This week’s Key Concept is focusing on the representation of genders in the media. Being a product of society, the media has changed alot (albeit very slowly) since the early 20th century. In films women were almost exclusively objects of affection and protection for the main characters. It was a cliché for women to fall over whilst running from somesort of predator before a character saves her (if she is saved at all).
Harry Enfield parodied these old fashioned views in the media and wider society with his ‘Women, Know Your Limits’ comedy sketches in the form of 1950s public service broadcasts. These sketches showed a woman in the company of other men or male-owned objects, where a narrator portrays how a woman should and shouldn’t act in the scenarios. At first the woman will attempt to act equal to the male characters, before making a mistake and the narrator then showing how she should have acted. For example, the men will be talking about important things like politics and the economy, before the woman decides to talk too, with the narrator point out “Oh dear, what’s this? One of the women is about to embarrass us all; the lady as foolishly decided to joint he convocation with a wild and dangerous opinion of her own, what half-baked dribble! See how the men look at her with utter contempt”. After some 1950’s style diagrams explaining how further&higher education in women causes them to be unattractive. The woman is then instructed to state her love of fluffy kittens, with the woman whole-heartedly taken on this advice as it “shows her natural sweetness shine through” with the ideological message being that attracting admiration from suitable men is her primary goal in life, with intelligent thought being dangerous and unnatural.
Female characters have become increasingly more equal to their male counterparts, although there are still traces of old ideologies. Though having said that, there is also the ‘breadwinning idiot’ stereotype where the man of the household lacks the charisma and intellect of his wife or another equivalent female character despite him being the ‘breadwinning’ provider with a job. This is most notable in sitcoms such as The Simpsons and many advertisements. It’s all to prevalent in advertisements where the wife or girlfriend will scoff at her male partner’s inability at working the female-aimed product or some other bonding of ‘sisterhood’. For example, an advert for a laxative brand in the UK involved a group of women sitting around a café table whilst discussing the sensitive subject of constipation problems. At the end of the advert, one of the women says to her friends “I recently had an embarrassing problem, until I dumped him”, upon which all her friends laugh. Although this doesn’t fit exactly to the Homer Simpson ‘breadwinning idiot’ stereotype, it does show how advertisements use gender identity as a form of bonding with the consumer and creating a more believable social setting by adding a social anecdote that has absolutely nothing to do with the advertised product, as if they’re just chatting instead of being paid to promote the product.
The ‘lads magazine’ Nuts done a male reversal of this style of advertising with their “Women, don’t expect any help on a Thursday” series of adverts. These involved blatantly sexist scenes in which a woman struggles to complete stereotypically male jobs such as fixing a car engine or using DIY tools, while the man sits back and reads his weekly issue of Nuts. The joke being that men find Nuts so good to read that there are no men available on Thursdays to complete the ‘manly’ tasks.