GEND 2166 Webnotes

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Please click here for a pdf of the GEND 2166 Final Take-home.

April 6 2016
Female Celebrity, Ageing and the Gossip Industry

Next week: No class. Submit your essay via email as a .pdf or .docx file or in hard copy to my office by 12:30 on Wednesday April 13.

Please take the time that you would normally spend reading and in class, and put it toward your final. If you want to find me I will be in my office for my regular office hours from 2:20-3:20 on Tuesday and during our class time from 12:30-3:20 on Wednesday. You can also call me in my office if you are not on campus: 705 474 3450 ex 4889. I’ll be marking your essays very diligently with the goal of getting them marked and backed to you as soon as possible. I’ll email you when they are ready for pick up.

I will accept the final takehome over email as a .pdf or .docx file. It is due April 19 by noon over email or hard copy under my office door. This is a firm deadline for all assignments as it is the last official day of classes. To submit beyond that date you need permission from the Dean of Arts and Science.

key concepts: postfeminist; neoliberal; sexual objectification; gender and “age appropriateness;” ageing and the female body; to “deride and revere the processes of surgical transformation” (300); “the gruesome;” “the desperate;” “the sanctioned”

Focus on women’s appearances: As with last week’s reading, part of our challenge is to sort out how female celebrities seem to bear the brunt of our collective scrutiny around appearances.

Your thoughts on the reading?

Kate and Leopold: being honest and vigilant about internalizing these dominant ideas

Naturalized: If we grow up with some degree of naturalized sexism, racism and classism—for example—then we can learn to be critical and catch ourselves in the act, but it’s never a complete process.

Comments about appearance on course evaluations: True story

The article for today is highlighting the focus placed on women’s appearances by the media, with a specific focus on aging celebrities, plastic surgery and gossip culture.

In terms of postfeminism, these gossip industry commentaries place an emphasis on women celebrities: self-surveillance; disciplining bodies; looking hyper-feminine, always making themselves over to look “better” (the makeover paradigm); “choosing” to present themselves in sexualized terms; “choosing” to conform to beauty ideals via surgical solutions; and empowering themselves via their youthful faces and “sexy” slim bodies.

In some sense the aging female celebrity can “choose” between maintaining a youthful, “sexy” and slim body or not having a career.

Kylee sent me this Amy Schumer video and it is very relevant. Brace yourself for a lot of expletives in 2:36 seconds and look for the parallels to Fairclough’s argument:

What are some of the critical observations made here?

Among other things, the sketch is commenting on the well-documented phenomenon of casting older men with much younger women as their love interest:

Maggie Gyllenhall age 37 was told that she was too old to play the lover of a 55 year old man:

Olivia Wilde also too old:

It is important that many leading men are over 50—like Johnny Depp—and some are over 60—Denzel Washington. As Fairclough points out, we don’t see the same number of leading ladies in that age category.

Fairclough suggests that celebrity culture is increasingly showcasing “youthful older people” alongside products, procedures and surgeries that “suggest there is no need to succumb to old age any longer, as the technologies exist to stave it off or at least keep it at bay” (298).

She observes that “there has been both an intensification of the visibility and sexual objectification of the older woman in popular culture” (298).

Remember when she sells “MILF weed”?

Fairclough asserts that “especially in a post-feminist context, women are not allowed to grow old naturally and are encouraged to fight the ageing process at every turn” (299). They must “battle nature in order to maintain the fantasy of the sexualised middle-aged woman” (299).

In a feminist context, we would be encouraged to be critical of these pressures to be slim and youthful in order to be considered appealing, but in a post-feminist context—one in which gender equality is presumed to have been achieved—women just “choose” to all look slim, blonde, busty, “fit,” youthful and feminine. Where feminism focuses on transforming these social pressures, postfeminism ignores the social pressures even when women asked to conform and change their appearances or sacrifice their careers.

This “choice” is symptomatic of inequality in the culture, just as it denies any inequality in the culture.

Women are pressured to conform and when they do resort to surgeries, they are scrutinized for that as well.

Fairclough asserts that when “older” women appear in film or in gossip based media, the “discourses surrounding these women are first and foremost framed in terms of narratives of ageing, which are always structured in terms of how well the actress is managing her ageing process” (299).

A recent example that I can think of is how Carrie Fisher’s appearance was discussed in relation to the new Star Wars. What were some of the comments about her appearance?

The same intense scrutiny was not directed toward Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill. This double standard was so apparent that it became a news story unto itself:

Aging “well” means not showing any visible signs of aging:

In describing older women who are said to be attractive, Fairclough writes, “the face must be taut and smooth, but must no longer adhere to the often-mocked early advances in face list technologies, such as the ‘wind tunnel’ look of the 1980s and 1990s, it must be devoid of wrinkles and the body must be toned and slender, with evidence of the disciplined, yet discreet work that has been undertaken to achieve it” (299).

Fairclough observes that the hyper-scrutiny directed at women celebrities in terms of plastic surgeries is highly contradictory. What are some of the obvious contradictions that Fairclough finds in the gossip columns that comment on women’s plastic surgeries?

The Madonna example on page 300 is fascinating, I think. Comments?

For your upcoming papers, this is a nice example of an academic argument and analysis. Finding a great example is step one, and sometimes it can seem tempting to just let that example stand alone, but you always have to take that extra step and offer an analysis. Fairclough gives us this amazing example and then she does the work of spelling out exactly what she makes of this quotation.

The article outlines “how typical discourses in the gossip industry and blogs in particular, generally place female celebrities into surgical and aging categories, which I shall identify here as the ‘gruesome,’ the ‘desperate’ and the ‘sanctioned’” (300).

What / who are “the gruesome”?

Examples: Cher at Burlesque premiere in 2010. Described as looking “glamorous and beautiful” until close-ups revealed “face tape” and she was immediately vilified for trying to cling to her youth.

Then she was photographed outside her hotel a few days later looking closer to her age, 63, and she was roundly criticized for looking “old.”

Coverage of said “incident:”

Example: L’il Kim. Some of the gossip writing about her frames her surgeries as excessive, in keeping with Fairclough’s argument.

“Over the past decade, Lil’ Kim has seemingly gotten so much work done to her face that she’s completely unrecognizable now. From an apparent nose job to a possible face lift, the 41-year-old needs to slow down!”


TMZ said simply and in all caps: “CHECK OUT LIL KIM”S FACE!”

Despite the fact that these women are following the path set out for them by the dominant culture, they are regarded with horror and fascination. They are encouraged to appear youthful and to get surgery to “remedy” the signs of aging, but they are punished for making those pressures too visible.

What / who are “the desperate”?

Fairclough gives the example of Nicole Kidman who is a serious actor but is often scorned for not acknowledging that she has had surgery:

Fairclough argues that these “celebrities operate in a difficult space: they are considered fraudulent, yet appealing, ugly yet beautiful, has-beens, yet in demand” (302).

Fairclough says that it is “the desperate” “who face the most vitriol, represented as oscillating between nostalgic notions of a better version of themselves and a reinvented youthful version of middle age that is balanced precariously between the beautiful and the grotesque” (302). Any thoughts on that?

What / who are “the sanctioned”?

Fairclough says that these women might get in trouble if they are seen to not act their age as they need to look youthful without acting “too youthful.” When Demi Moore posted a bikini pic of herself at age 47, Perez Hilton commented that she looked great but needed to “grow up” because she’s “a little old for this.” She needs to look youthful, but still act in ways that are construed as “age appropriate.”

Media coverage of said “incident:”

You quickly get the sense that women are policed into a very narrow range of possibilities and there are so many opportunities to “misstep” here.

Another interesting phenomenon that Fairclough acknowledges is the increase in very young women getting Botox and plastic surgeries. Heidi Montag was very open about undergoing many plastic surgery procedures in 2009-2010 at age 23 before visible signs of aging occur. She was deemed by the media to be “too young” with little acknowledgement of how the media and the wider culture place so much emphasis on women’s appearances. Also, this concern over women being too young for surgery appears to be rapidly abating.

In terms of contradictions, we see how cosmetic surgery is represented on one hand as “indulgent, excessive and unnecessary,” and on the other as “desirable, necessary and normal” (304); As Heidi Montag says, “who doesn’t want to be beautiful?” The media coverage is characterized by “fear and desire” (304), while the “boundaries of acceptable and desirable cosmetic surgery [are represented as] even narrower and ever more elusive” (304). In turn, “youthful beauty” becomes almost “the only type of beauty to aspire to” (304).

Finally, someone is profiting off these insecurities. Who is profiting?

Your final thoughts?

Final take-home distributed – Due via email on April 19, 2016 (hard deadline)


March 30 2016
“Bad” Rich Mothers

key concepts: postfeminist; the “rich bitch;” irony; class; cultural capital; hegemonic motherhood; mother-blaming

Katie Calcaterra in class to recruit research participants.


Your thoughts on the reading? 

The economic collapse:
This article was originally published in 2012 and it situates the series in relation to the economic collapse in 2008-2009.

Conspicuous consumption on RHONY season one:

Lee and Moscowitz observe that “RHW-NYC is not focused on how the ‘fortunate few make their fortunes but on how they spend them’” (143). As the trade journal Cable & Broadcasting observed: “The poster girls for conspicuous consumption are scoring record ratings while Americans are losing their jobs in record numbers” (143).

RHONY offered an unflattering representation of rich people in a time of great hostility toward extremely wealthy people.

Focussing on rich women

Lee and Moscowitz are critical of how rich men seem to largely disappear from this representation and these few women come to represent excess, superficiality and irresponsibility.

As Lee and Moscowitz write, “the populist scorn the show provokes is not gender neutral; its sights are set on the rich, to be sure, but only rich women, especially those who transgress the traditional gender roles of supportive friend, nurturing mother, doting wife, and ceaseless caretaker” (144).

populist: relating to the concerns of “ordinary people”

“According to the logic of RHW-NYC rich women, not rich men, spend frivolously, project false appearances, backstab, gossip, and leave their children’s care to paid staff” (144).

Do you have any thoughts on how these shows present rich women as especially shallow, superficial and rude, while overlooking the affluent men in their lives?

Househusbands of Hollywood:

When Kevin Hart and Nick Cannon chose to do a parody for BET, I would say that the sketch was about mocking black masculinity, while presenting women as dominant—physically and otherwise:

Real Husbands of Hollywood:

These shows could be characterized as postfeminist media texts because they present a “reality” in which not only has gender equality been achieved, but now men are persecuted and demeaned.

Returning to RHONY, Lee and Moscowitz observe, “when it comes to casting wealthy out-of-touch villains, female socialites are hard to beat” (144). The authors point out that these women fit the trope of the “rich bitch.”

Can you think of any other examples?

The authors write, “Rather than valorizing the rich and demonizing the poor like its predecessors, RHW-NYC takes aim at the consumptive lives of its arriviste heroines” (143).

These are implicitly derogatory terms:

arriviste: noun, an ambitious or ruthlessly self-seeking person, especially one who has recently acquired wealth or social status
synonymous with
nouveau riche: noun, people who have recently acquired wealth, typically those perceived as ostentatious or lacking in good taste.

The suggestion in these words is that the newly rich are showy, tacky and do not (yet) behave in ways that “properly” perform wealth.

The invitation in these phrases and in a show like RHONY is to respect the supposedly tasteful and classy performance of “old money” and to cringe and look down on those with “new money.” I don’t encourage you to do either of those things, but Lee and Moscowitz argue that the show encourages viewers to look up to those who have cultural capital and sneer at those who do not.

This show as inviting us to look down on rich women, obviously, but what we are implicitly encouraged to look down on is how they act out codes and behaviours that are symbolically associated with poor or working-class people. We are invited to take up a position that reinforces the class system by suggesting that rich people should have good taste and manners, but these rich people are “low class.” That takes up a very normative high / low hierarchy and repeats it uncritically. Does that make sense?

As the authors write, “These wealthy characters violate, both consistently and flagrantly, the performative conventions of wealth and femininity” (145).

In what ways do these women fail to perform their “classiness” as wealthy women?

RHONY (2012):

I urge you to be critical of this and any use of the phrase “white trash.” It’s not the white part that is the issue, for me, but what does this phrase say about class? What kinds of beliefs does it implicitly confirm?

On class and cultural capital:

This section on class is very well written and explained; If you are writing about class or cultural capital then pages 146-147 will be very useful to you.

Recap of Ouellette and cultural capital

Similarly, Lee and Moscowitz cite Bourdieu’s explorations of “how the performance of upper class-ness is more a symphony than a solo; it requires the integration of seemingly disparate elements into a fluent whole” (146). According to Bourdieu, and the authors, how is the performance of upper class-ness more of a symphony than a solo?

Drawing on Bourdieu’s work, Lee and Moscowitz write: “Typical conversational ‘banalities’ [or topics so commonplace that they are tiresome and dull] about art and literature, for example, are ‘inseparable from the steady tone, the slow, casual diction, the distant or self-assured smile, the measured gesture, the well-tailored suit and the bourgeois salon of the person who pronounces them’ (Bourdieu 1984, p. 174). These status markers are, in Bourdieu’s terms, cultural capital, the means of reifying class hierarchy” (146).
reify: making something abstract more concrete or real

What does this quotation mean? What do these elements have to do with wealth or class?

I love the following Proust quotation: As Bourdieu explains, “the ‘manner’ in which ‘symbolic goods’ are employed is an ‘ideal weapon in strategies of distinction, that is, as Proust put it, ‘the infinitely varied art of marking distances’ (Bourdieu 1984, p. 66)” (146). What does this mean?

For example, LuAnn writes a book called Class With the Countess, but is shown on the series to fail again and again in her performance of classiness / cultural capital.

These class transgressions are considered “out of character” for the upper class, and in character for the poor or working-classes. These assumptions suggest a class hierarchy that flatters those with money and social power while demeaning those who do not. In this symbolic realm, middle- and upper-class people are imagined to be well-behaved and “classy,” while poor / working-class people are imagined to be badly behaved and “trashy.”

“Money Can’t Buy You Class:”

This video begs the question—is this ironic?

Irony and the Bravo “wink”

Lee and Moscowitz highlight how the show is constantly highlighting the hypocrisy and irony of what the Real Housewives say versus what they do. Even the title is ironic because none of these women are “housewives.”

What is the Bravo wink?

As Lee and Moscowitz write, “RHW-NY uses ironic ‘winks’ to produce a provocative, recession-era, post-feminist drama about rich women too crass to be classy, too superficial to be nurturing, and too self-obsessed to be caring. These are self-professed ‘working mothers’ who work little and mother even less” (144).

Further, “the show depicts several other, but no less galling, ironies: a group of friends who are not actually friends, rich people with no class, and wealthy [people] who profess, but do not conduct, hard work” (145).

The irony in the show is always at the housewives expense and occasionally their husbands too. As the article suggests, “ironic framing is, in fact, the Bravo producers’ chief métier” (145)—meaning their stock and trade or profession—while the viewer is hailed into a position of “viewer-judge” (152).

The Bravo viewer is “television’s most educated and upscale audience” and Bravo invites them into a position of superiority over the “housewives.” The Bravo audience is positioned as knowing better that the “housewives” and enjoying a sly wink at their expense. 

Link back to Gill and irony: Any thoughts on how the irony might enable “us” (viewers) to have “our” sexism and classism, while also not noticing or critiquing it?


In terms of post-feminist discourse, Lee and Moscowitz observe that the housewives espouse certain “feminist bromides” or clichéd ideas that are essentially feminism “lite.” For example, they all “profess to be strong, independent women” (148).

Empowered by Botox and plastic surgery? What is feminist about this?

Also, rather than trying to work together to challenge gender norms, these women often treat other women as rivals with whom they are in competition.

Ramona: “We’re just a bunch a bunch of MILFs” (149).

In a post-feminist sensibility having a youthful and “hot” body is the ultimate power that a woman can have, while more traditional gendered values like nurturing children no longer seem to carry quite the same power they once held. That said, these dominant ideals about femininity are clearly in tension in many scenes where the “housewives” are judged precisely because they care more about their bodies and less about their children. The show invites viewers to scorn them for ostensibly choosing their appearances and “me time” over their children. The “choices” are still very gendered, limited and specific.

Hegemonic motherhood:

The article zeroes in on how the housewives who have children are—for the most part—depicted as “bad” mothers.

The authors write, “The housewives are cast as worse than working moms because they choose social obligations and maintaining their external beauty over motherhood, all under the guise of ‘hard work’” (150).

The phrase “working mothers” is fairly common but not one that I would use because mothers who stay at home and parent are obviously working too. Maybe women who work outside the home or women engaging in paid work might be better alternatives.

In terms of mothering, the “housewives” are depicted as “ineffective, neglectful, selfish, superficial, and juvenile” (149). In the case of Alex, she is depicted as too obsessed with her children’s success and cultural capital. They are represented as either too neglectful or too involved. This is another pattern in representing women, where they are depicted as torn between chaos and hysteria or over-control.

As Lee and Moscowitz write, “In the end, these women are a far cry from hegemonic conceptions of motherhood perpetuated by popular media forms” (152). If women are expected to perform the “traditional gender roles of supportive friend, nurturing mother, doting wife, and ceaseless caretaker” (144), then the “housewives” are gendered villains because they fail on all counts.


The authors also want us to pay attention to how viewers are invited to judge mothers and not fathers on the series.

“Producers direct much of the audience’s attention toward instances of failed mothering, as opposed to failed parenting, participating in a larger overall trend 0f what Ruth Feldstein refers to as ‘mother-blaming’” (149).

The authors caution us away from letting a handful of rich women become “scapegoats for economic crises, figures of scorn and pity, morality tales of lives led wastefully” (153).

“In the world of RHW-NYC, strong fatherly figures are noticeably absent, but only mothers, not fathers, are persecuted for their absence” (154).

What kind of a class and gender critique does RHONY offer?

The authors ask: If this show inspires and encourages a critique of wealth, then what kind of critique is it? Is it a critique that seeks a more equitable distribution of wealth? Is it a critique that calls for more social safety nets for those who are not benefitting from this economic system? Is it arguing for progressive taxation so that wealthy people pay more tax than they already do so that wealth can be redistributed via the state? The authors care about social justice and ask us to reflect on the point of looking down on these women. Are we signing up to judge them because they are women? Are we signing up to judge them because they don’t act as “good” women do? Are we judging them because they do not perform their class properly and therefore we are implicitly reproducing class hierarchies? In the end, the authors are analyzing the show and asking what it inspires in terms of cultivating greater gender and class equality.

Does the show present a picture in which “the evil that money engenders is specific to women”? (154).

The authors write, “Although RHW-NYC offers the viewing public a wealthy villain to judge, scapegoating women during an unfolding economic crisis smacks of retrograde gender politics” (154). What does this mean? Your thoughts?

“Bravo dubs its audience ‘affluencers,’ a catchy name for its young, chic, stylish, and upward-aspiring demographic, a quarter of whom make over $100,000 a year (Dominus 2008). The show’s mockery and prosecution of tremendously wealthy women may also let the merely affluent Bravo audience off the hook. In their role as viewer-judge, they may conclude that some rich people do their class comically wrong and nothing more politically potent than that. As one television programmer explained, ‘Viewers can enjoy all the vapid consumerism . . . without imagining that they’re falling sway to the very forces that make that show catnip for advertisers’ (Dominus 2008)” (153).

What does this mean? Your thoughts?  

Next week, course evaluations. Come prepared! This is a new syllabus and your feedback is appreciated.

March 23 2016
Indigenizing Girl Power

What to do about the missed class? I recommend dropping Shome, but I’m flexible. Whatever we drop will be removed from the final exam.

Research essay 30% Due April 13 2016
Students are asked to choose a media text and create an original critical textual analysis that draws extensively on the course readings (minimum of three) and incorporates one academic journal article (not from the course readings). In addition to the required textual analysis, you may research the series’ audience, ratings, history, production, marketing and scheduling. The essay should be a minimum of 6 pages and a maximum of 7 pages. This minimum and maximum do not include the bibliography or a title page (optional). Please use a recognized style: APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago.

In media research it is quite rare to find that other scholars have already published on the series that you are analyzing. This requires you to think conceptually about the content of the series. Does it represent whiteness? Look for literature on whiteness. Is the woman’s source of her power her “sexy body”? Does your media example “decolonize the screen”? Does the woman emulate white, middle-class femininity? Is she disciplined for not dong so? If yes, you can draw on Ouellette and Gill. Think more about the content of the series, than the series itself.

Search the library for resources as well as the e-resources, including the academic journals:

Critical Studies in Media Communication
Feminist Media Studies
Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies

It is generally useful to search your series and content-related concepts through an e-resource search engine (e.g. Ebscohost, Scholar’s Portal, Project MUSE) on the University Library website.

Choose a topic that is quite specific and avoid discussing “women” in general.

Outrageous examples: Tom Ford print ads; Drake’s “Best I ever had”

A more subtle example: Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Gonick’s article is SO beautifully written.

“The film is based on the book The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera. Ihimaera was inspired to write the book in 1985 while living in an apartment in New York overlooking the Hudson River. ‘I heard helicopters whirling around and the ships in the river using all their sirens – a whale had come up the Hudson River and was spouting,’ Ihimaera recalls. ‘It made me think of my home town, Whangara and the whale mythology of that area.’ Ihimaera had taken his daughters to a number of action movies. They asked him why in all of those movies the boy was the hero and the girl was always the one who was helpless. ‘So I decided to write a novel in which the girl is the hero and I finished The Whale Rider in three weeks’” (

Screening: Whale Rider (2002), 1h 41 minutes, PN1997.W444 2002

I appreciate that this story is written by a Maori father looking to create an indigenous role model for his daughters.

The film takes place in New Zealand and, as Gonick says, takes place from the perspective of a community of Maori people. Where Indigenous peoples the world over have tended to be represented by those who colonized them, there are more on more films being made by Inuit people, Cree people, Maori people, Sami people, and so on. It is a story that speaks to the ties between family, community, gender, colonialism, tradition, history, memory, transition, land and sea.

We’ll talk about Gonick’s article as much as time allows after the film.

I do not endorse any fat jokes made in this movie! All thumbs down.

decolonizing the screen:

Who creates the representation? “‘Maori people struggle for a voice through which to present our own images, a place from which we can control the re-presentations that are offered internationally as our realities’” (Pihama 1994, p. 240)” (306).

Who are we meant to identify with? “The viewer is thus invited to identify with the indigenous perspective (Gauthier 2004, p. 67). The imperialist gaze that hierarchically arranges looking relations through exotic fantasy (Pihama 1994, p. 241) is destabilized” (307).

What is taught and preserved through teaching? “Although it is possible to read this scene as merely providing local color, humor or exoticism, as in fact some American reviewers and audiences did, for local audiences, the scene may also be read as a pedagogical moment. That is, the scene may, according to Morris (2003) serve as a way to make the connection for generations of New Zealanders familiar with the sight but ignorant of the symbolism of the warrior’s pose. The fact that Koro needs to explain the tradition and its meanings to the young men of his community reveals the tension between the devastation of colonialism and the project of remembering at the very heart of the film” (308).

Western linear narratives and time: “The elements of magical realism in the film can thus be seen to link the ancient story of a whale riding ancestor with that of a young girl and the struggles of her community in the present. In the process the rigid linearity of western historical chronologies is disrupted and disordered, while past and present are represented as fluidly intertwined rather than as a march toward inevitable progress” (308).

agency: “In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions.” These factors always interact and coexist. In this film we see a young Maori girl who acts and is acted upon.

Seeing girls with agency means… “As McRobbie (2000) argues, the incredible proliferation of images of girls in film and in media stories, is at least partially related to the ways in which girls have come to represent, for the first time, one of the stakes upon which the future depends” (312). This is a powerful image.

“girl power:” Gonick writes, Agentic, forceful, and in charge, this is a girlhood that is presented as a drastic contrast to the passive, demure and reticent image of previous times” (312).

Not a post-feminist and depoliticized form of “girl power,” but a feminist one that acknowledges gender inequality and seeks social change: Gonick explains, “Although some versions of ‘girl power’ are used as a depoliticalization of feminism, in the case of Whale Rider, the novel’s author, Ihimaera, explicitly sets out to subvert the self-serving myth of male supremacy in transcultural narratives. He says, ‘having a girl ride the whale—which is also a symbol of patriarchy—was my sneaky literary way of socking it to the guy thing’ (Ihimaera quoted in Message 2003, p. 87). In the film this agenda is furthered by Caro’s decision to shift the male narrator of the novel to the voice of the young female protagonist (Message 2003, p. 86)” (312).

ou will be forgiven for having no clue who these women are (above), but they made “girl power” mainstream.

Indigenizing girl power: “The ‘girl’ is thus complexly positioned in the film, representing more than one register of time. On the one hand, she is the focus of the film’s narrative emphasis on transition and change. On the other, her sensitivities to the continuities of the past, and especially her deep devotion and sympathy for her grandfather, position her as belonging to the past. In marking out a space that is both the future and the past, Pai may be said to represent a disruption of time—she is a new time, an interstitial time, both past and future. She is where the relations of time, memory, and hope for the future are reconfigured. This complication of time infuses the discourse of girl power with an indigenous sensibility” (313). Pai is uniquely a Maori girl hero.

Western constructions of Others as “backwards” and patriarchal in comparison to the West (p. 311) (This also ties in to post-feminism):

“It is possible to make the argument, as Projansky (2007) does, that the agentic girl is, in this instance, met with some enthusiasm by North American media precisely because she is Maori and not white. According to Projansky, the US popular press’s reception of the film supports two interconnected cultural narratives. The first is about the backwardness of Other cultures in comparison to the rationality of US culture and the other is about the supposed benevolent acceptance of gender equality such that, while feminism may still be necessary elsewhere, the United States is beyond any need for feminist activism or analysis (Projansky 2007, p. 192)” (311). Explain.

Pai is more than an individual hero—“her community is renewed through her actions” (316):

Standing on the school stage, high above the audience, Pai, dressed in traditional garb, speaks about her grandfather’s search for a new leader, demonstrating her prescient understanding of the importance of this quest to the survival of the community. However, the solution she offers is far more expansive than that sought by her grandfather. Hers is grounded in a radical democratic politics, striving for a collective, inclusive future. She says, ‘we can learn that if the knowledge is given to everyone, we can have lots of leaders and soon everyone will be strong. Not just the one being chosen’” (314).

“Pai’s refusal to ‘be a girl’ on the terms which exclude her from learning the ancient ways in Koro’s class and which deny her the leader’s role, subverts what it means to be both a girl and a leader. Her ingenious solution to exclusion from inheriting the leadership position is that she refigures agentic leadership as based on performance rather than entitlement and in the process rewrites what entitlement means. Pai does not simply act to become a leader or act like a leader; she acts leadership. As the community attempts to turn the whales around, Pai climbs on the back of the largest one and rides with him into the ocean; she becomes the Whale Rider. In her performance of leadership, featuring spectacular and daring feats, Pai enacts an agency which works to subvert mythic constructions of leadership as exclusively masculine. In doing so, a subversion of colonial discourses of Maori is also enacted: indigenous life is not dead; it is revitalized through ‘the girl’ subject. A counter-memory to official hegemonic history is produced” (315). Pai revitalizes tradition, leadership, her community and Maori representation outside of the colonial gaze.

Intertwining tradition, community and social justice: “Unlike the manifestation of girl power in many Hollywood films, here agency is not recuperated into a conservation of conventional femininity. Neither is it about disregarding the past or community traditions but about a deep understanding and respect of them so that they might be revised. In the process, not only is a decolonizing of the screen accomplished but also a resignification of the term girl power” (315).

Individual change or social change? “Whale Rider also presents a heroic girl character who is significantly different from the new generation of female action-adventure heroes whose battles are, according to Helford (2000, p. 294), fought and won on individualistic terms and who acts to right wrongs without insisting on greater cultural change. In contrast, as Barker (2002, p. 323) points out, to identify as indigenous is to mark oneself as a member of a people. Pai’s success is more than individualized; her community is renewed through her actions” (316).

media and cultural survival: “And if dominant cinema has historically caricatured non-European civilizations, the media today are more multicentered, with the power not to offer countervailing representations but also to open parallel spaces for alternative transnational practices (Ella Shohat & Robert Stam 1996, p. 145)” (306).

“With a young girl as their new leader, Maori ways are understood to be both timeless and adaptable to new ways of ensuring cultural survival. The beginning and continuation of a journey is signaled. The purpose this time isn’t to find new land, but to re-create indigenous life in the place where they already live. As Pai’s final voice-over explains, ‘I am not a prophet, but I know that our people will keep going forward, all together, with all of our strength’” (316-317).

Not all media simply confirms the status quo: “As Shohat and Stam suggest, to explain the public’s attraction to a text or medium one must look not only for the ‘ideological’ effect that manipulates people into complicity with existing social relations, but also for the kernel of utopian fantasy reaching beyond these relations, whereby the medium constitutes itself as a projected fulfillment of what is desired and absent within the status quo (1996, p. 162)” (316).

March 16 2016

It’s official. I am sick and have to cancel class this week. We will take up Gonick and Whale Rider next week.

March 9 2016
International Women’s Week: Missing / Murdered Women


In partnership with the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, GESJ Student Collective, NUPerspective Campaign, Department of Fine and Performing Arts, Near North Mobile Media Lab, North Bay Film and Whitewater Gallery, the Department of Gender Equality and Social Justice will be hosting the following events in honour of International Women’s Week and Indigenous Week:

We hope that you will attend these events!

key concepts: newsworthiness; constructing daily news; racial bias; “good” women and “bad” women; the “girl next door;” hierarchy of female victims—worthy / unworthy; symbolic annihilation

This week we are switching gears to a topic that fits with the theme of International Women’s Week, missing and murdered women. At 6:30 today the GESJ Student Collective is holding a vigil by the pond in honour and memory of missing and murdered women.

I think that this article is fascinating and I’m curious to know what you made of it. Any thoughts or comments or questions right off the top?

Gilchrist writes, “Drawing on feminist media studies and theories of intersectionality, this paper argues that the simultaneous devaluation of Aboriginal womanhood and idealization of middle-class White womanhood contributes to broader systemic inequalities which re/produce racism, sexism, classism, and colonialism. This paper raises concerns about the broader implications of the relative invisibility of missing/murdered Aboriginal women in the press, and their symbolic annihilation from the Canadian social landscape (373).

Intersectionality came up in the reading last week. What does it mean?  

Another theme that has come up before is the idealization of middle-class White womanhood.

When one version of femininity or womanhood is idealized, it usually means that their “goodness” or “beauty” is measured in relation to others. In Gilchrist’s article the “other” is Aboriginal women.

She writes, “the simultaneous devaluation of Aboriginal womanhood and idealization of middle-class White womanhood contributes to broader systemic inequalities which re/produce racism, sexism, classism, and colonialism.”

Inferential racism: In contrast to overt racism which is easy to identify as it is racism plainly claimed or articulated, inferential racism tends to be more subtle because “speakers do not necessarily intend their racism” (Bell, 1997, 213). Racism is built into the statement or action, but goes unquestioned.

We need research like Gilchrist’s to substantiate what the families and friends of some missing and murdered women have known for a long time; The media does not cover the stories of Indigenous women as often or as well, and that the RCMP’s response has not always been swift and equal.

And what do you think it means when she writes about “the relative invisibility of missing/murdered Aboriginal women in the press”? What do you think she means by “relative invisibility”?

Symbolic annihilation brings us back to the Lind article. Lind writes, “The concept is rooted in two assumptions: that media content offers a form of symbolic representation of society rather than any literal portrayal of society and that to be represented in the media is in itself a form of power—social groups that are powerless can be relatively easily ignored, allowing the media to focus on the social groups [that have social power]. It’s almost like implying that certain groups don’t really exist” (5).

Symbolic annihilation speaks to how certain groups are represented. If is an entire group is routinely condemned or trivialized then these are considered forms of symbolic annihilation in the media. I’m sure you can readily see how this relates to the Gilchrist article.

How has Gilchrist created her analysis and what are her findings?

She examines the following:

amount of coverage

“When the number of articles mentioning the White and Aboriginal women in any capacity were counted, it was found that the White women were mentioned in the local press a total of 511 times compared with only eighty-two times for the Aboriginal women; more than six times as often (see Table 1)” (379).

“When this analysis was broken down to include only articles discussing the missing/murdered women’s cases specifically, disparities remained. The Aboriginal women garnered just fifty-three articles compared with 187 articles for the White women; representing three and a half times less coverage overall for the Aboriginal women (see Table 2)” (379).

“There were 135,249 words published in articles related to the White women’s disappearances/murders and 28,493 words about the Aboriginal women; representing a word count of more than four to one for the White women (see Table 3)” (379).

placement of coverage (front page, “soft” news, size of article)


“RCMP identifies woman’s remains”
“Teen’s family keeping vigil”
“Fear growing for family of missing mom”
“Trek raises awareness for missing aboriginal women”
“Ardeth Wood ‘lives in the light of God’”
“Jenny we love you, we miss you”
“‘Waiting for Alicia’”

articles (level of detail, personal info, adjectives)

“so beautiful”
possessing an “indomitable spirit”
“a lily among the thorns,”
and as having a “luminous smile.”
“a good mom,”
and “positive”

“Representations of Jennifer Teague and Alicia Ross portrayed them as the ‘girl next door’ who shared the values, dreams, and experiences of an imagined [White] Canadian public” (381).

tone and themes (who is the imagined reader, what is emphasized)


Gilchrist focuses—in part—on the notion of newsworthiness. We can see from her findings that white women’s deaths are by-in-large deemed to be more newsworthy than Aboriginal women who were otherwise very similar in terms of education, career and family life. This reflects a racial bias that creates a hierarchy of female victims.

When we factor in Canadian news coverage “of the more than sixty missing/murdered women from a poverty-stricken area in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,” many of whom were “poor sex workers and/or Aboriginal, the women were labeled as ‘high-risk,’ implying that violence occurred because women put themselves at risk because of their bad choices. This discourse blames women and obscures the unequal social conditions which governed and shaped ‘choices’ made under these circumstances” (376).

These representations offer framings of “good” women and “bad” women.

Gilchrist also gives us a good definition or use of racialization here when she writes: “The racialization of Aboriginal women—the process by which they are racially marked and subjected to institutional and everyday racism (Jiwani & Young 2006)—is inextricably linked with and mutually constituted by these other oppressions (Monture-Angus 1995)” (374).

“Tuchman (1976, p. 97) referred to the news as ‘a constructed reality,’ while Cohen and Young (1973, p. 97) suggested that the news is ‘manufactured by journalists,’ and Schudson (1989, p. 265) pointed out that ‘news items are not simply selected but constructed.’ Rather than objectively reporting events and facts, newsmakers engage in a highly subjective and selective process of news production based on socially and culturally constructed criteria (Fowler 1991; Jewkes 2004; Zelizer 2005)” (374).

As per quotation above: Address the notions of misrepresentation / “false” representations / not a “true” representation

This documentary is a representation of women in independent media. It is an act of mourning and activism.

How does the documentary fit with and / or defy Gilchrist’s findings?

Screening: Highway of Tears (2014)1h 19 min


Vigil at 6:30 by the pond.

March 2 2016 
Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty



In partnership with the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, GESJ Student Collective, NUPerspective Campaign, Department of Fine and Performing Arts, Near North Mobile Media Lab, North Bay Film and Whitewater Gallery, the Department of Gender Equality and Social Justice will be hosting the following events in honour of International Women’s Week and Indigenous Week:

We hope that you will attend these events!

Would you consider taking a course organized around a visit to the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg?
Maybe ____ Yes ____
Spring course?

key concepts (scaled back from those listed in the syllabus): postfeminist citizenship; cause branding; neoliberal; “commodity feminism”

Why the Dove campaign is so complex… Business vs Social Justice

Business and marketing:

What kind of research did Unilever do for this campaign?

What did women tell them about how they felt about their own attractiveness and what they would like to see in an ad campaign?

In turn, what did Unilever and the marketing agency create out of that information?

And what did that do their sales?

And what associations did we come to have with Dove the brand?

And what did they do when they started losing sales?

Social Justice:

Fair and Lovely:



When marketing to men, Unilever clearly thinks nothing of using a little bit of “ironic sexism.”

What are some of the contradictions within Unilever’s brands?

In light of the Fair and Lovely ads, and the Axe ads, what do you make of this Dove ad?


As Murray writes, “The strategy surrounding Dove with these partnerships may operate to reduce popular attention to Unilever’s other brands; after all, Unilever manufactures Slimfast (a diet plan), Fair & Lovely Fairness Cream (a skin lightening product), and Axe deodorant (whose advertisements, targeted at men, portray objectified women). Unilever’s ownership structure suggests it is a site of fractured ideological credibility that circulates knotty popular meanings of feminism and social change” (292).

Choose Beauty:

Your thoughts?

The Fair and Lovely ads acknowledge shadism (a socially-constructed preference for fairer skin). It’s not good that the “solution” provided is that women should use chemical bleaches on their skin, but it is interesting that the ads acknowledge that such inequalities exist. In contrast, the “Choose Beauty” ads seem to inhabit a world in which women just need to learn to see themselves as beautiful.

Both the Dove ads and the Fair and Lovely ads ask women to change themselves.

Dove Legacy:

Women are the cause and solution of body image issues?


“Choose” not to be critical of your appearance.

Your thoughts?

The campaign increasingly asks for individual change without social change.

What is cause branding?

In what ways does it use “political” language?

The author, Murray, is saying that The Campaign For Real Beauty branded the corporation—Unilever—as a feminist advocate for women and girls.

She also argues that the “Linguistic signs in the CFRB texts connote the politics of the feminist waves: specifically, the first wave’s focus on suffrage; the second wave’s focus on collective—’we’—political action by women; and the third wave’s focus on individual difference—in gender, ethnicity, race, etc.—or micro-politics” (288).

Murray explains: “The print launch comprised six images: portraits of five women (three close-ups of faces and two body shots at a distance) and one composite picture of them. The five women pose with questions that address the dominant ideology of beauty; each question offers two options as a response. The CFRB manifesto accompanies the composite image, stating:
For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, unattainable stereotypes. It’s time to change all that. Because Dove believes real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages. It’s why we started the campaign for real beauty. And why we hope you’ll take part. Together, let’s think, talk, debate and learn how to make beauty real again. Cast your vote at (Dove Manifesto 2004)” (288).

Directing us to the website is a way to measure interest and engage consumers / now “activists.”

Murray asserts that: “The three close-up photos represent women from each wave. Their images are accompanied by ballot boxes next to descriptive labels, posed as questions: “wrinkled? wonderful?” (First Wave), “gray? gorgeous?” (Second Wave) and “flawed? flawless?” (Third Wave). The dark-skinned ninety-ish woman wearing a colorful headscarf smiles, with the text beside her asking, “Will society ever accept old can be beautiful?” This query signifies the difficulties involved in changing societal views regarding the role of women (First Wave).

The smiling fifty-ish Caucasian woman wears a black turtleneck and, looking over her shoulder at the audience, the text beside her raises the only question of those in this set that invites discussion, rather than a yes/no response: “Why aren’t women glad to be gray?” This question signifies the consciousness-raising ideology of dialogue relevant to her era (Second Wave).

The text beside the twenty-ish, red-haired Caucasian woman, wearing a white tank top, poses a question that seemingly derives from her freckled appearance, “Does beauty mean looking like everyone else?” This inquiry signifies the ideology of difference in her wave (Third Wave).

Murray argues, “The copy emphasizes Dove as the organizer, catalyst, and vehicle for change: “it’s time to change all that … it’s why we started the campaign for real beauty” (289).

She says that “the ‘real’ women … represent the liberation of women … and the corporation [is positioned] as the [vehicle or] site for the elimination of women’s oppression” (90-91)

Part of feminism has been to create media images that challenge gender stereotypes and norms. The Dove video “True Colours” mirrors this strategy:

The Evolution video also uses feminist strategies as it “exposes the ideology of beauty through its deconstruction of a media text” (93-94). It reveals that the aspirational image is unattainable, even to the model we ostensibly see onscreen:

This early video is asking the media and beauty industries to change. In some sense, this video comes closest to making a feminist rather than postfeminist statement. Thoughts?

Through these early videos, viewers were invited to “Join the Movement.” They were asked to sign a declaration supporting “real beauty,” provide information about themselves and answer a few questions about “real beauty.”

Join a Movement / Free Market Research? Murray brings us back to the intertwining of the cause, the brand and the profits when she writes: “That the Movement may be using the declaration to create a list of consumers under the guise of participation for social change is not surprising: CFRB was formulated on the findings from a global research study and Dove has conducted numerous global and national studies throughout the Campaign. The Movement can be seen as a form of market research, and the Movement’s participants are its research subjects. (291). Any thoughts?

In terms of postfeminism:
-the focus on beauty remains central to women’s identities and achievements
-woman is a citizen-consumer consumers with agency
– the corporation empowers her and she empowers herself
– she “works on herself” / governmentality
– discourses of choice and empowerment are central (choose beauty)

Sociologist Robert Goldman terms this tactic “commodity feminism,” wherein advertisers attempt “to reincorporate the cultural power of feminism” (Goldman 1992, p. 130) and, in so doing, depoliticize the feminist message” (287-288).

Focus on inner change and not social change.

“The rationale for women’s and feminists’ support of CFRB may lie in the postfeminist belief that contemporary women are consumers with agency. Or, feminists might welcome CFRB’s representations as a positive change in a mediascape that is otherwise saturated with the dominant ideology of beauty. It is important to stress, however, that the feminist task is to realize social change that revolutionizes social structures, not to support corporate strategies that seek audiences’ brand attachment” (292-293).

“While CFRB and the Movement do not liberate female audiences from an oppressive ideology of beauty, women’s (and men’s) participation in CFRB may have liberated CFRB/Dove from “a ‘cluttered’ [media] environment in which there are more and more messages [that] must have [to find] a way to break through the attendant noise” (Jhally 2003, p. 253) by developing a postfeminist-supported branding strategy.” (97)

What do you think about that?  

“Real beauty,” then, is “diluted by its contradictory imperative to promote self-acceptance and at the same time increase sales by promoting women’s consumption of products that encourage conformity to feminine beauty ideology” (Johnson & Taylor 2008, p. 962)” (Murray, 2013, 293).

Shifting gears next week to focus on the IWW theme. We are watching a movie next week… and the following too.

February 24 2016
Constructing and Instructing Gendered Heterosexual Subjectivities

key concepts: constructing and instructing gendered heterosexual subjectivities; self-help; essentializing sexual difference; the social construction of casual heterosexual sex; discourse analysis; the “strategic” and “performing” man; the “sassy” and “vulnerable” woman

Quick reference guide for elements of a postfeminist sensibility: centrality of women’s bodies; sexual objectification vs. active and desiring subjects; discourses of choice, autonomy and empowerment; self-surveillance of the body and self; essentializing sexual difference; ironic sexism

Your thoughts on the reading?

In many ways, Farvid and Braun are outlining updated versions of fairly old ideas.

There is a revealing moment in Friends with Benefits after both protagonists resolve to give up on romantic love after getting their hearts broken. Dylan (the guy) says that he’s going to “just work and fuck. Like George Clooney.” This cuts to Jamie (the girl) saying that she will “shut down emotionally… Like George Clooney.” How could these scripted lines be said to reflect gendered sexualities?

What are some of the elements of a postfeminist sensibility in these films?  

Farvid and Braun argue that these new norms repackage some old ideas about gender and gendered sexualities.

According to the authors, what are some of the ideas about men and male sexuality that seem to remain locked in place?

According to Farvid and Braun, what are the characteristics of the “strategic” man?

Here’s a quotation from “Gent’s Guide to the One-Night Stand”:

“Girls whose friends are getting married, they’re very desperate to have sex, because they’re very depressed. They’ll latch onto the first thing they can find while they’re drunk. Girls who’re having a birthday, just turned 30—also very depressed and thinking that their life’s going nowhere. (AU6, Gent’s Guide to the One-Night Stand,, men)” (123).

What are some of the assumptions about heterosexual women embedded in this quotation?

In turn, these insecurities lead women to have sex with strangers because…? 

If this is how the book characterizes women, then what kind of subjectivity does it invite / hail straight men into?

“[W]hile men were encouraged to embody a confident demeanour, they were given advice on how to decrease a woman’s self-esteem and confidence, in order to increase their likelihood of ‘scoring’ sex” (124). So, in this vein, what is negging?

What is the logic here? Why would insulting a woman get her to want to have sex with you?

In this scenario, “She is an unknowing recipient of his manipulation” (124). He is active (subject) and she is acted upon (object).

According to the authors, the second subject position offered to men was the “Performing” Man. What are the characteristics of the performing man?

Why was it important to “perform” well? According to the advice, what would the performing man get in return?

“The performing man is positioned as inherently more sexual (and sexually knowledgeable) than the women he has sex with; women are positioned as less knowledgeable, even when it comes to their own bodies and sexuality” (124).

Examples: Sleeping with Other People; Drake lyrics 

Overall, about the subjectivity offered to men:

Both the strategic and performing man reflect “traditional heteronormative sexual scripts where men ‘try their luck’ and women set the boundaries in terms of how far they ‘allow’ the sexual encounter to progress (Holland et al. 1998)” (124).

Men are framed as always interested in sex, especially with a conventionally attractive woman.

Finally, men appear to have no thoughts and feelings beyond getting women to have sex with them. Yes, this is casual sex advice, but the books and columns that address women acknowledge that women have thoughts, feelings, desires, insecurities, fears and so on.

What are the characteristics of the “Sassy” woman?

How might the “sassy woman” relate to a postfeminist sensibility?

Some advice to the “sassy” woman:

“Don’t put up with any crap. Just because you’re only having casual sex, that doesn’t mean the dude can treat you badly. He should arrive when he says he’s going to; he should respond promptly to your communications; he should be working to hold on to the awesome gig you’ve given him, as your part-time temporary lover. He is SOO lucky that he gets to have no-strings-attached sex with you. (US2, 6 Tips for How to Have Casual Sex, (, women)” (126).

How might this quotation be seen as combining feminist and traditional disourses?

Combining feminist and traditional ideas about women is also a marker of the post-feminist sensibility.

Aside: I think that sometimes this article mixes up meaningfully different kinds of “casual sex.”

“Women were advised how to ‘discover’ their sexuality and ‘hone in on’ their sexual preferences”:

“Before you have a casual encounter, get to know your body. Masturbate. Maybe even watch pornography. Know what turns you on and what doesn’t. Figure out what you want from a sexual encounter and what you don’t. Above all, understand that your body is capable of amazing things and can be a source of tremendous pleasure for yourself and for someone else. (Happy Hook-Up, 30)” (127).

I interpreted the direction to “Maybe even watch pornography” rather differently than the authors. How did you understand this suggestion?  

Also, I want to warn you against using the word “problematic” as a (poor) substitute for a clear and detailed analysis. Remember show, don’t tell. Don’t just say that a text is problematic, outline exactly what is presented in the text and make an argument that convinces your reader / listener that what is presented is problematic.

The “casual sex” advice is:

“You’ve perfected your pump-action and can blow him away with your oral skills, now’s the time to start showing off. If you want a guy to leave your bed believing you’re the best lover in the world, try incorporating something a bit special into your love action; a sex toy show, dressing up, striptease, anal sex or even fisting . . . Don’t ever do something that you feel uncomfortable with, and never go for any activity that requires trust unless it’s someone you genuinely trust; anal sex and fisting aren’t things to try with strangers. And don’t feel obligated to do any of these things. Men are grateful enough if they get laid, and incredibly satisfied if they get a blow-job too, so you won’t be disappointing them if you don’t pull out any porn star tricks. (Brief Encounters, 169).”

What are some of the contradictions / tensions in this advice?

Only “choose” this if you want to be “the best lover in the world.” No pressure.

As Farvid and Braun write, “This subjectivity positioned women as learning and doing certain sexual practices for men or men’s approval to garner a positive sexual identity” (128). Thoughts?

Finally, the “Vulnerable” Woman:

How is this woman seen to be “vulnerable”? What is she vulnerable to?

“Repeat to yourself before, after and during sex: this is not about love, nor will it ever be. Remind yourself that all the pleasure and happiness you are feeling is a CHEMICAL response. You are not special to the person who you are shagging, and he is not special to you. The two of you do not have some huge personal connection. What you’re doing is not related to “happily ever after.” (It may not even last a full three months.) It’s simply about sex, purely a physical release, and there’s no real future in it. (US2, 6 Tips for How to Have Casual Sex,, women)” (129).

What do you make of this quotation?

How does “choice” figure in this quotation? What is she “choosing” to do?

According to Farvid and Braun, women were encouraged to “remodel their interior lives in order to construct a desirable subjectivity” (Gill 2009, 345). This was not limited to changing their bodies and sexual practices but also their “psychic” lives in order “to become confident and adventurous sexual subjects” (351). What do you make of those conclusions? Believable? Disagree?

How To Be Single:

Farvid and Braun are interested in how the advice tends to frame casual sex as something that does not come “naturally” for both men and women; “both were advised to fight against their supposed ‘natural’ dispositions (women: getting emotionally involved; men: seeming desperate for sex) and to approach casual sex in very specific ways (women: well-equipped emotionally, physically, psychologically; men: strategic, practised)” (130).

Just out of curiosity I googled casual sex advice geared toward non-straight people and found that the ideas of gender are really similar:

First google hit for gay men:

This was much more challenging to find:

What do you make of these differences?

Any final thoughts or comments? Or critiques of this analysis? I am very curious to know what you make of this article.

Midterms due next week and a winter storm is upon us.

February 10 2016
Postfeminist Media Culture

key concepts: postfeminist sensibility; centrality of women’s bodies; sexual objectification vs. active and desiring subjects; sex-positive vs. anti-sex; discourses of choice, autonomy and empowerment; self-surveillance of the body and self; disciplining women’s bodies; makeovers; essentializing sexual difference; ironic sexism; neoliberalism

What did you make of the reading? Did anything stand out to you? Anything you disagree with?

Characteristics of the postfeminist sensibility that Gill outlines:

Centrality of women’s bodies:

What does Gill say about the importance placed on women’s bodies within a postfeminist sensibility?

As Gill writes, “The body is presented simultaneously as women’s source of power and as always unruly, requiring constant monitoring, surveillance, discipline and remodelling (and consumer spending) in order to conform to ever-narrower judgements of female attractiveness” (137).

Example: 1970s Cosmo “be ruthless”

Example: 2016 Cosmo “Ugh, I wish I could… Wake Up Hotter” (p. 6 of “Best Advice Ever”)

Example: “post-baby body”


A secondary point that Gill makes about this emphasis on women’s bodies is that “surveillance of women’s bodies constitutes perhaps the largest type of media content across all genres and media forms. Women’s bodies are evaluated, scrutinized and dissected by women as well as men, and are always at risk of ‘failing’” (37).

Can you think of any other examples of this kind of media where women’s bodies are surveilled, evaluated and scrutinized?

Example: Jemima Kirke

Gill also says that women’s bodies are “constructed as a window to the individual’s interior life” (138), where “a sleek, toned, controlled figure is normatively essential for portraying success” (138), while a weight gain is sometimes presented by the media as an indication of an emotional breakdown.

The sexualisation of culture:

Gill and many others note that sexualized images and discourses are proliferating across the media landscape.

She writes that in “lad mags” “sex is discussed through a vocabulary of youthful, unselfconscious pleasure-seeking, while in magazines targeted at teenage girls and young women it is constructed as something requiring constant attention, discipline, self-surveillance and emotional labour. Girls and women are interpellated as the monitors of all sexual and emotional relationships, responsible for producing themselves as desirable heterosexual subjects as well as pleasing men sexually, protecting against pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, defending their own sexual reputations and taking care of men’s self-esteem. Men, by contrast, are hailed as hedonists just wanting ‘a shag’” (138).

Examples: return to the covers of Cosmo, Maxim and FHM

Gill writes, “The uneven distribution of these discourses of sex, even in a resolutely heterosexual context, is crucial to understanding sexualisation” (138).

Shift from sex object to desiring sexual subject:

The hallmarks of objectification include: Ms Magazine

  1. Visual dismemberment – showing only sexualized parts of the body, often without the head / face
  2. Being an instrument for someone else’s purpose (i.e. a human stands in for an object)
  3. Interchangeability (i.e. women, like objects, are interchangeable)
  4. Reduction to appearance
  5. Inertness or passivity
  6. Capacity to be violated

She says that ultimately many of today’s images look the same but instead of being passive and objectified the woman is sexually active.


Gill says that there are increasing demands on women to be sexual subjects in ways that are:

“Instead of passive, ‘dumb’ or unintelligent sex objects, these women are shown as active, beautiful, smart, powerful sexual subjects” (This is a quote from a different Gill article, p. 52).

Example: Diesel ads

Example: “Only” video by Nicki Minaj

How might this video be seen as empowering to women?

What (troubling) role does violence against men play in this depiction of women’s “empowerment”? 

How might this video be seen as sexist in its representation of women?

Gill writes, “If this is empowerment, we might ask, then what does sexism look like?” (again, different Gill article, p. 55).

Example: American Apparel ads – logic – these women chose this therefore is not sexism


Sex-positive vs. anti-sex:

Like many feminist authors Gill goes out of her way to say that she is not anti-sex and that her argument is not that sexualized images of women are the problem.

She observes that it is a problem if “only some women are constructed as active, desiring sexual subjects” (139).

In contrast, she says that “older women, bigger women, women with wrinkles, are never accorded sexual subjecthood and are still subject to offensive and sometimes vicious representations. Indeed, the figure of the unattractive woman who wants a sexual partner remains one of the most vilified in a range of popular cultural forms” (139).

Gill argues that contemporary advertising presents objectifying images of women on very narrow terms: “a young, attractive, heterosexual woman who knowingly and deliberately plays with her sexual power and is always ‘up for it’” (p. 41). She suggests that “[p]ower operates here not by silencing or suppressing female sexual agency, but by constructing it in highly specific ways” (different article-p. 55).

Discourses of choice, autonomy and empowerment:

We can see already how the shift from sex object to sexual subject is already one about “choosing” to be sexualized or in the case of American Apparel choosing to be objectified.

In many respects the discourse of “choice, autonomy and empowerment” offers important additions to our understandings, but why do we end up where we started? With the same images of the same bodies presented to us in the very same ways?

Example: Cosmetic breast augmentation and labiaplasty debates

Gill argues that a postfeminist sensibility “presents women as entirely free agents and cannot explain why—if women are just pleasing themselves and following their own autonomously generated desires—the resulting valued ‘look’ is so similar… [i]t simply avoids all the interesting and important questions … about how socially-constructed, mass-mediated ideals of beauty are internalized and made our own” (140).

This is a contentious claim. What do you make of it?

Self-surveillance of the body and self:

Gill says that self-surveillance has long been a central component of femininity but she argues that there is an increased intensity of self-surveillance and an increased “intensity of the regulation of women (alongside the disavowal of such regulation” (141).

She writes, “bodily shape, size, muscle tone, attire, sexual practice, career, home, finances, etc. are rendered into ‘problems’ that necessitate ongoing and constant monitoring and labour. Yet, in an extraordinary sleight of hand, this labour … must never be disclosed” (141).

She makes the claim that “[i]n magazines, contemporary fiction and television talk shows, it is women, not men, who are addressed and required to work on and transform the self” (142). What do you make of such a claim?

Gill also says that “monitoring and surveying the self have long been requirements of the performance of successful femininity –with instruction in grooming, attire, posture, elocution and ‘manners’ being ‘offered’ to women to allow them to emulate more closely the upper-class white ideal” (141). This links back to the Cosmo article last week where white working-class women are similarly instructed to emulate an upper-class white ideal as though it is an improvement.


Gill says that the makeover paradigm is central to a postfeminist sensibility. Essentially makeovers do not change beauty ideals. They do not change our ideas about what is “classy” and what is not. Instead, we are encouraged to change ourselves to fit into the social norms that already exist.

In the postfeminist makeover women (and men) are encouraged to see their lives as flawed or lacking in some way, and it can be transformed with some help from experts and some modified consumption.

Class markers are re-presented on makeover shows as personal failures. She says that audiences are encouraged to criticize and laugh at those who are “less fortunate.” Again, social inequalities appear on these shows as individual failings. Women always come up short, yet we are not encouraged to evaluate the expectations that are placed on these women (142).

Essentializing sexual difference:

Extreme example:

Less extreme example: Next reading by Farvid and Braun examines how such essentializing occurs in “casual sex” advice

Gill writes, “Discourses of sexual difference also serve to (re-)eroticize power relations between men and women. On one level this simply means that difference is constructed as sexy. On another, discourses of natural gender difference can be used to freeze in place existing inequalities be representing them as inevitable and—if read correctly—as pleasurable” (144).


Ironic sexism:

She writes, “in postfeminist media culture irony has become a way of ‘having it both ways,’ of expressing sexist, homophobic or otherwise unpalatable sentiments in an ironized form, while claiming this is not actually ‘meant’” (144).

Example: Drake (2009) video by Kanye West

Feminism and anti-feminism:

Gill also says that postfeminism often engages with feminism in some way. It may incorporate feminist views, revise them, depoliticize them, or even attack them.

Finally, Gill ties this sensibility to neoliberalism and I’m just going to touch on that briefly today.

Emphasis on individualism and privatization

Overlooks social inequalities and advocates against public services

There are no social inequalities and the “individual must bear full responsibility for their life biography, no matter how severe the constraints on their action” (147).

The “good” neoliberal subject is fully independent, never needs help from the state, self-regulates and shows self-discipline. Similarly the postfeminist sensibility encourages women to regulate every aspect of the self and their conduct.

Distribution of midterm


February 3 2016
“Inventing the Cosmo Girl”

key concepts: discourse; the economic context that gave rise to the Cosmo girl; cultural capital; constructing “raced” and “classed” femininities; class climbing vs. class levelling

Your thoughts on the reading? Her argument? Anything you found interesting? Appalling?

What might “women’s magazines” have been like prior to Cosmo?

Who is the target reader of Cosmo in 1965?

What does that mean—the growing gap between girlhood and marriage?

Ouellette cites “male revolt” as another possible factor (261). What is she referring to?

She links this—in part—to Playboy magazine’s unflattering depictions of wives and single women. What is the connection that she makes?

What does Playboy encourage men to do with the money that they make?

Ouellette also links these cultural shifts away from traditional “breadwinner” marriages to changes in divorce law. What changes?

In this context, Oullette says that Cosmo invites women to see themselves as “upwardly mobile sexual agents” (262).

What does it mean to say that they are “upwardly mobile”?

And what might upward mobility have to do with women office workers being “sexual agents”? 

Why office jobs?

And according to early Cosmo what might be a distinct benefit of not having a permanent job and having to work a temp agency in a new workplace every day?

Cosmo never coached women factory workers on how to marry their co-workers. Why might that have been the case?

Ouellette argues that these working-class women did not have the access to the American Dream to work hard and  make lots of money. They work hard but they are stuck in the “pink collar sector” where they are underpaid and have little opportunity for advancement.

In Cosmo, they are offered a new “girl-style” American dream.

What is the Cosmo Girl told to do with her appearance?

In a more recent Cosmo I found a section on make-up you can wear to bed. Why do you think there might be a whole article dedicated to make-up you can wear to bed?

Brown also thought that working class women needed to conceal their working-class lineage. She taught them how to appear or pass as middle-class or more affluent.

Part of class is monetary, but Brown also knew keenly that another key part of class is a performance, and that anyone can take up those codes and perform them. She taught women how to “pass” as upper middle-class in order to marry “up” in the workforce.

The magazine explicitly acknowledged the working-class reader and taught her how to appear “educated, wealthy and culturally sophisticated” (264). The Cosmo Girl was told that she needed cultural capital. What is cultural capital?

She needed to learn about “European cuisine, art, foreign languages and good books” (264). These interests would signal that the woman has “good” taste and knows “high” culture.

Women were coached to keep up “an aura of prosperity” in front of men at all times. (“Poor girls are not sexy!”)

Ouellette says that the Cosmo girl’s aspirations were always presented as white, heterosexual and upper-middle-class.

Social change or individual change:

Another women’s magazine named Ms emerged in 1972 and that magazine was pitched at women with university educations who were trying to break in to male-dominated workforces. How is this already different than Cosmo readers?

Cultural appropriation…

Ouellette writes that instead of critiquing the devaluing of women’s labour, their low wages, their reduced access to education—all of the systemic issues that Ms tended to address—Cosmo focused on changing the individual. Reworking your identity—not challenging social inequality—would lead to women’s advancement and upward class mobility. Working-class women were instructed to overcome gendered class barriers by changing themselves (263).

Class climbing (for individuals) vs. class levelling (social change)

Oullette says that Brown is clearly class conscious. She knows that her reader is working class. She knows that being working class will hold her reader back. She also understands that the symbolic side of class can be adopted and performed by anyone. She understood that in that sense class is flexible.

Ouellette writes, “Brown clearly understood women’s subordination in the office, but she did not directly challenge it because ‘in an ideal world, we might move onward and upward using only our brains or talent, but since this is an imperfect world, a certain amount of listening, giggling wriggling, smiling, winking, flirting and fainting is required in our rise from the mailroom” (267).

What do you make of this quotation?

Comments on Playboy’s single woman as “gold-diggers” in relation to Cosmo’s girl where marrying “up” is literally one of the only ways for a working-class woman to class climb

He has access to the American Dream and the proportionally larger paycheque and education, and she has her “girl-style American dream.” She can try to get him to marry her and Cosmo is her instructional manual.

Cosmo is perhaps best known for not moralizing about women having sex outside of marriage. In the early days Cosmo explicitly depicted the workplace as a sexualized space where single female employees should “work over” male bosses and coworkers. While Ms. was discussing workplace equality, Cosmo was discussing how to seduce the “best” man in your office.

Brown literally wrote, “Poor girls are not sexy!” (265). She coached women into a middle-class version of sexy at work, even as the women who graced the covers tended to not wear middle-class office attire.

The Cosmo girl should perform upper middle-classness in public, but in private her sexuality was constructed through cleavage, teased hair, heavy make-up and revealing clothes.

Women’s sexual interests were also coached into desiring men who were “above them socially and economically” (265). Men were sexually valued in terms of wealth and status, and working class men were actively derided and demeaned.

In the 1980s the Cosmo Girl shifted away from being a working-class office worker. She might be both a sex object and a high powered executive (267).

Oullette says that Brown gave working class single women the “discursive material” (262) to become upwardly mobile sexual subjects.

Discursive material / discourse—what is it?

What is being said about x? Who is saying it? And what is not / cannot be said about x?

According to Ouellette what was being said about working class women and “upward” class mobility in the early days of Cosmo?  

In the case of Cosmo, who was saying it?

Discourse is always partly about who can say what with authority. Who is listened to and taken seriously?

When Helen Gurley Brown came on the scene, she was ridiculed by critics. They did not see her as having sufficient authority and they described her many readers as “subliterate and culture deprived” (p. 260).

Like the interpretive frameworks that we discussed last week, all discourses are thought to be socially constructed and therefore they may change over time.

Some discourses are more powerful than others. How do we know when a discourse is powerful?  

Some discourses are contested. Brown’s Cosmo Girl was initially contested and looked down upon, but ultimately made a huge cultural impact.

Some discourses are disputed and they have less currency / power. These tend to barely circulate. These have no credibility.

Discourse produces identity-how?

Power operates through discourse and produces identity.

What does it mean to say that some discourses are ideological?

How might the Cosmo Girl be seen as serving the needs of those in power?

In relation to class…

In relation to gender hierarchies…

In relation to capitalism and consumerism…

In relation to the Playboy man getting the life he wants…

Cosmo sidebar:

Who is on the cover of Cosmo?

Who is on the cover of men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim?

What do you make of this similarity?

What kind of relationship are women meant to have with the woman on the cover of Cosmo?

What kind of relationship are men meant to have with the woman on the cover of Maxim or FHM?

What do these similarities and differences reveal?

Any other thoughts? 

Identification / desire: How do we know which we are supposed to be feeling?

Next week, “Casual sex advice.” The Cosmo girl updated.

Also midterm to be distributed in class.

January 27 2016
Critical Media Studies

key concepts: social science media research; critical media / cultural studies; production; content; race; gender; ethnicity; social construction of identities and reality; symbolic annihilation; intersectionality; discourse; ideology; critical analysis

What do you think that your great-grandparents or great-great grandparents did for fun? Think a long long time ago, like the 1940s or even earlier. What sorts of cultural activities might they have enjoyed?

And what sorts of cultural activities do you enjoy? What do you do for fun? 

“folk culture” / “mass culture” 

Our focus in this class will be mostly on mass culture and the media. What makes up the mass media? 

Some characteristics of mass media:

What is a media text?

Often there is a distinction drawn between “capital C” culture and “little C” culture. These are also often called “high” and “low” culture.

What is often considered to be “high” culture?

What is often considered to be “low” culture?

Which of these two options is often considered to be:

Good – bad

Classy – not classy

Skilled – unskilled

Worthwhile – not worthwhile

Intellectual – non-intellectual

Elite – mass

And historically, which of these has been studied in universities? In which departments? 

The mass media are increasingly seen as being worthy of study since they occupy a central place for communication, representation, and the production and reproduction of identities in many cultures.

As Lind says in our reading, “much of what we know about, care about, and think is important is based on what we see in the media. The media provides information, entertainment, escape, and relaxation and even help us make small talk. The media can help save lives, and—unfortunately—the media can also encourage us to harm people” (1).

Lind explains that “A primary assumption underlying media research is that the media does matter—what we see, read, and hear does have some kind of affect on us” (2). She argues that we need to learn to “read, criticize, and resist” media culture.

Media literacy vs. critical media analysis

As a society we have shared meanings that allow us to interpret the world in roughly similar ways. This is not to say that that “things” in themselves have one, single, fixed and unchanging meaning, but rather we are usually familiar with a range of meanings for a given thing. Example: a stone

As Lind says “discourses” are shared “interpretative frameworks.”

In terms of women and representation, we have shared meanings that help us to interpret the world in roughly similar ways. For example, what are some of the associations with this image / video? What are some of our shared meanings?

Who is she?

How do you know who she is?

What do you know about her?

What is she doing? What does this communicate?

Where is she? What does this communicate?

What is she wearing? What does this communicate?

What is on her face? What does this communicate?

Have you ever met her?

These cultural meanings are not “natural” by any means; they are not like the jerk of the knee when your knee is tapped. They are learned / taught, social constructed and symbolic.

As Lind explains, race, gender and class are all part of this symbolic order. The categories have a “material” basis in flesh, in pigment, and in terms of access to money and education, but the associations that we make with them are socially constructed.

As Lind says, to say that these are socially constructed is not to say that they are unimportant. Rather, race, class and sex/gender have been presented to us as very important.

As Lind says “we’ve been socialized into a gender-conscious society that is also stratified (divided in a hierarchical fashion, with some social groups having more of the goods / services valued by society than others) along the lines of gender” (3).

In this class, we are focusing on representations of women, with attention to the ways in which the category of “women” is stratified by race, class, gender and sexuality.

Lind writes, “The importance of race and gender in our society has nothing to do with physical attributes of race and gender and everything to do with society’s interpretation of what it means to be a member of a particular gender or racial / ethnic group. What it really means to be a Black man, or a Latina, or a Muslim in our society is entirely dependent on what we think it means to be a Black man, or a Latina, or a Muslim… [T]hink about what the media are telling us about what it means to be a member of a given social group and how that reflects to us what that group is, does, and values” (7).

As Lind explains, our generalizations about race, class and gender often “become overly simplistic” and we may “ignore evidence that they are incorrect” (3).

Having negative associations about—or prejudice against—an entire group may lead to discrimination and this is “when people are treated unequally just because they belong to a certain group” (3).

The implicitly hopeful part of seeing these shared meanings / ideologies / discourses as socially constructed is that they can and do change.

We often get so used to certain kinds of representations of certain groups in certain genres, that we barely notice them, as Jhally explained in the film last week. We may notice the code only when it is broken.

Example: Lena Dunham

Alessia Cara’s “Here” in comparison to other current pop hits by women artists:

Representations tend to be repetitive and predictable in any given time period, but we can also always see texts that go against the grain. Texts can reproduce the dominant codes, or change the climate temporarily or permanently.

As Lind points out, to study representations and their effects media scholars have used different research approaches that she calls “social scientists” and “critical / cultural researchers.”

Quantitative / qualitative

Objectivity / subjective and with a goal of eliminating social inequality

Generalizability / small sample with attention to detail and complexity

As Lind explains on page 8, critical / cultural arguments are not just the author’s opinion. These articles offer a systematic analysis with a clearly defined object of analysis, and defined terms and concepts. These scholars evaluate evidence presented in the text that they are studying. They consider the pros and cons of various positions and interpretations. They acknowledge underlying assumptions of what they are doing and justify their position. The articles that we will be reading provide logical and defensible arguments and conclusions. Any claims that they make must be supported.

As Lind articulates, “critical / cultural researchers… reject not only the desirability of maintaining an objective, value-neutral position” arguing instead that a “subjective interpretation is… desired…[and] required to learn how the media affect the world in which we live” (2).

“Critical” media researchers also presume that “the media help maintain a status quo in which certain groups in our society routinely have access to power and privilege while others do not” (2).

Further, “critical / cultural researchers extend their involvement with their research to include the ultimate goal of making the world a better place. If we can identify the ways in which our social structures function to oppress certain groups, then we can try to do something to make things more equitable” (2).

Comments. Questions.

Research approaches:

Production / political economy – what is it?

Textual analysis – what is it?

Audience reception – what is it?

Symbolic annihilation:

“The concept is rooted in two assumptions: that media content offers a form of symbolic representation of society rather than any literal portrayal of society and that to be represented in the media is in itself a form of power—social groups that are powerless can be relatively easily ignored, allowing the media to focus on the social groups [that have social power]. It’s almost like implying that certain groups don’t really exist” (5).

What is better: to be represented in popular culture in unflattering and stereotyped ways or to not be represented at all?  

Symbolic annihilation does not only look at numbers. It also speaks to how certain groups are represented. If is an entire group is routinely condemned or trivialized then these are considered forms of symbolic annihilation in the media.

Next week we will talk more about discourse… and the Cosmo Girl. 

January 20 2016
Welcome and Introduction

  1. distribute paper syllabus
  2. welcome and introduce myself
  3. go over syllabus: online syllabus and weekly webnotes; texts; assignments; topics covered; key concepts
  4. In class screening: Codes of Gender (2009) 73 min., P96.S5 C6 2009
  5. Attendance: please tell me what year you are in, your major and the TV show that you are enjoying these days.