Tag Archives: People

Gendered Genres

Both Ien Ang in Gender and/in Media consumption and Helen Thornham in  It’s a Boy Thing, explore the gendering of certain genres, Ang with soap operas and Thornham with video games. Both authors assert that gender-based narratives are highly situational and that gendered subjectivity is a constant renegotiation, which is to say that as individual experiences evolve, so will the perspectives and interpretations of media interactions.

Ang explains how differing gender definitions are the result of discourse, using the example of Catholic discourse in which ‘woman’ is defined as either a whore, a virgin, or a mother; in contrast to radical feminist discourse that establish women as victims and oppressed humans. Two completely different definitions for the same group. Discourse, according to Ang, also produces gender positioning by assigning different, “roles, opportunities, ideals, duties and vulnerabilities to ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are classified as normal and are very difficult to break out of” (120).

After making this distinction between gender positioning and gender definition, Ang then goes on to ask the important question: if gender identification is not a mechanical or passive process, why do men and women seem to continue to identify with gender-based positions?

Ang goes on to answer his own question with the Henriques explanation of ‘investment’ – that persons choose to assume their gender-differentiated positioning to ultimately received a reward from their emotional commitment. This was illustrated in Thornam’s article by two of her interviewees, Sara and Rach.Gamer-Girls

Sara said she gamed as a way of bonding, which is a gender neutral ideology and an emotional commitment (investment) however she did not attempt to better her skills because she felt that it was her role, or position,  to be inferior at gaming. When she relocated from the co-ed house, to the all-female house, Sara was compelled to get better –  or was at least no longer stifled in her pursuit of improvement, with the absence of the unspoken obligation to stay in her place – what Ang referred to as ‘social subordination’.

I wouldn’t take it very seriously. I’d clown about and mess about and pretend I couldn’t work out what to do. And I didn’t bother to try to improve as a gamer because that was my role. Whereas now I’m gaming and I’m looking at the map to try and see where the symbol is and where I’m going. There, they would just be amused that I was so rubbish. They’d always be telling me what to do. But that’s boys isn’t it? (…) Gaming is just another way to play out roles. It doesn’t give you a space where you can do what you want or be who you want. It’s how I chose to bond with people in Brighton, but it didn’t change how I interacted with them. I was still “the Girl” and didn’t know what I was doing. Here, though I don’t have to do that any more.  – Thornham 133, 141

Rach also ‘played her role’ while gaming, to stimulate interaction with her boyfriend, Rob, by downplaying her above average ability to play the game. By constantly asking questions about how to work the buttons and other gaming related questions, Rach kept Rob present and engaged, while reinforcing his sense of authority in the subject.

A similar obligation to role responsibility was displayed in the video we viewed in class – the wife/mother felt a certain inadequacy due to not having time to play the game enough to advance her character, and essentially play her role, that she paid money to have her character ‘power-leveled’ so she could feel that she was contributing to her team at a level equal to her male counterparts, including her husband.

It is likely that most women having similar responsibilities as a wife and mother, would simply play the game less and not give it a second thought, dismissing it like many other luxuries they’ve had to relinquish to their familial duties. However, this woman (I do not remember her name) expanded the dynamic of their household to include the game, thus evoking a similar sense of obligation to the game as to her other responsibilities.

Side note: I did not know that the first game to make a conscious effort to attract both male and female players was Pac-Man. According to the young woman in the video below, Pac-Man’s creator realized that women talk about food a lot (ahem – he was listening to women at a café, hmmmm) so that’s why he incorporated the food-like elements such a pizza, fruit and ice cream. There was an immediate increase in female players, which provided valuable insight as to the limited marketing of video games.

She gives further commentary about gaming from a female perspective here

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Feminist Media and Culture

In Feminist Perspectives on the Media, author Liesbet van Zoonen discusses three general trends of feminism: liberal, radical, and socialist – and how the increasingly blurred lines between activism and academic critique are jeopardizing the relevance of feminist media studies.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Liberal feminism attributes “irrational prejudice and stereotypes about the supposedly natural role of women as wives and mothers” (27), to women’s unequal place in society. The solution offered by liberal feminists is that women should enter male-dominated fields and acquire power, and media can support the shift by minimizing, if not eliminating, sexist language and portraying men and women in more non-traditional roles. This, “we can do it all” mentality has resulted in the Superwoman stereotype, which of course, few, if any, women can achieve and sustain.

Radical feminism credits the subordinate position of women to patriarchy, “men’s innately wicked inclination to dominate women” (28). The radical perspective on media is that it will

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

operate to the benefit of patriarchy because mass media is owned and produced by men.  This ideology is problematic as well because hierarchy, regardless of sex or gender, is human nature. “Power differences, difference of opinion and interests appear to exist among women also, and are not a male preserve” (28).

Socialist feminism differentiates from both radical and liberal currents in that it does not only consider gender, but class and economic conditions as well to account for women’s position in society. The overall concern is the way media portrays women and femininity, and how gender roles and stereotypes are perpetuated.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Although there are flaws and contradictions in each feminist theory, they all share an important and fundamental perspective that media are the, “main instruments in conveying respectively stereotypical, patriarchal and hegemonic values about women and femininity. They serve as mechanisms of social control” (31).

Rosalind Gill adds to the discussion her critique on postfeminism, in the article Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.  Gill tells us that a crucial element of postfeminism is the shift from unassuming sexual object, to active participant. “It represents a shift in the way that power operates: from an external, male judging gaze to a self-policing, narcissistic gaze. It can be argued that this represents a higher or deeper form of exploitation than objectification – one in which the objectifying male gaze is internalized to form a new disciplinary regime” (139).

 “The sexually liberated modern woman turns out to resemble – what do you know! – the pneumatic, take-me-now-big-boy f**k-puppet of male fantasy after all.” – Janice Turner

The media targets young girls, baiting them with provocative clothing such as super-short shorts and cropped tops; branding notebooks, backpacks and clothing with the Playboy bunny symbol encourages girls to grow up quickly and socializes them into putting an unrealistic and age-inappropriate value on their bodies and appearance. However adult women are subjected to ‘girlification’ which promotes young girls as the desirable sexual icons. It’s one big mind game, and women are not in a position to win.

Gill also addresses the postfeminist sensibilities of individualism and ‘pleasing oneself’ that has become prominent in Western media culture. She gives the examples of the increase of women choosing to wax off their pubic hair (Brazilian wax) to, “reinstate a prepubescent version of their genitalia” and the surge in young women, even teenagers, getting breast augmentation; all in the name of  using beauty as a tool to make them ‘feel good’ – but are we not right back to the girlification, fuck-puppets and internalized male gaze? “The body is presented simultaneously as women’s source of power and as always unruly, requiring constant monitoring, surveillance, discipline and remodeling (and consumer spending) in order to conform to ever-narrower judgments of female attractiveness. Indeed, surveillance of women’s bodies constitutes perhaps the largest type of media content across al genres and media forms. Women’s bodies are evaluated, scrutinized and dissected by women as well as men, and are always at risk of ‘failing’” (137).

“Scant attention is paid to the pressures that might lead a teenager to decide that major surgery will solve her problems, and even less to the commercial interests that are underpinning this staggering trend” – Rosalind Gill

 

 

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