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.



References:

“About Beauty and the Geek.” The CW. 2007. The CW Television Network. 28 Feb 2007 http://www.cwtv.com/shows/beauty-and-the-geek/about.

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.

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12 comments:

Jessie said...

Devon-
You've got a solid piece of writing overall and you're using the sources and articulating your ideas clearly and concisely. As a reader, the writing is easy to follow and logical.
Be careful in a couple of areas
1. Avoid generalizations-
"...we can assume that the women have plenty of experience"
2. The Kilbourne's quote is cited well; however, don't read too much into the author's quote out of the original context of the citation (she's not arguing the limited definition of femininity that you contend she is). The point of Kilbourne is to examine the messages of femininity, much as you are doing here...think of the "Madonna/whore" dichotomy we dissected in class...both are stereotypical expectations/norms/ideals for femininity, but they're in stark contrast with one another.
Examine these types of contradictions in your topic- why is it that a dichotomy can be treated as stereotypical even as it presents 2 totally conflicting definitions?
How does the series you're analyzing present both challenges to and examples of hegemonic gender norms?

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