Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock! The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.
The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.
Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:
Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):
Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women. The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave. Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways. Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).
Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here. H/t Retrospace.
by Jonathan Harrison PhD, Sep 14, 2013, at 12:00 pm
It always gives an old sociologist like me a big thrill when a classical concept that I love appears in a mainstream cultural product. I received such a buzz when I saw the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler over the Labor Day weekend.
One of the movie’s African American characters, speaking in the 1940s, notes that a Black man must wear “two faces,” one for other Blacks and another for Whites. Perceptive critics have identified how this borrows from “double consciousness,” a concept that W.E.B. DuBois first wrote about in 1897. A.O. Scott cites Paul Laurence Dunbar’s line, “We wear the mask that grins and lies”; whilst Frank Roberts notes that the movie’s butler “wrestles with the realization that he is in The White House but certainly not of it,” which in turn illustrates the wider dilemma of being in America but not of America.
Still of Lee Daniels’ The Butler from imdb.com
Still of Lee Daniels’ The Butler from imdb.com
However, what really gives the movie its power is how it resonates with the continuing experiences of African Americans today. Black men who are still shell-shocked by the George Zimmerman verdict will know only too well how they often have to show “two faces” in order to avoid harassment. Barack Obama noted this fact when he observed, a week after the verdict, that there “are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars” or of “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.”
Similarly, Father Bryan Massingale, who is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a professor of theology at Marquette University, records how he was once “abruptly stopped by the police, rudely questioned and roughly searched, under the suspicion that I was the perpetrator of a robbery” and how “Living with such terror and indignity is to be expected” even if you are ” a priest, a university professor, and a respected member of the community (or so I would have thought).” Such profiling strongly resembles DuBois’ emphasis upon:
…this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
The entire subtext of The Butler is the manner in which the movie’s different characters cope with the task of continually “measuring one’s soul” in this way: the continual feeling of being trapped in the gaze of the white employer’s “contempt and pity.” It is a tribute to the ability of popular culture to occasionally convey powerful truths that this movie does not pull its punches in staying true to that part of DuBois’ sociological vision.
Dr. Jonathan Harrison earned a PhD in Sociology from the University of Leicester, UK. His research interests include the Holocaust, comparative religion, racism, and the history of African Americans in Florida. He teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University. He’d like to thank Dr. Kris De Welde for her comments on earlier drafts of this piece.
The Smurfs, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people – with their unique qualities and abilities – while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity. The sequel doesn’t upend the premise of Smurfette.
In the original graphic novels, Smurfette (or La Schtroumpfette in French) was the creation of the evil Gargamel, who made her to sow chaos among the all-male Smurf society. His recipe for femininity included coquetry, crocodile tears, lies, gluttony, pride, envy, sentimentality, and cunning.
In the Smurfs 2, there are a lot of Smurfs. And they all have names based on their unique qualities. According to the cast list, the male ones are Papa, Grouchy, Clumsy, Vanity, Narrator, Brainy, Handy, Gutsy, Hefty, Panicky, Farmer, Greedy, Party Planner, Jokey, Smooth, Baker, Passive-Aggressive, Clueless, Social, and Crazy. And the female one is Smurfette–because being female is enough for her. There is no boy Smurf whose identifying quality is his gender, of course, because that would seem hopelessly limited and boring as a character.
Here are the Smurf characters McDonald’s is using for their Happy Meals:
When you buy a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, the cashier asks if it’s for a boy or a girl. In my experience, which is admittedly limited to my daughters, girls get Smurfette. I guess boys get any of the others.
The Way It’s Never Been
Identifying male characters by their non-gender qualities and females by their femininity is just one part of the broader pattern of gender differentiation, or what you might call gendering.
There are two common misconceptions about gendering children. One is that it has always been this way – with boys and girls so different naturally that all products and parenting practices have always differentiated them. This is easily disproved in the history of clothing, which shows that American parents mostly dressed their boys and girls the same a century ago. In fact, boys and girls were often indistinguishable, as evident in this 1905 Ladies’ Home Journal contest in which readers were asked to guess the sex of the babies (no one got them all right):
Source: Jo Paoletti, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America
The other common perception is that our culture is actually eliminating gender distinctions, as feminism tears down the natural differences that make gender work. In the anti-feminist dystopian mind, this amounts to feminizing boys and men. This perspective gained momentum during the three decades after 1960, when women entered previously male-dominated occupations in large numbers (a movement that has largely stalled).
However, despite some barrier-crossing, we do more to gender-differentiate now than we did during the heyday of the 1970s unisex fashion craze (the subject of Jo Paoletti’s forthcoming book, Sex and Unisex). On her Tumblr, Paoletti has a great collection of unisex advertising, such as this 1975 Garanimals clothing ad, which would be unthinkable for a major clothier today:
And these clothing catalog images from 1972 (left) and 1974 (right):
Today, the genders are not so easily interchangeable. Quick check: Google image search for “girls clothes” (left) vs. “boys clothes” (right):
Today, a blockbuster children’s movie can invoke 50-year-old gender stereotypes with little fear of a powerful feminist backlash. In fact, even the words “sexism” and “sexist,” which rose to prominence in the 1970s and peaked in the 1990s, have once again become less common than, say, the word “bacon”:
And the gender differentiation of childhood is perhaps stronger than it has ever been. Not all differences are bad, of course. But what Katha Pollitt called “the Smurfette principle” – in which “boys are the norm, girls the variation” — is not a difference between equals.
The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of adult women are two sides of the same coin. They both tell us that we should find youth, inexperience, and naivete sexy in women, but not in men. This reinforces a power and status difference between men and women, where vulnerability, weakness, and dependency and their opposites are gendered traits: desirable in one sex but not the other.
Now, thanks to @BonneZ, I know that this has something interesting to do with Mickey Mouse.
The original Mouse, Stephen Jay Gould has observed, was a kind of nasty character. But, as he has evolved into the “cute and inoffensive host to a magic kingdom,” he has appeared increasingly childlike. This six figures below indicate Mickey’s evolution over time:
Childlike features, Gould argues, inspire a need to nurture: “When we see a living creature with babyish features,” he writes, “we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness.” Allison Guy observes that we see a similar trend in recent toy makeovers – larger eyes, bigger heads, fatter stumpier limbs — but we see this primarily in toys aimed at infants and girls, not boys:
Guy interprets this trend as the “result of a cultural imperative for women to embody both the cute and the sexual.” So, women don “cute” clothes with colorful patterns associated with children and wear “flippy skirts” and “baby doll” t-shirts. They wear eyeliner to give the illusion of the large eyes of childhood, foundation to hide the marks of aging on the face, and pink on their cheeks to mimic the blush of youth. They are taught these imperatives from an early age.
What does it mean that feminine beauty is conflated with youthfulness, but masculine beauty is not – that we want women to be both cute and sexual? It means that we feel comfortable with women who seem helpless and require taking care of, perhaps we even encourage or demand these traits from women. Perhaps these childlike characteristics are most comforting in women who are, in fact, the least needy; I submit that we are more accepting of powerful women when they perform girlish beauty. When they don’t, they are often perceived as threatening or unlikable.
So, yes, the sexualization of girls is interesting — and no doubt it’s no good for girls and likely contributes to older men’s sexual interest in young women — but it’s not just about sexualizing kids early. It’s about infantilizing adult women, too, as a way to remind women of their prescribed social position relative to men.
Johnny Depp is playing the character of “Tonto” in the movie re-make of The Lone Ranger. Critics of the original series have observed that Tonto, the American Indian sidekick of the White hero, was a negative racial stereotype. He was subservient to the Ranger, spoke poor English, and seemed generally dumb (his name translates into “stupid” in Spanish). Depp has insisted that he wants to play a different kind of Tonto and reinvent the characters’ relationship.
So far so bad, as least according to recently released publicity photos revealing Depp’s costume and make up (coverage suggests that Depp himself is designing the character’s appearance). Thanks to YetAnotherGirl and Dolores R. for sending in the tip.
Depp’s look was inspired by the art of a man named Kirby Sattler. That’s Depp on the left; Sattler’s painting is on the right.
Sattler is famous for painting images of Native Americans, but has been criticized for stereotypical representations. “Indian art” is a contentious issue: many non-Indian artists have made careers painting the “noble savage” and the “young girl with wolf.” According to Native Appropriations, Sattler “…relies heavily on stereotypes of Native people as mystical-connected-to-nature-ancient-spiritual-creatures, with little regard for any type of historical accuracy.” Sattler himself has written that his paintings come out of his own imagination or, as Native Appropriations puts it, “he makes these subjects up based on the (heavily stereotyped) images in his own head.” Here’s a Google image search for the artist’s name:
This, unfortunately, is playing out an all-too-common story. It goes like this:
That actor shows a lack of understanding of the real issues at hand. Depp, for example, has claimed a right to play the role because he has a little bit of Indian in him. ”Cherokee or maybe Creek,” he says, because he doesn’t actually know.
So, the portrayal is consistent with harmful stereotypes. In this case, when deciding on a costume, Depp doesn’t choose to represent a tribe as they really were (“are” is out of the question), but instead draws on the work of an artist who admits that he makes up an idea of “the Indian” that appeals to him, a White man with no interest in true-to-life portrayals.
Robb S. sent along a great set of images from Vulture. Using case studies of individual leading men in Hollywood, they show that the love interests cast in their films don’t age alongside them over the course of their careers. Not convinced? Here’s nine examples and one exception. For fun, try to guess which leading man bucks the trend? I’ll embed it last.
I live in Los Angeles where saying that you don’t like movies is tantamount to claiming atheism in a church. But I don’t like movies, generally speaking. In contrast, I quite like TV. Does this seem weird?
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media offers a clue as to why I might lean towards television. The Institute did a content analysis of 11,927 speaking characters in “family films” (G, PG, and PG-13) and prime-time and children’s TV shows (see it here). They looked at the presence of female and male characters and the jobs those characters were doing. In almost every instance, women had greater visibility, and better jobs, on prime-time TV than they did in either movies or children’s shows.
Women are, for example, 39% of characters on prime time, but only 31% of characters on kids’ shows and only 28% in movies. Casts are twice as likely to be gender-balanced on prime time (45-55% female), compared to movies. Half of the casts of family films are 75% or more male, compared to only 20% of the casts on TV shows and 39% of children’s shows.
Almost half of all American workers are female, but they hold only 20% of the jobs on the big screen and 25% of the jobs on children’s shows. Again, here prime-time does somewhat better: 34% of the jobs on evening TV are held by women.
The next two tables reveal how men and women are distributed among different kinds of occupations in films and on prime time. Men are over-represented in almost all cases, but the disproportion in movies is almost always significantly worse than it is on TV.
If you’re one of the people that contributed to Star Trek Into Darkness‘ $70.6 million opening weekend this week, this data might not be surprising. I didn’t count, but I suspect it falls into the 50% of films that has a cast that is at least 75% male. It certainly didn’t pass the Bechdel Test; the two female speaking characters, if I remember correctly, never spoke to one another at all, and so they couldn’t have spoken to each other about something other than a man (that’s the test). (Oh wait, I think one of the twins with tails in bed with Kirk said “hey” when he leapt out to go do something important, so that’s three women with speaking roles).
So, like in lots and lots of films, women in Star Trek were woefully under-represented except as love interests for the two protagonists (Uhura in this movie and Carol, it was foreshadowed, in the next). I’m used to it, so it doesn’t really stir me up, but that doesn’t mean I have to like movies. I’ll stick to TV, thank you very much. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Hollywood.
In 2006, The Walt Disney Company bought the computer-animated feature film powerhouse Pixar. This makes the lead of their most recent movie, Brave (2012), not just a princess, but a Disney Princess. Merida is having a royal coronation at the Magic Kingdom this morning.
For her coronation, the princess has gotten a good ol’ Disney makeover. On the left is the new Merida (“after”) and on the right is the old Merida (“before”). Notice any differences?
Here are the ones that I see:
Sleeker, longer hair with more body
Larger eyes and more arched eyebrows
A thinner waist
More obvious breasts
An overall more adult and less adolescent appearance
Lighter colored and more ornate gown
A lower cut neckline that also shows more shoulder
Perhaps most symbolically, her bow and arrows have disappeared in favor of a fashionable belt