Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real Hegemonies of New York City


In a world where the women hold the reigns to the show, the Real Housewives of New York City showcases five women as they primp, shop, and socialize their way up the social ladder. These five women are independent and strong housewives who are anything but desperate. The main idea behind the show follows these women as they live their lives, deal with their family, their relationships, their looks, beauty, and age. The show displays many of the hegemonic issues, both culturally and genderly, that surrounds our society. These women who climb the social ladder must always be aware of the rings that they step on and must be careful not to burn their ladder down.
Throughout this episode, the viewers see five different story lines that are all intertwined throughout the hour. Each character lives her life and shows you the ins and outs of being on the A-List and following the big book of “This is How We Do Things” East Coast addition. What this show really displays is a documentation of a life that viewers can hardly reach, and a stereotype that has only been created through the media. Jennifer L. Pozner supports this idea in her article “The Unreal World”: “Nearly every night, on every network, dating, mating and makeover shows routinely glorify the same stereotypes lampooned in [The] Stepford [Wives]”. A movie that was made in 1975 and then remade in 2004 follows the lives of society’s stereotypical trophy wives. When it turns out the men have created these monsters, literally as they are machines, the men are taken down by the outsiders. The Real Housewives of New York City is a complete “real life”, if you can call if that, version of Stepford. The perfect moms have the perfect lunch in their perfect outfits and the pick up their perfect children from their perfect private schools and then return to their perfect $8 million dollar Park Avenue penthouse suites. It is no wonder that society has created this unattainable social structure when the media is constantly shoving it down our throats. Of course for entertainment purposes, this show is genius and draws any aspiring socialite into their lives, but as for the caste system that is depicted, it can only be defined as class and gender debauchery.
These five women make it very clear to the viewers their social standing in the New York City social scene. In one segment of this episode, Alex and Simon are attending opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. The following morning as she peruses through the New York Times Style Section, she comes across her picture, on the sightings page. She voices an opinion about being photographed: “Being photographed next to very prominent socialites makes people see you as approaching that status”. It is clear that Alex is trying to climb her way up to the top. She knows the rules and plays the game perfectly. This entails dressing a certain way, attending certain events, and playing in the right “social circles”. Although Alex and Simon are an anomaly couple, that are very much co-dependent on each other and equal in their partnership, they are both trying to climb their way up to the top of the caste system. This episode shows how important these women feel it is to be at the top.
Bethenny, also known as Ms. Independent, is very open about her botched childhood and how she was “an adult when [she] was a kid”. She raised herself and has become a very determined individual. Yet, Bethenny showcases the classic double bind, where she boasts about her indepdency, but her biggest issues around the show revolve around the man in her life, Jason, who is unable to fully commit to Bethenny and settle down and start a family. Bethenny, the only unmarried housewife, struggles with her empty left ring finger. Although Bethenny seems to be very in control of her life, Jason still holds the ring to a major part of Bethenny’s life: her happiness. Although this show is based on the ideals of strong, powerful, and independent women, Bethenny shows that in order to truly have it all, you must have a man and a marriage.
In society, we have stereotyped the women as the housewife that tends to the children and home. While watching this show, it is easy to see, on the surface, how the show portrays the women as breaking this mold. And although the women are highlighted in this show, the men play the silent, yet powerful partner. Take Jill for example; this girl has got her stuff together. Her social calendar is packed with fashion shows, benefit dinners, charity events, and museum openings. Yet, she still manages to take care of her two homes, one in New York City and one in the Hamptons, care for her little dog, her daughter, and her husband Bobby Zarin. Jill has paid her dues, and is at the top of the social ladder. And although there are people vying and fighting for her spot, she has perfected her position, and will not it up. It is easy to fall into the idolizing mind frame in terms of Jill, but she is still very much playing into the hegemonic social culture where she is on top, and everyone is simply not worthy. Her relationship with Bobby Zarin also showcases how dependent she is on the man in her life. As she says to her sister on a radio show interview: “When I remarried, my husband gave me the ability to live that dream…We’re not keeping up with the Jones’ anymore, we are the Jones’”. Her success can only be accompanied by the fact that without Bobby, she would still be only a yenta.
LuAnn, the fourth housewife, also displays very clearly the hegemonic class and gender issues that this show displays. Married to Count Alexander Delesseps, whose great-great-grandfather gave America the Statue of Liberty, LuAnn has become, through marriage, a countess, a fact that plays an important role in the social platform that she stands on. During this episode, Bethenny and LuAnn decide to go out for dinner and “skinny girl margaritas”, the new drink du jour. As Bethenny and LuAnn get into their chauffered car, Bethenny introduced LuAnn to the driver as simple LuAnn. As soon as the door shuts, LuAnna scolds Bethenny for introducing her as LuAnn and not Mrs, not Ms., Delesseps. Here LuAnn demonstrates the caste system that is still present in her world. LuAnn feels as though she is socially above the driver and that he should respect her by calling her Mrs. Delesseps, as simply LuAnn is too mongrel for him to use. This is a prime example of the social structure that his show portrays. And for that matter, her only social status is there because of her husband, the Count. Her respect for her husband is displayed through her usage of the world Count, as she doesn’t call her husband “my husband”, only “the count”. Once again, a housewife, is reliant on her husband to deliver the social crown that each wife has had bedazzled and placed on her head.
The last housewife, Ramona, is the quintessential queen bee of high school, unfortunately for her, high school was over 25 years ago. Ramona has a job, a family, a very good looking husband, and fantastic friends. Yet she is quick to judge in order to make sure she assumes her position on top. During this episode, Romano finally expresses her mother’s hardships in staying in a dependent relationship with her husband. Ramona reveals that she received a letter, after her mother died, where her mother apologizes for staying in relationship where she was suffering. Ramona hopes to overcome her mother’s unhappiness, and wants to make sure that she is as independent as possible and can live on her own. The best part about Ramona is that she has a loving husband, Mario, that she is not dependent on, neither emotionally of economically. Ramona is the only one who truly exhibits these qualities. Yet, Romano is still playing into her high school queen bee attitudes, and will fight anyone away from the top. During a girls night dinner that Jill and Bethenny prepare, Alex brings her husband Simon along for the party. Ramona feels very uncomfortable with this, and verbally attacks both Simon and Alex. Then during dinner Ramona abruptly leaves in order to get her real “girls-night” with her other friends. Ramona’s abrupt attitude makes her seem as though she thinks she is “too good” for these low-lifes, and she quickly leaves before they can rub off on her.
It is easy to see that these five housewives exhibit very intense hegemonic binaries that contribute to our culture today. In our society, girls are very competitive with each other, and these five housewives are constantly competing with each other. Although this reality TV show isn’t a game where competitors compete for the title and a prize, these women are competing for the highest social status. They must follow the rules that the New York City social scene as set in order to win the game. Laurie Ouellette and James Hay describe this scenario in their book “Better Living Through Reality TV”: “The subjects of the program are also subjects of an elaborate set of rules and administrative bodies that regulate their forms of association” (202). These women are playing the game in order to be the most fabulous and most glamorous socialite in New York City. And their actions and motives unfortunately play into the hegemonic issues that society as set.


Sources:


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

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tits and Ads







Shakespeare understood it. So did Hugh Hefner, MTV, and Madonna. It is a simple fact of our society that sex sells. Companies caught on to this mantra and immediately capitalized on it to sell their goods. But advertising agencies took this idea a step farther and began to exploit the female body. They portray women as sexual objects who will drop to their knees and fall to the whims of any man. Unfortunately it is not the advertisers that developed this idea, but the idea that sex sells has been so imbedded in our culture that we don’t think twice when we see this in our daily magazines.

It is important to track the source of the where this idea of sexuality comes from. It is not the advertisers that decided to create designs and campaigns based on the objectification of women. The issue starts deeper, it is rooted in our society that the idea of sexuality appeals to everyone: “The iconography of the culture, perhaps more than any previous society, seems to be obsessed with sexuality. The end result is that the commodity is part of an increasingly eroticized world” (Jhally 253). As our world becomes progressively more sexualized and pockets are growing deeper and deeper, advertisers continue to capitalize on the best way to sell a product.

There is a deeper issue in our society that is important to understand in order to shape our culture and the way that both men and women are perceived and the way they interact in the world. Women comprehend the motives behind advertisers. The topic of gender has created a controversial topic, where the suppression of women has led them into a hypocritical mind frame: “Girls are put into a terrible double mind. They are supposed to repress their power, their anger, their exuberance and be simple “nice”, although they also eventually must compete with men in the business world and be successful. They must be overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal” (Kilbourne 259). All advertisers do is mimic and exaggerate what society has imbedded in our culture. It is no wonder that when girls are constantly digesting advertisements that objectify women, they cannot be blamed for acting out what they have inadvertently learned by the supreme teacher: society: “Girls try to make sense of the contradictory expectations of themselves in a culture dominated by advertising. Advertising is one of the most potent messengers in a culture that can be toxic for girl’s self-esteem” (Kilbourne 259). Teenage girls digest what is constantly being thrown into their line of vision. Unfortunately, these images force girls to grow up with a sense that they must become these sexualized objects that advertisers force upon their minds.

Resources:

Jhally, Sut. "Image Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. "Image Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Children in a Toys World






May 20th, 2008
Dear Mommy and Daddy,
As you now, my 8th birthday is coming up, on June 15th , that’s in 26 days, and in case you have not gone to the toy store to buy my birthday presents, I am giving you a wish-list! All of these presents are from www.toysrus.com, where Grandma helped me search (and write this letter) for the presents that I want.
Imaginarium Glitter Suite Dollhouse (so my Barbie’s have a house to live in)
Barbie Fashion Fever Raquelle Doll (so I can dress her up!!)
8 ft. Trampoline (so me and my friends have a fun activity to do this summer!)
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (the first one was my favorite bedtime story)
Hannah Montana TV Soundtrack (she is so cool!)
I hope my list is useful, and I can’t wait to turn 8 years old! My pool party birthday is going to be so much fun! I love you forever and ever!!!!!!!!!!
Love Always,
Lila (your favorite daughter)


The toy market for young boys and girls has exponentially grown over the past years. Yet, toys continue to become increasingly polarized in terms of genders and this ultimately has a very significant effect on how children are socialized within specific gender roles structured by society. Toys act as one of the first cues children learn about our culture. While boys are given toys that promote logic, building, and competition, girls are introduced to toys that inspire creativity, imagination, care-taking/nurturing, beauty, and emotion. From birth children are introduced to these toys and they are sub-consciously imbedded into the maturity stages of children’s lives, and this effects how the child will grow and what values and ideologies he or she will accept.
Taking a look at specific toys, one can see how gendered these toys are integrated into a child’s life. Children are socialized into a specific gender role based on cues that come from their social structure such as the environment, how adults interact with the environment, and their toys. “Lila”, a soon to be 8 year old girl, has been gendered into the “female” role. The toys she asks for are inherently female focused such as a Barbie Doll and a Glitter Suite Barbie House. Ultimately, when parents consciously, or for that matter sub-consciously, feed their children gendered toys, they will continue to influence the way that their children interact in the world.
When discussing girl’s toys, the subject of Barbie is inevitable. The idea of Barbie has shaped the lives of past generations. I was given my first Barbie at the tender age of 4 by my mother who passed on her first Barbie that she received. After girls are introduced to their first Barbie it is unavoidable that she will collect copious amounts of Barbie Dolls and Barbie accessories including clothing, shoes, houses, cars, boyfriends (Ken), sisters (Skipper) and so forth. Ultimately, Barbie becomes a girl’s best manufactured friend. Mary F. Rogers states in her article “Hetero Barbie” that “Barbie illustrates what feminists and culture critics have been saying for some years. In no uncertain terms Barbie demonstrates that femininity is a manufactured reality. It entails a lot of artifice, a lot of clothes, a lot of props such as cuddly poodles and shopping bags, and a lot of effort, however satisfying at times” (Rogers 95). Barbie is the ultimate icon for little girls, and Barbie gives a step by step plan-o-gram of how girls should socialize and interact in her society.
Through toys, girls are taught how to dress and accessorize, care take and nurture, about their bodies, and how to beautify. At the same time boys are given building blocks, both figuratively and literally with toys such as K’Nex and Legos to foster their logic, battle skills, and competition. “Girl” toys foster an aesthetic type of creativity and force girls to play indoors, or in the private sphere, while “boy” toys promote outdoorsy play in the public sphere. These ideas then translate as the children grow. Girls are taught that there place is in the house, caring and nurturing for their family in a safe environment, while boys are taught to go out and seize the competition, and be strong warriors. Girls are taught emotion, while boys are taught to be emotionally vacant. With the help of the mass media, the ideologies represented in the toys are constantly being digested by children. As James Lull in his article “Hegemony” states: “The mass media help create an impression that even society’s roughest edges ultimately must conform to the conventional contours of dominant ideologies” (Lull 64). When children are introduced to gendered toys, it is no wonder that when they become adults, these ideas translate into their lives.
When shopping online for toys, you as a consumer can target specific demographics and psychographics for your particular child. Toysrus.com prompts you through various categories to choose from. You can start with an age bracket, then choose your child’s gender, what price range you are looking for, what category or toy you want, and then if you want a character or theme for the toy. After you have sorted out these descriptors, you are given numerous pages of toys to choose from. For “Lila” I started with the age bracket 8-11 and then narrowed down my search to girls. From there I knew I wanted a broader range of toys, so I searched in the category “Books, Movies, and Music”, “Dolls and Stuffed Animals” and “Outdoor Play”. I felt that these categories covered both ends of the gender spectrum.
Through my research for “Lila” I learned just how gendered even the Toys R Us website is. From the start you are able to choose which aisle to shop on. Although first you must indicate your age group, you are then asked to narrow down your search to girls or boys. Ultimately this is choosing the pink sparkly aisle, or the masculine red/blue aisle. Gender neutral toys are few and far between, but can be found in areas such as books, movies, outdoor activities, and arts and crafts. When choosing the category “Action Figures and Collectibles” there is a red and yellow band across the top with a little boy playing with the Red Power Ranger. Then when choosing “Dolls and Stuffed Animals” the band is pink and turquoise with a little girl playing with a Barbie doll. Although these are two categories that are socially gender opposites, categories such as “Science and Discovery” feature a blue band with a boy looking through a magnifying glass. The gender neutral virtual aisles refrain from using a colored band across the top. Ultimately by simple cues such as color, gender is plastered all over the page.
Products are forced into the minds of every consumer, even starting at ages younger then “Lila”. A child sitting in her 1st grade classroom sees his/her best friend playing with the newest toy and that child desires that toy as well. At its primitive stages, young children show the earliest forms of Viral Marketing. Corporations and toy manufacturers understand this process and latch onto its earliest consumers. As children grow with this primitive knowledge they are trained consumers and loyal customers.
As for “Lila”, she will most likely be given the toys that she has asked for in her letter to her parents. As she continues to grow and mature, the lessons she learned form playing with Barbie and her other gendered toys will follow her through her teenage years and into adulthood. The ideologies that she learned from childhood toys will play a large role in how she will conduct her home and her family. In a society where children are able to access any toy with a simple please and thank you to their parents, the toys they receive have lasting effects on their interaction and place in society.


Sources:
Lull, James. “Hegemony” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text Reader 2: 61-66

Rogers, Mary F. "Hetero Barbie?" Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader 2: 94-97

Toys R Us. 2008. 16 May 2008 www.toysrus.com.

Pictures:
Toys R Us. 2008. 16 May 2008 www.toysrus.com.

Monday, May 12, 2008