Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cosmo Girl vs. Real Girl

In the mid-1960’s Helen Brown created the Cosmo girl, or “the fictionalized woman she invented to characterize the magazine’s imagined 18-34-year-old female reader, (Ouellette 116).” Today Cosmopolitan is still one of the most successful magazines marketed to young women. The pages of the magazine are filled with advertisements and articles that provide young women with “a way to create a prettier, sexier and more desirable self beyond ones allotted means,” (Ouellette 120). As a 20-year old female I fall right into the audience this magazine is targeting. The first collage I constructed exemplifies how advertisers view the “ideal” me. The centerpiece of the collage is an image of the ideal woman. In her article Higgenbotham states that the ideal female is “white, usually blonde, and invariably skinny. This image is evidenced by the cover models, (Higgenbotham 94).” In order to demonstrate Higgenbotham’s point I used images of various different models found within the magazine in order to create this image of the ideal female; white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and youthful. I only used advertisements and articles from Cosmopolitan. The pages of the magazine are littered with images of beautiful girls painted with make-up and thousands of “girly” products. These images verify the idea that “expenditures on clothing, cosmetics, and accessories [are] necessary investments in the construction of a desirable self,” (Ouellette 120). Most of the advertisements were for make-up or hair products. The images presented in the magazine show women looking very sexy. There were also articles of girls doing exercises to minimize the size of their bodies, accompanied by ads telling them to “flatten your tummy”, “drop a jean size”, and “diminish your thighs.” Advertisers target me as a perfume and make-up wearing girly girl who needs to have all the latest fashions. Youth, money, and glamour are desired and beautiful. One scary advertisement is one for plastic surgery, that appears in multiple issues of Cosmopolitan, and features four doctors staring at you. This advertisement compliments the ideals and messages presented by the articles and advertisements of the magazine. You need to be perfect, and going to extremes such as plastic surgery in order to achieve these impossible ideals is ok.

Fortunately, not every young woman thinks that Cosmopolitan is the bible. In my second collage I demonstrated how I differ from the gendered ideal that is presented in Cosmopolitan. I like to think of myself as an active female. I am independent, and like to laugh. I do not wear make-up and am a tom-boy. I try to not restrict myself to doing things that are considered feminine, and don’t avoid engaging in masculine activities. The collage is a collection of images of products, movies, and advertisements that show some of my qualities. In the left hand corner is the image of a girl presenting a boy a flower. This goes against the gender norm that boys are supposed to initiate conversation. I like to think that I stand out, and do not submit myself to the normal gender roles. In the center of the collage I have an ad where a duck is pumping her own gas. This represents my independence, a trait that I take pride in. I also cut out food products that appeal to me. Running is a huge part of my life, so I also included a New Balance ad, and a Nike ad that says “Gone Running.” At the bottom of the collage is a picture of some of the characters from the move “Superbad”, which was released this summer, and I thought was hilarious. It represents that I like to have fun, and have a more “male sense of humor.” The images of the two girls in sweats and workout clothes show that I am not very fashionable and would rather be comfortable. I have a picture of Stephen Colbert’s book cover, because I think he is hilarious, and also conveys my sense of humor. On the top of my collage is the word "uncensored" which is from a Gap advertisement. I felt the word described my personailty, because I do not hide who I am from people. I was also planning on making a face similar to the one I did in the first collage, except representing how I differ from the ideal female presented by the media and advertisers. This task became difficult, when I found it nearly impossible to find advertisements of faces close-up without any make up on them. I do not wear any make-up, and wanted to create a brunette female without any make-up on, but failed in attempting to find the images I desired. I do have a picture of a product that eliminates frizz from your hair. While I do not live the life of a “Cosmo Girl” I cannot completely escape the messages and ideals sent to me through the media. This represents the part of me that cares how I look sometimes.

Higgenbotham, Anastasia. "Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem." 1996. 93-96.

Ouellette, Laura. "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 116-128.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Toys, Gender, and Patriarchy

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are gendered before we are even born. If mothers are expecting girls they are showered with gifts that are primarily pink, and blue if a boy is expected. This process continues during our early development through adulthood. Toys are one of the next major influences on our early development, and help us to identify who we are and develop our expected roles in society. Johnson explains, “to live in a patriarchal society is to learn what’s expected of us as men and women,” therefore because toys teach children what is expected of them as either males or females they support a patriarchal system, (95).
In order to further investigate the messages sent to young children by their toys I went shopping for Jordan, a nine-year old boy from New Jersey. I logged onto in order to do my shopping. My experience on supported Newman’s observation, “a quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer’s catalog or website reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines, (111).” The website is designed in a fashion that allows you to shop by gender, and then further splits up the toy selection by age, popularity, price, interest, and brand. I was surprised to see how easy the site makes it to find “the best possible gift” for a boy within his age range. This separating of toys by gender presents itself as an efficient way to purchase the best gift, but is just supporting and encouraging the separation of the genders.
The most frequent appearing toy for boys within Jordan’s age range was science and chemistry sets. Legos, scooters, radio-controlled helicopters, action figures, sports related figures and equipment were other toys that were featured. All of the toys emphasized boys need to be active, creative, and adventurous. By emphasizing these qualities, the toys are teaching young boys what their expected roles in society are. Some of Jordan’s favorite toys include basketballs, pogs, basketball cards, Etch-a-Sketch, and gak. These toys show that Jordan takes an interest in sports and has a sense of creativity. Pogs and baseballs cards are usually exchanged and played with among groups of boys, therefore Jordan is probably social. Jordan’s toy preference along with the toys suggested by support Newman’s conclusions that “sons are seen as strong, alert, hardy, and coordinated” and “boys’ toys emphasize action and adventure, (111-112).”
The messages that are being sent to children through toys help them to develop and identify their roles within society. In America we live in a patriarchal, or male dominated society. Toys that are marketed to boys help establish the fact that they are expected to be dominant, coordinated, and strong. Playing with the toys helps to develop the skills that boys will need in order to fill the roles expected of them in a patriarchal society. Messner states, “sport has served to bolster a sagging ideology of make superiority, and has helped to reconstitute masculine hegemony,” therefore the market of sports equipment to young boys supports the theories proposed by both Messner and Johnson, (120). By marketing certain toys to boys and certain toys to girls the toy market is establishing normative gender roles, and supporting the stereotypes that boys are more dominant than females, and that they are strong, coordinated, and engage in activities that are filled with action and adventure.
In conclusion, my experiences shopping for Jordan verified that messages sent out by the toys that are marketed to boys support the stereotypes established by a patriarchal society of how young boys should act and play. Newman found that boys were seen as strong, coordinated, and needed to engage in action and adventure. The sports equipment cannot be used and enjoyed if boys are not coordinated. The science kits teach boys to be creative, and explore their world hands on. Action figures, helicopters, and the other toys suggested both fulfill and encourage the desire to be adventurous and engage in active play. Without even realizing it young boys are developing the skills and learning the roles that will be expected of them as the mature into adults through the use of their toys.

Works Cited
Johnson, Allan G. "Patriarchy, the System." 91-96.
Newman. "Learning Difference: Families Schools and Socialization." 108-112.
Messner, Michael A. “Boyhood Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities.120-137
"Toys and Games." Amazon. 30 Sept. 2007 .