Friday, July 29, 2011

Gendered Consumers - Transformers Action Figures

Mark is a six-year-old boy from Old Bridge, New Jersey.  Mark’s family would be considered middle class; his parents make a steady income, he lives in a suburb, and his community is favorable.  While at a friend’s house, Mark discovered transformers action figures.  Him and his friend would play with these action figures for hours.  Mark enjoyed playing with these toys and so his father recently purchased him one.  Transformers action figures have been favorable among male children.  Transformers action figures facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood.

As parents purchase Transformers action figures for their children, they are unaware of the gender stereotypes that are being pushed onto their children.  The action figures themselves are primarily, if not mostly, male.  They usually have dark masculine colors, excluding the soft feminine colors like pink, on the action figures.  One defining feature of the toys is that they have weapons protruding from their appendages and backs.  Weapons are dangerous and are stereotypically associated with the masculine figure.  Children playing with toys with little guns are similar to children playing with toy guns in that both give the child a sense of power behind the weapon.  Also the action figures resemble built men in that they have big upper bodies with large arms and legs. 

David Newman notes, “Decades of research indicate that ‘girls’ toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys’ toys’ emphasize action and adventure” (Newman, 112).  Transformers indicate masculinity with their dangerous weapons and built bodies, and they are always getting into battles.  The highlighting parts of the television shows and movies are when they fight.  Because the Transformer characters mostly resemble male soldiers, they press an army figure onto children as a sort of role model, telling young boys to be strong, courageous, assertive, fast, and agile.

In a 1987 Transformers action figure commercial, which is full of explosions and action figures fighting each other, a young boy in an action packed scene transforms into a Transformer while doing a front flip.  First, the boy transforms into an action figure.  Since Transformers generally define male soldiers, the boy transforming into a Transformers action figure resembles the stereotypical masculine identity of becoming a man through courageous acts such winning physical battles and attaining leadership roles.  Second, the boy is doing a front flip with an explosion in the background.  Front flips alone are courageous, but with the added explosion, the courageousness is amplified and action packed.

When talking about movies, Newman says, “Film’s identified as men’s movies will contain little emotional introspection and plenty of gore, fast cars, and explosions” (Newman, 89).  Even though it is a commercial, the Transformers action figures fight and there are plenty of explosions.  The background of the commercial resembles a battleground a soldier can be found on.  The action figures can even transform into fast cars, big trucks, jets and tanks, all of which are stereotypically admired by men. A Transformer named Bumblebee, for instance, has a masculine build with big guns and he can transform into a Chevy Camaro.

At the dawn of Transformers, it was stated that the characters do not have different sexes.  However, all characters resemble men with their big builds and deep voices.  There were no visible female characters in the Transformers universe until a human character in the comic books called the Transformers sexist, so the Transformers constructed a female one.  Female Transformers then started appearing in the animated series, movies, and occasionally the toy market.  The female characters that are displayed have different bodies and sociocultural differences, associated with the human genders.  These characters usually have soft feminine colors including purple, pink and baby blue.

When talking about the commoditized women in hip-hop videos, Perry notes that, “The ideal [woman] is a high-status face combined with a highly sexualized body… a very small waist, large breasts, and slim shapely legs and arms” (Perry, 138).  This ideal female beauty image is present in the female Transformers.  All female Transformers resemble the same image; thin arms, legs, and waist and large breasts.  Female Transformers are very rare, but the females that do exist usually have a relationship with a male Transformer.  Since Transformers is geared towards male children, the female characters resemble the media driven desired image of the ideal woman for the children to one day be attracted to.

Transformers action figures may seem like cool toys for young children, but they define the ideology of what it means to be a man.  These toys press the gender stereotype that men are adventurous and courageous.  The media driven image of a beautiful woman is pushed upon young children in the appearance of female Transformers; large breasts, shapely arms and legs, and a thin waist.  These toys may seem like cool and fun toys for children, but they have a much greater impact on the normative gender roles and stereotypes.

- Dan Ciszek

Works Cited

Arcee Transformer Toy. Photograph. Transformer Toys & Information. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Hasbro Target Master Transformers. Advertisement. 1980's Hasbro Transformers Action Figures Commercial. Youtube, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Newman, David. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. Higher Education, n.d. 112.

Newman, David. “Portraying Differences: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. Higher Education, n.d. 89.

Perry, Imani. "Who(se) Am I? The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop." Print. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 138. Print.

Transformers Bumblebee Figure. Photograph. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - MechTech Voyager - Optimus Prime. Photograph. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Femininity in Weeds’ “You Can’t Miss the Bear”

Women, according to the prevailing Victorian image, were supremely virtuous, pious, tender, and understanding.  It was above all as mothers that women were attributed social influence as the chief transmitters of moral values (Bloch).  These values are linked inseparably to the pop culture, though in recent years there has been obvious change.  Television has been a big contributor to the change in the culture.  Morality and being a good person with the allowable indulges have become appearing in recent television shows.  Nancy Botwin of Weeds is a perfect example of this change, with its roots in morality.  The first episode of the first season introduces the audience to a recently widowed Nancy, whose husband’s unfortunate death cause financial problems which compel her to make up for the loss.  She does this through selling marijuana in order to maintain her standing as the people around her see it.  Her viewpoint to others seems engrained in pop culture as well, and means very much to her.

Throughout the entire episode, Nancy keeps herself well kept and very attractive without much hesitation to show cleavage.  Now that her husband has passed, she hides the fact that she is struggling to maintain her status.  She has a knock off pocketbook that other women comment on and see as a sign of her high value.  She also drives a Range Rover, often driven by citizens of high standing.  Even though her pocketbook is a knock off and her Range Rover is full of clutter, she uses their images in order to maintain the level in society that society deems needed to be attained.  These objects symbolize Nancy in that they and she are both beautiful on the outside, while the death of her husband has made her and these objects a mess underneath.  These objects do not describe who Nancy is, but rather are their places in the race to be accepted and well liked by others.  This helps illustrate what it means exactly to be a woman in the world we all live in today.

Nancy exhibits the nurturing aspect of both a woman and a mother, catering her needs above and beyond by attending PTA meeting.  Nancy, the head of the healthy children’s committee proposes that the vending machines should replace the drinks with healthier options for the kids’ sake.  She follows the nurturing aspect of the ideal mother in that children are sacred to her.  This ideal mother is something that can be found from the aforementioned quote.  Nancy is acting not only in the best interest of her children but also of all of the children in the school.  The actions with her kids can be illustrated by her actions later in the episode as those of a person aspiring to reach the moral high ground.  The writer of the show is trying to impress upon the audience that while some actions may be immoral, such as the extreme of selling marijuana, in the end Nancy will maintain the best standing in society while doing the best she can for her kids.  The weight of a single mother has fallen hard and has forced Nancy to resort to certain actions.  The responsibility for her kids and her societal expectations of what a woman and, more importantly, a mother determine how she acts.  This in return relays a message to the audience on how to behave as a woman; if things are hard, have your vices, but use them to help achieve your more important goals.

The act of Celia, another mother, challenges Nancy’s healthy beverage proposal by saying the diet soda should not be removed because she believes that many of the girls are worried about their weight.  Later in the show, Celia talks about putting her daughter on medication to help her metabolism because she is overweight.  This highlights another major issue in pop culture for women, which is the “ultra-thin, media- driven standards of beauty” (Newman).  Many young women who want to be accepted in society’s eyes are willing to diet and starve themselves to be thin.  Newman notes that “as many as two-thirds of all American high school girls are either on a diet or planning to start one” (Newman).  In the eyes of society, thinness plays a big role for the acceptance of women, as a result of the modern media depiction of the ideal woman.  Celia is worried to the point of insanity that her daughter’s weight problem in elementary school will affect her image in society.

“Inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret ‘underlife’” which includes the “dread of lost control” (Wolf).  Throughout the episode, Nancy struggles to keep a hold on her life, mainly her children’s wellbeing.  At the end of the episode, her youngest son gets suspended from school and she catches her oldest son having intercourse with another girl, both of which are still in high school.  She breaks down into tears at her drug dealer’s house because she lost control on her children’s actions.  She realizes that leading her single life while trying to raise two children, keep a house, and maintain her status in society is very difficult, and she doesn’t want anyone to see this for the fear of being an example of failure to the other women.  At the same time, these very actions make her character look like a hero to the audience.  The battle through stress as a single mom in society is looked on as a courageous act.  However when going through it, it feels only as if the mother is failing on many moral levels.

On the contrary to woman success to an extent, what makes a man into a man is reaching the goals of extraordinary which is a popular theme in pop culture.  Becoming a mother and all the responsibilities that go along with the process while conquering every issue as it comes and keeping the beauty in attractiveness are standards that popular culture has set on women to be deemed as successful in the eyes of society.  If it is not the entire process of becoming a woman, than it is a piece of the puzzle that is reflected to us in our media.  As Newman remarks, “[the] images of the successful woman of the 21st century: the perfect wife and mother, the triumphant” (Newman).  In this episode, Nancy struggles to triumph as a mother through an incredible rough patch in her life.

-Dan Ciszek

Works Cited

Bloch, Ruth. "American Feminine Ideals in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother." Feminist Studies. (1978): Print.

Kohan, Jenji. "You Can't Miss the Bear." Weeds. Dir. Brain Dannelly. Showtime. 7 Aug. 2005. Television.

Newman, David. “Portraying Differences.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. Higher Education, n.d. 91.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. William Morrow and Company, 1991. 120.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Topic Brainstorming and Link-hunt analyzing gender/race/class/sexuality/etc in an area of interest of pop culture

Gender And Race in Music Videos- Kanye West’s Monster
June 22, 2011
Rock Salt

June 23, 2011
Marina DelVecchio

April 21, 2011
Abby Osman

April 27, 2011…for-feminists/
Shana Thornton

May 21, 2011
Frederick McNulty