Tag: Women and girls

Attending Academic Conferences

A while back in a post entitled “Today was a good day” I provided a list of academic conferences relevant to my research subject. Last week I registered for my first conference which will take place on the 25th January at Cardiff University. The conference is called Young Sexualities and the programme shows that there will be two talks which focus specifically on themes relating to the ongoing sexualisation debate.

Cardiff University ‘Young Sexualities’ Conference

tb-poster3The conference cost is £10 which I think is excellent and my train fare totalled £35. So all in, travel and attendance comes to under £50. I think this is quite reasonable and hope that future conferences will cost a similar amount. However, I’m not sure how realistic that is as I am hoping to attend a conference in Chester university on the 9th March which I have just discovered is £75 to attend! It is a 3 day event and Naomi Wolf is the keynote speaker. If you are interested please see the link below for further details. I plan to register for this event as soon as I have got the money together.

Chester University ‘Talking Bodies’ Conference

So the motivational message attached to this post is… if you are thinking about attending academic conferences, don’t put it off or find excuses not to go, register your place and book the train/coach. You won’t regret it!

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Feminist Must-Reads Part 2

In December I set myself the goal of reading three popular feminist texts in one month. As someone who doesn’t read a lot and who reads quite slow at times, I thought the deadline suited me, however, I ended up surprising myself by finishing all three books quite quickly. The books I decided to read were: The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005) by Ariel Levy and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) by Natasha Walter.
ImageHaving now read these popular feminist texts I plan to produce 3 short book reviews. I will upload the book reviews every Friday for the next 3 weeks so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested!

Female Interpretations of Sexual Content in the Music Videos of Popular Female Artists

Undergraduate Dissertation Introduction

Here is my undergraduate dissertation ‘Introduction’. It is a bit dodgy in areas but I hope that this will provide an example and help those who are undertaking research in a similar area.

Introduction

The debate surrounding the effects of sexual media has recently been reinvigorated with children and women’s charities, journalists and the current British and Australian governments, having all made attempts to address and tackle the sexual behaviours and attitudes expressed by female artists in their music videos and live performances. This renewed interest has mainly emerged due to the sexually provocative nature of current female artists such as Rihanna, whose notoriously raunchy performances frequently attract the attention of media critics, and Lady Gaga who has a reputation for wearing outrageous ensembles, often leaving very little to the imagination.

With a large majority of music being centred around relationships, romance and love, sex has always been a popular accompaniment to musical performance, lyrics and most recently, music videos. Early 20th century jazz and blues was recognised as exhibiting a certain level of sexual intensity with the gyrating crotch of Elvis, Little Richard and other rock and roll stars during the 1950s and 60s causing great controversy at the time (Arnett, 2002). Elvis was actually quoted in the 1970s as saying “Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle” http://www.elvis.com. This quote emphasizes the percieved increase in the sexual nature of music from Elvis’ heyday in the 1950s through to the early 1970s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, sexual content had begun to increasingly permeate popular music (Roberts & Christenson, 1998) and can be seen and heard in the music lyrics and videos of female artists who enjoyed stardom at the time, most notabley Madonna, who in 1992 released the album Erotica along with a coffee table book entitled Sex which featured explicit photographs of the singer. Much tamer but still offering music fans scenes of a sexual nature, Britney Spears and Christina Aquilera have contributed to the array of provocative music videos with Christina’s Dirty video and Britney’s I’m a Slave for you consequently causing their own controversies. More recently during the 2000s and up to the present day, videos from artists such as the Pussycat Dolls, Shakira, Ciara, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Rihanna have all continued the trend (Jhally, 2007).

The majority of research focusing on sexual content of music videos can be divided into three categories: content analyses, effects research and audience interpretations. This dissertation falls into the third and least developed field of research by exploring female audience interpretations of sexual content in female music videos.

As a major source of information for young people and adolescents, the mass media is believed to play a crucial role in their sexual socialisation (Harris & Scott, 2002). The presence of sexual content in music video is so pervasive within popular music that it has now reached the point where it is highly predictable for sexual imagery to accompany the music videos of popular female artists, even when the lyrics do not match the imagery (Roberts & Christenson, 1998). For example, a recent music video by British pop artist Pixie Lott shows the singer in a variety of sexual poses despite the song having nothing to do with sex. This raises serious concerns regarding the effects sexual content may have on viewers, especially young people, who are a significant concern due to the amount of time they spend listening to music and watching music videos (Arnett, 2002).

Supporting the argument that sex is becoming an increasingly pervasive part of mass culture, this dissertation aims to fill a void within existing research whereby it fails to adequately address the interpretations, perceptions and attitudes of young women in relation to the sexual content of music videos.

The main aim of the research is to utilise the focus group technique in order to discover what young women think about music videos and their sexual content. Participants were selected through snowball sampling and are young women aged 18-25. Questions focus on the areas of body image, sexual objectification, self-objectification and sexualisation of young people. The aim is to discover how the participants interpret what they see, how it makes them feel about their body image, their relationships with men, sexual objectification and whether or not they think sexual music videos by female artists impact young girls in a detrimental way.

‘Living Doll’ Vs Real Woman

This is a great image which highlights the fact that not all men desire a ‘living doll’, which in this scenario is someone who does the washing in her underwear, looking perfect in every way. In this image you will see that somebody has written around the model, drawn clothes on her and have even given her a pair of glasses to complete the juxtaposed look!

“I like to see a girl in the study, proof-reading her just completed astrophysics thesis while sipping Earl-Grey tea in her tweed sweater and modest, conservative plaid pencil skirt.”

Feminist Must-Reads Part 1

I found this link whilst searching for some good feminist texts. My aim is to read 3 books by January as part of my effort to gain a deeper opinion and better understanding of where we are now as women. I have already decided to read Betty Friedan’s 1963 classic The Feminine Mystique after a friend bought it for me and Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs having started reading it on holiday earlier this year. I still need to decide on one other text so please comment if you have any suggestions.

Update 07/01/13: The third book I chose to read was Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter.

Feminist Must-Reads

Book Review: Wolf, N. (1991). The Beauty Myth.

I produced this book review during my final year at university where I studied Sociology. I submitted this piece of work for a module called ‘Body Politics’ and I got a mark of 75% – one of my highest. I hope this helps people who would like to find out more about the book.

Wolf, N. (1991). The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women

This book review will focus on The Beauty Myth (1991) by Naomi Wolf and will assess how applicable the text is over two decades on, exploring how it fits and jars with contemporary feminist debates such as the sexual objectification of women (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997, Papadopolous, 2009) and wider debates regarding consumer capitalism and the sexualisation of mass culture.
Naomi Wolf is an author and social critic born in San Francisco, California in 1962 and was raised by her well educated, liberal parents. Having grown up in the 1960s and 70s, Wolf experienced what she perceived to be the failures of second-wave feminism. Wolf attended Yale University graduating with an English Literature degree and later pursued graduate work at Oxford University. After a short period of time in England, she returned to the U.S. to focus on feminist issues. The Beauty Myth (1991) was Wolf’s first publication and distinguished her status as one of the most prominent and visible American feminists of the early 1990s (Schoemaker, 2004). The book’s aim is to challenge dominant explanations regarding women’s preoccupation with beauty by emphasizing the role played by patriarchal structures and mediums of mass culture.
I chose The Beauty Myth (1991) as the subject of this book review as after reading a few pages I felt that I could easily relate to the subject matter which appealed to me because of my own issues with body image and beauty. I hoped that the text would explain some of the truths behind the manipulation of ‘beauty’ which is now so narrowly defined that in realistic terms, it excludes the mass majority of women across the globe.
Wolf (1991) addresses the different dimensions of social life such as work, sex and violence in relation to beauty, drawing on the feminist issues of the late 1980s and early 90s whilst highlighting the often unrecognised limitations accompanying the earlier women’s movement. Wolf (1991) argues that as women’s power and equality has grown stronger in terms of rights, employment and independence, women’s concerns have risen in other, more personal aspects of their lives, particularly in relation to how they feel about their appearance.
Wolf (1991) critiques the role of advertising corporations and other media institutions in upholding ‘the beauty myth’, accusing them of collectively promoting, in American and British mass culture, just one type of woman- she who is beautiful in face and body as defined by their terms. The same popular images of beauty are circulated repeatedly to undermine how women value themselves. This concept of beauty, unobtainable for most, is a misrepresentation of women and what Wolf (1991) refers to in her book title; it is a ‘beauty myth’. For Wolf (1991) ‘the beauty myth’ acts as a political weapon designed to act as a detrimental force against women’s advancement.
The Beauty Myth (1991) was published at a time when women’s success was steadily rising in a variety of arenas such as the pursuit of equal rights and positions of employment. However, at the same time, the appeal of cosmetic surgery was quickly popularized in conjunction with mass culture’s emphasis on youth and the perfect body and the effects of pornography were beginning to grip the sexual confidence of a generation of girls who were better educated, increasingly successful and supposedly more ‘free’ than ever before (Wolf, 1991). At a time when feminism had seemingly waned, with The Beauty Myth (1991), Wolf set out to address the imbalance of female power by exploring the reasons behind women’s subordinate position and their associated affliction with beauty.
In the early 1990s a new generation of feminists were beginning to learn about and evaluate for themselves the achievements and failures of second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s (Orr, 1997). Websites began to emerge where women would build online communities, and activist networks. Examples include ‘Riot Grrrl’ and the online women’s magazine ‘Ms’. Modern day versions of feminist activism can be seen in the campaigns of organisations such as ‘Pink Stinks’ who fight for an end to gender stereotyping, and ‘The F Word’ which is an online magazine offering women the opportunity to share their opinions on contemporary feminist issues. This communicative characteristic of third-wave feminism expands the scope for unity amongst a diverse range of women by providing a medium for communication (ibid). Key texts including Wolf (1991) and Rebecca Walker’s “To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism” (1995), had begun to address the shortcomings of the women’s movement and hoped to build momentum for a third-wave feminism by addressing newly emerging themes such as women’s body dissatisfaction, cosmetic surgery, sexual objectification and eating disorders among young women. The Beauty Myth (1991) became popular around the world and Wolf (1991) became the media’s main source for feminist comment making her a visible and prominent figure-head of third-wave feminism (Schoemaker, 2004).
However, Wolf is certainly not popular with everybody; The Beauty Myth (1991) received a significant amount of critical attention in both the U.S. and Britain, with the majority of criticism for her work being centred on the factual and statistical errors which are mostly found in her discussion concerning eating disorders. A study by Schoemaker (2004) compared Wolf’s statistics on eating disorders found in the ‘hunger’ chapter of The Beauty Myth (1991) with “objective and accurate statistics” p99. Results found that 18 out of 23 statistics were inaccurate and over-exaggerated. For example, Wolf’s claim that each year there are 1 million new anorexia and bulimia patients in the U.S. was increased tenfold, with the real figure being closer to 95,000. Schoemaker’s (2004) evidence showed that “on average, an anorexia statistic in any edition of The Beauty Myth should be divided by eight to get near to the real statistic” p100.
Wolf (1991) also has a tendency to make sweeping generalisations with regards to how women feel about themselves, sex, men and the pursuit of beauty. Concentrating solely on Caucasian women from the U.S. and across Europe, Wolf (1991) neglects ‘race’ and cultural factors, failing to detail the possible differences in how women from different parts of the world may think and feel about feminist issues. Wolf (1991) also shows little respect for the role agency plays in a female’s life or the fact that some women may enjoy beautifying themselves, attracting the attention of males and possibly even exploiting this ability to their own advantage.
Feminist pioneer Betty Friedan described Wolf’s (1991) book as “obsolete rehash” misrepresenting “the relationship between femininity and beauty” and failing to address the political obstacles in Women’s path (Mitchell & Haribson, 1991:36). Other critics have attacked Wolf (1991) for expressing her concepts too simplistically with no real backbone or remedy for what is detailed within the book (Orr, 1997).
In Wolf’s preceding publication Fire with Fire (1994), the concept of “power feminism”p38, is developed. In this book Wolf (1994) encourages women to become more political, to take control of their lives and to stop viewing themselves and each other as victims of male dominance. Once again Wolf (1991) faced much criticism for her ideas, but this time accusations revolved around her having made a complete reversal on the concepts expressed in her first book.
Wolf’s main argument within The Beauty Myth (1991) is that throughout different periods of history, women’s emancipation has been delayed due to the conveniently timed development of ideologies relating to beauty and body image. Wolf claims that these beauty ideals are socially constructed and examines the role and impact of this construction in relation to women’s lived experiences. Women’s coerced pursuit to maintain a certain standard of beauty is seen as a form of social control which has replaced previous ideologies such as the ‘perfect housewife’ which was famously critiqued by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (1963). According to Friedan (1963), women’s magazines and increasingly powerful advertising corporations during the 1950s, played a key role in manipulating women’s “lack of identity…and purpose…into dollars”.
Wolf (1991) updates this argument in relation to the hold ‘the beauty myth’ has over women in contemporary society claiming that the promotion of beauty products has replaced that of household products with modern magazines focusing on “beautywork rather than housework” p66. Wolf (1991) argues that chipping away at women’s self-confidence aids consumer capitalism by encouraging women to purchase a variety of supposed ‘remedies’ for things to specifically improve their appearance and desirability for the attention of men.
Many of the themes discussed within The Beauty Myth (1991) relating to how women experience sex, relationships, pornography and cultural capitalism in relation to the pursuit of beauty, remain particularly relevant as they continue to be dominant themes within contemporary society.
Wolf (1991) likens women’s continuous struggle to fit today’s narrow, force-fed definition of beauty as similar to the confinements of the medieval torture instrument the iron maiden, which is used throughout the book as a metaphor to describe women’s entrapment by ‘the beauty myth’. To support this argument, Wolf (1991) explores the different areas of social life. Within her chapter on sex, Wolf (1991) argues that images of women in advertising, television, magazines and pornography, all adhering to ‘the beauty myth’, exist to undermine women’s sense of sexual self-worth by pairing women’s sex appeal and satisfaction with specific beauty standards.
In the 1980s Andrea Dworkin presented a feminist discussion of pornography in her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981). Wolf (1991) reworks parts of Dworkin’s argument claiming that the presence of sexualised images of women in mass culture and the popularity of ‘beauty pornography’ can damage women’s sexual confidence, separating young girls and women from their own sexuality by teaching them to “desire is to be desired” p157, before they learn to explore their sexuality in terms of how it makes them feel. For women, female sexuality has been taken from them at an early age and is in the hands of men, “keeping women’s eyes lowered to their own bodies, glancing up only to check the reflections in the eyes of men” p155. The emphasis on the appearance of females within society also encourages them to become wary and competitive towards each other, diminishing the potential for collective action (ibid).
In 1997,Frederickson & Roberts developed their theory of sexual objectification. They contended that girls and women are socialized to “internalize an observers perspective as a primary view of their physical selves” p173. This can  lead to emotions of shame and anxiety as well as frequent body monitoring in terms of dieting and/or exercise and
Twenty years on from The Beauty Myth, concerns regarding the effects of sexually objectifying media are popular once more. In 2010, the British Government commissioned a report conducted by psychologist Linda Papadopoulos looking into “the sexualisation of young people” (2010). Research found that young women are learning that being attractive is what is most important in society “and the only way to be attractive is to be submissive and overtly sexual” p51. Papadopoulos (2010) argues that ideal images of beauty portrayed in the media are misleading and “limiting” ibid. Wolf (1991) claims that within the media there are very few roles models for young girls and women which encourages then to turn to the most available source which magazines, television and the bombardment of images which emphasize beauty over any other achievement . Women who are successful solely on the basis of their talent or academic achievements are rarely celebrated.
The rise of ‘raunch culture’ has been addressed by feminist author Ariel Levy in the book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005), in which Wolf’s (1991) arguments regarding sex and culture are updated and developed. Levy (2005) claims that women now purposefully value themselves as sex objects for men. Women are embracing occupations such as lap dancing, stripping and glamour modelling with the view that it empowers them and enables them to express their sexuality, which they believe puts them on par with men on some level. However, this form of ‘feisty feminism’ and the rise of ‘raunch culture’ is not necessarily indicative of women’s changing attitudes, it can be superficial as women are often neglectful or unaware of the wider implications felt and experienced by women in similar circumstances. Levy (2005), alike Wolf (1991), argues that it does not matter how successful, accomplished or talented a women is because culture keeps reminding her that her core value depends on her beauty and perceived sex appeal.
In contrast, Taylor (2006) argues that rather than limiting and undermining women’s capacity for intelligence, status and power, the growth in ‘raunch culture’ represents for her, ‘the ultimate feminist ideal’. She argues that women are finally free to express their sexuality and if women want to wear thongs, pose provocatively in magazines or support the Playboy brand by wearing their logo, it is their right to do so. Taylor (2006) argues that Levy (2005) and a variety of feminist websites such as ‘The F Word’, tend to make women feel bad about themselves instead of celebrating their sexuality and femininity.
However, Levy (2005:198) actually points out the fact that she is “happy” for women who enjoy beauty treatments, dress scantily clad, undergo breast enlargement- whatever they choose freely. Simultaneously she emphasizes that there are a large number of women who do feel trapped by mass culture’s emphasis of sex and ‘raunch’ in relation to beauty and that these women are who she speaks to. Wolf (1991) also avoids disputing a women’s right to feel beautiful or to enjoy the attention it brings. She does not attack women who are unattractive for desiring to be beautiful. Instead, Wolf (1991) raises concerns about women who feel powerless, compelled to wear makeup or to lose those extra few pounds purposefully, to fit the beauty mould that has been constructed around them.
In The Beauty Myth, Wolf discusses the stereotypical views of feminists perpetuated by mass media. This includes the notion that feminists are unattractive, overweight and bitter towards prettier, sexier women often with the intentions of sending them on a guilt trip for wanting to look nice. In criticising Wolf (1991), Cranston (1991) labels her a “bully…of American women who try to make themselves look pretty” p36. He continues to point to her attractive appearance as the reason for why she feels she is positioned to… as opposed to her academic talent.
Although Wolf has been heavily criticized for certain aspects of her work, it is easy to see why the arguments she presented remain popular. As an international best seller Wolf’s (1991) ideas have reached many women. Wolf’s place as a prominent third-wave feminist is deserved and the concepts she expressed early in the women’s movement opened the doors for many to follow her path. Wolf’s style of writing is very accessible and twenty years on, a lot of her analyses remain applicable to contemporary research and debates surrounding body image.
I enjoyed reading The Beauty Myth (1991) as I found myself relating to a lot of what Wolf (1991) was writing about throughout the book and believe this to be the key factor in the text’s popularity. Whilst reading the book, I found myself feeling anger towards the mediums of mass culture, particularly advertising and magazines for adhering to ‘the beauty myth’ and failing to embrace women of all shapes and sizes. Reading the book gave me a boost of self-confidence and my already dismissive attitude towards beauty advertising has deepened. The text has influenced the way I view myself and other women by highlighting how mass culture and patriarchal structures of society are able to affect how we view ourselves so deeply. Wolf (1991) woke up my inner-feminist, however after reflecting on the book and Wolf’s style, I now recognise her tendency to over-exaggerate in order to get her point across and her manipulation of figures relating to eating disorders in the U.S. is disappointing as she has some great arguments and need not exaggerate as the problem of eating disorders is bad enough.

Bibliography
Cranston, M. (1991). Book Reviews: The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. American Spectator. Vol 24 (8) p36-39.
Levy, A. (2005). Feminist Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture. Simon & Schuster. United Kingdom.
Mitchell, E. & Haribson, G. (1991). The Bad Side of Looking Good. Time. Vol 137 (9). P68-71.
Naomi Wolf Biography. Available at: http://naomi.wolf.org/biography/ last accessed 25/01/2012.
Orr, C.M. (1997). Charting the Currents of the Third Wave. Hypatia. Vol 12 (3). Wiley-Blackwell
Taylor, K. (2006). Today’s ultimate feminists are the chicks in crop tops. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/mar/23/comment.gender Last accessed 26/01/2012
Walker, R. ed (1995). To Be Real: Telling the truth and changing the face of feminism. Anchor Books, New York.
Witalec, J. (2002). Criticism of the works of today’s novelists, poets, playwrights, short stor writers, scriptwriters and other creative writers. Contemporary Critical Literacy. Vol  157. Gale & Design Ltd. U.S.
Wolf, N. (1991). The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. Vintage Books, Great Britain.
Wolf, N. (1994). Fire with Fire: The new female power and how to use it. New York. Fawcett Combine.
Wolf, N. (2011). A Wrinkle in Time: Twenty years after the beauty myth. Washington Post. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/a-wrinkle-in-time-twenty-years-after-the-beauty-myth-naomi-wolf-addresses-the-aging-myth/2011/05/11/AGiEhvCH_story.html Last Accessed 23/01/2012.