Skip to content

Jen Vitkus (Thunderpants): Reading Cosmo Isn’t Even Fun Anymore

By: Jen Vitkus

Team Thunderpants

Reading Cosmo Isn’t Even Fun Anymore

 

After learning of the ways that pop culture represents women, specifically through stereotypes in women’s magazines, I can honestly say that I no longer enjoy reading my guilty pleasure, Cosmopolitan.  Katie Milestone and Anneke Meyer discuss women’s representations in magazines at great length through their work in Gender and Pop Culture.  Milestone and Meyer begin their chapter on “Representing Women” by highlighting the popular topics in women’s magazines between the 1960’s and the 1990’s.  Even despite the women’s movement and all of the other strides women have made between now and then it is hard to ignore that our current issues of magazines like Cosmopolitan are still reproducing the same stereotypical articles.  Milestone and Meyer discuss how, “There has been a shift towards a ‘new femininity’ which is more socially and sexually assertive, confident, aspirational and fun-seeking” (Milestone 88).  Obviously this new, sexually-driven femininity is plenty present in Cosmopolitan as words about “How To Get the Most Pleasure” and “55 Ways To Orgasm” are littered across every cover of every issue.  However, Milestone and Meyer also make a point to note that, “ . . .this new femininity is not displacing conventional femininity . . . teenage magazines continue to reinforce a conventional femininity in many ways: for example, they continue to emphasize the importance of relationships and physical beauty and reinforce heterosexuality as the norm . . .” (Milestone 89).  Therefore, it is no wonder that the majority of the “How To” articles in magazines like Cosmopolitan are geared toward relationships with men and specifically focus on ways to stay beautiful and impress the men in your life.  Milestone and Meyers also accurately point out that, “Girls are told to self-improve, but in moderation, to achieve a ‘natural’ look- in effect they are told to go along with what men, presumably, want” (Milestone 94).  Asking women to preserve their traditional femininity while at the same time becoming more sexualized and concerned with gaining boyfriends and male attention goes back to the ever-present Madonna Whore Complex.  Women today are faced with the impossible challenge of balancing sex, poise and physical fitness so that they can really succeed since, “. . . getting a boyfriend or husband is the ultimate quest in life” (Milestone 94).

            Oftentimes in Cosmopolitan the goal of gaining a boyfriend or husband is blatantly obvious.  Because of this it came naturally to me to read issues through a negotiated reading where I knew their message was bad and transparently shallow.  I somehow always justified to myself that it was acceptable to continue to buy these magazines because everyone else was doing the same thing.  However, after reading Milestone and Meyers’ thoughts on the topic of how women are being represented after years of progress for women’s rights I can’t help but read magazines like Cosmopolitan in an oppositional way.  While some view Cosmopolitan’s sexualized nature as empowering or liberating, I can’t help but question whether reinforcing these long-held stereotypes of femininity are bettering the lives of the female readers or if all of the articles are just to help better the lives of men.  My hope is to challenge other young women to reject the ideals portrayed by Cosmopolitan and to begin critically thinking about the pop culture we are consuming and what it says about us as young women in America.  It is also extremely important that we question the messages present in magazines like Cosmopolitan in order to prevent them from having detrimental effects on young female readers.

 

Dating Advice on Cosmopolitan’s Website, “How To Get a Boyfriend”:

http://www.cosmopolitan.com/archive/sex-love/dating-advice/0/16

 

References

Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Pop Culture. Polity, 2012

            

Cecily Pacheco (Thunderpants) – Blog It: Women in Hip Hop and the Media

By: Cecily Pacheco

Team Thunderpants

Blog It: Women in Hip Hop and the Media

Throughout this course, we have discussed the role of women in the media and the ways in which they are portrayed. We have seen countless music videos, commercials, and magazine ads with women wearing little-to-nothing with colors representing sex and seduction. The roles of both men and women are clearly distinguished within the media; however, women tend to be the group objectified and demoralized. Women should not have to be depicted as merely a sexual object when we have reached a point in time where the work and educational levels of females have significantly increased.

In documentaries such as Beyond Beats and Rhymes, the director describes the role of women and men in the media, specifically hip-hop. Women are objectified and constantly demoralized. Further, we view women as merely objects and not equal to that of men. In Nelly’s infamous “Tip Drill” video, he is shown swiping a credit card down the crack of a woman’s anus. There are also countless images of women in bikinis, dancing in stilettos, and embracing men throwing liquor on their bodies. In addition to the visual images we see of women, men further demoralize women with the content used in their music lyrics. There are barely any songs made describing the educations successful and independence of a woman, but rather lyrics such as “Girl you look good won’t you back that ass up” and “Give me that Becky,” referring to sexual acts. While they do exist, there are very few songs out there praising the hard work and success of women.

In addition to the media, women are constantly shown in commercials and magazine ads as sexual objects. Women are usually in sexual and seductive position, usually looking submissive to a man, who appears strong and dominant. Further, women are dressed in colors such as red, with their hair make-up done. In commercials, men are made to look superior to women, often dominating them with some instrument, such as a collar. In an ad found on a Google, a woman is shown with a belt wrapped around her neck. On the other hand, men are viewed as masculine, dominating, and superior. In the infamous Axe commercial, the main actor is instructing women look her man and then at him and then back at her man, insinuating what a man should look like. In our text Deconstructing Tyrone, the “Hip-Hop Mayor” is described as: “He’s 6’4”, shoulders broad enough to carry water jugs. His skin is roasted coffee, his beard manicured. His upper lip curls when he grins, flashing straight white teeth. His wardrobe alone delivers a keynote address: there’s one and half carrot diamond earring that for years flashed from his ear and mentioned within the first 10 seconds of any new account of the wonderboy mayor” (Hopkinson & Moore, pg.3). While men are still described in a sexual way, we can still see the masculinity that occurs within the description. On the other hand, a woman would be viewed as submissive, uneducated, and barely clothed.

Within the media, we can clearly see the differentiation of gender roles and the position a woman plays in society. While women have grown in time with education, rights, and independence, we still have this problem of objectification and demoralization of women. In my opinion, the way to put an end to this is to start with women. We as women have to speak out and respect ourselves, not allowing such jobs to be available just because of the paycheck. When we start to respect ourselves, it will be followed.

 

Music Video: Back that ass up

 

Emily Pizzale (Thunderpants) – College Media Taking The Jokes Too Far: When Free Speech & Hate Speech Collide

By: Emily Pizzale

Team Thunderpants

College Media Taking The Jokes Too Far: When Free Speech & Hate Speech Collide

There has recently been a smattering of inappropriate jokes and articles being published in student-run media sources that have led to widespread discontent among the students the media sources are meant to reflect the views of. In other words, the few with the power to publish written pieces or create television shows are doing a poor job of relating to their wider audience and publishing material with a premise that most would agree with. Student media sources such as UCTV at UConn and BU’s newspaper The Daily Free Press have been forced by popular outcry to apologize for the offensive material they have published, garnered negative attention for their universities and tarnished the reputation of their student organizations. 

UConn’s student run TV station made a joke of rape by mocking those who report it or ask for help in the moment and giving them a stern message that they would not be helped. It portrayed blonde women as sluts always lying about rape and in many ways supported violence against women. The video was insensitive and uninformed at best and hate speech at worst. Although the TV station issued an apology and changed its policies on what material could be published in the future, the individuals who made the content in no way apologized for the video or seemed to understand why such material was inappropriate. Free speech was used by many to defend the offensive video but where does free speech become hate speech? This is not the first time the television station has made material that is condescending towards women either. In UConn’s case and the more recent fiasco at BU, we can see rape victims being mocked and their traumatic experiences belittled. Women are portrayed as asking for it, stupid or only worthwhile for their physical features.

Media outlets say they are only publishing stories like this because they are comedic sketches, meant to get a cheap laugh out of a very serious issue, but sometimes a joke can be taken too far. Advertising is another area in popular culture where negative images of women abound. A common defense of the advertising market is that you don’t need to watch the advertisements and most people say they don’t affect them anyways. But this is simply untrue, if you see women represented in only one or two ways in the media you eventually come to think of women in these narrow terms. Again, it is not an issue to depict women as sexual or even domestic but to only depict them in this way is detrimental to women’s status in society. This idea is also brought up in the film Dreamworlds that we viewed for class.       

It seems as though nearly all college media outlets are using a male gaze, certainly not a female or a queer gaze as we have studied in class. As feminist Jessica Valenti mentions in her chapter on pop culture, “ sexuality itself seems to be defined as distinctly female in our culture.” (Valenti, page 41) There is one reason for this, sexuality and all images are being defined by men, straight, white men. This is why we see articles and comedy sketches being published by liberal college campuses that offend many women and men alike. Men do not experience sexual violence and sexism in the same ways that women do, they are naïve to how their work could be offensive. In the case of women publishers, the rape culture our country has become deems rape jokes and degrading images of women not only as the norm but also as acceptable. Poking fun at a victim of rape is not longer frowned upon but rather viewed as a misguided change for a quick laugh with little thought to the consequences.

Another example of a university taking it too far: http://jezebel.com/5898425/heres-the-funny-sexual-assault-parody-boston-universitys-student-paper-doesnt-want-you-to-see

 

 

Bibliography:

Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism. Seal Press. 2007. 

Amy Maladore (Tagalongs) – B Is For…

By: Amy Maladore

Team Tagalongs

B is for…

Bitch. The word bitch is ubiquitous in our language, media, and culture. It is a phrase, a persona that is embedded in the culture that is American culture. Yet, it is something that begins to become amorphous in that it seldom refers to its denotation of a female dog, wolf, or fox. Instead, the informal meaning is often what is meant to be translated. A meaning that includes a lewd, immoral, or malicious women; a way to express displeasure. It is a powerful insult not only to women but men in that it almost instantly emasculates men while highlighting the negative characteristics attributed solely to the female gender. The word undoubtedly plays along gender lines and facilitates in segregating the sexes all the while reifying the gender binary and gender essentialist theories. Furthermore, the word bitch has transgressed into a synonym for women. What are the implications of such a synonym? I argue that the use of bitch is destructive  especially under the patriarchal society we live in and pathogenic to our growth as humans.

Use of the word bitch often is within the context of insulting a female or male. However, the use of the word by females to refer to other females in a way that is seemingly or supposedly devoid of the profane associations has become commonplace in everyday speech. In this light, it is arguable that folks are reclaiming or attempting to reclaim the word. However, it is troublesome to reclaim a word without crashing into the muddled mess of the original context of the word. Even then, there is the complexity of who is allowed to use the word in its new glory, is it restricted to women? Is it empowering? But how empowering is it to refer to someone or yourself as a lewd, immoral, or malicious women? How swiftly does the tide turn when the same word trickles off the tongue of a man?

The novel “Deconstructing Tyrone” by Hopkinson and Moore offers extensive insight of Black masculinity in the Hip Hop generation. A look at hip hop culture offers a sampling of the use of the word bitch in the media. The word bitch is as prevalent and unsettling as the word whore. Here, the word bitch is used along similar lines to degrade others, especially women. In “Deconstructing Tyrone” there is a chapter devoted to Hip Hop and it meshes well with the topics in Beyond Beats and Rhymes. The hierarchy of the “video girl” is explained to be one that depends on looks and the extent of sexual favors and clothing the women decide upon. (Hopkinson 185) What is especially telling is that the video “bitches” and “hos” are seen by many women, even those in the videos themselves, as the other. The “video girl” is not one that is relatable; however, it is the embodiment of what many men relate to women in the real world. Taking an earnest understanding of Hip Hop culture and rest of mainstream culture means taking the time to dissect the content and perhaps most importantly, having open discussions about why large numbers of portrayals of men and women are not only flawed but intensely disrespectful and degrading.

A blog that does a wonderful job encapsulating the relevance of the word bitch in Hip Hop, and thus the mainstream media is found in the “Crunk Feminist Collective” at http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/disrespectability-politics-on-jay-zs-bitch-beyonces-fly-ass-and-black-girl-blue/

Hopkinson, Natalie, and Natalie Y. Moore. Deconstructing Tyrone: a new look at black masculinity in the hip-hop generation. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2006. Print.

Scott Kid (Tagalongs) – Male Gaze

By: Scott Kidd

Team Tagalongs

Male Gaze

                   In class we talked about various aspects of the male gaze and how it affects people all over the world. An example of the male gaze would be a woman trying to look beautiful to impress men because this is the type of characteristics we adapt to growing up. With all the music videos and movies showing men as the more dominant sex, as well as blue and pink products being sold specifically for boys and girls rather than for both. On the website washingpost.com, there was a shirt for sale sayings “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me”, which quickly turned the heads of many parents who complained about what the shirt was symbolizing (Bell, 2011). It’s amazing how we grow up with all these advertisements and never really take into consideration what they are actually telling us. This is called the direct-effects theory, which means media texts that contain certain representations and messages, which are directly-uncritically and passively absorbed by the audience (Katie Milestone, 2012).

                  When reading the book “Rockin Out of the Box”, I learned a lot about the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll and how it was starting to transform from just men to women as well. The term “groupie” affected women way more than it affected men because women were the only ones called a groupie. A groupie is constructed as anyone to whom a rock musician might potentially gain sexual access, mainly women (Schippers, 2002, p. 26). This is also an example of the male gaze because women absorbed this behavior from other people and who’s to say that it was only women who had sexual access to musicians?

When you look at the magazine called Cosmo, you will always see a thin and pretty girl on the front page. You will also see a bunch of messages that are along the lines of “50 ways to make you look thin!”, or “30 ways to impress the man of your dreams!” All of these ads just go to show that we have created this idea that if you’re going to be beautiful and attractive; you need to have this slim and soft skin look like the girls on the cover of these magazines. In the book “Gender and Popular Culture” they said there was a magazine in 1971 called “Ms.”, which hoped to be a bridge between publishing of feminism and feminist publishing. “Ms.” had titles such as “How to write your own marriage contract”, which is not something you would typically find in a magazine (Katie Milestone, 2012).

Basically what this is telling us is that this male gaze is something that has been created over the years that people seem to just adapt to and not realize what is actually meant by the different types of media, as well as life itself. From the looks of it things aren’t beginning to get much better as we can see from the different commercials on the television, as well as movies and comedians. Like they said in the

Gender and Popular Culture book, “media plays a very significant role in socially educating children” (Katie Milestone, 2012). It also plays a huge role in our everyday lives. We grew up watching these videos that show men being the dominant sex and helping out the woman, we grew up watching the woman running to the man even after he is aggressive to her, and we also grew up believing what the advertisements and media presented to us. We have also learned that this is all something that can be changed, but we have to set the example.

Brian Naples (Tagalongs) – Violence in Advertisement

By: Brian Naples

Team Tagalongs

Violence in Advertisement

One thing that I’ve learned from this course is the way advertising, and the media in general, play such a vital role in the development of gender roles in our society.  When we discussed this at the beginning of the semester, I had serious doubts regarding this assertion.  For example, we always hear that violent movies and video games can cause violence in real life, amongst other such statements, but I always just dismissed the concept as something that could only affect the weak of character.  Of course, I did not consider myself one of these individuals.  There was no way any stupid advertisement could change me.  I’m just myself; I don’t let other people tell me how to act.  How wrong I was.

The irony of all this is that that false sense of confidence itself was inspired by the very advertisements I swore could have no effect on me.  The truth is that many advertisements are shown through a male gaze, and set a standard for masculinity that must be achieved if one wants to be a respected member of society.  Unfortunately, according to the media’s perception of masculinity, the pinnacle of the male archetype is violence.  For whatever reason, violence is glorified in advertisement.  Blood and gore sell, which perpetuates the problem.  Jackson Katz explains the problem in the book Gender, Race, and Class in Media.  “The appeal of violent behavior for men, including its rewards, is coded into mainstream advertising in numerous ways:  from violent male icons (such as particularly aggressive athletes or superheroes) overtly threatening consumers to buy products to ads that exploit men’s feelings of not being big, strong, or violent enough by promising to provide them with products that will enhance those qualities.” (Katz 352).   One of the best examples of this is advertising campaign the Old Spice is currently engaged in.  Some examples can be seen here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-m6Ua9Iqkg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYBz2befSfY

The second video features Ray Lewis, an NFL linebacker who plays for the Baltimore Ravens.  Often referred to as the hardest hitting and toughest player in a league full of hard hitters and tough guys, Ray Lewis’s claim to fame is violence.  In fact, he was once arrested for double murder (Sports Illustrated), and although the charges were later dismissed, they are still closely associated with his persona.  In the video, he is showing blowing up a planet, and then laughing on his way past it.  This nonchalance toward violence is exactly what Katz was discussing in her article.

Ultimately, the media that we are exposed to every day plays a major role in the way we act and the way our views of society are formed.  It is impossible to avoid, as we are constantly subjected to advertisement wherever we go and whatever we do.  Violence has become deeply engrained in our collective subconscious, and it is seemingly impossible to define masculinity without it.

If I’ve learned one thing from this course, it’s that when viewing any sort of media, whether it be television, online, in print, or anywhere else, it is irresponsible to take the message at face value.  Unless we take a step back and analyze what is actually being said, we are just being force fed instructions on how to act.

Sources:

Humez, Jean McMahon. “Advertising and the Construction of White Masculinity.” Gender, Race and Class in Media. By Jackson Katz and Gail Dines. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, -,. 352. Print.

John Donovan. “CNNSI.com – 2000 Bloody Monday – Does NFL Star Ray Lewis’ Arrest for Murder Taint the Game? – Friday March 03, 2000 02:02 PM.” Breaking News, Real-time Scores and Daily Analysis from Sports Illustrated – SI.com. Sports Illustrated, 3 Mar. 2000. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/nfl/features/bloody_monday/news/2000/02/25/part1/&gt;.

Old Spice 2012 Commercials (Terry Crews). Dir. Old Spice. Perf. Terry Crews.YouTube. YouTube, 02 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-m6Ua9Iqkg&gt;.

OLD SPICE SWAGGER Ray Lewis. Dir. Old Spice. Perf. Ray Lewis. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYBz2befSfY&gt;.

 

Leah Nelson (Tagalongs) – Plastic Surgery for 7 year-olds: Young girls and Pop Culture Consequences

By: Leah Nelson

Team Tagalongs

Plastic Surgery for 7 year-olds: Young girls and Pop Culture Consequences

            It is no secret that pop culture and the media deliver the message that women need to look a certain way in order to be considered attractive and beautiful in our society. In addition, women also receive the message that they should do anything and everything to attain these unrealistic beauty standards. Yes, men are more and more getting similar messages that they need to conform to certain societal expectations, but let’s be honest: it does not happen nearly as often and when it does, men are usually being told to make themselves bigger and stronger, rather than invisible and plastic. So with that said, let’s get back to women. Actually, let’s talk about girls. This is where I lose my mind a little. Not only do adult women have to trudge through the dense forest of media messaging telling them they are fat and ugly, but this messaging is targeting younger and younger girls. We need to seriously question the expectations we are setting for young girls and what the potential deadly consequences of these unrealistic expectations are.

I was horrified when I first heard about this mother who, instead of filling her 7-year-old daughter’s Christmas stocking with PEZ dispensers and new socks and underwear, gave her a voucher for liposuction. This was not the first time the “Human Barbie,” as she refers to herself, gave her daughter, Poppy, a plastic surgery voucher to be redeemed when she is of legal consenting age (Conley, 2012). The year prior, Poppy received the much desired promise for breast implants. Jessica Valenti discusses how there is nothing inherently wrong with making decisions like flashing your boobs in public or wearing make-up, but it’s important to know why we make these decisions (Valenti, 2007). For the most part, I tend to agree with this. As a member of UConn S.H.A.P.E. (Students Helping to Achieve Positive Esteem), we educate students on the importance of media literacy. This does not mean we tell people never to buy another popular magazine again. Rather, we encourage people to be critical viewers of the texts they are constantly exposed to. However, does providing a 7-year-old with a plastic surgery voucher really put the choice in their hands? Technically, yes; Poppy is not being forced to put the voucher to use and her mother claims that she is just giving her daughter the option. But is it really an option when a 7-year-old is given a “just-in-case-you-turn-out-ugly-with-small-boobs-and-love-handles” voucher for plastic surgery? What kind of message does this send? Well, it says she is not pretty enough the way she is, she will never love herself the way she is, and that she should strive to change herself in order to find self-acceptance.

Let’s just dissect this “Human Barbie” thing for a minute. According to Margo Maine’s book, Body Wars, a girl tends to have her first Barbie by age three (Maine, 1999). Age three! Why is this problematic? If Barbie was a real woman, she would have physically impossible proportions and fit diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder (Maine, 1999). And still, we put these dolls in the hands of 3-year olds, hinting to them that that is what beautiful is. And going back to an earlier remark, this message carries another message: be prepared to do whatever it takes to be “beautiful,” even if it means starving yourself, cutting yourself open, and putting yourself in dangerous, deadly situations.

Pop culture messaging towards the “ideal beauty” has been pretty screwed up for some time. But recently, the inclusion of younger and younger girls seems to be at an all time high. Shows like Toddlers and Tiaras perpetuate the infantalization of beauty and sexuality. Stores are marketing push-up bras to little girls who haven’t even started developing breasts yet. We need to take a step back and evaluate the consequences of these pop culture messages targeted towards women of all ages, but especially young girls. The risk of eating disorders aside, we are living in a world that is literally training girls to hate themselves and offering band-aids for self-loathing through the form of body alteration. Again, Valenti argues that this is all cool as long as women know why they’re making the choices they are. But we need to ask ourselves if young girls are even capable of fully understanding why they make these choices, but perhaps more importantly, are we even giving them a choice, given the inundation of messages pressuring them to conform to unrealistic beauty standards?

Related article: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/05/human-barbie-gives-7-year-old-daughter-liposuction-voucher/

References

Conley, M. (2012, January 5). ‘Human Barbie’ Gives 7-Year-Old Daughter Liposuction

Voucher. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/05/human-barbie-gives-7-year-old-daughter-liposuction-voucher/ on March 27, 2012

Maine, M. (1999). Body Wars: Making Peace With Women’s Bodies. Carlsbad, CA: Gürze

Books.

Valenti, J. (2007). Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters.

            Berkeley, CA: Seal Press