Friday, May 21, 2010

Looking at Esquire Magazine 70 Years Later

In the “In Spite of Women” excerpt out of the text, Kenon Breazeale speaks about how advertisements began pushing this commercial culture that we now have in America through manipulating and appealing to their audience. As the author mentions, this was all occurring during the 1930s, and it is said that “ ‘Esquire’…was one of the first and clearest sites of this consciousness [of building a consumer-based culture] at work” (Breazeale 231). Additionally, all the examples provided in the text highlight this, using the “Esquire” magazine’s articles and pin-ups to further prove a point that the magazine was (at the time at least) specifically geared towards appealing to a very stereotypical straight male audience. One might think that given the historical context that the magazine was in at the time (women had only just been given the right to vote and did not make a salary comparable to men, if they even had a job), that might provide some justification for the blatant appeal to these male stereotypes, but if they just leaf through an “Esquire” magazine today they would be sure to find these types of advertisements, articles, and headlines that they might have expected 70 years ago.

A point is made in the excerpt that in the editorial staff’s goal of creating a magazine for men, what they actually created is a magazine for women (Breazeale 231). Furthermore, it only continues with a quote by the creator of the concept of “Esquire,” Arnold Gingrich who essentially delivers “the crucial dynamic of his [Gingrich‘s] new magazine - simultaneous exploitation and denial of the feminine” (232). Articles on seemingly anything from food and drink to gardening to etiquette seemed to always include ways on handling “the looming rhetorical prop of a woman who is doing things all wrong.” Additionally, not only were the editors fearful of appealing to women in any sense, they were worried that their take on clothing and dining (which is admittedly generally not seen as masculine) would appeal to homosexuals and “it had to be made unequivocally clear that women were the natural objects of its readership’s desire” (235). To do this, they feature provocative images of women and pin-ups featuring unrealistic body types as well as drawings and cartoons only furthering this straight male agenda that the editorial staff were so keen on pushing.

Many of the advertisements shown in class have featured more stereotypical and obvious misrepresentations of men and women alike (though mostly women) to sell a product. In the case of “Esquire” magazine, these practices are still being done, only now the product is the magazine itself rather than a cosmetic one or an article of clothing. In looking at the content of the magazine, the overly-sexual portrayal of women is absurd, with some articles or features seemingly serving only one purpose; to show a scantily clad woman or one in an unnatural pose for men to stare at. In fact, some articles, such as one asking women questions (largely sexual and in some way appealing to male fantasies or pointing out a void in a woman's knowledge in regards to something a stereotypical male may know).  In talking about the spread of image-based advertising, Sut Jhally talks about how sexuality is being used as a means to communicate information quickly and easily (Jhally 253). The point is made that “many commercial messages use images and representations of men and women” and “of course, they do not use any gender images but images drawn from a narrow and quite concentrated pool” that is more focused on a stereotype’s interest rather than the audience’s, until they become one in the same over time (253). In fact, in looking at these images from “Esquire,” it’s plain to see that they are drawing from this very same pool Jhally referenced. Although “Esquire” is the example presented in our case, if it were the only one pushing this sort of agenda, then we as a society would not have such deceiving images ingrained into our mindsets. In fact, as Jhally states, “the problem is that the vast majority [of advertisers] do so [use these gender misrepresentations in their ads],” and it has yielded a more sex-focused culture. As Breazeale had noted, this is a sometimes stereotypical trend that began a long time ago and as can be seen, is consistent even to this day.

Works Cited:
Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 230-243.

Granger, David, ed. Esquire May 2010: 1-147. Print.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 249-57.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Patriarchy and Masculinity in Beauty and the Beast

    Disney’s Beauty and the Beast brings an incredible amount to mind when looking at it 
 through a gender studies lens, as there are several instances where the film labels what it 
means to be or how one can be a man or a woman. Be it the characters (male and female
alike) or even the plot of the movie itself, plenty of examples of this type of labeling presentthemselves; however, for now, only looking at the male antagonist, the character Gaston, is more than enough. Gaston (at least, in my mind) encompasses all of the qualities that define masculinity, which is interesting in itself given that Beauty and the Beast is a movie targeted at impressionable young minds, and is almost an embodiment of patriarchy and the way society tends to see it in popular culture. (Note: Depending on how familiar you are with the film, you may want to refer back to the linked page in the first sentence before proceeding.)

    Webster’s Dictionary defines masculine as “having qualities, as vigor, strength, etc., characteristic of men”, and as Gaston is analyzed, it is clear to see that he both lives up to and surpasses this definition (“Masculine” def. 1). Gaston is the antagonist of the film and is strong, narcissistic, and selects Belle as his bride-to-be using virtually no other criteria but her appearance. Additionally, when things do not go his way and she rejects him and his marriage proposal, he resorts to becoming powerful and violent to obtain what (or who, in this case, Belle) he wants, regardless of the fact that she is wholly uninterested. Even on the cusp of defeat and having his life spared by the Beast, he is still aggressive and unfaltering until his removal from the story.

    In Newman’s book, he speaks about male roles being more often “highly traditional stereotypes or negative portrayals [of gender-stereotypes] in the form of gross caricatures.” He goes on to say that the typical leading man was “square-jawed, rugged, not particularly chatty, violent when necessary, and unemotional.” Save for unemotional (as Gaston’s emotions over Belle fuel the story), that is essentially a complete picture of Gaston. Furthermore, what is interesting is how he continues by detailing the “new generation of leading men who are considerably more thoughtful, sensitive, and emotionally available,” which defines the character of Beast (Portraying Difference 93). Looking at both the definition of masculine and Newman’s picture of the standard male-lead, it is fascinating that they are almost one in the same, especially when looking at Gaston.

    Given that Gaston’s masculinity has been established, the examples of patriarchy can now be examined. Alan Johnson provides some of the necessary elements of patriarchy, including “its male-dominated, male identified, and male-centered character” as well as being masculine toughness, protectiveness, and the “ ‘naturalness’ of male aggression, competition, and dominance.” Gaston is certainly a character who is tough and aggressive, and after being publicly emasculated by Belle’s rejection (due in part to his narcissism and treatment of women), presumes his male superiority and pursues Belle further while asserting his dominance over anyone who gets in his way (Patriarchy 94-95). What is also interesting is that while Beast (according to Newman) was the opposite of the classic male lead (Gaston), Belle is the opposite of this standard patriarchic character, being intelligent, secure, and the overall opposite of a woman’s supposed vulnerability.

      Given the patriarchy we both live in and that is presented in the film, it is interesting that this message is being directed mainly towards the youth. As Newman says, “media representations of gender reach children very early in their lives. Children’s books, for instance, teach youngsters what is expected of girls or boys in their culture” (Portraying Difference 89-90). Studies done (cited within Newman’s article) also detail how children who watch a lot of television tend to hold stereotypical beliefs regarding gender and what is more is that the children portray these “gender-stereotyped characteristics,” even more so then those children who do not watch much television. Not only is Beauty and the Beast teaching these children these gender-stereotypes, but the children are actually retaining this and acting it out as they see fit. Additionally, while Beauty and the Beast is the subject of this analysis, studies have also shown that male characters are more likely to hold leadership positions, rescue others, and be aggressive on Saturday morning cartoons, whose audience is obvious (Portraying Difference 90).

    Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is just one of many children’s stories featuring a dominating, aggressive, and overall commanding male character. In the presented example of Gaston, it is clear to see these characteristics, just as it is clear to see that children are taking these caricatures meant for entertainment and generalizing their traits to encompass an entire sex, which besides being incorrect also furthers the problem of the confusion of a patriarchic society or patriarchic individuals (Patriarchy 91). While I do not believe Disney’s intention was to comment on gender stereotypes of the time with this or any of their movies, I think it says more that these are becoming the characters that these children are growing up with and modeling what they know about gender before they even know what it is. However, the fact remains that, regardless of intent, there are clear examples of how our society is patriarchic and how these characteristics of these male individuals, such as Gaston, should be synonymous with masculinity and the male sex.

Works Cited:
Johnson, Allan G. "Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us." 91-99.

"Masculine." Webster's Desk Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Portland House, 1990. 556. Print.

 Newman, David M. "Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media." 71-105.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Link-Hunt: Assignment 1 - Alex K

Below are several links related to several of my pop-culture interests, but all links are looking at them through the lens of gender studies.

Gender in Characters of Pixar's "WALL-E"
  Eve and WALL-E from August 4th, 2008
  A Feminist Response to Pop Culture

HBO's "True Blood" and Gay / Feminine Rights
   Young Feminist Adventures

Females in Horror Movies
   Feminist Film / Movie Studies Blog

Gabourey Sidibe and Appearance in Hollywood
   Howard Stern vs. Gabourey Sidibe : Too fat for Hollywood? from March 14, 2010
   Movie Mike
   Michael Rubin

Keith Hernandez and Sexist Remarks
   Dugout: No place for women?  from April 25th, 2006
   Tim Ellsworth Sports Blog 
   Tim Ellsworth

Link to Blogging in College: the main Gender & Pop Culture blog