Let’s Talk About Gender (and Media)

Earlier in the week, I posted an article to Facebook, from New York Magazine. It was titled “The Retro Wife”. Maybe you saw my post, or the comments that transpired after the fact, maybe not. Either way, I have decided to get up on my gender studies soapbox and write a post. This is one of the great things about having an online journal. If something sticks with me for more than 24 hours, I can write about it. Good for deconstructing ideas and gathering my thoughts.

Every night, when I settle down to watch my favourite shows, I notice something about the commercials that come between. Even on such progressive networks as MSNBC, there is still an undertone of difference in some of the commercials that are aired by the sponsors. This is something that I find across the board, but let me explain precisely what I mean by undertone of difference.

Commercials advertise products. They have since the beginning of television and before that, businesses used radio, newspapers, magazines, and other forms of media to advertise their products. These products are geared toward demographics, which are made up of specific people. With this in mind, you would not see a tampon commercial that was geared toward cis gendered males, simply because that is not a product they need to use. However, when I say an undertone of difference, I mean that a tampon commercial can play to the stereotypes in our society about menstruation. Just as other commericals play to other stereotypes. This is a marketing strategy that has been used for many decades in advertising and it will continue to move forward in such a way. The undertone of difference creates a problem in society that continually perpetuates. If a product is marketed directly to you and you are being told that you need it because of some thing that is essentialist about your being, that is a problem. Of course, tampons will continue to be marketed to women, but there is a better way to do it than shaming.

For years, I have noticed these things about advertising. Since I was a child, I have felt that undertone of difference while watching television or going to movies. This difference transcends entertainment and moves into the real world when we take the things we learn from media and implement them in our lives. Sociology gave me the terms I needed to better understand the undertones I already sensed. However, it did not alert me to anything I was not already keenly aware of, as a cis gendered female, in American society. For this reason, I have felt the need to speak up. I feel the need to investigate and research and then write down my findings. I feel a push to better understand why there is an undertone of difference in the first place and work toward change.

There are companies that are coming around, slowly but surely. Amazon, a major player in online consumerism, released a commercial, in February of this year, that supports gay marriage. That, in an of itself, is a good thing, but the way that it is presented is even better. It depicts a woman and man sitting in side by side lounge chairs on the beach. The woman is reading on a kindle and the man is using an ipad. The man is struggling to read because of the glare and the woman tells him about how great her kindle is. The man then states “Done!” and proceeds to say he just bought a kindle “let’s celebrate! how about a drink!” The woman says “yes, my husband is bringing me one right now” and the man says “so is mine!” They both turn to see two men at the bar, purchasing beverages.

Now I realize that this is, from a marketing perspective, a way to gain more of the lbgtq community, but it also does something broader. It shows us changing attitudes about the culture. Advertising can, and should, do that. As we move forward into a more equal future for all, advertisers should continue to get on the bandwagon, as Amazon has, and push the envelope. Seeing depictions of oneself in media strengthens the ways in which we interact on a personal and societal level. Moving us forward through messages of positivity is good for our culture as a whole and, at the same time, good for business.

So, when I see products being created like “Bic for her” or “Dr. Pepper Ten” that put people into distinct categories and pit the sexes against each other, I cringe. Honestly, the first time I saw a Dr. Pepper Ten commercial, I thought it was a spoof and at the end they were going to do one of those needle scratch moments and say “Dr. Pepper is for everyone!”. But they didn’t. They just moved along with the same tired trope of making the ten calorie beverage seem more appealing to cis gendered males in a stereotypical way. 2013? Disappointing.

So, where do we go from here? How do we continue the trends of good advertising that cater to ALL people rather than to those who identify as just male or just female? How do we move the media in a way that will also move the culture? That is a work in progress that I believe those people in media who want to move it are doing. Slowly but surely. People like Melissa Harris-Perry and her nerdland staff and places like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. TV programs like My So-Called Life and Will & Grace that started pushing the envelope and opening the door to equality. Websites such as Feminist Frequency and Feministing that continue to show us how examining and better understanding pop culture, through a feminist lens, is the way to true gender equality. We are moving forward. Change is slow and grueling and although we may not get there in our lifetime, if we could just keep moving forward, leaning in, setting our sights for true equality and moving our ship in that direction, our country can eventually achieve equality of all people. Not just the people that have the loudest voices or a specific set of sex organs, all people.

/soapbox (for now)

Peace,

Chantale

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