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.

Masculinity in "The Girls Next Door"

The first post of this blog will be a slight deviation from the blog’s main focus. It will not deal with issues of gender, race, or class in the television series “Scrubs”. Instead this post will analyze the norms and ideals of masculinity that are found in a particular episode of the show “The Girls Next Door”. The episode being analyzed is the episode where Hugh Hefner turns 80 and his birthday party is planned. This episode describes a number of societal norms and ideals related to gender, some more obvious than others. This blog entry will analyze the masculine norms shown by Bridget’s father, and the masculine ideal portrayed by Hefner.

The episode also touches upon masculine norms through the behavior of Bridget’s father. Bridget’s parents come to visit her and in one scene they are all having a meal together. During the meal, Bridget’s father is shown eating a sizable amount of food and burping in the process. While some, if not all, of this was shown for comedic purposes it does send the message that it is normal for men to eat a lot and be a little vulgar while doing it. Another aspect of Bridget’s father that shows masculine norms is his appearance. He is a middle aged, slightly overweight man. Not a single female character is shown during the entire episode that is overweight at all. These two facts put together tell the audience that it is acceptable for men to be overweight but unacceptable for women to be overweight.

The show “The Girls Next Door” paints a very clear picture of the masculine ideal in the lifestyle of Hugh Hefner. Hefner is preparing to celebrate his 80th birthday in the episode and is also dating Kendra, a model in her early 20’s. Male viewers who see an elderly Hefner with a girlfriend in the prime of her life could easily think that Hefner’s method of attracting women is obviously foolproof. In this way, “The Girls Next Door” shows the ideal man as a man who is rich, powerful, and does not have to commit to one woman for any significant length of time. The ability to choose not to commit to one woman is further solidified as part of the masculine ideal during the planning of Hefner’s birthday party. Bridget, one of Hefner’s ex-girlfriends, is planning to perform a burlesque act for Hefner’s birthday where she will climb out of a giant cake and strip for her ex-boyfriend. Kendra, Hefner’s current girlfriend, will be at this party. In most situations, if a woman saw her boyfriend watching his ex-girlfriend strip for him she would be upset to say the least. The fact that Bridget is not worried that the show will upset Kendra shows that Hefner is able to have a girlfriend, Kendra, but still enjoy a quasi-sexual relationship with Bridget. Hefner can have his cake and eat it too. This entrenches the idea that an ideal man does not necessarily have to commit to one woman. Another part of Hefner’s relationship with Kendra that sends a message about the masculine ideal is the way they interact with one another. When they talk they are very formal with one another as opposed to being casual and comfortable. By doing this they are showing each other a persona rather than who they actually are. Dr. William Tardy says that a relationship that lacks at least some level of real communication is an unhealthy one (Petrie 223). This episode is describing an unhealthy relationship as being part of the masculine ideal.

The show “The Girls Next Door” depicts a masculine ideal that in many ways is problematic and dangerous to a society that is supposed to value and strive towards equality, but the ideals and norms it displays that relate to femininity are much more alarming and will be discussed in the next post of this blog.

Work Cited

Petrie, Phil W. “Real Men Don’t Cry…And Other ‘Uncool’ Myths.” Essence Nov. 1982.