February 15, 2008

Msn.com/hotmail.com reiterations of gender stereotypes #1

Posted in gender stereotypes, mass media, msn/hotmail.com at 11:31 pm by LB

I have really been taking notice recently of the relationship and lifestyle articles on both msn.com and hotmail.com. I have particularly been interested in the way the articles’ language and placement serves to produce and perpetuate gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles in articles which are of “popular” interest and oftentimes can be read as reiterating “common sense.” However, these light, shallow, common-sensical articles are replete with assumptions about gender and sexuality, and can be read with a critical eye as a backlash against feminism and progressive notions of gender and sexuality.

One the one hand, msn.com isn’t really high-quality or insightful reading, so it a) really should be “no big deal” and b) it’s non-progressiveness should be assumed. But, on the other hand, it seems that it is exactly these kind of pop-cultural artifacts than normalize our behavior and reiterate sexist assumptions in often subtle ways. Sometimes what seems the least serious of all is what we should be taking more seriously. Since this is quite a trend I have noticed on these sites, and considering the ubiquity of hotmail e-mail addresses and therefore incredible exposure to these “news stories,” I think they deserve some attention and critique.

Therefore, I present part one in the series, Reiterations of Gender Stereotypes in msn.com and hotmail.com:

From today’s hotmail.com articles (when you log into your hotmail account): an article titled, “Subtle ways to be sexy everyday”

From the intro:

  • More than anything else, sexy is a state of mind, and it starts with you! It’s a feeling that’s all about being warm, inviting and approachable, while maintaining a little bit of mystery. But most importantly, it’s about being confident and comfortable in your skin, and your clothing. So put the idea of the “bombshell” aside, ladies. There are plenty of understated ways for you to feel flirty every day.

So on the positive side, being sexy is about being confident in and comfortable with yourself-this is a good thing! But we also find out that this is something the “ladies” should be concerned with. Hmmm, not so good.

So what are some suggestions toward feeling comfortable and confident in yourself? Well, performing for a male spectator of course, but performing while looking like it’s effortless!

  • …your most intimate layers and mini makeup tricks will work wonders toward altering your attitude. Hot hosiery and sexy shapewear are items that are meant to make you feel feminine and fierce — and also excite your guy! Hints of red on your nails or lips are likely to stir up flirtatious feelings…And finally, perfume peaks the sense of smell and makes an invisible seductive statement that will linger in a man’s memory.

Geez, this doesn’t sound like being “comfortable in your own skin”, it’s more like creating a “skin “that has been culturally-approved as sexy so that you can then feel comfortable! Here we also find out who the real target of “sexiness” is-it’s about exciting your guy! It’s all for someone else, not about being confident…unless such confidence is coming from conforming to the social/sexist dictates of female sexiness. Here is also where the heterosexist bias of the article comes in-because no woman who wants to be sexy could possibly be sexually interested in a woman!

  • …disarm yourself by dressing in light, delicate colors such as blush and cream. Slip on sensuous-feeling fabrics such as cashmere and silk that conjure up images of cuddling and caressing — something that says sexy in a subtle way! Sheer peek-a-boo effects with a sleeve or thin overlay, and feminine details such as a flirty slip exposed at the hemline, hint at something to be explored later on.

To be sexy, a woman must be feminine-delicate, soft, an object of sexual desire (rather than the active pursuant of it). Yawn.

  • The girl next door is a classic symbol of sex appeal, and this look is easy to accomplish!…from a guy’s perspective, casual cute clothing equals adorable and approachable. After all, who isn’t drawn to someone who appears to be fun and easygoing!

Nope-women can’t be too serious you know! And I love how in this “tip” she uses celebrities to make her point-Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston-which I guess just reinforces that being sexy is about a “look”-how she looks to others– and not at all about how a woman herself feels, as the intro so misleadingly claims. And I love here too that it’s not important to be fun and easy going, just look that way by dressing cas.

  • Stand out in a crowd with a pop color, and consider a saucy wrap dress, which will show off your most womanly asset — curves…According to a beauty book she [Sophia Loren] wrote back in 1984, colorful jewelry can enhance your allure, but attitude and charm can make anybody beautiful. My two cents…: Don’t forget about a deliciously fun pair of heels! My favorites, to this day, are a pair of pink round-toe slingbacks with red suede roses on the toes. They just make me happy every time I look down. Fabulous accents like these will not only make you happy, but believe me, he will notice!

So here we are reminded that our most feminine asset is our “curves”-clearly not our attitude, intelligence, wit….all things that in addition to good fashion sense could create the confidence and comfort about oneself this article led me to believe (ok now I’m just being silly) that sexiness was! And of course heels are of utmost importance-they are sexy because of how they engage leg muscles and therefore emphasize leg tone, but are notoriously uncomfortable and very bad for your ankles and toes. And not only will you be sexy, but happy! And-HE will notice! The best part is how the Loren quote contradicts this entire article!

After each “tip” are shopping examples for the tip being offered. I mean, to be sexy I absolutely should run out and buy the “Ivory bell-sleeve cashmere sweater, $220; Cream slip dress, $389.” I think now we see why sexiness can’t possibly be about self-confidence that is produced by developing your emotional, intellectual, sexual and physical health…there isn’t a commodity to sell! A profit can’t be made over and over again as female sexiness is continually slightly modified to continually sell products!

Clearly we have the contradictory message that sexiness comes from confidence, but confidence comes from performing classical femininity wrapped up in commodity consumption, all for the (assumed) male viewer (and male CEO!). This pop-advice article reiterates gender stereotypes and heterosexism-apparently, men don’t need to or don’t care to be sexy, and neither do lesbian and bisexual women.

2 Comments »

  1. dannndu enjoys lingerie said,

    Where did you get your particularly been interested in the way the articles’ language and placement serves to produce and perpetuate gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles in articles which are of “popular” interest and oftentimes can be read as reiterating “common sense? I have a lot of likes and dislikes.

  2. stede@girlsandnylons said,

    Cool. I have a vocabulary of 10000 words.


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