Friday, May 30, 2008

The Reality of The Real World

Since its beginning in 1992, The Real World is one of the longest running reality television shows. Each season of the show involves an array of characters from different backgrounds- differing levels of education, varying ethnicities, and a variety of professions. As different as these people may be-physically and mentally-they are all similar in one way- they were cast together to fit into the “Real World formula”. Each cast mate plays a role that has been seen both through countless other seasons of the show, as well as in other reality shows. These roles have been “played” by many people, and these roles combine in a way that is volatile, dramatic, and entertaining. This way of casting works- it has been proven to produce the material for episodes that a great number of Americans will tune in to watch. These roles are dangerous though- giving an impression that there are only certain roles that one can conform to- after all, if it is the “real world”, then these should be real people, right?

The storylines in this episode (entitled I Need Lovin’) revolve around boy drama when it comes to the girls in the house, and tension/anger between the males of the house. The roles of the housemates and how they merge to create drama are very apparent in this episode, “There’s the Antagonizer, who declares she’s ‘not here to make friends’; the naïve Waif, who’s ‘searching for my Prince Charming’; the Slut who plots to ‘take our connection to the next level’ in the ‘fantasy suite’; and the wretched Weeper, who wonders when she’s dumped, ‘What’s so wrong with me that someone cannot love me?’”(Pozner, 98). In this particular episode, each of these roles is seen. The show uses these different characters, and their specific roles to create entertainment in a “real” way for their audience- “The conventions of these programs require individuals to work on themselves in the interest of the group- which can involve cooperating with others, becoming more tolerant, and adjusting behavior and expectations” (Ouellette &Hay, 8). When roles conflict and do not help the group- it creates entertainment, and reinforces ideas about interactions between different genders and races.

In the drama among the girls, Brianna, “the Slut”, who worked as a stripper in her hometown, brings home a man named JoJo (whom her two female roommates call “Hoho”) and has sex with him- while her roommates are still in the room. The other two girls with whom she shares the room with are very angry- especially Sarah, “the naïve Waif”, who is a young, educated, and religious Caucasian girl. Sarah is the girl with the “perfect” boyfriend waiting for her at home, the girl who follows all the house rules, doesn’t party too much, and attends church. She is appalled when her roommate has sex in front of her- and calls her parents in anger and disgust. While the third roommate (Kim) also feels disrespected- she does not react with the same intensity as Sarah. Sarah is shocked and appalled, but after thoroughly discussing the situation with her parents, and attending church, she and Brianna talk and are able to put it behind them.

This situation creates certain expectations about both Brianna and Sarah, based on their “roles” in the show, and how they should interact. Brianna is painted to be the slut, who does not care what others think of her, and Sarah is the naïve, and close minded character. When placed into a situation where the “slut” offends the “naïve one”, there are outcomes that are expected- angry yelling, fights, tears, disgust, and so on. Brianna’s role is created largely from her non-white ethnicity, and her previous career, which is very different from Sarah’s life, “One thing that makes these households provisional is their representation of gendered, class, racial, and geographic diversity –‘multiculturalism’”(Ouellette &Hay, 192). When this situation occurs, Sarah and Brianna react in the ways that show their different backgrounds- Sarah is in complete shock that Brianna would do such a thing.

The third girl in the house, Kim, plays the role of the “Weeper”, who gets herself involved with one of the male roommates- and finds she is developing more than casual feelings for him. Kim becomes extremely intoxicated in this episode and proceeds to become emotional and cry throughout the night when the male housemate she likes brings home another girl. This situation helps to feed ideas about emotionality in relation to femininity- it is the female who is emotional and attached, while the male is unconcerned- and pursuing other girls. Kim is shown crying to multiple people about Dave- while he is shown out with another girl, bringing her home with no regard to Kim’s devastation. The female is depicted as overly attached to a sexual partner- while the male is shown as desiring to have no rules to their relationship, as he wishes to be with more girls.

The “Anatagonizer” in this house would actually be a male, not a female in this case. Greg calls himself the “chosen one” and conflicts with the other male roommates in this episode when he fails to show up to work (again!) Greg says himself that he is in Hollywood to become a model- he is there to further his career, not to work a job that will not help him, nor to make friends. He conflicts with the housemates in other episodes- due to the fact that he puts himself above them. Like the situation that occurs with Kim- the conflict with the male housemates also perpetuates a normative about males. Males are shown to be more aggressive- a near fight occurs when Greg is “tapped in the face” by his housemate. While the female housemates get angry and confrontational- they are only shown screaming and yelling- it is only the males in the show that are shown (often) getting physically aggressive and confrontational.

Reality shows, like this one, can serve as a tool to form the audience’s perceptions about gender. After all, the people in reality television are supposed to “real”. When real people are shown in these roles, it helps to further perceptions about gender- what are the “right and wrong” ways for males and females to act, “these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men love, beauty, class and race” (Pozner, 97). In just one episode of this reality television show, it is clear to see that there are normative definitions of gender being shown- the aggressive males, catty females. As entertaining as this show is- these “real” people are cast to fill roles, and they help to develop ideas about the “normal” man, and so “normal” woman act.


Laurie, Ouellette, and Hay James. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden: Blackwell, 2008.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Learning Gender: 96-100.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Be Skinny (But not too skinny)

In today's times, the media sends many messages to the public. One of the most popular now is the craze with thin. Thin, bony, and sometimes sickly models advertise a variety of products- from weight loss pills, exercise plans, and clothing to televisions, and cigarettes. Thin is used to sell almost anything these days. The media obsessively follows the young, skinny celebrities who sell these products but also portray another, conflicting message- don't be too thin. On one hand, skinny models are seen as something to look up to, they appear everywhere- magazines, commercials, advertisements, television shows, movies- but at the same time, if they become too thin they are criticized. How thin is too thin? Where is the line between being thin enough to sell a product, and too thin?

The many photos and advertisements in the above collage depict this confusing message. Quotes from some of these ads include "eat. drink. be skinny", and "Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich". Clips from magazines include statements like "these arms can be yours", "flatten tummy", "Get a sexy stomach-fast!", "get rid of double chin". In other photos, incredibly thin women advertise clothing for different companies. It is common to see statements like these, and women like this advertising products. As one critic says about the media "They offer women "help" while representing a nearly impossible standard"(Hesse-Biber, 63). When women see this standard, they try to live up to it- after all, it is used to advertise almost everything, from self-help products to common,everyday items. The prevalence of thin and skinny being used in today's media shows women what they need to be-"The idea that overweight is a disease, and that overeating represents an addiction reinforce the 'dis-ease' that American women feel about their bodies" (Hesse-Biber, 82). Once someone has reached this standard of thinness, however, they can sometimes be criticized for being "too thin".

Other pictures in this collage depict the criticism and ridicule someone can receive for going too far past the standard. Mostly magazine and tabloid covers, these have titles such as "Refusing to Eat", "Tara's too Thin", "Skin and Bones", and "Stars with Deadly Eating Disorders". In these situations, the media includes pictures of these celebrities at dangerously low weights- with bones protruding, and clothing hanging loosely off of them. So where is the line between the thin ideal shown in the media, and being "too thin", and being scrutinized by the media? Women see the messages being given to them -through the "happy" people who have lost extreme amounts of weight, the skinny women advertising expensive clothing, the thin and beautiful women advertizing household items- and try to follow these standards. The media shapes what the public sees as the ideal- "Thus, advertising promotes images of what the audience conceives of as 'the good life'" (Jhally,251). When the public takes this too far- when losing weight to reach the standard turns into an eating disorder, they are then criticized. There is a very small spectrum that is considered acceptable, perfect, and the ideal by today's media. Women are shown that they must be thin, and skinny- but if they take it too far, and become "too skinny", they have also fallen out of the perfect spectrum and can be criticized by the media alongside women who are "too fat".



Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.

Jhally, Sut. "Gender, Race and Class in the Media." Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gendered Toys

As someone who hopes to teach young children, I spend a great deal of time with kids. One child, in particular- a young, male, 7 year old cousin- is especially close to me. His interests in toys have changed in many ways since the days when his favorite toy to tote around was a soft, pale green bunny that I had given to him. His desire to be a big boy (or a "little man, as he calls himself) prevent him from wanting to carry any stuffed animal with him- much less a stuffed bunny. First grade has changed his toy preferences in many ways.

My little cousin's influences now are much more varied than before- commercials, television shows, movies, video games, peers, his father, cousins, his uncles- all influence his preferences on toys- and everything else. These influences all combine to form a rather typical toy wish list for a 7 year old boy. My cousin would wish for mostly video games- Nintendo Wii Mario Kart, Nintendo Wii Supersmash Bro Brawl, movie themed toys-from either Spiderman, or Pirates of the Caribbean, and water guns.

As I play games with my young cousin, he usually prefers either a video game of some sort (that usually involves a quest to capture something, and fighting off various creatures along the way), or playing with little plastic soldiers. He keeps the toy soldiers that his puppy has chewed limbs off of- to be "bombing victims". When we play "war" with the soldiers, his almost always die in terrible, gruesome ways- falling off cliffs (a kitchen table), being shot, run over by tanks, stabbed, or blown up. When asked where he got such ideas for his soldiers to die, he can almost always cite a video game, or movie in which he has seen something similar to this. When I admit that I am tired, and ask to play a different game (after 2 hours of "war") he responds with something along the lines of "oh girls, you would be tired with war- that's for men".

When searching the Boys toy section on in which the caption reads "burn off the steam with some fun in the extreme"- I find that many of the toys in his age range deal with characters, such as his favorite, Spiderman. These character themed toys include a Spiderman 3 "web blaster" and mask (Hasbro). There are numerous action figures, such as Spiderman 3's Venom (Hasbro). My cousin loves these types of toys- pretending to be Spiderman, saving people, and fighting the bad guys. This is what he has learned "men like". Before he even really knew what Spiderman was, he wanted to see the movie- because his father, his uncles, and his older male cousins wanted to see it. He has an idea that men love "superheroes". He has learned this from his environment- "Sons were seen as strong, alert, hardy and coordninated" (Newman).

The other toys that I thought my cousin would place on a wish list were video games, and water guns. Whenever I "play" these video games with him, especially the ones that involving fighting 0r frightening creatures, he insists on me watching while he plays- because I might be scared if I play them. This idea comes from his ideas that video games with violence are for boys. Fighting, superheroes, soldiers, action figures, water guns- are all "boy games". He expects to win every water gun fight, and every "war" type game, simply because he is male. At a young age like his, these ideas are coming from such a variety of sources- it is all around him. In commercials, only boys seem to play with action figures, at recess, he says the girls talk and swing on the swings- it is the boys who play more physical games. He observes closely what his father, and uncles are watching (he is even known try and play his father's video games, and sneak downstairs after his bedtime to try and see what his parents are watching on TV). Nothing seems to escape him- it is mostly boys who play video games in commercials, and in his life, so he assumes that he must own every game he can get his hands on (but not the "girly" ones). According to Micheal Messner, masculinity is "..shaped and constructed through the interaction between the internal and the social" (Messner, 121).

My cousin and his father were once fighting over which types of video games he could play. My cousin was upset that he was not allowed to play his father's games because they were "too violent". My cousin pointed out that even his "little boy" games had violence- in racing games cars can crash, in many of his other games, the characters can fight or push each other, but it's "just not bloody". His point was a good one: many of the games young boys play do involve violence- even in subtle ways. While they may seem innocent, many boy's toys are geared toward physical aggression and activity. My young cousin is no exception to those boys who live up to the things they see on their TV shows, in their games, and in their toys- he is rather aggressive, prefers war-type games outside, and has ideas of what a "man" does, and what is "too girly". Even in small, innocous seeming ways, toys do in fact influence children towards certain gender roles. I myself have been influenced- I went from buying him stuffed animals, to buying him water guns and action figures. I wonder what his views on what is "girly" would be if toy marketing were different.


Micheal, Messner A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (1990).

David, Newman M. Identities and Inequalities Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2007.