Issue 01: Representations
The 2005 entries were originally written for the journal I kept in WST 3015/Intro to Women's Studies. They have been modified slightly since then.

"Pay attention to the theoretical ideas incorporated into TV news reports. When the presenter says, 'Now for the stories behind the headlines,' whose stories are these? Who is telling them? What, if anything, is missing from these accounts? What else do you need to know in order to have a full explanation?"

Depending on the station and programming, the stories tend to be the stories of those with an ideology that's compatible with that of the station when the station has a particular slant. For instance, a conversation news broadcaster will go to stories from churchgoing folks, religious leaders, and Republican politicians. If the stories are of someone considered to be on the other side (in this case, about Democrats, the non-faithful, homosexuals, etc.,) the story is sure to include some commentary from the program's ideological group to undercut what the others are saying. "Fair and balanced" turns into "undermine the opposition." These are stories told by the group with its own perspective on the matter, about its own people even when the subject matter is supposedly someone else.

Such accounts are missing an exploration of the issues from the point of view of other parties involved in them. When their viewpoints are explored, it is for the purpose of subtly (or not so subtly) contradicting them or otherwise devaluing that ideology. Balance is definitely missing. To have a full explanation, we need to hear from representatives of various peoples involved in the issue in a balanced way, rather than one that is slanted.

For instance, if Fox News was covering Gay Days at Disney, they would need to talk to LGBTQ people about why Gay Days are important to them and what it signifies, general parkgoers about their reactions to the event, protesters about why they are protesting it, and not give unequal time to one opinion over others; that suggests that one group is "right" about a matter and others are incorrect. I haven't watched Fox News coverage of Gay Days, but I would expect them to give the protesters plenty of voice instead of letting viewers come to their own conclusions about the nature of the event. "Liberal" news is slanted on presenting stories as well, so it isn't just a conservative phenomenon. Stations with a slant are going to present stories in a way that gives more power to their viewpoint and reinforces it instead of telling all parts of the story.

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"Look critically at the way women are portrayed in relationships and the family in magazines, ads, movies, and TV shows."

This is actually something my Cultural Studies Literature class has been discussing. With Industrialization, the idea of "consumption" (not in the tuberculosis sense) became linked with the feminine. The center of consumption in the home was, after all, assumed to be the wife and mother who did the shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. This image hasn't changed very much in modern times. Women are still portrayed as the ones using the wipes on spotted windows, cleaning up the wine spills on the pure white carpet, and making the easy microwavable dinner. The woman doing this is always well-dressed, made-up, and smiling as she uses the wonderful product that makes her domestic life so much better. Not only does she happily stay at home to do all the chores, but she makes sure she meets beauty standards when she does it!

As far as advertisements are concerned, women are only fulfilled when they have heterosexual relationships, generally as the stay-at-home mom of the nuclear family— or perhaps a working mother who still manages to get all those meals done and keep the house spotless. She is usually a married heterosexual in these ads, almost always white, youthful, and slim. I can't think of any commercials featuring a chubby black grandmother when it's not treated like something funny, a modern-day version of the sexless Mammy who just exists for white people's amusement.

Even when the housewife is "ruffled" by a bad situation, she really just has slightly mussed hair and clothing but still her full makeup (unless demonstrating how "other" makeup brands don't "stay put"). When a housewife isn't featured, it's still a young woman in search of a man with her makeup, her smooooth razor, her short skirts and birth control. "There she goes again" as one of these says, going through the same old superficial pursuit of romance that she always has in these ads when she's not already tied down to the family.

I can't think of any ads that showed a woman who was explicitly a single mother. Sometimes no man shows up in the ad, but it is never made clear that no father/husband/other male partner exists. We can always assume from these that there's a man out there somewhere. We don't see mixed-race or adoptive families. The (white) woman marries her own race, and she's always married— check that ring on her finger, no live-in boyfriends for her! The woman of our advertisements is apparently stuck in the Leave It To Beaver mould, minus the bullet bra and petticoats.

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2005 October 16, 10:41 pm

An example of gender constructions came up when my family was watching the Japanese Grand Prix in Formula 1. Italian racer Giancarlo Fisichella fell to second place after he got overtaken on the last lap. Fisi was understandably upset at losing first place right in the last minute, and it was very visible. His expression was very solemn at the podium ceremony, and during the press conference, he kept rubbing at his face and his voice was wavering as he responded to the questions. It really sounded like he was about to cry.

Now, I was thrilled with the outcome because the guy who beat Fisi is the guy I cheer for, Kimi Raikkonen— it was awesome for me (and Kimi) and I loved watching the race. My family also cheers for Kimi, so we were caught up in being excited about that. I noticed, though, that we were all laughing and joking about how Fisi was almost crying. My dad even remarked, "Well, he's Italian," as if that explains why Fisi was able to be teary in public while racers of other nationalities might be more stoic. It was funny to us to see a grown man nearly in tears because of a car race.

When I think about it, though, it seems like our reactions come out of having constructed men— at least American men— as the ones who don't cry over upsetting things like this. It's very unusual for us to see men get emotional like that, and then we brushed it off as part of his Italian culture. The three of us all recognized it as something that wouldn't be seen in our society, but probably acceptable in another that hasn't constructed men the same way. I don't know for sure that Italian men are allowed to cry over a disappointment like that. Still, it seems like it'd be fine for another culture and not for ours.

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This e-zine copyright © 2006 Immora. All other properties are copyright to their respective holders. E-zine originally created as a service learning project for WST 3930/Third Wave Feminisms. Project started on March 18 2006.