Sunday, March 4, 2007

Femininity in "The Girls Next Door"

This entry is a follow-up to my first post in which I discussed the norms and ideals of masculinity that are portrayed in an episode of “The Girls Next Door.” This post will discuss the norms and ideals of femininity displayed in the same episode. The episode deals with how a women is expected to look, act, and eat.

Before even the opening credits of an episode are finished the show already presents a feminine norm related to appearance. The three main female characters (Kendra, Bridget, and Holly) all look pretty much the same. They are all blonde, white, and skinny. Even their hairstyles are practically identical. Right from the start, this show is setting blonde, white, and skinny as a standard for feminine beauty. Another trait that is common to all three women is that they are all comfortable being naked or nearly naked in front of men with whom they are not romantically involved. This is obvious since they all modeled for Playboy magazine, but they are also shown getting dressed during the episode. As ridiculous as it may seem that the popular media is defining a “normal” woman as a woman who is willing to be naked or at least almost naked in front of others, we live in a society where girls are being sexualized through dress at a younger and younger age so it may not be as ridiculous as it sounds.

In one of the most startling scenes of the episode, attractiveness, health, and an eating disorder are all combined and describe a particularly dangerous feminine norm. While Bridget and her parents are eating a meal together she says that in order to get ready for her burlesque act for Hefner she is going to try and “get healthy” and not eat anything at the meal. This one statement says a lot about feminine ideals and norms. One of the things the statement does is equate being healthy with being unreasonably skinny. Bridget is already in shape and in no way needs to lose weight, but she wants to anyway. Rather than admit that she wants to lose weight, she subtly replaces the words “lose weight” with “get healthy”. This replacement is not just a simple euphemism for dieting. It sends an extremely dangerous message to girls by telling them that not only is it ok to stop eating to lose weight, but that it is good for them. This statement is encouraging girls to start eating disorders. The problem is compounded when her parents see her eating nothing and just ignore it. By not speaking up, her parents are silently saying that it is acceptable to have an eating disorder. Bridget is starving herself, her parents support her by ignoring it, and suddenly eating disorders are being presented as part of a normative definition of femininity. The last part of this statement that makes everything even worse is that Bridget is doing this for her burlesque act for Hefner. She is starving herself so that she can be desirable to men. This sends the message that girls should do things for the approval of others, even if it means putting yourself at risk.

The ideals and norms of femininity displayed in “The Girls Next Door” are troubling to say the least, but it is important to remember that the existence of the norms and ideals of society are not to be blamed on popular media. The media is merely reflecting the norms and ideals that already exist in society. The media can be blamed for perpetuating malignant ideas, but in the end it is the viewers who enable this to occur. If no one tuned in to watch the program then the show would be cancelled, but the show is still on so obviously people are watching and enjoying the show. Analyzing popular culture can only help us realize what ideals and norms exist around us. If we want to steer society away from norms and ideals that are damaging then we need to worry about society itself not just its popular media.

21 comments:

Jessie said...

Dan- I think that you've done a good job articulating the norms and the depiction of them in the show for entertainment/comedic effect versus the production and reproduction of social norms/ideals. One question I have is related to your use of "norms" for the dad versus "ideals" for Hef...is this terminology meant to connote a difference in meaning, or is it the case that you've articulated them as synonyms (since it's not clear to me as the reader...it could go either way)?
However, the second part of the blog post (part 2) you do a great job with dissecting the loaded definitions of words and phrases as they relate to Brigitte's eating habits. The ways in which she codifies her behavior through language is an interesting, insidious, and primarily subconscious method for which these norms are reproduced.
One issue I had hoped to see you address in the assignment was the ways that Brigitte's father and Hef are also clearly non-normative forms of masculinity...strip tease and daughter, polyamory at the age of 80 (with 20-something year old girls) are definitely non-normative behaviors/ideals/expectations in the category of gender. How does this conflict (the norms/ideals you've articulated) coexist with the stereotypical norms that you've articulated? Does the show codify them in a way that make them compatible with the norm and ideal? When discussing the norms for femininity, the same conflict can be seen on the female side...is Brigitte's sexually open behavior with her dad compatible with the type of norms that you suggest girls are raised to adhere to? Try to remain open to the possibility that even a show like The Girls Next Door, can subvert hegemonic norms, ideals, and beliefs at the same time that it reaffirms aspects of them in other areas.

Oria said...

Good words.

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