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Rachel Watts—WMST 2100.500 Essay on Content Analysis for American Women’s Studies During a content analysis of four commercials, one reality television show, one situation comedy, and a newscast, several themes emerged that suggest that some sexist, sizeist, and classist ideologies of the past are not eliminated from modern-day society, but actually reinforced. Reality TV Reality television is perhaps the clearest indicator of society’s adherence to stereotypes, encouragement of women policing women, and reinforcement of women’s body dismorphia issues. In an episode of America’s Next Top Model, a reality show where women must compete against one another to attain “top supermodel” status, seven UK women were pitted against seven American women in a challenge for whose team was better at modeling a catwalk. As evidenced in the episode, the competing women acted cruel to one another from the start of the show by name-calling and making statements such as, “Bring it on, bitch!” In each cast member’s one-one-one interviews, almost all of the women had a negative comment to make about a fellow model, specifically pertaining to her body image. As noted in chapter five of Susan Shaw and Janet Lee’s textbook, Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, “in our culture, beauty standards are very much connected to the production and consumption of various products, and, indeed, the beauty product and fashion industries are multi-billion-dollar enterprises.” In observing the women’s reactions to make-up, fashion, and nutrition, it was apparent that the women were obsessed with ways to make themselves prettier, skinnier, and more appealing to each other as well as to a panel of judges. According to a 2009


poll conducted by Oxygen Media which surveyed 18 to 34-year-old women, more than 30 percent of women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than win a Nobel Prize. That is a large percentage of American women absorbing the beauty ideals that are being reinforced by this particular reality television show, although those unattainable ideals are far from the reality we know and understand. As the textbook suggests, “these standards about body size and beauty tend not to be created by the ordinary women whose lives these beauty ideals affect.” Situation Comedy In an episode of Up All Night, a show based on the premise of a hip, fun, heterosexual couple suddenly finding themselves enthralled in the life of parenting in their mid-30s, the father discovers that he has a strong urge to create a second baby and attempts to convince his wife to allow it. He pressures her from several different angles and eventually grows upset with her when she says she does not want to birth a second child yet, since it had only been a little over a year since their first baby was born. The wife cited “finally starting to get [her] figure back” as one of the main reasons for not wanting to get pregnant. Throughout the entire show she continuously laid into herself regarding her body’s appearance, often calling herself fat, although she is clearly not overweight. From this episode emerges three central ideas. One idea is that of biological determinism, a tendency that sees women in terms of their reproductive and biological selves and allows the male body to avoid such constraints. The second idea is that a husband has the right to be upset when his wife’s body is not under his control or open for his disposal. The final idea is that a recently pregnant woman’s left-over baby weight is a disgusting thing, essentially because there is no excuse for being fat. As Courtney Martin in the reading “Love Your Fat Self” suggests,


sizeism and the discrimination against fat people “remains the only truly socially acceptable form of discrimination.” This explains why so often in situation comedies there is an everpresent cast of actors who make fun of their own bodies as well as each other’s bodies, stereotypically regarding weight. According to a 2011 poll by USA Today, 49 percent of women would rather get hit by a bus than be fat. Situation comedies, although they’re often supposed to be lighthearted in nature, often reinforce stereotypical notions about beauty and weight, and in a not-so-lighthearted way. Commercials Like reality television, commercials have an immediate and powerful connection with viewers. Commercials target specific markets to purchase products for which there is already an established need. The need is created by playing on a consumer’s desires, insecurities, and curiosities, thus they often play on already established stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes include the objectification of women as either sex objects or docile, ditzy characters. Such was the case with at least two of the commercials analyzed for this content analysis. One commercial was advertising two different brands of Doritos chips, one spicy style and one cool blast style. Two “nerdy-looking” 20-something aged men were sitting in a sauna, each with one of the two brands of chips. Two attractive, young females entered the sauna in their swimsuits. As one man ate a chip that was spicy, the sauna would heat up, causing the women to take off their bikini tops. As the other man at a chip that was cooler, it would make the women chilly. This happened until the women eventually left the sauna and the men missed their chances with the women because they were too caught up in the apparent deliciousness of Doritos chips. Yet again, women were portrayed as dispensable sex objects over which the product/brand prevailed. As


chapter five suggests, “norms of female beauty are produced by all forms of contemporary media and by a wide array of products,” even if it is something as seemingly unrelated as Doritos chips. A second commercial with a much less suggestive message, although an equally as offensive portrayal, is a recent Time Warner Cable advertisement that was only about 20 seconds long. The message was clear as far as who the cable ad was attempting to target. The ad showed a White woman in her nice, upper middle-class kitchen with a mixing bowl as the narrator to the ad said, “Calling all vampire-watching, cooking show fanatics! Listen up!” The woman’s eyes and ears perked up just as the narrator went on to list cable packages and features. For one thing, it is known that not all women love vampires and cooking, but the ones who do love both of those things might not even respond to the commercial because the woman being portrayed was a slender, “attractive,” White, middle-class citizen. As the text suggests, “beauty ideals reflect White, abled, and middle-class standards,” which can often neglect a sect of the population and reinforce skewed ideologies of beauty, wealth, entertainment, and success. In the third commercial, a husband came home from work carrying stacks of Pepsi Next soda as the White, blonde wife was sitting in the living room floor caring for her infant. Upon tasting the soda at her husband’s request, the woman abandoned the baby and became infatuated with the soda, just as the baby started walking and doing back flips. The woman was portrayed as goofy, oblivious, and unaware of what was happening behind her. This type of commercial reinforces a set of gender roles that are ever-present in our society. A man working and providing for the family while a woman stays home and cares for an infant is one of the most powerful and reinforced gender roles known throughout the ages.


The final commercial was a Kotex advertisement that showed women in underwear in every decade from the 1920s to present day, highlighting the changes in styles of undergarments over time. In the end, Kotex’s basic message was that it has been there for you since the beginning and through every phase of your life. None of the faces of these women were shown, just their bodies. In the final frame of the present-day woman, it showed the body of a thin, White woman with about C-cup breast size and sexy lingerie. When she stretched upwards, you could see her rib cage, which has come to be the most desirable facet of a woman’s body, according to modern advertising. Newscast Out of the nearly 50 news stories covered in the Fox 4 News newscast, more than half of them were introduced and narrated by the female anchor, surprisingly, and most news stories featured interviews with both male and females as sources. Although the woman news anchor got more talk time in the one-hour news show, her appearance was a bit risqué for that of a news anchor, which has been said about Fox News anchors in media studies and polls. Her top was very low cut and she was clearly an attractive Latino woman, which may or may not have been a factor in why she was given so much screen time. Both the sports and weather segments were covered by White, middle-aged men. After a well-rounded content analysis over these varying media sources, it is safe to say that a certain degree of sexism, sizeism, classism, and perhaps even racism, are all present factors contributing to the perpetuation of gender roles, woman on woman policing, negative body image reinforcement, biological determinism, and women’s intellectual oppression.


References Situation comedy: Up All Night, season 1, episode 20: “Baby Fever” watched on NBC on March 22, 2012 at 8:30 p.m. Reality TV show: America’s Next Top Model, season 18, episode 1: “British Invasion” watched on The CW network on March 23, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. Commercials: Pepsi Next commercial, watched on My Lifetime channel on March 22, 2012. Doritos commercial, watched on FX channel on March 21, 2012. Time Warner Cable commercial, watched on Fox channel on April 1, 2012. Kotex commercial, watched on Bravo channel on March 24, 2012. Newscast: Fox 4 News at 9:00, watched on Fox 4 channel on April 1, 2012.


Content analysis women's studies