Friday, August 5, 2011

Collage: Nike & The Slender Amazaon

Nike is one of the most well known corporations in existence when it comes to makers of athletic clothing and sporting equipment.  It’s swoosh logo is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world and could be considered a part of modern American culture.  Recently, Nike has launched a new advertising campaign for their women’s clothing line, designed to encourage women to go out and “make” themselves.  At first glance, it seems that these advertisements are meant to encourage healthy life choices in women.  However, when looking closer at these advertisements, it can also be deduced that Nike is trying to sell their products by using an image of a specific ideal woman, “the Slender Amazon”.

Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber defines the “Slender Amazon” in her book, The Cult of Thinness, as the new feminine ideal brought up in the 1980s.  Before, the ideal woman had a small layer of fat on her, representing the “softness” of females, but now this “has been rejected in favor of large, hard muscles”.  (Hesse-Biber, pg.92-93).  This new ideal conveys a message to women that places an immense emphasis on being not only thin, but on being physically fit as well.  Each of the ads in the collage portray young, attractive, athletic women wearing Nike apparel.    It is not surprising that Nike would use this ideal in order to market athletic apparel to women.  Another noticeable tactic used by Nike in these ads are the use of positive words like “proud” and “strong” to describe the woman who are portraying this “Slender Amazon” ideal.  This sends a message to women viewing these ads that all you need to empower yourself is a lean, toned body.  Using this conveyed message, Nike can convince women to buy their products in order to achieve this ideal.

Sut Jhally explains in his article “Image-Based Culture” how advertisers use images to sell a product to potential consumers.  He claims that “the advertising image-system constantly propels us toward things that as means to satisfaction.” (Jhally, pg. 252)  He also likens this image-based advertisement system to means of propaganda system for products.  In this cause, this propaganda system is for women’s athletic apparel made by Nike.  The sense of satisfaction being conveyed in these advertisements is a feeling of self-empowerment from fitting into the “Slender Amazon” ideal.  According to these Nike advertisements, the road to becoming a strong and proud woman is one that can only be traveled in a pair of Nike running sneakers.

Works Cited
My Fav Nike Ads. Digital Image. Web. <>
Advertising, Gender & Sexuality. Digital Image. Web. Dec. 12 2010. <>
A Glam Slam.  “Nike Women Launches New ‘Make Yourself’ Campaign” . Digital Image. Web. <>
A Glam Slam. “Annie Leibovitz Shoots New Nike Women’s Ads”. Digital Image. Web <>
Fit Perez. “Nike Hired Annie Leibovitz To Do Print Ads”. Web.  July 5 2011.  <>
Nike Blog. “More Nike Women Ads”. Digital Image. Web. August 8 2010. <>

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture. "Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257. Print.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness.  Oxford University Press, 2007.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blog Post #2: Toy Shopping

Gender socialization exists in many forms throughout society and it starts from a very young age.  There are many factors, such as one’s peers, that can influence the gender training that goes on in society.  One prominent form of gender training comes from what kinds of toys children play with when they are young.  Like Barbies for girls and G.I. Joe’s for boys, there seems to be very strong themes that determines what toys are considered “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys”.   While toy shopping for Melanie, a five year old girl from Hamilton who enjoys playing baseball, collecting bugs and horseback riding, on the Toys ‘R Us website,  there were many instances of toys playing a dual-role of entertaining children and providing “gender training” for them.

The first toy on Melanie’s wish list was Happy Nappers, which are play pillows in the shape of various different animals.  There were four different styles of Happy Nappers available on the Toys ‘R Us website: a dog, dragon, penguin and a ladybug.  Since Melanie likes to collect bugs, it seems that the ladybug Happy Napper would be the best choice for this child.  However, it can be suggested that the ladybug Happy Napper would be first choice for a majority of girls.  The ladybug plush toy comes with a pink house with a pink heart on the front door.  After black, pink is the most dominant color present on the plush toy.  Another way that this product is marketed toward young girls is the fact that it is a ladybug stuffed animal.  The name “ladybug” creates a notion of femininity, since consumers can connect the name to the abundance of pink on the toy and assume that this style of Happy Nappers is the “girl” one.

Newman defines socialization as “the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” (Newman, 108).  He explains that parents usually buy toys that are geared toward the gender of their child as a form of “gender training”.  The abundance of pink on this particular toy allows one to assume that this toy could be given to a young girl in order to supplant this “training”.  The ladybug version stands out from the other types of Happy Nappers available on the Toys ‘R Us website due to its feminine appearance.  It seems that this version of Happy Nappers was designed to be the “female” of the group.   Creating a feminine version of an otherwise gender-neutral role can be seen as an example of a company taking advantage of the idea of gender training in order to market a product.

Melanie’s favorite sport to play is baseball, so a new aluminum baseball bat would be an ideal present for her.  While looking up baseball bats on the Toys ‘R Us website, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large number of baseball bats that were marketed toward a certain gender where the difference would be as simple as the color of the bat (blue for boys and pink for girls).  One of more blatantly obvious examples was the Hearts T-Ball Bat.  This baseball bat is mostly pink and features a pattern of pink hearts on it.  From just looking at the bat, one can easily conclude that this bat is intended to be marketed towards young girls.   In addition to this, the maker of the bat, Regent Sports, has also come out with a matching baseball glove.  The entire glove is light pink and also features a heart pattern on the inseam of the glove.

It seems that the purpose of Regent Sports coming out with these two products is to market them to young girls, allowing them to tap into a market that has not seen much attention from sporting goods companies.  In her article, Sex, Lies & Advertising, Gloria Steinem mentions another example of this kind of gender-based marketing with toy-train maker Lionel.  “They made a pink train, and were surprised when it didn’t sell.” (Steinem, 225)  Plastering the color pink and heart patterns all over traditional baseball equipment is an obvious example of gender training.  Since sports are seen as a masculine hobby, creating gender-based equipment such as this only reinforces the idea that anything that has pink all over it is a product made for girls.  It seems very doubtful that a young boy would ever use these two products, due to their feminine appearance.

The last present that Melanie wanted was an Easy-Bake Oven.  The Easy-Bake Oven is a very popular product marketed toward young girls, as it allows them to “bake” various treats.   The one I found on the Toys ‘R Us website was mint green and silver and looked like a kitchen appliance one would find in the 1950s.  It is no secret that the primary target market for the Easy-Bake Oven is young girls.  The front of the package features three young girls sitting around a table eating cookies, presumable made from the oven.  This product encourages the female stereotype of the domestic homemaker.

Newman states that toys geared toward young females tend to “revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion and motherhood” (Newman, 112) and the Easy-Bake Oven is a prime example of a “girl’s toy” revolving around these themes.  The Easy-Bake Oven allows young girls to bake “all kinds of sweet treats” and provides them with small variety of baking appliances.  This product is an excellent example of a toy that can be used as a form of gender training.  This toy glorifies the lifestyle of the domestic housewife by taking an act that is associated with this ideal, baking, and turning it into a form of play.  Even the design of the product creates an aura of nostalgia that dates back to the era of June Clever and a period in American history where women were seen as domestic caregivers and men were supposed to be the breadwinners.

It is no secret that gender-specific marketing is very prominent in the toy industry.  Many popular toys can easily be categorized as either a “girl toy” or a “boy toy”.  However, sometimes these toys can play a role in reinforcing stereotypes associated with a certain gender.  They become a form of gender training for these young children, encouraging them to buy into the ideal values that exist for their gender.  Also, gender-specific marketing seems to be over simplistic at times (simply splashing pink all over an otherwise gender-neutral toy).  This type of gender-based marketing shows that the gender socialization that exists within society starts at a very young age.

Works Cited
Newman, David M. “Learning difference: Families, schools and socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 107-141. Print.

Steinem, Gloria. "Sex, Lies and Advertising."  Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader. Ed'. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66. Print

Web. Happy Nappers - The Perfect Play Pillow - Bungalow to Ladybug. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.

Web. 9.5 inch Glove and Ball- Hearts. Toys 'R Us. July 29,2011.

Web. 25 inch Aluminum T-Ball Bat- Hearts. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.

Web. Easy-Bake Oven and Snack Center with Classic Light Bulb Oven - Mint Green. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two & A Half Men: "The Soil is Moist"

The sitcom “Two and a Half Men” is about Alan Harper, a middle-aged divorced man living in the home of his brother, Charlie.   In season five, episode thirteen, “The Soil is Moist”, the main conflict revolves around Alan having a chance meeting with Cynthia, who is a friend of his ex-wife.  Throughout the course of the episode, Alan subscribes to the idea that by sleeping with Cynthia he can prove himself as a “real man” to his ex-wife, Judith.  This idea of being able to prove himself worthy of an attractive partner to his ex-wife is the driving force behind the story that unfolds during the episode.  Alan suffers from the idea of being an inferior male because he was divorced by his wife for not being the stereotypical “alpha male”.

Throughout the episode, Alan is consumed with the idea that by sleeping with Cynthia, he is proving his “manliness” to Judith.  This idea is brought up to him by Charlie, who is portrayed as a womanizer when it comes to relationships.  This action can be seen as a metaphor for hegemony when it comes to males into today’s culture.    “Hegemony is the power and dominance that one social group holds over others.” (Lull 61)  As someone who objectifies women, Charlie views the encounter that Alan had with Cynthia as an opportunity for Alan to show Judith how “manly” he is, saying “it’ll be she’s watching every move you make”.  Alan’s immediate acceptance of this theory represents how  “social consent can be a more effective means of control than coercion or force.”  (Lull 63)    All Charlie has to do is plant the seed of this idea in order for Alan to accept it.

 A turning point in the episode occurs while Alan is spending the night at Cynthia’s.  After engaging in intercourse, Cynthia accidently blurts out that Judith says that her new husband, Herb, is the best lover that she has ever had.  This greatly upsets Alan, since the only other lover Judith has ever had has been him.  Therefore, upon this revelation, Alan believes that he has failed in proving himself a man.  Throughout the remainder of the episode, Alan is consumed by the fact that he is seen as an inferior lover by his ex-wife.  In this context, “manliness” is directly related to how well someone performs in bed.

It should also be noted that Alan’s plan to affirm his masculinity is rooted in negative female stereotypes and female objectification.   Charlie tells Alan that Cynthia will tell Judith about how the night went because “that’s all women do…blah, blah, blah”.  This reinforces the negative stereotype that women love to gossip and they cannot keep their mouths shut.  Another interesting point is that at no point during the episode does Alan talk about having a relationship with Cynthia or even considers how this need to “prove himself” could affect the relationship the two have.  Thanks to Charlie, Alan only sees Cynthia as a tool in a plot to make his ex-wife jealous.  This reinforces the patriarchic ideals that are used to make women inferior to men.

Throughout the episode, Alan is bombarded with the notion that he is not an ideal male.  When he talks to his ex-wife about going out with Cynthia, she is fine with the idea only because she believes that Cynthia would never go out with Alan telling him that he’s “not her type” and then rattling off several characteristics of the stereotypical ideal man, such as successful, handsome and charming, implying that Alan is none of these.  Also, Charlie tells Alan that Cynthia would go out with him because she is recently divorced, aging and “willing to settle” for someone less.  These two occurrences fuel Alan’s insecurity and convince him to accept the idea that sleeping with Cynthia will make him this ideal man.  This represents how hegemony can influence the actions of others.

Another interesting concept that exists in this episode is the fact that Alan is desperately seeking female validation.  He is repeatedly told by others that he does not fit the criteria what an ideal man should be.  After realizing that Judith sees her new husband, Herb, as a better lover than he is, Alan embodies the character of the wretched Weeper wondering “What’s so wrong with me? ”(Ponzer 98)  It is a bit ironic that while Alan is obsessed in validating himself as a man, he is displaying the feminine characteristic of the need for validation from the opposite gender.  Pozner states that females, especially on reality TV, are often depicted as being morally flawed and always in need of male approval.  In Alan’s case, this feminine character trait exists as well.  However, instead of being overly concerned with meeting “Mr. Right”, he is obsessed with becoming “Mr. Right” himself.

The “Two and a Half Men” episode “The Soil is Moist” can be seen as a great example of how hegemony can cause people to make certain decisions.  Alan Harper is constantly reminded throughout the episode that he is not the ideal male and becomes obsessed with proving to himself that he is.  However, in this pursuit, he ends up treating Cynthia as a means to an end, rather than as a fellow human.  This ends up costing Alan his relationship with Cythnia.  Her last words to Alan in the episode are “there is something seriously wrong with you”.  This final quotes is all Alan needs to hear.  His quest for female validation has ended in failure, further proving Pozner’s point that the idea of “Mr. Right” is unattainable, since Alan ends up losing a chance at a relationship with someone over it.

Works Cited

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text-reader. By Gail Dines and Jean McMahon. Humez. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage, 2003. Print.

Pozner, Jennifer L. ""The Unreal World"" Ms. Magazine Fall 2004: 96-99. Web.