Gender roles are arguably one of the most ingrained and until recently unaddressed myths within Western culture. Gender roles are the myth of “what it is to be a man or woman”, any person who doesn’t conform to these societal expectations is (very simply put) outcast. It is for these reasons gender roles can be detrimental to self-consciousness and self-security.
Western consumerism seems to have built an ideal image of what is to be female and what it is to be male through an oversaturation of images in media over the past century or so. The roots of our contemporary image of the sexes however could be traced back to a very early time in human history.
The two images above, both being exhibitioned on the same shop window for a current clothing campaign, blatantly surmise what the media dictates what it is to be man or woman. The contrast between the two is almost humorous when one applies a feminist semiotical perspective.
We can see the man is cool calm and collected. He is looking downward surveying his surroundings from a position of power (also supported by his outward and downward moving posture, as if he is stepping down from a podium or mountain). This is contrasted to the image of the woman; she is touching her hands together in an unsure submissive gesture. Her posture is unbalanced and the twist in her body is reminiscent of a sexual or seductive strut. Her eyes and lips are pursed enforcing her seductive posture.
Hegemony is an important term within the topic of gender roles. Simplistically put it is the mistaken belief that something which is a social construction is intrinsic within our nature; the confusion between nature and nurture. The ‘dominant male provider’ myth coincides today with the ‘submissive female’ myth and is perpetuated throughout every aspect of Western society, not just in advertising or design.
This photo was taken on High Street, in Auckland. It immediately caught my eye as it seemed strange to me that there was a diorama of an axe and logs of wood in a shop retailing suits. This is a typical example of the constructed idea of what it is to be a man. According to this myth a man is not ‘manly’ unless they are a provider, strong, dignified and independent. The wood and axe is a metaphor, a signifier of these values; the outdoor type man portrays these values. And apparently if I too buy a suit from this shop I will gain these values and be considered ‘manly’ enough and society will accept me.
The submissive nature of this image is something we are too accustomed to seeing within our society. The composition of the picture draws attention to the crotch blonde woman sitting with her legs apart. This photo is a prime example of the objectification of women; it is an image of beauty constructed by society to which often young girls and women unconsciously aspire.
Taken outside a Gucci store on Queen street, this photo portrays women as an object, they are becoming the bag; the design projects the idea of sex onto the Gucci bag, because ‘Sex Sells’. Women think that if they buy this bag (commodify themselves) they too will be seen as society’s idea of sexy. Men believe if they purchase products sold in a similar matter, they will attract women who look and act like this.
The sexualization of the male figure receives considerably less review than that of the sexualization of the female figure (for quite obvious reasons like the substantial amount of imagery we see in the media and the power association of this imagery), however when combined with issues of racial prejudice the power issue is shifted.
The myth being utilized within this photo that I have taken of a Magazine cover is not that of a gender issue; this basketball player is most likely not being examined so explicitly because he is a male, he would be seen as being objectified due to his African-American ethnicity.
This again relates to the eroticization of the exotic and draws upon the stereotype (myth), that black men have large penises. In this picture the focus is being shifted from the player’s achievement as a basketball player, to the objectification of his body. Other’s may argue that this is ESPN’s “body issue” and that this is not objectification but rather examination and therefore validated, however if we were to replace the person on the cover for a ‘white’ or Asian, basketball player posing naked it would most likely be considered perverse or wrong. This seems to point to how entrenched the eroticized African-American has become within the media.