with being a man or a woman” (Newman 53). The hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity arise in males and females as they are growing up. This becomes prominent and evident in this episode.
Jan, of fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin, from corporate holds a women in the work place day at the Scranton branch for the female employees. A casual round table discussion ensues, which is classified as “girl talk” by one of the employees. Answers to Jan’s questions by the employees are examples of the hegemonic views of femininity. For example, the women are questioned about their dream homes and the answer is quite uniform whereby most women want “walk-in” closets and good husbands. Further questioning revolves around materials and domestic issues, and the lack of diverse responses promotes a depiction of women as a culturally normative ideal. To Jan’s disarray she reveals her true intention of holding such event is partly to find women that can hold a corporate position and no female employee in the room meets the profile.

Jan is a woman and holds an upper management position at corporate. Her demeanor tends to be different from the other women and tries to exemplify herself. During the discussion Jan notes that the clothing reflects ones aspirations to be what they work towards. Another female employee, Andrea, thinks to herself that Jan’s want to be a “whore” although she is just wearing a fancy business suit. After learning of Jan’s recent divorce, Andrea is quick to question whether she had children and is relieved when Jan shakes her head. Furthermore, Jan to change the topic says woman should balance their personal lives and career. The women are uniform to answer that they are happy with the way they balanced their lives. These instances reveal how unconventional Jan seems to the women at the Scranton branch. Jan thinks very different and tends to focus more on a career and thus shows a counter-hegemonic representation. In addition, she demonstrates hegemonic views of masculinity in another scene where she threatens to fire several warehouse workers without hesitation or emotion.

The manager of the branch, Michael decided to hold his own guys in the work place day, as he wasn’t allowed to take part in the women’s day. He takes all the office men to the warehouse and says the warehouse workers do a real man’s work. Though quickly realizes the self-insulting statement, he claims office work is also “manly.” The office men and warehouse men sit together and Michael unsuccessfully holds a discussion about men as he ends up becoming targeted and insulted, and the guys have a good laugh. Michael believes that one part of hegemonic representation of masculinity is that of the warehouse worker but fails to see how his character actually disrupts that view. He feels intimidated around them and often gives in to their demands, lacking a key quality of a boss. The men in the warehouse feel they are dominant over the office men as they act more belligerent.

The men in their discussions show aggressive nature as well as an ambitious drive. They complain about the women in their lives and infer that they hold higher statuses than them. The discussion ends up leading the thoughts of unionizing, which the company won’t tolerate. Michael is basically forced to support them although he knows he shouldn’t. As the boss he must tell them they can’t do such, however he is too afraid and Jan reluctantly tells them. Knowing that his white collar position is higher than the blue collar (warehouse workers), he still fails to maintain his authority and thus unable to keep power. Michael does show signs of hegemonic masculinity by trying to fit his ideals of a man; however he more strongly shows counter-hegemonic representation.

These scenes suggest that people who enforce hegemonic representations believe they are acting correctly. James Lull states “Hegemony implies a willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules, and laws they believe operate in their best interests, even though in actual practice they may not” (Lull). Both the women and men in their respective discussions prove this point. Most of the women are satisfied with where they are and their lack of counter-hegemonic representation allows for the work place to continue giving them unequal opportunity. The men’s aggressive nature seems to disrupt work place ethic, where as Michael’s character seems unfit for his position.

Works Cited

Lull, James. Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Newman, David. M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2005.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blog's on Gender and Popular Culture

The following our some blogs I found on the internet that relate to several topics I am interested in:

The Daily Show as Legitimate Journalism

In one ear...out the other

Black Muslim Says Race, Not Religion, Is the Issue
Brooke Sidney Gavens
Pop and Politics

Republican women: A minority in a minority
Erica Lovely
Anderson Cooper 360 Blogs

All About Race: The Supreme Court's Racially Influential Rulings

Carmen Dixon
Pop and Politics

Let's Beat up Britney Spears
Katharine Mieszkowski

Link to the Big Blog : Gender and Pop culture

Blog Link