Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real World New Orleans Does Gender and Pop Culture

There are assumed generalizations made about gender, race, and religion in US society. Pop culture and reality television add to these views due to the growing popularity of television shows and the people cast in them. In society, men are viewed to be tough, emotionless, and less accepting of others while woman are portrayed as reserved, emotional, and nurturing. What happens though when these stereotypes about gender are shown in a different light and assumptions are proved wrong? Pop culture and most notably, reality television has the power to recreate meanings and messages about gender, race, and religion, changing societies perspective on gender, races, and religious groups. Meanwhile, the media and reality television is partially responsible for the initial messages being sent and specific stereotypes shaped. In MTV’s quest to portray “reality” and break down barriers, the Real World New Orleans attempts to alter constructed understandings about gender, race, and religion in society through implementing cast members that fit specific stereotypes yet clash with one another.

By specifically casting males and females that fit the normative definitions of masculinity, femininity, and cultural standards, MTV and the Real World producers are assuring their audiences that specific molds exist in society. “Producers cast for type, choosing contestants they can mold into predetermined slate of characters.” (Pozner 98,” says Pozner. At the same time, by also casting people who do not meet these standards or ideals, the producers are guaranteeing friction amongst housemates and recreating meanings about gender, race, and religion. MTV and Real World producers are contradictory in the messages they send about gender, race, and religion which sends conflicting messages to the shows audience. By continuing to cast the typical blonde hair, blue eyed female who tends to be sheltered and even ignorant at times and the meat head male who is homophobic and a womanizer, the show illustrates these characteristics to be a part of the normative definitions of masculinity and femininity. I found this theory to be most evident in Season 9 of the Real World which took place in New Orleans. The cast fit gender, racial, and religious stereotypes however when living together and interacting on a daily basis, the show recreated messages that the media sends out about these people.

Season 9 of the Real World, which was filmed nearly ten years ago, is less tainted by the genre labeled to be “Reality TV”. In a society where Reality TV is anything but real, the New Orleans cast was filled with raw emotion, often fighting about race and religion for the cameras to see rather than hide their personalities and feelings. Producers cast three women and four men. Julie is a Mormon college student from BYU, Melissa is a hothead who struggles to come to terms with being biracial, and Kelly is the typical white sorority girl. The men included an All American jock named Jamie, Danny who is gay, David who fits the typical black man stereotype, and the devout Catholic Matt. Producers carefully picked these seven young adults in hopes that they would clash and break out of the norm.

When Danny’s boyfriend Paul comes to visit his face is blurred to keep his identity a secret. The reason for this is the fear of Paul being ousted as he serves in the military. Paul and Danny are worried that if the military finds out about Paul’s sexuality that he will be shunned by his peers or even kicked out of the Army. The reason for this Newman stresses is that “American culture is considered heteronormative – that is, a culture where heterosexuality is accepted as the normal, taken for granted mode of sexual expression” (Newman 60). With there being nearly two million men and women who serve in the military, it is hard to imagine that every single one of them is heterosexual and abides to what is considered to be gender norms. Gay men are often portrayed as extremely flamboyant and incompetent, however Danny and Paul do not fit these stereotypes. Danny looks like an average man and Paul is extremely masculine. By hiding Paul’s identity they are confirming the common belief that gay men are a risk in certain professions therefore they must hide their true identities. Although his identity is concealed until Paul leaves the military at the end of the season, he challenges the stereotypes placed upon gay men and the belief that they are not masculine. This helps recreate the ideals placed forth on homosexuals and alter the messages and stereotypes portrayed in the media.

Because Julie is both a female and a Mormon, she is held to higher standards than the other cast members despite how unfair this is. Most women in Julie’s position are already married with children. She is expected to settle down, start a family, and be a good wife. However, Julie does not fit this criterion and fails to meet the normative definition of a Mormon woman. She struggles to follow the guidelines strictly outlined by her faith, risking expulsion from BYU and being rejected by her family. Because she is a woman, Julie’s openness to talk to strangers is often poked fun of by Melissa. Even Matt, one of Julie’s closest friends in the house, chastises her for being outgoing and flirting with men. Several of her housemates disapprove of her behavior and feel that she should be more reserved due to her religious status. Even when Julie’s parents come to visit her father reprimands her for living with men and for being so sociable. When Julie gets upset, her father says that she is just being emotional which is typical of a female. During Julie’s time in the house she changes how Mormon girls are viewed and breaks the model set forth by her parents and religion.

Due to being biracial, Melissa is portrayed as a woman who struggles to come to terms with who she really is. This insinuates that race should dictate the woman she becomes. When it comes to race, many people although certain ideologies shape how they conduct themselves and alter their personalities. Newman states this by saying, “Identities are the definitional categories we use to specify, both to ourselves and to others, who we are. They are social locations that determine our position in the world relative to other people. At times, we purposely call attention to them, through how we dress, walk, and use language, whom we choose to associate with, perhaps even where we live. At other times, though, people ascribe identities to us, whether we want them to or not (Newman, 2007, p. 33)”. Although she is half Black and half Filipino, Melissa fails to fit in with a specific group. She is rendered as someone who wants to fit in with a specific race and niche yet because she doesn’t she is eccentric and argumentative. Because of this, she is wrongfully categorized as the angry black girl when in reality she is more complex than that.

The media has greatly influenced the messages sent to US society however it is also the main source of recreating such messages.


Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 33-60

Pozner, Jennifer L. The Unreal World. 98.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Should Thin Really Be In?

How are women supposed to be comfortable and content with themselves and their bodies when the media is constantly sending the message that thin is in? Avoiding the hated “d” word (diet, shhhh) seems to be as doable as Mission: Impossible due to the scrutiny women are put under from the media as well as each other. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Seventeen, and even Self Magazine seem to be hiring staff members that double as writers and nutritionist. Women are constantly fighting for gender equality and respect yet they are the first ones to pick apart another females body and starve themselves to fit into their “skinny” jeans. Oddly enough, a magazine such as Self that empowers women to take charge and be active included an article on dieting called “Diet like a star”, including diet plans followed by various TV Star’s diets. If women base their self esteem and self worth on their looks and how others perceive them as they strive for acceptance, women will continue to demise and never be satisfied in a society that says thin is in.

It seems unlikely that women will ever truly feel empowered when according to Chapter 1 of Hesse-Biber, “A women’s sense of worth in our culture is still greatly determined by her ability to attract a man. Body weight plays an important part in physical attraction” (Hesse-Biber 18). Magazines are filled with scantily dressed women with the bodies of ten year olds sending the message to other females that in order to be viewed as beautiful they must be thin. Rather than be comfortable in their own skin, women seek the approval of men as well as other women are constantly trying to “better” themselves through dieting. Men and women alike find this model to be sexy but how sexy is bulimia or starving oneself? Do the ends justify the means?

It’s tragic that so many celebrities and models that women kill themselves to look like are poor representatives of what to idolize with eating disorders and drug addictions being so frequent. In a society where “Girls try to make sense of the contradictory expectations of themselves in a culture dominated by advertising” (Kilbourne 259), the media blurs the line of what is healthy and acceptable and what is not according to Jean Kilborne in “The More You Subtract, The More You Add” Cutting Girls Down to Size. Women dream of body of Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton but do they want the multiple arrests, cocaine addiction, and notorious reputation that accompanies their “look.” Rather that strive for the unattainable only to be let down, women need to wake up and be content with that they’ve got. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and practical eating is ideal, more women should throw their unrealistic ideologies of body image and beauty in the trash and embrace who they are (or atleast enjoy their favorite dessert guilt free!).


"Diet Like a Star." Diet and Healthy Eating. 23 May 2008 .

Hesse & Biber, (2007). The Cult of Thinness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 259.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blog Post #1

Two years ago while creating his Christmas list, my twelve year old cousin made the fateful decision which would affect him socially in my family for years to come by requesting that Santa bring him the ever so masculine Easy-Bake Oven. Upon finding this news out, my entire family reacted as if Connor had decided he was going to wear pink and purple everyday from now on and that he was abruptly changing his name to Christina. Why such an appalling reaction when the boy just enjoys cooking? Children have been socialized into perceived gender roles based on learned concepts and value judgments through their environments most notably being within their family and school. In a society where boys must retain an emotionless exterior and be perceived as strong to be socially acceptable and girls are subject to care giving and everything pink, children’s toys wrongfully back up these stereotypes further facilitating the understanding of normative gender roles.

Several years removed from the Easy-Bake Oven crisis, I phoned Connor to inquire about four or five toys currently on his “must have” list. Without hesitation he replied the video game Call of Duty 4, Lego Airplane Set, Guitar Hero, and a new paintball gun; all being rather macho choices. Before hanging up I asked Connor if he still had an interest in cooking to which he excitedly replied that he loves the cookbook from the NBC television show “The Biggest Loser” and cannot wait to try out a new brownie recipe he recently came across. After informing my brother that our cousin was an avid fan of “The Biggest Loser” cookbook, he ignorantly called Connor a girl and asked when he was going to come out of the closet. It’s interesting how cooking is automatically perceived as a women’s job therefore if a young boy enjoys such a hobby that he deviates from the social norm. Boys are expected to find enjoyment in vicious games such as Call of Duty where violently killing “bad guys” is acceptable compared to activities wrongfully stereotyped as a female’s role.

When online shopping at, I found there to be a grey area as far as sex-neutral toys are concerned. While children are broken up according to what is deemed age appropriate toys, there is a straight line that breaks up what toys are meant for boys and girls. The toys meant for boys tended to involve some sort of violence or action taking place requiring the children to use logic and be in fact emotionless. In “Call of Duty”, the boys playing this game rarely ponder who they are shooting and if it is morally right. Instead, they get a thrill out of killing as many “bad guys” as possible ranging from the usage of guns, knives, to overhead helicopter attacks. Meanwhile, girls are subject to more nurturing toys which will elicit care giving tendencies to be applied later in life. They also tend to be calmer and focused on the body and beauty. Because of this, mixed messages are sent to children through their toys. With toys, there seems to be no in between. Newman states that through constructionism, “We have a tendency to identify people in "either/or" terms” (Newman 37). In society there tends to be very little leeway for gender neutrality. Children’s toys are very cut and dry. Pink is for girls and blue is for boys and depending on what your biological make up is results in what color toy you play with.

Toys that are created with a specific sex in mind tend to send misleading messages to children. Through the usage of sadistic video games and action figures, boys are trained that it is acceptable to resort to violence in given situations and that they must be in control at all times. Boys infer that it is not appropriate to play with dolls or show any sort of weakness while girls should take a more passive role socially. Meanwhile toys meant for girls promote an image conscious society heavily promoting the importance of beauty. The drastic differences between messages exuded by toys do not end there. Many toys produced for boys endorse that males are the decision makers and must be emotionless in order to complete the game or further succeed. While they are free to explore and build new things, girl toys encourage a lesser role where care giving is a must in order to practice the role females will play in later life. Because of these mixed messages, inaccurate views on gender roles are implemented in children at a very young age, further embedding in society.

There are many key factors that results in toys facilitating the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood. Newman argues that, “What it means to be male or female, how you're supposed to look, and the things you're expected to do by virtue of being labeled male or female are entirely dependent on the societal, historical, and even the familial context in which you live” (Newman 53-54). An example of this idea being evident in the sale of toys would be the usage of girl and boy colors, commercials, and other advertising tactics. Toys are created in certain colors to clearly instruct which sex they are meant for. This leads to various actions being misconstrued and labeled as a job meant for either a male or female. Dolls are adorned in pink and purple, placed in dresses, and marketed strictly for girls. This asserts that it is a female’s role to stay home and take care of children since they grew up playing “house” with dolls and toting around pretend babies. Even play kitchen sets and Easy-Bake Ovens are pink or other girl friendly colors displaying that girls are meant to do all of the cooking. Toys that convey a hand on approach to life and building such as play tool sets, building blocks, and Lego’s all come in primary colors commonly associated with boys. Also, toy fire trucks, police cars, and planes are targeted to boys facilitating the idea that those occupations are meant for men leaving no room for females in a male dominated workforce. Besides the colors that toys are produced to be, the way that such objects are marketed also facilitates the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood.

Advertisement for these toys, most notably being television commercials, wrongfully stereotype gender roles. The media sways children thought processes. This is supported by Newman who says, “Media images of males and females have a strong influence on children's perceptions and behaviors (Good, Porter, & Dillon, 2002). For instance, children who watch a lot of television are more likely to hold stereotypical attitudes toward gender, exhibit gender-stereotyped characteristics, and engage in gender-stereotyped activities than are children who watch little television (M. Morgan, 1987; Signorielli, 1990)” (Newman 90). Watching Miley Cyrus prance around the television screen looking anything but fifteen years old as she promotes her new CD and various Disney products, it is easy to see why children are acting older than they really are and seeking approval in the wrong places. Video games are no longer a matter of jetting around on a race track trying to have the fastest time as they now resort to violence where killing must be second nature in order to succeed. In a commercial for the video game Call of Duty 4, a soldier is shown shooting a man who is an arms length away. How is it that a twelve year old is mature enough to grasp what war is and is he fully capable of differentiating between what is real and imaginary?

In relation to gender, when toy shopping there is a concise difference between what is perceived to be a boy toy and girl toy. Ranging from colors of toys to advertisement, children are influenced by stereotypes as seen on television as well as amongst family and peers. Through these stereotypes, children make assumptions about how they should act according to gender standards and how they should treat the opposite sex. This leads to children being misconstrued and further embedding the wrong ideologies on gender roles.

Call of Duty 4. ToysRUs.Com. 20 May 2008
Easy Bake Oven. ToysRUs.Com. 20 May 2008
Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
Wooden Kitchen and Refrigerator. ToysRUs.Com. 20 May 2008