Friday, March 30, 2007

Presenting and Breaking Down Hegemonic Norms

Beauty and the Geek was not intended to be just another reality television show; its creators call it a “social experiment,” implying that its purpose is to do more than merely entertain viewers, who are mostly young adults. Beauties and geeks are paired up and compete in challenges that force them to step outside their respective comfort zones and see how the other half lives. In the end, the winning team is ideally the one whose beauty and geek best learned how to work together, taught each other important life lessons, and transformed each other into more than just beauties and geeks.

The women of Beauty and the Geek supposedly epitomize beauty. In some ways, they embody feminine hegemonic norms, but they also challenge them at the same time. The beauties work hard to make themselves attractive in order to gain the attention of men. They care deeply about appearances and always want to look good. For example, in the final challenge when there were only three teams left, the contestants had to perform farm duties like milking cows and wrestling sheep. When getting dressed before heading to the farm, the girls found several outfits laid out for them to choose from, and two of the girls decided they would rather look cute and wear the skimpy clothes with high-heeled cowboy boots than dress appropriately for the upcoming farm work. This particular situation might be a bit over-the-top, but it essentially reinforces the feminine ideal of always looking beautiful in hopes of attracting a man. Similarly, some of the women, especially Cecille, talked about how they wanted to marry handsome, rich men and never have to work, which highlights the hegemonic norm that men are the breadwinners and are expected to provide comfortable lives for their wives.

Though these and comparable ideals are shown throughout each episode, the show presents them in such a way that makes them seem ridiculous and unappealing. Obviously, the women of Beauty and the Geek are not representative of all females, but they characterize society’s and popular culture’s idea of beauty. Seeing the women put so much emphasis on looks and material things is supposed to make viewers stop and think about what we really value as a society and how we can (and should) change some of our ideals. As James Lull writes, “Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance,” (65) meaning people have the power to transform dominant values and standards when they choose to recognize problems and implement change. Beauty and the Geek, as part of popular culture, presents hegemonic norms in a somewhat negative light, thus attempting to break down the ideals that are perpetuated by popular culture and society as a whole.


Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66.


The Cosmo Girls of Beauty and the Geek

This collage represents the feminine beauty ideals and stereotypes shown in Beauty and the Geek. It is based on Laurie Ouellette's piece about the founding of Cosmopolitan magazine and its impact on American women, "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Ouellette discusses the personal life of Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan's creator, and the ideologies and beliefs that led her to start a magazine promoting femininity and sexuality. She writes, "Brown's reworking of American Dream mythology involved the construction and reconstruction of a desirable self, the presentation of identity as self-made, the valorization of femininity as a creative production, the partial subversion of natural class distinctions, the refusal of Victorian sexual norms, and the expression of multiple hardships and frustrations" (125). This description of the invention of the Cosmo Girl portrays Cosmo Girls as feminine, sensual/sexual, and wanting to be desired. The beauties of Beauty and the Geek fit these categories as well. They use cosmetics and hair products to make them look as "beautiful" as possible. They are not afraid to show off their bodies, walking around in their bikinis, miniskirts, and skimpy tops. They place much importance on looks and outward appearances of both themselves and others. This collage depicts the portrayal of the beauties that viewers see: affinity for beauty products, fit bodies, skimpy clothes, and overall superficiality.


Ouellette, Laurie. "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 116-127.

Photo Credits for Collage:
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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Beauty and the Geek 3 - Alice Marwick

Since my old Beauty and the Geek post still gets plenty of comments, I thought I’d post my thoughts on the current season.

I’m hating it. What made the show so good– the honest interplay between people raised to value very different aspects of themselves– has been largely abandoned this year in favor of bitchy cattiness from the girls. The current crop of Beauties are not just vapid and shallow, they’re mean to each other, and they’re mean to the Geeks. The editing is emphasizing this, so I can’t say they aren’t being called on it, but… I’m not sure what the Geeks are supposed to learn from these women except that “women are bitches!!!1″, a message we hear enough of on television already.

I’m also tired of the way the show equates the two knowledge bases. I guess there is some validity in keeping up with popular culture, just in terms of small talk, cultural capital, etc., but don’t insult your audience by pretending that BASIC political knowledge– like, who ran for VP in the last presidential election– is on the same level as whether or not Cameron Diaz or Justin Timberlake are dating. I am a pop culture and gossip junkie, don’t get me wrong, but it makes me very disheartened to see the unbelievably low standards that pass on this show for scientific, political, etc. knowledge. MARKETING is not on the same level of importance with history or physics!

I just get so tired of people positioning history, math, science, literature etc. as “boring” and celebrity culture, fashion, and workout knowledge as “interesting”. Personally, I think the upteenth story about Britney’s new boyfriend is way more boring than, say, the history of the French Revolution, and I think this show really enforces that dichotomy more than it attempts to break it down. But god, people, could we please have a season with some smart women?! Enough of these bimbos.

My response:

You made some really good points in this post. I’m doing a blog about Beauty and the Geek for my Gender and Pop Culture class, so feel free to check it out (

I especially agree with your description of season three’s beauties as being bitchy and mean. Their shallowness led to the formation of cliques, which was basically a race/discrimination issue. The five blondes all stuck together and were united against the three brunette women, two of whom were African American. The blonde alliance put the brunette women into the elimination room until there were no brunettes left; the teams with brunette “beauties” were the first three to be eliminated. The fact that the blondes could not look past such superficial characteristics as hair and skin color is unbelievable, yet somehow unsurprising at the same time. After all, those beauties were chosen for the show because they value appearances above most other things. It’s sad how quickly the brunettes left the show because this advocates the idea that to be beautiful means to be blonde.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Analyzing Gender: Femininity (Part 1)

The premise of the hit reality TV show Beauty and the Geek is a competition among eight teams, each comprised of a beauty (an attractive but “academically impaired” woman, according to the show's description on The CW's website) and a geek (a “brilliant but socially challenged” man). The teams participate in challenges that test the intellect of the women and the men’s social skills and awareness of popular culture. The ultimate goal of the show is to have the women and men make each other more confident and transform each other into more than just beauties and geeks.

The women on the show supposedly represent the ultimate in femininity, or at least the media’s feminine ideal. On the surface, they are all beautiful and are deeply interested in fashion, makeup, jewelry, shopping, and tanning. In the season three premiere episode, only one of the females wore jeans; the other seven walked in dressed in miniskirts. One of the “geeks” remarked that there was cleavage everywhere and the girls were all “shiny,” presumably because of all the jewelry and bright, sparkly clothes they were wearing. Essentially all of the women were comfortable wearing skimpy, revealing clothing and showing a lot of skin. This supports part of Jean Kilbourne’s theory that for a woman to be feminine, she “must be overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal.” (259) The beauties can definitely be classified as sexy and attractive, but they are anything but passive and virginal.

The producers of the show select outgoing, fun-loving, experienced beauties because their job is to teach the geeks social skills and how to be more than just bookworms. Viewers know the women are not virginal because on this show, being a virgin or being inexperienced is regarded as being “geeky.” When the participants give interviews during the show, their name is shown along with something to describe them. The descriptions of the women relate to their beauty and femininity, while the tidbits about the men are meant to show just how geeky they are. For instance, Cecille is a “bikini model,” Nadia is a “sorority girl,” Scooter is a “Harvard graduate,” and Nate is a “singer, Star Wars band.” However, Sanjay is known as a “virgin” and Piao “has only kissed one girl.” Because sexual inexperience is connected to the geeks and has a somewhat negative connotation, we can assume that the women have plenty of experience. Maybe these beauties do not entirely fit the description of femininity in Kilbourne’s eyes, but they epitomize the feminine ideal present in popular culture.


“About Beauty and the Geek.” The CW. 2007. The CW Television Network. 28 Feb 2007

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.


Analyzing Gender: Masculinity (Part 2)

While the women embody society’s view of beauty and femininity, the men of Beauty and the Geek represent almost the opposite of the masculine ideal. The geeks are all intelligent and most were interested in technology, but other than that, they would not be considered ultimately masculine. Kilbourne writes, “Boys are shamed for being too small, too ‘weak,’ too soft, too sensitive,” (261) meaning the ideal male is big, strong, confident, and dominant. None of the geeks are very big and strong, and their self-esteem could probably use a boost, since the reason they are on the show is to become more confident with themselves and others. The men admitted they were intimidated by the good looks of the women. The women actually seem to be more dominant than the men because they have noticeably high levels of self-confidence. For example, Matt said he chose Andrea as his partner because he liked the way she took control of the room when she introduced herself. The show’s aim is to instill confidence into the geeks and to show them that they can talk to attractive women and have a lot to offer besides their brains, so in a way the goal is to make these men become more masculine by the end of the competition.


Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-267.