Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reality TV and Messages About Gender and Sexuality

“A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” is a reality television show on MTV. The show is about a bisexual woman looking to find love. The show’s cast consists of 16 male and 16 female contestants. As the program begins, the male contestants believe Tila is heterosexual and they will be the only contestants competing for her love. The female contestants also are led to believe they will be the only individuals competing for Tila’s love, but they perceive that she is a lesbian. After meeting all the characters separately, Tila surprises all the contestants by “coming out” as a bisexual. This is the first time she has admitted her sexual identity publicly. Tila’s character disseminates messages about gender and sexuality since she is a bisexual which is considered “the other” in our heteronormative society.

First, Tila “fits” the concepts related to the normative definition of femininity. Her character on the show is portrayed as beautiful, caring, considerate, and emotional. For example, when a fight brakes out over her between two of the masculine characters, Tila gets upset and cries. She then allows herself to be rescued by one of the feminine characters to have a one-on-one emotional conversation. From this scenario, the viewer can conclude Tila is not afraid to show her emotions. Tila only partially displays the normative definition of femininity and sexuality. She has heterosexual tendencies as well as homosexual tendencies since she is attracted to both the male and female characters. The normative definition of femininity would only involve the character/individual being heterosexual and attracted to men.

Furthermore, one would consider Tila to be a non-ideal pathological feminine subject due to her bisexuality since our society has a heteronormative nature. Compulsory heterosexuality (or what some have called heteronormativity) is when popular culture will tend to portray heterosexuality as if it were natural and inevitable and to position alternate forms of sexuality as “other” (Raymond 103). Tila’s character is depicted as confused and unsure of herself since this is the first time she is coming out as a bisexual. In the show she states, “I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve here doing this” and she feels took a risk in participating in the show in order to find love. This trait is common because as Newman states in chapter 4, “self-proclaimed bisexuals initially face a period of confusion and doubt as they struggle with an identity that doesn’t fit into preexisting categories” (125). These points spread the message that heterosexuality is the normative sexual identity because of hegemony, yet, through the media other sexual identities are appearing and becoming more known. The media coverage of televising alternative lifestyles is a step closer for bisexuality to be more accepted. Individuals learn more about the sexual identity of a bisexual and those that deny their true sexual identity eventually will be less afraid to hide since they will realize similar oriented individuals exist and they are not afraid to show who they are.

The fact that Tila is a bisexual and has an attraction to men and women is in itself a disruption of the relationship between gender and sexuality. The norm/stereotype/ideal feminine person is attracted to men. Tila’s character deviates from the norm and debunks the stereotype of the norm/ideal feminine individual. In one particular segment, Tila expresses her attraction to the “lipstick lesbian”. She is quite contradictory as she shows an attraction and acceptance to one of the “butch” female characters (the firefighter) and invites her to have some one-on-one time to get to know the firefighter better. Shortly after showing her interest/attraction to the “butch” firefighter individual Tila continually displays conflict in her attractions. She provides the handsome male character, who was accused of cheating in the “group” bed another second chance to stay at her house for further interaction if he “promises to be good”.

In the past couple of years the media has looked beyond heteronormativity and seeks to show other sexual identities (like homosexuality or bisexuality). With utilizing Tila and the other characters on the program, the media tries to break the hegemonic norm, where the heterosexual male group is dominant over not only females, but homosexuals as well, by including lesbians and a bisexual on the show. Also, the media attempts to delegate equal air/viewing time to the heterosexual males, lesbian women, and Tila (bisexual woman). As James Lull explains, “Audience interpretations and uses of media imagery also eat away at hegemony. Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance” (65). The media construction permits equal participation allowances on the part of the heterosexual contestants and homosexual contestants. Tila engages in different scenarios with both groups in an equal time frame, and addresses both groups similarly. To further Lull’s perspective that hegemony fails when social resistance is stronger is MTV’s use of the character, Tila a bisexual woman. In this program, the media expects the character of Tila to attract a variety of viewers by using a bisexual woman which deviates from the normative television programming. Viewers are intrigued by the unknown and unfamiliar, therefore they are interested in viewing the program.

Another media construction illustrated through “A Shot at Love” is the sexual angle. Tila is depicted as “the sex object” image. On the show, Tila is always dressed provocatively showing large amounts of cleavage and skin. As Pozner explains in her article, the reality show “genre teaches us that women categorically “are” certain things- for example, no matter their age, they’re “hot girls,” not self aware or intelligent adults. Not only is Tila pegged with the hot girl image since she is beautiful and sends the messages woman are just things, but she is also perceived as very sexual. In many instances on the show Tila moves, dances, and poses sexually. She often is kissing, touching, massaging, and implying she wants some sort of sexual relationship with the other cast members. This is an example of the stereotypical gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community described by Newman in chapter 3, “despite their growing media presence and influence, one subtle but powerfully stereotypical theme remains: that gays and lesbians are either extremely or at least moderately preoccupied with sex”(99). Although homosexual and bisexual characters have become more common place in the media, they are still depicted with overtly demeaning characteristics.

Tila Tequila disseminates multiple messages about gender and sexuality. Although, she attempts to portray herself positively and confidently, she is often quite conflicted and confused. She continually dresses provocatively and speaks and behaves similarly. The media chose a controversial character to attract and appeal to a wide viewing audience.

Works Cited

"Episodes 1, 2, 3." A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. MTV.

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-65.

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities. NY, NY: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-125.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Women Images and Realities a Multicultural Anthology. NY, NY: McGraw Hill, 2003. 97-99.

Raymond, Diane. "Popular Culture and Queer Representation." Gender, Race, and Class in Media a Text Reader. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2003. 98-109.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The "Ideal Woman" vs. My True Self

For this assignment I had to create two collages. The first collage picture is the "ideal woman" and the second collage is my true self. The first collage portrays woman as only caring about beauty enhancements, being pretty and thin, and sexy images. The collage also portrays that fashion plays a large role in woman's life. All these things are done so the woman will attract and get a man. The conclusion we can draw from the first collage is as Anastasia Higginbotham states:
"Be pretty, but not so pretty that you intimidate boys, threaten other girls, or attract inadequate suitors, such as teachers, bosses, fathers, and rapists; be smart but not so smart that you intimidate boys or that, god forbid, you miss the prom to study for finals, be athletic, but not so athletic that you intimidate boys or lead people to believe you are aggressive, asexual, or (gasp!) a lesbian or bisexual; be happy with yourself but not if you are fat, ugly, poor, gay, disabled, antisocial, or can't at least pass as white"(96).
Advertisers and men paint an unrealistic image of what young women should strive to look, act, and be like, but this doesn't necessarily mean all women conform to this ideal.

I am not one of the followers. I live my life not to please and conform to others, but to be comfortable with who I am. I do whatever makes me happy. I will not deny that I enjoy looking nice and rarely will give in and buy a latest trend item, but I will not let it become an obsession or have it control me. I live my life not according to advertisers who want you to work on your image and try to capture male attention, but in doing things that I enjoy. For example, I enjoy and participate in numerous sporting activities such as snowboarding, fishing, working out, biking, hiking, and spending time with friends. I'm very self sufficient; I take care of what can be considered the normative for males. I change my own car's oil and tires, paint my room, and even build shelves. In comparing myself to the ideal woman, expensive designer brand clothes, make-up, and shoes mean little to me. I shop the clearance racks for anything on sale. I refuse to spend a lot on clothing and shoes just to impress my peers; it just bothers me to spend $120 on a shirt or pants just because it has someone else's name on it making the item "special". I believe the idea of the ideal woman has become unhealthy and ridiculous. I am more concerned with my overall health and well-being than sexy images as you can tell from my true self collage. According to Naomi Wolf, "American women told researchers they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds then achieve an other goal" (120). Women should realize it is what is inside the woman that makes them beautiful, it is their personality, values, and their relating with different aspects of their being that make them who they really are and not what they look like or wearing. I am happy that I'm not the type of person to conform, nor do I strive to be the ideal woman. Doing things for one's self, working toward being a better, healthier person, and being happy with what you have been given is crucial.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Katie Kokoszka

WGS 220-05

Blog Post # 1

Online Toy Shopping

Gender socialization in children begins at an early age with the toys and products marketed to them and their parents or guardians. According to Newman, “socialization is the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” (Newman 108). Through the toys currently marketed, society conveys its expectation of boys as tough, competitive, aggressive, and powerful males, with transforming action figures, large trucks, numchucks, swords, and other fighting objects. In contrast, society presents an image of girls who take the more passive role, with toys focused on beauty accessories and domestication like vanity stands/kits, toy ovens and vacuums, and pretty dolls. In this way, the society begins to instill concepts of which values and behaviors are overtly male and overtly female based on the toy of choice.

In addition, toys facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood because they create a dividing line between girls and boys. With the division, girls receive the domestic toys such as play kitchens, baby dolls, and toy houses teaching them to be caring housewives. Boys receive the sports cars, action figures, transformers, and guns showing competition, aggression, domination, power, and male protection. These stereotypes portray the hegemonic society we live in proving men have dominance and power over women. Furthermore, if males are caught playing with any toys considered “female”, they are referred to as a wimp or a sissy by older children or their peers, no matter how wrong that may be. Girls, on the other hand, receive the insult of being referred to as a tomboy if they engage in more aggressive behavior or play with “male” toys. A reason this situation occurs or why individuals might think this way is, “because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them” (Newman 111). Parents and guardians, who have developed their own impressions of gender roles, play an immensely influential role in conveying these expectations to their children, not only through their behavior, which children learn to imitate, but also through their choices of toys for their children, which are influenced by their own perceptions.

Johnson argues our patriarchal society is “about defining women and men as opposites, about the “naturalness” of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination” (Johnson 94). Toys identified as “male” or “female” facilitate the societal tendency to strongly define and contrast the normative gender roles. An example of the aforementioned argument is the doll. Dolls are seemingly benign but send the boy/girl message. The girls have baby dolls like Cabbage Patch Kids. Playing with these dolls teaches them that they are to be nurturing, loving, and the caretaker, particularly when naming the doll and receiving an adoption certificate. Contrastingly, boys’ “dolls” are the GI Joe and the Power Rangers, which teach tough ruggedness, battling and power over the more inferior characters. From these messages, girls gain an inferiority complex and the boys develop aggressive natures. Girls receive the message that boys fight and have all the power, defining girls as the weaker gender and perpetuating the stereotype that women have to acquiesce and let men protect them. This “inferiority becomes habitual” and is never questioned (Henley, Freedman 22).

Moreover, toys for the age range of 6-8 year olds send similar messages of male dominance and female submission. However, some of these toys also convey messages related to some aspects of adulthood. Many toys symbolize professions children will encounter or to which they will aspire to as they get older. Some children choose certain toys because they enjoy the idea or dream of being in a particular profession or job. An example of this is a male child wanting to be a firefighter and his favorite toy being the red fire truck. The messages toys send connect with adulthood in the fact that most toys signify jobs that usually are gender segregated as well.

Despite the prominence of toys that support or perpetuate gender stereotypes, not all toys segregate genders, and there are gender neutral toys available. Gender neutral toys are more prominent from infant-preschool age. Once children reach 5 or 6 years of age, boys and girls begin to realize and understand that there is a difference in their genders and how they are. When toy shopping for older children,

gender-biased toys are more prominent, although this should not be the case. Children gain awareness of which toys are considered more appropriate for boys and for girls. They achieve this understanding through the difference in the toys played with, from parental influences, and from teachers and peers. Gender lines are drawn all around children without realization so it becomes accepted by the children themselves. Toys designed for the respective genders are even separated when marketed and displayed in the department stores and toy stores. Though it is not impossible to find gender neutral toys for the ages after 5 years old, it is harder than with the younger ages. Those items that are typically gender neutral are informative, educational toys like some Sesame Street toys or the Leap Frog interactive games. Other examples of gender neutral toys are puzzles and some board games including Sorry, Trouble, and Chutes and Ladders. Pools and outdoor play-sets or jungle gyms are very much gender neutral as well.

In conclusion, male, female, boy, girl, brother, sister, adult, child, we are all products of our socializations and environments. We learn from our individual experiences and behave in response to the expectations. The majority of children will play with gender specific toys and choose the stereotypical male and female toys for themselves and exhibit separate boy/girl behaviors.


Johnson, Allan G. "Patriarchy, the System: an It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us." The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy (1997): 91-98.

Henley, Nancy, and Jo Freedman. Women: a Feminist Prospective. 5th ed. 84-92.

Newman, David. Identies and Inequalities Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill, 2007.

3 Images are from Amazon.com