By Ming Fearon and Jacqueline Wang
Gender stereotypes exist in every facet of life, but are especially prevalent in the mass media. Contrary to popular belief, there is a huge difference between sex and gender: sex is the biological differentiation of female and male, whereas gender is a social construction with certain behaviors assigned to men and women. Starting from birth, babies are dressed by their parents according to gender, with pink for girls and blue for boys. As children grow older, they begin to mimic gender norms inherited from their parents and influenced by their peers. It is no surprise, then, that the media plays a significant role in shaping gender behavior. Children today watch countless hours of television, and although society nowadays claims to be more gender neutral than it once was, the messages in television can often contradict any sort of gender neutral upbringing that parents may try to promote. It is constantly reinforcing stereotypes and so-called “norms” about gender roles. We chose to look at a few commercials on YouTube, all of which were on American television at some point in the past two years, to demonstrate these stereotypes.
The first is the trailer to the very popular Sex and the City movie (link), which followed 6 equally popular seasons on HBO. This trailer, much like the show, reinforces but also attempts to contradict many stereotypes about women. The premise of the movie is that Carrie, the main character, is finally getting married to the love of her life. As a shopaholic, it is unsurprising that she answers, “No, just get me a really big closet” when he asks if she would like a diamond. This agrees with the stereotype of women being very materialistic and obsessed with shopping. Meanwhile, the storyline implies that the four women of the show can only be truly happy when they have a man and/or families. The drama stems from Carrie becoming obsessed with having an extravagant wedding and Big, her fiancé, reinforces the stereotype of an emotionally unavailable man. When Carrie talks about her disappointment in her engagement being broken off, she says “I can’t believe I was running around New York thinking I’m finally getting my happy ending. I let the wedding get bigger than Big.” The trailer also includes a scene in which one of the women is mocked for not having gotten a bikini wax, promoting the idea that women must be perfectly manicured, groomed, and hairless at all times – even when just with each other. Although the movie does add to such stereotypes, the producers also make an attempt to level the playing field and show the women asserting themselves. Samantha defies the stereotype that women must get married by blatantly saying that she does not believe in marriage. Meanwhile, Miranda, while shopping for a Halloween costume, says that the only two choices for women are “witch and sexy kitten.”
Entourage, another popular television show, has often been likened to being the male equivalent of Sex and the City. Both shows promote unrealistic expectations of how women and men ought to live their lives. The protagonist of Entourage is a hegemonic male typically portrayed in media: a handsome, influential movie star who receives an abnormal amount of attention from women. He sleeps with a lot of different women, and both he and his friends put a lot of value into doing so. Within ten seconds of the trailer (link), the words “the boys are back” flash on screen in huge letters, while their fans scream for them and photographers swarm them. The rest of the trailer shows how each man lures different women into bed. This trailer is a sharp contrast to the somewhat flowery and material happiness advocated in the Sex and the City trailer. Clearly, Sex and the City was targeted towards the female audience as such, and Entourage’s intense trailer was targeted towards the male audience.
The last clip that we looked at was a Heineken commercial from 2008 (link). It shows four women who upon seeing an extravagantly large closet start excitedly squealing. Similarly, they hear their male counterparts start to scream—however, it is not a walk-in closet that excites them, but a walk-in refrigerator filled with beer. What this commercial is basically promoting is that men will feel as strongly about Heineken beer as women feel about shoes and clothes. It mocks the absurd enthusiasm that it is believed women stereotypically have for material things.
If the gender stereotypes found in both Sex and the City and Entourage were offensive to general audiences, the shows would not be as widely popular as they are. We have become so acclimated to seeing such generalizations in the media that we no longer even notice them unless they are on the brink of absurdity.
Sex and the City Movie Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDzGgaugb2s
Entourage Season 6 Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU7A42yM8z0
Heineken Commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIutgtzwhAc