Tag Archives: media

The Sexual Politics of Full Frontal on HBO (NSFW)

In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic killing spree, the media’s role in male entitlement and violence against women has brought commentators to virtual blows.  One right hook came from Ann Hornaday, who argues in the Washington Post that male entitlement fantasies are part of a climate in which women are displayed as objects for the sexual fulfillment of men.  This post is about how full frontal nudity in True Blood, Hung, and Game of Thrones contributes to this climate.

True Blood.

While there are dozens of examples of full frontal female nudity in True Blood’s six-season run, from lead actors to extras, there are only two instances of full frontal male nudity.

A striking example of the exploitation of women as sex objects is in the appearance and figure of Lillith, a vampire goddess who is featured rising from a pool of blood, walking around fully nude for extended scenes. Her minions do the same and are also shown full frontal.

When a male character drinks Lillith’s blood and effectively becomes her, he too rises out of the pool of blood. But unlike the actresses associated with Lilith before, the camera cuts away before reaching his waist.

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In another stark example, vampires hold several dozen humans captive. While all the humans are naked, men in one cage and women in another, it is only the women who are displayed fully frontally nude.

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When the werewolf packs in True Blood disrobe to turn into wolves, again it is only the females who are demonstrated fully frontal.

Hung.

Hung is a program about a down-on-his-luck teacher who, because of his large penis, became a prostitute. Though the entire show is about Ray Drecker’s member, we only get one brief glimpse of it — and not even the whole — yet his clients and sexual partners are often shown fully frontal.

Even when a show is about the sexual objectification of a man and his sexual organ, it’s still women who are the default sex objects.

Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones has come under fire for its sexism, misogyny, gratuitous nudity, and violence against women.  As usual, women are portrayed fully frontally nude in most Game of Thrones episodes, even when their male sexual partners are not. This is especially striking in the many brothel scenes (unnecessarily) scattered about the seasons; even when there are both male and female prostitutes, only the women are shown full monty.

To date there has been only one full frontal male on Game of Thrones: Theon Greyjoy. Through a horrific series of events, Theon is tortured and castrated. In episode six of season four — “The Laws of Gods and Men” — we are offered once again a gratuitous display of naked women in a bathhouse. In the same episode Theon is also offered a bath and while his full frontal, for once, would have actually been part of the plot, we do not see it.

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In episode eight — “The Mountain and the Viper” — we are given another bathing scene in which members of the Unsullied, an army of castrated men, bathe in the vicinity of women in the same convoy. Surprise, surprise, the women are fully frontal and the men are not. Even sans one particular physical marker of male sexuality, these castrated men are deemed unseeable.

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Neil Marshall, who directed the Blackwater Bay siege episode in Game of Thrones‘ 2nd season, recently spoke about how he was urged by a producer to include more full frontal female nudity.  The producer explained that he was “not on the drama side of things,” meaning that he didn’t care about the story. Instead, he said, he was on the “perv side of the audience.”  This is concrete evidence that orders for the systematic sexual objectification of women comes from upper management.

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Ultimately, nudity is rarely necessary to further a storyline.  Women’s nudity isn’t about plot, it’s about treating women as objects and men as human beings.  The problem is systemic. Women’s bodies exist in many of HBO’s varied worlds to serve men, circling us back to a culture of male entitlement that, in the case of Rodgers at least, led directly to violence.

Sezin Koehler is an informal ethnographer and novelist living in Florida. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Reimagining Barbie: Villain or Victim?

Earlier this year, Barbie posed for Sports Illustrated, triggering a round of eye-rolling and exasperation among those who care about the self-esteem and overall mental health of girls and women.

Barbie replied with the hashtag #unapologetic, arguing in an — I’m gonna guess, ghostwritten — essay that posing in the notoriously sexist swimsuit issue was her way of proving that girls could do anything they wanted to do.  It was a bizarre appropriation of feminist logic alongside a skewering of a feminist strawwoman that went something along the lines of “don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful.”

Barbie is so often condemned as the problem and Mattel, perhaps tired of playing her endless defender, finally just went with: “How dare you judge her.”  It was a bold and bizarre marketing move.  The company had her embrace her villain persona, while simultaneously shaming the feminists who judged her.  It gave us all a little bit of whiplash and I thought it quite obnoxious.

But then I came across Tiffany Gholar’s new illustrated book, The Doll Project.  Gholar’s work suggests that perhaps we’ve been too quick to portray Barbie as simply a source of young women’s self-esteem issues and disordered eating.  We imagine, after all, that she gleefully flaunts her physical perfection in the face of us lesser women.  In this way, Mattel may be onto something; it isn’t just her appearance, but her seemingly endless confidence and, yes, failure to apologize, that sets us off.

But, maybe we’re wrong about Barbie?

What if Barbie is just as insecure as the rest of us?  This is the possibility explored in The Doll Project.  Using a mini diet book and scale actually sold by Mattel in the 1960s, Gholar re-imagines fashion dolls as victims of the media imperative to be thin.  What if  Barbie is a victim, too?

Excerpted with permission:

14 1a 53Forgive me for joining Mattel and Gholar in personifying this doll, but I enjoyed thinking through this reimagining of Barbie. It reminded me that even those among us who are privileged to be able to conform to conventions of attractiveness are often suffering.  Sometimes even the most “perfect” of us look in the mirror and see nothing but imperfection.  We’re all in this together.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard and Adios Barbie.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender at the NY Times: The Most Comprehensive Analysis Ever

In this post I present the most comprehensive analysis ever reported of the gender of New York Times writers (I think), with a sample of almost 30,000 articles.

This subject has been in the news, with a good piece the other day by Liza Mundy — in the New York Times — who wrote on the media’s Woman Problem, prompted by the latest report from the Women’s Media Center. The WMC checked newspapers’ female byline representation from the last quarter of 2013, and found levels ranging from a low of 31% female at the NYT to a high of 46% at the Chicago Sun-Times. That’s a broad study that covers a lot of other media, and worth reading. But we can go deeper on the NYTimes, thanks to the awesome data collecting powers of my colleague Neal Caren.

Here are the results based on 21,440 articles published online from October 23, 2013 to February 25, 2014.

Women’s authorship

1. Women were the first author on 34% of the articles. This is a little higher than the WMC got with their A-section analysis, which is not surprising given the distribution of writers across sections.

2. Women wrote the majority of stories in five out of 21 major sections, from Fashion (52% women), to Dining, Home, Travel, and Health (76% women). Those five sections account for 11% of the total.

3. Men wrote the majority of stories in the seven largest sections. Two sections were more than three-fourths male (Sports, 89%; and Opinion, 76%). U.S., World, and Business were between 66% and 73% male.

Here is the breakdown by section (click to enlarge):

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Gender words

Since we have all this text, we can go a little beyond the section headers served up by the NYTimes‘ API. What are men and women writing about? Using the words in the headlines, I compiled a list of those headline words with the biggest gender difference in rates of appearance.

For example, “Children” occurred 36 times in women’s headlines, and 24 times in men’s headlines. Since men used more than twice as many headline words as women, this produced a very big gender spread in favor of women for the word “Children.”  On the other hand, women’s headlines had 10 instances of “Iran,” versus 85 for men. Repeating this comparison zillions of times, I generated these lists:

NYTimes headline words used disproportionately in stories by

WOMEN MEN
Scene US
Israel Deal
London Business
Hotel Iran
Her Game
Beauty Knicks
Children Court
Home NFL
Women Billion
Holiday Nets
Food Music
Sales Case
Wedding Test
Museum His
Cover Games
Quiz Bitcoin
Work Jets
Christie Chief
German Firm
Menu Nuclear
Commercial Talks
Fall Egypt
Shoe Bowl
Israeli Broadway
Family Oil
Restaurant Shows
Variety Super
Cancer Football
Artists Hits
Shopping UN
Breakfast Face
Loans Russia
Google Ukraine
Living Yankees
Party Milan
Vows Mets
Clothes Kerry
Life Gas
Child Investors
Credit Plans
Health Calls
Chinese Fans
India Model
France Fed
Park Protesters
Doctors Team
Hunting Texas
Christmas Play

Here is the same table arranged as a word cloud, with pink for women and blue for men (sue me), and the more disproportionate words larger (click to enlarge):

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What does it mean?

It’s just one newspaper but it matters a lot. According to Alexa, NYTimes.com is the 34th most popular website in the U.S., and the 119th most popular in the world — and the most popular website of a printed newspaper in the U.S. In the JSTOR database of academic scholarship, “New York Times” appeared almost four-times more frequently than the next most-commonly mentioned newspaper, the Washington Post.

Research shows that when women are charge, they tend to produce better outcomes for women below them in the organizational hierarchy. Jill Abramson, the NYTimes‘ executive editor, is aware of this issue, and proudly told the Women’s Media Center that she had reached the “significant milestone” of having a half-female news masthead (which is significant). So why are women underrepresented in such prominent sections?  I’m really wondering. The NYTimes doesn’t even do as well as the national average: 41% of the 55,000 “News Analysts, Reporters and Correspondents” working full-time, year-round in 2012 were women.

Organizational research finds that large companies are less likely to discriminate against women, and we suspect three main reasons: greater visibility to the public, which may complain about bias; greater visibility to the government, which may enforce anti-discrimination laws; and greater use of formal personnel procedures, which limits managerial discretion and is supposed to weaken old-boy networks. Among writers, however, an informal, back-channel norm still apparently prevails — at least according to a recent essay by Ann Friedman. Maybe NYTimes‘ big-company, formalized practices apply more to departments other than those that select and hire writers.

A more in-depth discussion of these findings, with details on Cohen and Caren’s research methods, can be found at Family Inequality. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday Fun: Stupid/Sexist Headlines Under Attack

Folks at The Vagenda had the idea of asking readers to rewrite stupid/sexist headlines. Like this:

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The results were fantastic. Here’s a sampling.

From @bexatrex:

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From @ledavies: 1.jpg

From @RubyJLL:1b

From @kimmibobs: 2

From @ce_corp: 2Via Buzzfeed.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Has Godzilla Grown?

Last week the internet chuckled at the visual below.  It shows that, since Godzilla made his first movie appearance in 1954, he has tripled in size.

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Kris Holt, at PolicyMic, suggests that his enlargement is in response to growing skylines. She writes:

As time has passed, buildings have grown ever taller too. If Godzilla had stayed the same height throughout its entire existence, it would be much less imposing on a modern cityscape.

This seems plausible.  Buildings have gotten taller and so, to preserve the original feel, Godzilla would have to grow too.

But rising buildings can’t be the only explanation.  According to this graphic, the tallest building at the time of Gozilla’s debut was the Empire State Building, rising to 381 meters.   The tallest building in the world today is (still) the Burj Khalifa.  At 828 meters, it’s more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building, but it’s far from three times as tall, or 1,143 meters.

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Is there an alternate explanation? Here’s one hypothesis.

In 1971, the average American was exposed to about 500 advertisements per day. Today, because of the internet, they are exposed to over 5,000.  Every. Day.

Media critic Sut Jhally argues that the flood of advertising has forced marketers to shift strategies.  Specifically, he says

So overwhelming has the commercial takeover of culture become, that it has now become a problem for advertisers who now worry about clutter and noise.  That is, how do you make your ads stand out from the commercial impressions that people are exposed to.

One strategy has been to ratchet up shock value.  “You need to get eyeballs. You need to be loud,” said Kevin Kay, Spike’s programming chief.

So, to increase shock value, everything is being made more extreme. Compared to the early ’90s, before the internet was a fixture in most homes and businesses, advertising — and I’m guessing media in general — has gotten more extreme in lots of ways. Things are sexier, more violent, more gorgeous, more satirical, and weirder.

So, Godzilla because, eyeballs.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday Fun: Cinderella and the Glass Stripper Slipper

I guess I’m a little bit of a masochist, so I watched the trailer for Disney’s Cinderella re-make, due out in 2015. All they do is show a shoe, but what a shoe it is! Notice anything different?

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Point to Gail Dines; Pamela Paul; Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott; and Kaarina Nikunun, Susanna Paasonen, and Laura Saarenmaa, all who argue that we’re seeing a “pornification” of everyday life.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

DEAD! Executions and the Power of Photography

In 1928 readers of the New York Daily News were shocked by this cover.  It was the first photograph ever taken of an electrocution.

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The executed is a woman named Ruth Snyder, convicted of murdering her husband.  The photographer was a journalist named Tom Howard.  Cameras were not allowed in the execution room, but Howard snuck a device in under his pant leg.  Prison officials weren’t  happy, but the paper was overjoyed.

The fact that the image was placed on the front page with the aggressive headline “DEAD!” suggests that editors expected the photograph to have an impact.  Summarizing at Time, Erica Fahr Campbell writes:

The black-and-white image was shocking to the U.S. and international public alike. There sat a 32-year-old wife and mother, killed for killing. Her blurred figured seemed to evoke her struggle, as one can imagine her last, strained breaths. Never before had the press been able to attain such a startling image—one not made in a faraway war, one not taken of the aftermath of a crime scene, but one capturing the very moment between life and death here at home.

It is one thing to know that executions are happening and another to see it, if mediated, with one’s own eyes.

Pictures can powerfully alter the dynamics of political debates.  Lennart Nilsson‘s famous series of photographs of fetuses, for example, humanized and romanticized the unborn.  They also erased pregnant women, making it easier to think of the fetus as an independent entity. A life, even.

Unfortunately, Campbell’s article doesn’t delve any further into the effect of this photograph on death penalty debates.  To this day, however, no prisons allow photography during executions.  What if things were different?  How might the careful documentation of this process — with all our technology for capturing and sharing images — change the debate today?  And whose interests are most protected by keeping executions invisible?

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday Stat: Is Fox News Trying to Fool Us?

Post redacted. It turns out the graph was faked. Thanks to all of our savvy twitter friends for the heads up.

Last month I posted a misleading graph released by Reuters that made quite the impression, so I thought I would share another. This one is from Fox News and it reveals the number of people who have signed up for Obama care.

A glance at the graph makes it seem as if people are disenrolling: the line goes down as it moves to the right. But, of course, the fact is that people are increasingly enrolling, Fox just decided to invert the vertical axis.  It goes from 8 million at the bottom to 4 million at the top.

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Over at Monclair SocioBlog, Jay Livingston seems convinced that the Reuter’s graph was a mistake, but the Fox graph was purposefully deceptive. Both have inverted axes. The designers rationale for the former — which illustrated a rise in gun deaths in response to Stand Your Ground laws — was to make the graph look like blood being shed. If Fox has released a rationale for this inverted axis, I haven’t seen it.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.