The analysis of this paper focuses on the gender role and conformed ideas of women as figures of sexuality and their internalized behaviours. The objective of this analysis is made in order to educate the readers regarding the background and nature of gender roles while illustrating instances of female gender roles that exist in everyday life. I will be drawing from historical media images and comparing them to present advertisements to demonstrate the media’s influence on gender roles. Furthermore, I will be taking these findings to illustrate how this depiction of femininity has shaped society and individuals’ own expectation of women and their roles in certain spaces. In contrast, the ongoing battle against these gender expectations is also mentioned; it briefly explains the significance of feminist movement in modern society and their efforts to reshape the role of women while breaking the existing roles within society.
The role of men and women in society has, and still is drastically differed. In order to get a grasp on the contrast between the two expected gender roles – male and female – we must first understand how gender performances are created and shaped. Judith Butler aids in explaining the fundamental understanding of this concept, claiming that gender is the repeated stylization of the body within a set and regulatory framework. Each action, gesture, presentation and desire from an individual comes from the fabrication of identity; in other words, the presentation of oneself within the frameworks of their certain gender is simply a performance that has been set by society as acceptable. The creation of these gender performances are generated by various aspects including historical, spatial and cultural determinations. As important as it is to understand the way that the actions of men and women are deeply moulded within limitations of certain expectations, Michael Foucault’s concept of “scripts” adds to this understanding.
Foucault talks about a limited range of “scripts” that exist to control the performance of gender. Both women and men are inclined to regulate their everyday lives within the scripts and thus, only to enhance and internalize social norms and the power of discourse. The discourse being noted here is the way in which individuals in a society talk about things and give meaning to their experience. These discourses essentially create the experience of gender. All these predetermined roles of women and men allow to us to realize that people are not free to simply decide which gender they will enact. Linda McDowell notes that “the prevailing notions of self, ideals of physical appearance, sexual identity and acceptable behaviour, are maintained not through physical violence or coercion, but through self-surveillance and self-correction” (70).
This idea of an individual’s self-correction and surveillance also prominently relates to and is bound by “scripts” and the frameworks of gender roles. Men are depicted as figures of strength, power and have control over women and their surroundings. Women on the other hand, are the delicate figures of the world, the followers of men and at often times powerless and dependent. One of the most common and dominant portrayals of women are related to sexuality through media images and thus, creating this sense of realism into the norms of society.
On the grounds of sexuality and women, it is very easy to overlook these sexist depictions of women throughout the media, as it has existed for a significant period of time in which has become embedded into our cultural and societal norms. Although over the past few decades, the stand for women has been growing, but there is still a deeply integrated ideal of what women should be like, to still be present within the “norms” of modern society. In Challenging Images of Women in the Media: Reinventing women’s Lives it makes a valuable point on stereotypes in advertising stating that “advertising is successful, not only because of its audiences’ largely dismissive attitudes toward the industry’s effectiveness, but also because it relies upon cultural stereotypes that its audience associate with lived reality as they encounter and enact them in their day-to-day lives.” (19).
A lot of the primary advertisements in the 50s made for a more obvious stereotype of women, representing them as belonging in society as the motherly figure that simply takes care of the family. Most women were shown in the kitchens working and obeying society’s “norms” as the nurturers and powerless in the “real” world of working class citizens; this outside world belonged to men, and men only. The interesting thing about these ads was that although depicted as the motherly figure, the sexuality of women was still evident as women were shown cooking in cleaning in high heels and skirts, while in postures that were evidently alluring. As ads became more modernized throughout the 1970s and 80s it seemed as though the representation of the powerlessness of women became less apparent, but the stereotypes still existed within the key message. An example of a stereotypical ad campaign can be illustrated through the Kellogg’s Special K advertisements during the 1970s and 1980s.
As their target audience was specifically for women, their catchphrases including “pinch more than an inch” has evidently shown the influence it had on women, dominating the notion that slimness is a factor to a women’s appeal. As Kellogs Special K commercials continued to gives off the message that being slim is the key to sexual desirability, it had also outlined the importance of a women’s self-control when it came to eating habits. Carill et al explain that “this historical issue of physical self-control in all respects is inextricably linked to sexual acts, and this remains a prevalent metaphor in today’s advertising realm” (23). Messages like these within the media make for a crisis for women’s identities, forcing them to conform to the media’s impact on women and their sexuality. Drawing from this example of the Kellogs advertisements, we can already see the extent of influence that the media holds on women.
In contrast to these historical ads that represent women in certain ways, our more modernized ads make an effort to show women with more power and dominance within society. A more recent series of Nike ads with the slogan “Make Yourself Strong” had been publicized in order to demonstrate a woman’s strength. All the women shown in these ads were shown with a very strong facial expression that seemed to embody power while keeping up to be a more modernized form of standing up for women and their place in society. However, these ads still held the traditional conventions of female sexuality, with their attire showing lots of skin and their poses being utterly sensual. Although advertisements have been less and less apparent in stereotypical features of women, the embedded codes of societal norms still exist within commercial realism.
Females’ sexual identity are still depicted as submissive, powerless, and dependent and according to Valentine, although the explicit feminine appearance that is perceived as desirable may change, it is constantly “ (re)presented and (re)produced through channels of fashion, health, diet, fitness etc. Essentially, being a woman is about performing a gender identity” (88).
As a result of media and many years of the shaping and reshaping of femininity, it has created a certain limitation for society’s expectations in women and how they should behave. Of course, the acceptable behaviour of women differs in certain spaces but all in all, it is obvious that women are still figures of sexuality and have a certain, customary role. Liz Bondi explains this very notion stating that “gender difference is presented as unchanging and universal, reflecting and reinforcing an ideology of social relations of gender” (1992). Examples of this can be drawn from contemporary society and the spaces that exist within them.
The three spaces I will be focusing on is the workplace, the streets, and in the home. Women with careers and prevailing in the workplace have only recently been deemed as acceptable. As advertisements in the past had bounded that the only role of women was at home, there has certainly been some form of change and modernization for the role of women within the past few years. However, the idea that the inclusion of women within the workplace giving them power and acceptance are up for argument. Women have naturally disciplined themselves in order to follow the idealized notions of femininity, but this new sphere has involved them within the work environment allowing them to create a newly formed identity for themselves. Despite the fact of women being accepted into the working place, the traditional forms of gender roles and women as sexual figures have still appeared to be existent within the space itself.
For example, women are often seen to be victims within a workplace with the aggressors being men. From inappropriate personal comments, the center of sexual jokes, ironic courtesy and even sexual harassment, it has been very common for women to be victims within the workplace. In addition to women becoming victims in the workplace for the simple reason that they are women, Linda McDowell adds that because women’s bodies are marked by sexuality, fecundity and growth, they are seen as uncontrolled; thus, the emphasis on the need to be confined to a private and more domestic space seeming necessary.
Because of this, “women’s sexed bodies are threatening in the workplace for the very reason that they are not meant to be there. They challenge the order of things” (71). Another example of the separated gender roles in workplaces can be seen through things such as women’s choice in clothing, as they are biologically women, they make an effort to fit into the originally male dominated environment; thereby, dressing in a more subtle manner which disguises their femininity and sexual attractiveness. As hard as it seems for women in the workplace, the normalized gender roles that have become integrated into society only makes it seem standard for women to be victimized and having more endurance for the sake of their career. Continuing on the topic of women and their roles in certain spaces I will now be focusing on a more specific space within Vancouver – the night scene on the Granville strip.
Boyd suggests that “space is fundamentally shaped by a multitude of dynamics including gender and sexuality” (2010). Normalized representation and behaviours that are condoned within a hetero-sexualized space can be found here as the entertainment district is known to be “a space of ‘civilized pleasures’ which takes on a form of heterosexual hegemony” (Boyd, 2010). Of course, within the heterosexual norms of these spaces includes the objectification of women and their roles as objects of pleasure and sexuality – this also including the aspect of women as eye candy. Rather than being revealed as constrained and created by power relations, the Granville strip has become naturalized and normalized as a heterosexual sphere through repetition of the individuals that exist within the space.
Men and women have their set gender roles in this environment; this includes men who are looking to find sexuality attractive and desirable women and the women who are out to attract the attention of men through their appearance and flirty behaviour. More specifically, it is the female gender role that is the most prominent upon observing the Granville night scene. One of the most significant factors we can see during the night scene are women demonstrating physical and behavioural characteristics that match the conventional, sexual depictions of women in media and its influences on them. Here, most of the women at mainstream events seemed be hyper-feminine showing attributes that were almost Barbie-like. With tight skirts extenuating their womanly curves and low tops showing as much cleavage as possible, the women here were in fact, the perfect examples of gender role conformity.
Seeking the gaze of men and looking sexually desirable was the main goal of their appearance and this may seem all the more natural to spectators as females have always been represented as objects of sexuality. Within my two examples of women within the workplace and within an entertainment district, I have concluded that society’s expectations of the role of these women were very similar. Taking from my analysis of past and present media message and images, it is clear that commercial realism has allowed for the permanent integration of these codes within the social norms for the role of women and what the “ideal” women should be like. Although there has been movements and some forms of liberation for women and their traditionally valued roles as nurturers and the protectors of the household, the deeply embedded codes of female sexuality and their “scripts” have not yet been abolished from the system of naturalized codes.
The modernization of women and their accepted participation within a workplace seem as though the set gender roles of women have become reshaped and welcome into the “real” world of men. However, the roles of women within workplaces were also very distinct from that of men. Through aspects such as attire and behaviour, women were more inclined to behave less “feminine” in order to be successful; thus, concluding that women were still considered as the normalized “feminine” characters even in the workplace, sometimes even being harassed and oppressed because of it. Similarly, in the case of the Granville night scene, the set norms of the role of women were evident.
Very closely tying with aspects of media influences on women, the standardized objectification of women’s sexuality is seen to come to life within the Granville strip. The GSWS204 Term Paper 9 women on Granville dressing and behaving exactly as though the media tells them to only reiterates the power of the media, society and distinct gender roles. In addition, these women and their conformity to these roles bring out the repetition of even further social norms outside of simply gender roles; this repetition in which validates the heterosexualization of a space by creating heterosexual desire.
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