I borrowed this commercial from the Mongoose Chronicles, where Mar offers both a hilarious and a serious interpretation. First, the commercial:
Now, the interpretation: More than just another example of a product being marketed with hypermasculinity, this ad sends “…the message… that women’s sexuality is owned by the men with whom they interact…” The “hero” must erase all signs that he transgressed on the father’s property. Her “daddy” must not know. Clean and showered, the woman can greet her father in all innocence.
As Mar says it:
…with all traces of sex duly washed away, she’s free to greet her father while pretending to be a virgin. Because for women, virginity: good; sex: bad. But if you’re a man: sticking around to meet the parents: bleah; sex: rawr; Coke Zero: arooooo.
I have nothing new to add to our previous analyses–it’s another example of sort of dead-looking women in sexualized positions. But this time they add cats, which actually look at the camera and definitely appear to be alive, giving them more subjectivity than the women have.
My professional, well-reasoned, deeply-pondered sociological insight: ick.
NEW! (Oct. ’09) Anna W. sent in a link to a set of images at Glossed Over. The images come from the September 2009 issues of W magazine. Many of the images present women in very passive poses, many of which make them appear dead:
NEW! (Mar. ’10): Martha sent in some images from the book Who Killed Amanda Palmer? A Collection of Photographic Evidence, a collaboration between the singer Amanda Palmer and writer Neil Gaiman. The photos in the book show Palmer posed as though she’s been murdered, often in ways that are sexualized as well. Some examples:
I’m putting the next one after the jump because it’s a very realistic-looking image of her nearly naked, bloodied, and folded up into a shopping cart; it may be upsetting and/or somewhat NSFW, so be warned.
Here’s another collection of images about gender and marketing of various techy things, particularly video games. You can see my other jumbled post of such images here (check out the links at the bottom of that post–I’m not going to reproduce them here).
Danielle F. found a post at bitmob that includes this old ad for Game Boy:
Notice that the presumed user is either a heterosexual male (or, I suppose, a lesbian…but I doubt it). And as we see, the Game Boy is so awesome it’s better than having sex with a woman tied up waiting for you. I hope the unhappy look on her face is because her partner is distracted and not because she doesn’t really want to be tied up.
Morgan C. alerted us to an ad for DirecTV that features Peyton Manning and the following dialogue:
Manning begins “…why you need to watch football in HD: for the one handed grabs” (cue shot of scantily cheerleader’s chest as she is jumping around), “the most naked bootlegs” (kicking line semi-crotch shots), “and all the punishing hits” (don’t forget the chest and abs shots!). It’s a pretty shameless marketing scheme when you hire a professional athlete and project images of women and their body parts behind him.
Here’s the delightful ad:
A reader who prefers to remain anonymous sent in this image he was forwarded that someone created equating different browsers with women. Again we see that the assumed user is male:
The reader says,
…notice how all the women are described primarily or entirely in terms of sexual attributes, and criticized for whatever ways they fail to be ideal sex partners…Unquestioned assumptions here…that “women” means “people whose purpose in life is to provide you with sex”. Male gaze much?
I find the Chrome image particularly icky. The equating of IE with “easy” women, who are of course the “first woman [users] tried” (because she’s not relationship material, just for getting started), and the connection to STDs is also classy.
The sender-inner continues,
Like most software companies, mine has an extremely imbalanced male-to-female ratio, maybe something around 90% male, and most of the women are in the marketing and HR departments so the balance is even further skewed among the people who engineer the software. (Full disclosure: I’m a man.) I have no way of knowing how prevalent e-mail forwards like this one are among engineers in the software industry, since most of them get passed around under the table. It makes me wonder what role they might play in perpetuating or reinforcing a “boys-only-club” kind of culture that makes women feel unwelcome, or whether that has an influence on the extreme gender imbalance of my industry.
On that note, Sabriel pointed out a post at Feministing in which the author, Cat Marshall, a female animation student, expresses dismay at a video used to encourage submissions to the International Erotic Animation Festival. The video reinforces the sexualized female image and also brings up interesting questions about what is considered erotic. Although, for the record, the sexualized women do appear to be zombies:
And we got several more submissions of gendered marketing of techy items. Stephanie G. sent us a link to her post at Mother Jones about Sony Ericsson’s attempt to market cell phones to women by making them “diamond” shaped:
The company claims that “structured forms, intricate corners, hidden depths” are trendy. Stephanie points out,
The phone has some features that clearly illustrate stereotypes about what women (should) care about:
“The two inch screen’s clever design means that at the touch of a button the screen becomes a mirror, offering a discreet way to make sure you look as good as your mobile phone. It is also the first Sony Ericsson to feature Walk Mate step counter, to help you stay in shape wherever you go. It also has an exclusive fashion interface which automatically updates with zodiac signs and special events throughout the year.”
Liz noted the following about Ubisoft’s series of Nintendo games aimed at girls:
…includes stuff like ‘Imagine Makeup Artist’ and ‘Imagine Wedding Planner.’ Without exception every game is about physical appearance, performance for the purpose of looking pretty, or nurturing/childrearing.
If you haven’t gotten enough yet, Kate M. sent in these examples of “time management games” (what?!?) at Shockwave:
I don’t know what to make of this one:
UPDATE: Reader Shodan says, about Virtual Families and Virtual Villagers,
…in those games, male and female characters can take on dozens of roles, with males able to take on tasks that have been often portrayed as the role of women traditionally (house cleaning, child rearing) and women taking on tasks that are often portrayed as masculine masculine (research, construction).
If you want (once things are progressing and you’ve got a steady food-supply, a hut or two built, and you’re working on unplugging the lagoon) you can task a couple villagers to be “Breeders”. Be advised that this is only a good idea for females. This was another accidental-discovery. I had everybody but “The Runner” set to Breeder (to get the population moving) and shut the game down for a while. I came back to discover that one of the males had decided that Runner would be a good mate — food-production had halted. Needless to say, the two men in the village were immediately tasked with Runner’s duties while the females nursed the infants.
So maybe I’m totally offbase on those two. Or maybe not.
You can also play Create a Mall, Posh Boutique 2, Diaper Dash, or a variety of games about diners, salons, and boutiques. Kate says,
Even the ones that involve you having a successful career (and saving the community! What a hero! Nurturing all of us!) don’t start off with you wanting a career – you fall into it by accident, on account of your love for your family/community/cooking/fashion.
NEW! (July ’10): Bri A. sent in another example of gendering technology. This is an image from TeamViewer, a program that lets people remotely access your computer. Notice what it says under Info: “This number identifies you. Tell your partner so he can connect to you.” Because only guys would be using this, obviously.
These days it’s not unusual to see girl-on-girl action on TV and in mainstream movies. Are we tolerant of lesbianism? Let’s do a thought experiment:
Two thin, young, conventionally attractive women in stillettos with large breasts making out? Hot or not? Hot.
Two women making out? Hot or not? Hmmmm.
Sometimes in classes this comes up and a man will say “I think lesbians are hot!” And I will reply “No, you think hot lesbians are hot.” And he nods.
Much of the supposed acceptability of girls kissing girls is predicated on the idea that they are doing it not for themselves, but for an imagined male viewer. That is, they’re kissing each other to get guys off. That male viewer doesn’t even have to be present. He’s implied when the girls are, as I described above, “thin, young, conventionally attractive women in stillettos with large breasts.” Looking “hot” signifies a capitulation to the male gaze. So long as the women kissing each other conform to this standard of beauty, they aren’t breaking the rules of femininity (one of which is a desire for male sexual attention).
This may sound outlandish, but consider the disgust or outrage that is often aimed at lesbians who do not conform to this standard of beauty. When lesbians are not thin, do not wear make up, or refrain from dressing in ways that reveal and feminize their body, they are “dykes.” These women are not unacceptable simply because they are sexually attracted to other women, they are unacceptable because they are refusing to acknowledge and accept that they exist, first and foremost, to please men.
UPDATE: MC and Matt K, in the comments, remarked on another consequence of the implicit male gaze. When lesbians are conventionally attractive, their sexual orientation gets called into question (by both straight and gay people alike).
ALSO! Giorgios typed in the analysis of girl-on-girl pornography
by D. A. Clarke (from an article callled “Prostitution for Everyone”):
The ‘kick’ of girl/girl porno lies partly in its catering to the fantasy of violating the privacy of lesbians, of making even sex between women – something very threatening to male sexual prerogative – serve a male agenda; the other, tacit element is the kick of seeing ‘normal girls’ made to emulate homosexual activity. The assumption is that homosexual activity is repulsive, and therefore the models are disgusted by it and endure it under some compulsion – whether the compulsion of money, force of personality, or physical threat. Pictures of real lesbians – at Gay Pride rallies, for example – kissing, necking, and flirting are often considered ‘disgusting’ and ‘ugly’ by the same men who enjoy girl/girl fantasy porn. Lesbians in the public world who kiss, hold hands, or otherwise behave like a sexually intimate couple (in a restaurant, in a park, at a movie) have often been subjected to abuse, threats, and violence from hetero men – the same men who constitute the market for ever-popular girl/girl porno. What is disgusting in the case of real lesbians in the real world seems to be the women’s autonomy; what is attractive in the case of commercialised, fictionalised documentary porn is the evidence of reduced autonomy, and the dissonance between what the porn consumer assumes are the real wishes of the model, and the reaction she is being bribed or forced to perform. If the model were a real lesbian, she would experience violation and humiliation due to the invasion and exploitation of her sexual privacy by men; if the model is conventionally heterosexual, she is presumed to experience a degree of humiliation in being made to commit or mime homosexual acts.
Etan B. sent in this ad (found Etan’s blog) that the CDU, a conservative German political party, is using to compare its candidate, Vera Lengsefeld, to Angela Merkel. The ad shows a photo of Merkel on the left and Lengsfeld on the right. Both women are in dresses that reveal cleavage (the photo of Merkel generated a lot of discussion when it first appeared about whether she was dressed too sexily):
The text on the left, across the image of Merkel, says “We have more to offer,” the implication being, of course, that the conservative party has more to rely on than cleavage. Lengsfeld explained the ad this way:
If only a tenth of them also look at the content of my policies, I will have reached many more people than I could have done with classic street canvassing.
UPDATE: Now I’m confused. Elena says,
Merkel is the chairwoman of the CDU. Both women belong to the same party, and according to the ad both have “[more] to offer”.
I apologize for the confusion about Merkel’s party–I read in two different places the account I gave above. So I guess the CDU is basically saying you should vote for it because it has candidates that are sexy? I kinda think that’s actually worse than what I originally thought it was. Elena, thanks so much for the clarification!
You can also read an article about the controversial ad at NPR.
Giorgos S. sent us a link to a story in the Guardian about the cover of DVDs of the movie “Lesbian Vampire Killers.” Some stores are carrying censored versions. Giorgos says he’s seen the censored version at Borders stores in the U.K.:
So apparently the phrase “they won’t go down without a bite” is fine, and major cleavage requires just a tad bit of coverage with a sticker that says “Warning: Contains explicitly fit bloodsucking hotties!” The sticker that nearly entirely obscures the word “lesbian” says, “Warning: may display sexually suggestive cover image.”
The distributors blame stores, saying a number of large retailers requested that they obscure particular parts of the cover. The stores say they didn’t request that the word “lesbian” be hidden. I suppose we’ll never know what happened there. It does crack me up that you’d be willing to sell a movie called “Lesbian Vampire Killers,” but then be worried about the cover.
The issue of censorship leaves aside, of course, the content of the film itself. This may surprise you, but it was apparently widely negatively reviewed. IMDb summarizes the plot thusly:
Their women having been enslaved by the local pack of lesbian vampires thanks to an ancient curse, the remaining menfolk of a rural town send two hapless young lads out onto the moors as a sacrifice.
Chrissy Y., Stacey S., and a former student of mine, Kenjus Watson, have all suggested that we post about the controversy over Olympic athlete Caster Semenya’s sex.
A lot of people are talking about whether or not it’s appropriate to be asking about her sex and why we would be so obsessed with knowing the answer. Those are fine questions (and I address them secondarily). But first I would like to suggest that, even if we were to decide that it is appropriate to want to determine her sex (that we are obsessed with it for a good reason), it would be impossible to actually determine her sex definitively. Let me explain:
If you were to try to decide what qualifies a person as male or female, what quality would you choose?
I can think of eight candidates:
1. Identity (whatever the person says they are, they are)
2. Sexual orientation (boys dig girls, vice versa)
3. Secondary sex characteristics (e.g., boobs/no boobs, pubic hair patterns, distribution of fat on the body)
4. External genitalia (e.g., clitoris, labia, vaginal opening/penis and scrotum)
5. Internal genitalia (e.g., vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes/epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate, etc)
6. Hormones (preponderance of estrogens/androgens)
7. Gonads (ovaries/testes)
8. Chromosomes (XX/XY, the SRY gene)
Most of us assume that these criteria all line up. That is, that people with XY chromosomes have testes that make androgens which creates a penis, epididymis, vas deferens etc… all the way up to a male-identified person who wants to have sex with women. We also assume that these things are binary (e.g., boobs/no boobs), when in reality most of them are on a spectrum (e.g., hormones, also boobs, likely sexual orientation).
If these criteria don’t always line up, then we have to pick one as THE determinant of sex. But any choice would ultimately be arbitrary. The truth is that none of these criteria could ever actually definitively qualify a person as male or female.
The alternative would be to require that a person qualify as male or female according to ALL of the criteria. And you might be surprised, then, how many people are neither male or female.
I think the debate over whether we should test Semenya’s sex is getting ahead of itself, given that there is no such test.
Yet, while we won’t be learning anything definitive about Semenya’s sex, the controversy does teach us something about our obsession with sex difference. On MSNBC, Dave Zirin explains what the controversy over is really about:
To me, one of the most interesting things that Zirin says is that sex isn’t actually a good indicator of athletic ability. He may be a guy, he says, but having a penis doesn’t translate into outrunning anyone.
He is implying that sex segregation in athletics, as a rule, is more about an obsession with sex categories and their affirmation than it is about sports. Remember, Semenya’s sex is being questioned not just because she appears masculine to some (she always has), but because she kicked major ass on the track.
Kenjus, my former student, writes:
…why didn’t they test Usain Bolt? He did amazingly well… Yet, his otherworldly accomplishments are considered the result of his never-before-seen body structure… Usain, however, is a big, strong, fast Black man. The fact that his times are just as mind-boggling as Caster’s gets lost in the widely accepted narrative that big, strong, fast Black men accomplish amazing athletic feats. It’s what they’re built for.
But this woman has apparently baffled the athletic and scientific experts because her body is not doing what a woman’s body is supposed to do. More specifically, her shape is too muscular, her voice is too deep, and her time is too fast. Essentially, “Semenya-the-woman” CANNOT exist in an exclusively two-gendered (i.e. men and women) society in which men are innately bigger, stronger, more deeply-voiced, and particularly FASTER than women…
Semenya is getting far more media attention than the recent cheating scandals of higher profile athletes. This is precisely because there’s something that separates Caster from an A-Rod, a Marion, a Sosa… The world is captivated by Caster because something that should be certain; unquestionable; medical; pre-ordained, is in flux. It is regrettable that some athletes take illegal drugs to gain an edge over the competition. It’s entirely unethical, unnatural, and ungodly for an athlete to not fit into our narrow specifications of what constitutes gender or sex.
Indeed. Our obsession with Semenya’s sex, in addition to being hurtful and invasive, says a great deal more about us, than it does about her. And perhaps the reason we are so obsessed with proving Semenya’s sex, to bring this post back to its beginnings, is because binary sex doesn’t actually exist. Me thinks we protest too much.
(Thanks to Mimi Schippers, via the Sociologists for Women in Society listserve, for alerting me to the video. Images found here and here.)