“Tinker Bell” and Our Sexualized Culture

Cultural hegemony refers to the domination that emerges in societies with a diversity of cultures. The dominant culture, or ruling class, has the power to influence the culture of that society, including it’s values, morals, and norms, to create an image for the society on an international stage.  The ruling class essentially decides the dominant ideology of the society to justify their actions within the social, economic, and political structures that they have designed.  Accepting these structures makes it beneficial for everyone because power and order is agreed on, rather than certain social constructs that only benefit the ruling class.  That being said, cultural hegemony is engrained in societies all around the world. Cultural hegemony is displayed and exercised on many different levels, ranging from political structures to mass media.  However, this hegemonic approach to structuring society has its implications. While it is appealing in terms of creating a unified cultural identity, cultural hegemony is a key factor in the emergence of tension, within cultures and between them on a global scale.

Before analyzing its negatives, it is important to understand the positive impact of cultural hegemony.  Cultural hegemony demonstrates the importance of understanding privilege and the responsibilities that are required to take on in this dominant role.  It teaches the ruling class to consider it’s positionality.  Positionality refers to soft reflexive knowledge that individuals must exercise to understand the power they hold in a hierarchical society in order to keep it unified, enabling levels on the hierarchical latter to overlap in everyday courses of action.  It is a process whereby individuals learn to be self aware about their own assumptions when interacting with other cultures – by watching yourself you are better at watching others.  It allows people to become aware of their position within power relations and social hierarchies. Acknowledging certain privileges that are especially important to reflect on include gender and race.  Positionality becomes very important when cultures are interacting on an international level.

In most societies, the idea of cultural hegemony and gender, for instance, refers to a patriarchal system, where males dominate and hold power.   Tension emerges within these societies for two reasons: women battle for agency and men do not acknowledge their positionality.  This dynamic then leaks into larger-scale relationships across the globe.  Tension and hate almost become universal identities for many cultures because much of our identity is based on how others perceive us.  Each society is of course extremely complex with many intersecting layers of social life, but for some reason cultures tend to identity other cultures by their misfortune, and in this case, certain cultures are known for their oppression of woman.  That being said, man and woman both must understand their positionality in relation to each other.  If the relationship is unhealthy where both genders fail to acknowledge their positionality, this behaviour becomes the culture’s hegemonic response to the kinds of relationships they will have with other ones across the globe.  Cultures are very unique, in terms of how gender and race is perceived, and therefore positionality helps to acknowledge these differences without sacrificing other’s cultural identity as well as your own.  It is the accepting nature of positionality that has the ability to steer cultures away from tension by avoiding the potential for cultural hegemony to encourage nations to exert their power over.  The same goes for race.  Race plays a big role in creating an image for the culture because certain societies tend to form their cultural beliefs in line with their religious commitment and practices.  A culture defined by race has had historical consequences, where one culture limits another’s multi-layered identity by categorizing it by race and using power to justify hatred toward that race.  To make matters worse, the mass media then comes into play using stereotypes that reinforce hatred and justify hate crime towards cultures grouped by race.  In the media, gender and race are subjected in ways that encourage the negative effects of cultural hegemony.  An excellent example of gender intersecting with cultural hegemony is displayed in Disney, specifically as seen in the latest movie, “Tinker Bell”, directed by Bradley Ramond.

In the film, the main character Tinker Bell, is extremely sexualized.  She starts off clothed in a robe that covers most of body, presenting herself in a decent way.  As the story goes on and Tinker Bell is undergoing character development, her robe is cut into a skimpy dress.  She is a skinny, blonde fairy, with unnatural curvy hips and visible cleavage, and only then do the male characters in the movie notice her and attracted to her.  The term sexual orientation refers to being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender.  Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are separate, distinct parts of our overall identity, and Tinker Bell quickly becomes known for her sexual appeal from a male perspective. This dynamic between gender roles causes serious problems.  Gender roles are a set of rules, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society.  Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females).   Our identities become apparent when our actions as they reflect either masculine or feminine features.  That being said, gender expression then refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation.  Gender expression also works the other way as people assign gender to others based on their appearance, mannerisms, and other gendered characteristics.  From analyzing Tinker Bell’s character transformation, the movie is demonstrating that in order to fit into society individuals must conform to standards.  Tinker Bell was an outcast however once she over-sexualized herself and conformed to the standards of a “female”, the male characters identified her as “sexy” and only then was she able to integrate successfully into this new culture.  What does this say about gender roles?  What does this say about young children developing a sense of who they are within society as a whole?  Does identity become a matter of conformity?

The movie and many other Disney movies demonstrate how gender is socialized.  Judith Butler explains that gender is what we do.  In the movie, there is a diversity of male characteristics, but the females, especially the main characters, are given one or two characteristics, usually in body shape and sexual appeal.    The cultural hegemony is expressed in this movie in terms of how societies view woman, and that what makes a “woman” is about appearance.  Males in the movie are defined by the culture they are in by their work and positions of power.   Tinker Bell has entered the new culture and in order to fit within the conventions and the societies hegemonic ideals, Tinker Bell becomes sexualized.  As Butler explained, there is a panic, fear, and sense of anxiety around gender norms.  What would have happened if Tinker Bell did not, as the culture would have described it, “fulfill her potential” as a female member of the society?  The socialized and sexualized gendering of females becomes an issue when individuals choose to resist the cultural norms and choose to identify themselves beyond the constructed and designated role that they believe does not identify them correctly.  Tension emerges when cultures deal with resistance poorly.  When the subsequent behaviour of dealing with this tension and resistance, such as oppression of woman and racism, emerges it then factors into the social structure and cultural hegemony as a way to justify exerting power over certain groupings in order for the ruling-class to remain on top.  Resistance is seen as a threat to the system and therefore stereotypes are used in the media, for example Disney, to reinforce hierarchy and other longstanding social structures like patriarchy and colonialism, for example.

It is clear how gender and media intersect in this movie.  The media is so powerful because it promotes gender socialization by showing its audience what is normal in a certain culture.  Disney is designed to appeal to a young audience and the movie “Tinker Bell” has demonstrated how society can attempt at masking stereotypes and cultural hegemony by “sugar coating” it using fairies and cartoons.  Media is a universal phenomenon that has mastered its reliance on certain images to convey a message.  Without the media, can we imagine a world without hatred and oppression?  If you think about it, how else would stories of colonialism, patriarchy, and other forms of socialized structures be passed on through generations?  The media is an extension of the past, and although cultures today are working towards a more ethical cultural hegemonic identity, as long as the media leaks itself into our lives, images of the past with forever linger in the midst of all the progress.

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Beauty: Defined by Race and Gender

Globalization refers to the intensified communication on information on a international scale.  The spread of information is increasing with the rise of industrialization, as phones, internet and varying degrees of social media are becoming more prominent in the social, economic, and even political structures of societies.  Globalization has made many achievements possible, including the sharing of cultures and the efficiency of communication.  However, globalization has also had its negative impacts on societies; the notion of Western superiority is emphasized due to stereotypes and Western control.  Western media is extremely influential because the media is mostly controlled by Western powers.  This notion of superiority continues in the media, in advertisements that display sexuality in ways that promote misconceptions and stereotypes about race and gender.

 

In a “Ponds” commercial, a boyfriend and a girlfriend end their relationship.  When the woman sees the man with another woman who has lighter skin than she, the commercial is sending the message that woman with darker skin are not as desirable as woman with white “Western” skin.  The commercial is an ad for Ponds skin cream that lightens skin and displayed in a way that makes whitening your skin look like the only probable solution in order to achieve love and total happiness.  There are many issues with this message.  To begin, it highlights the problems of “Orientalism”.  A term coined by Edward Said, Orientalism is the concept that constructs the Orient as exotic, mysterious, secret, uncivilized, and essentially a binary opposite to the West.  Said explains that there is a fetishization, a fixation of fascination, of anything associated with the Orient and that the East is consequently feminized in relation to the West.  This perception of Eastern woman becomes extremely problematic when companies, like “Ponds”, interested only in gaining profits with no acknowledgement of the social repercussions from their messages, make commercials that tie misconceptions of gender with misconceptions of race together.   The audience is left with the idea that in order for woman to be desirable they must change the way they look to fit the male standards of beauty.  Gender is emphasized here because it demonstrates how men are in control and women are to be used at men’s disposal. Woman must lighten their skin because that is what men like.   As well, race is emphasized as it displays white superiority by making women with darker skin feel the need to look more “Western”.   The consequences of displaying messages that use the interrelations of gender, race, and sexuality to sell products are impacting societies ever than before, seeing as globalization and the exposure to these images are increasing.

 

Furthermore, globalization has also managed to promote division.  The Western hegemonic perception of beauty creates a sense of “other”, that white woman and woman with dark skin are opposites.  Holding on to this idea, advertisement companies rely on the stereotypes that emerge from this “us versus them” construction to sell their products by using images and symbols that their targeted audience is familiar with.  This sense of “othering” is clearly demonstrated at the very end of the commercial when the women are passing each other, and with their faces side by side in the shot, the statement “to be continued…” comes up, encouraging a sense of hate and revenge between the two.  This cultural dynamic extends the legacy of colonialism, and that by using the social pressures of global capital and consumerism, colonialism and other forms of oppression continue because it “sells!”  Practices and attitudes of colonialism, what we think we have steered away from, had so much impact on the social, economic, and political structures of the world, that it continues to leak into societies today in ways that are more subliminal than imaginable because of the rise of technology and media. What kinds of messages are reinforced in society that we are unaware of?  In what ways are these messages blind to us?  Could it perhaps be Western privilege, in the sense that the West does not pay attention to these images because they do not experience these issues of gender and race that the world continues to link only to the East?  What does that say about how the world might see Western superiority? It’s terrifying to think what messages can be displayed in a 50-second commercial… the ones we are blind to, too.

Another Stereotypical Teen Movie

Most teen movies today use stereotypes to add humour to the struggles high school students face in the classroom, throughout the hallways, and at home.  It seems that these struggles are taken light-heartedly when the queen-bee is constructed as a beautiful, rich, popular goddess and homosexuals are seen as objects.  High school is a tough time for many people as it is a prime stage in their lives to start making a distinct identity for themselves.  This process becomes worse when external social factors that fill up the entire school surround and pressure individuals to conform to certain standards and when movies like G.B.F, directed by Darren Stein, take stereotypes to a whole new problematic level.

 

Tanner Daniels, the main character in the film G.B.F., is a high school student who accidently spreads the message that he is gay.  While it would have been nice to see a mature response to this event that is scarring for many, Tanner becomes a pet to the three most popular girls in school.  For their own status on this stereotypical hierarchy that the director brutally exaggerates, the girls fight for Tanner as their “gay best friend” or G.B.F.  While Tanner’s popularity allows him to eventually share his recounts of his experience being “outted” and helps others by giving them courage to come out as well, he is seen throughout the movie as an object to manipulate, an accessory to make the popular girls look cool with the latest “trend.” 

 

That being said, stereotypes presented in the media about high school are humourous.  Using stereotypes in teen movies dealing with someone’s sexuality is a recipe for disaster.  Groups that identify themselves with a sexuality other than heterosexual deal with the stereotypes that the film G.B.F. displays in comedic fashion.  When one girl asks Tanner, “What gay stuff do you like?”, the audience indeed may laugh, but when media continues to aim for entertainment over education, serious social issues are left unnoticed and not dealt with properly.  These stereotypes are very real in high school and the director does a great job at bringing all those realities to the screen, but when the stereotypes become exaggerated for comedic purposes, I question whether or not teen movies are as harmless as everyone perceives.

 

This issue is similar to one that I previously studied.  I researched how the portrayal of Muslim women in Western media and how the continuing of Orientalist stereotypes is increased by the media’s power to reach a widespread audience and manipulate them.  The subsequent behaviour from linking images of Muslim women to images of terrorism and oppression leads to the ongoing spread of false realities.  Many current popular television series, including “24”, an action-drama about terrorism, display these Western constructions about what it means to be a Muslim women and that, for example, the hijab that is worn by Muslim women as an expression of choice and religious commitment, is linked to images of 9/11 and therefore represents terrorism and corruption.  Much of the media is dominated by the West and after the historical tragedy on September 11, 2001, when four terrorist attacks were launched on the United States, the West used it’s influence to spread their side of the story, which quickly became the only story that society adopted as truth.  During a time of high media coverage post-9/11, one might hope that the information spread after the event would be constructive, but instead the media only continued if not worsened the global view on Muslim women, behaviour so brutal and misleading that racism and oppression are still present and increasing.

 

We see here that media’s role in the spread of information is important to fully grasp before thinking films like G.B.F. are a good idea.  I understand that GBF is a comedy but behind every good joke is truth supported by outrageous stereotypes.  In a time where the current generation depends on media more than ever before and where political structures are shifting towards the promotion of gender equality, having these two phenomenon’s happening at the same time where one (the media) hinders the development of the other (political practices), it becomes a priority to rethink the kind of films that are produced and labeled as a comedy.

 

Mannequins Now Growing Pubic Hair?

After reading this article that talks about American Apparel’s new mannequins with visible pubic hair, the idea of natural beauty has become clearer. To begin, natural beauty does include hair on the body. Dating back to when artists sculpted the female body they eliminated all pubic hair.  It seems as though these artists, predominantly male, not only sculpted female bodies in celebration of their beauty but also wanted to create this imagined perfect female form, which of course does not exist naturally.  Apparently, a perfect female body has no hair, which is ridiculous because if natural beauty is being celebrated than everything should be included.

That being said, these sculptures may have had a bigger impact on society today than imaginable.  A beautiful body for woman is still regarded as hairless, requiring woman and young girls to shave their armpits, pubic bone, legs, and even arms.  This article raises the awareness around this idea that woman are suppose to look the way men want them to look and that women have become so accustomed to these ways of life, booking wax appointments and such, that they do not think about whether or not, after all the time and money, it is even worth it.  Are they happier?  Do they feel prettier?  The answers to these questions come directly from the male’s response.  Basically what comes out of this male dominance, is that woman feel prettier and happier and men are attracted to them and given them attention.  Woman, in order to feel truly beautiful, must stop looking for external acceptance and look within.

So why are people so shocked by these images? The reason being is that the public has never seen them before.  Pubic hair is completely natural.  The only issue, however, that comes up is that this is a very private part of the human body.  It is personal and not meant to be shown to the public.  It is understandable that the message being made is about free will and body modification, but are there other ways to demonstrate the same message that are less invasive?  Is such a shocking image the only way to see effective change in the way people perceive their bodies? It would interesting to go further into other possible campaigns that would highlight the issue of what society considers as natural beauty and body modifications that individuals choose to make.  However, would they be as effective?

Regardless of whether or not famous sculptors depicted female bodies without hair intentionally to stir up such controversy around natural beauty, it is clear that men have a history of envisioning a woman with a man’s idea of the perfect body.  The controversy that arises from this is that it has become natural for man and woman to want to appeal to the other sex, which of course is an extremely natural thing and there is nothing wrong with it.  The problem with this relationship, however, is that what women do to make men attracted to them is completely unfair.  Women undergo unnatural alterations of making themselves “attractive”, to fit this man-made image of sexy, by highlighting their hair, getting eyelash extensions, and getting breast implants, only to name a few of the transformations.  Moving forward, it is important that woman start creating their own definitions of sexy and beautiful so that the alterations, if any, that they choose to undergo (because it is their body and therefore their choice) are to be made for their happiness and not for men.

That being said, how do women create their own definitions?  The introduction of American Apparel mannequins with pubic hair is an excellent way.  The image is shocking and so is the idea of it all, however, the shock factor is necessary to see rapid change.  It is less about the mannequins and more about the awareness they bring to the idea of natural beauty and female agency.  Gaining awareness around an issue can be tricky but shocking people and stirring up conversation among individuals and the media is an effective tactic.  These hairy mannequins highlight the idea of individual choice and free will to do whatever one pleases with their own body. American Apparel celebrates this change in opportunity for woman to feel beautiful in their true natural form, not the “natural form” falsely created selfishly by men.