Gender Portrayals in Pop Culture
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This Wiki explores gender roles across multimedia texts. The gender dichotomy is one aspect of this Wiki; however we also explore variances within how each gender is portrayed in modern popular culture. A basic understanding of media literacy is essential to examine prior to analyzing gender portrayals in pop culture. While each of the pages has examples of how to discuss the topic and questions to ask students to help facilitate discussions, we would like to propose that the essential questions posed by Hobbs (2007) be included in every analysis as a standard practice in critical viewing:
  1. Who is sending the message and what is the authors’ purpose?
  2. What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
  3. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in this message?
  4. How might different people interpret this message differently?
  5. What is omitted from this message?
Our goal is to help students see that gender portrayals in many texts are based on stereotypical images of men and women and a dichotomized view of the genders (ex: boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls). We hope that teachers and pre-service teachers will use our Wiki as a resource guide to find alternative texts that can be used as a starting point to discuss gender portrayals in pop culture.
“…there is no single masculinity or femininity but rather multiple masculinities and femininities. Not all men are leader-like, aggressive, assertive, independent, and risk-taking. Not all women are affectionate, gentle, sympathetic, dependent, emotional and nurturing. Such qualities are found in varying degrees in most people.”

This topic is important for two main reasons: as a way to explore gender portrayals in pop culture and as a means to further media literacy and critical thinking. Pop culture reflects commonly held, dominate social values. When these values are reflected through media presentations they are perceived by the viewer as the innate and acceptable reflection of human society ( As society changes, so do the socially constructed gender roles, which may or may not represent reality. Students need to question the representations they see, identify stereotypes and question the motives behind the gender representations.

In order to critically look at gender representations, students need to become media literate and active consumers of texts. Students must become aware of the liberties that advertisers take with their assumptions about their audiences. Advertisements operate under the assumption that the target audience is typically either all male or all female. Not only are they highly gender specific, a lot of ads are also based on stereotypes furthered by the interest of the dominant social group. Students must develop the skills to read between these lines and to recognize the subtexts of these messages in order to identify what is being assumed about them and what is being asked of them by these advertisements. In developing these critical thinking skills, students will gain the necessary tools to analyze all forms of texts.
Film and television are not entirely different from advertisements, as they too are selling an image to the public. What does it say about male protagonists if they aren’t assertive? Does this make them less of a man? What about the assertive female in the story, why is she usually depicted in a villainous manner? What does this say about gender roles in society? Asking these questions will help students open the doors to concepts that they may have never broached before. We want our students to be media literate because television, film, advertisements and music are an influential and powerful source of information for our students. We can’t go anywhere without seeing some sort of representation of a stereotype or product placement, therefore we need to train our students to decipher for themselves the truth and validity of what they are seeing and encountering

English Classroom Connections:
This is a list of potential connections that can be made to the English classroom. This list is by no means exhaustive of the opportunities to create connections between English curriculum and gender studies:
  • Incorporate these ideas into a unit on media literacy
  • Possible Thematic Connections that can be made when looking at texts through “gender lens": Identity, Peer Pressure, Conformity, Sexuality, Gender Roles, Gender Stereotypes and Romance
  • Point of View- how would this text be different if it were written/directed by a man/woman?
  • Characters- exploring the male and female characters and examining how they are portrayed.
Literature Connections:
  • Coming of age stories of different genders: Catcher in The Rye (male story) The Book Thief (female story)
  • Look at historical time periods and events written by female & male authors. Examine one subject through the eyes of female and male protagonist. (ex: Holocaust stories- read one with female protagonist (Diary of Anne Frank) and one with male protagonist (Waiting for Anya). How do the stories differ? How are they the same?
Women and Men in Advertisements
photograph from:
photograph from:

“To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what he wears? But a woman’s body is the woman.”
-Ambrose Bierce
Rationale for studying the portrayal of women in advertisements:
There is so much to talk to students about regarding the portrayal of women and girls in mass media advertisements. A great place to start the classroom discussion is by viewing the documentary by Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly 4,and asking students to have a dialogue about the portrayal of females in ads and talking with students about why these images and messages can be so harmful to the way girls and women view themselves and their position in the world. Prior to asking students to critically view advertisements, teachers can help students understand some of the “tricks” that advertisers use to manipulate images to make women’s bodies seem thinner or fuller in the bust area by using the interactive site: where students can actually participate in the manipulation of the physical appearance of women. The issue of how women’s bodies are portrayed in advertisements and the sexualization of women and girls by ads is very critical for students to understand. According to the American Psychological Association (2007), “Frequent exposure to media images that sexualize girls and women affects how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality. Girls and young women who more frequently consume or engage with mainstream media content offer stronger endorsement of sexual stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects (Ward, 2002; Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999; Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). They also place appearance and physical attractiveness at the center of women’s value.” Additionally, the APA (2007) advises that the widespread sexualization, of females affects the emotional well-being, cognitive functioning and physical health of women and girls.

Classroom activities to explore the portrayal of women in advertisements:
Documentary Film Activity: Show the documentary film Killing Us Softly 4 (Kilbourne, 2002). The film is not very long (34 minutes) and is definitely most effective when shown in its entirety. This film could be used to introduce the topic of gender representation in advertisements because it provides an overview of many of the issues that surround advertisement images of women. After students watch the film, ask the students to write a reflection of what they saw and have them choose one image or discussion point that really impacted them. Ask them to create two questions based on their viewing of the film to use during a Socratic seminar ( Use the Socratic seminar format to have an entire class discussion of the documentary film.

(YouTube trailer for killing me softly 4)
Ad viewing activity:
Ask students to bring advertisements from the magazines they read or bring in a selection of advertisements that feature women and girls. Ask students to critically examine the ads and take notes on the physical appearance of the females, the products being sold, the text included in the ad and their overall impression of the direct and indirect messages in the advertisement.

Questions to Ask Students after Viewing the Ads:
  • What message(s) does the advertisement convey about women?
  • Who is the target audience for this message? How do you know?
  • Does this ad play on any popular stereotypes about women to sell the product? If so, what is the stereotype?
  • How do you feel about the physical portrayal of the female in the ad? If you could change the ad to represent a more accurate portrayal of a woman/girl, how would you change it?
  • If the ad is using sexuality to sell a product: Is it effective? What is the message about sexuality that the ad is conveying?
  • Assign an emotion to the women featured in magazine ads. View at least ten ads in two different magazines and see if you find any themes. What are the themes? Do the themes vary depending upon the magazine the ad came from? If so, Why?
    Kelly Rippa “Electrolux” Commercial

Positive Portrayals of Female’s in Ads:
UbyKotex “reality check”
In this commercial a female talks about how ridiculous most tampon commercials are because they are based on stereotypical portrayals of women. This commercial could be used as an example of how media can be used to combat stereotypes and unrealistic representations of women.

This Reebok ad shows women who look healthy and who are engaged in an athletic activity. The ad’s message is empowering and speaks to the fact that many women feel that they have to put their desires aside and please other people first.
(Reebok Ad from
(Reebok Ad from

Advertisement Creation Activity
After viewing advertisement images with positive portrayals of females, ask students to create their own advertisement. Students can take a negative ad: rewrite the content and add new images or they can create an entirely new advertisement for any product they wish. Students can use a variety of artistic formats to create their ads: computer programs, photography, video recording or they may even choose to collage other images and texts they source from advertisements in newspapers and magazines. Have students share their ads with the class and talk about why and how the advertisements are positive representations of women.
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There is not a better illustration of stereotyping what a man should be than what we see in advertisements. In fact “In television advertisements, gender stereotyping tends to be at its strongest because the target audiences are frequently either male or female.” In Miller Lite’s widely popular “Man Up” ad campaign, the main male character is always ridiculed for striving to reach beyond the socially constructed and accepted norm for what it is to be a “man”. “Sex roles involve cultural expectations…” ( What does this mean? Does your role as a man require you to behave in a particular manner? If you aim to reject the norm, are there consequences and if so, does that mean you should expect and accept the premise that your manhood will be attacked? Our students face these decisions every day in the hallways. From the moment they walk through our classroom doors, it is our responsibility to guide them in this decision making process. This brings us back to advertising.

It is safe to say that the main objective of advertisements is to get the viewer to want whatever it is that is being promoted. In order to do so, advertisements frequently depict what is popular, the accepted norm, and what its audience theoretically desires. In the "Man up" campaign, what message is being sent when one of the most popular alcohol companies releases a series of advertisements geared towards attacking anything that isn’t truly manly? Obviously, alcohol is illegal for our students, but there is more than one message in these commercials so we must get our students to search for them. But how do we get our young males to be able to read between the lines of a commercial, to be able to recognize the desired result, and to begin to think for themselves what it is that they think makes up a man? Do these ads provide an impediment towards their struggle for individuality?

Another issue that is brought up with these advertisements is dealing with members of the opposite sex. Interaction with members of the opposite sex is something that no one has gotten down to an exact science. Yet, if you watch the Old Spice ad, and to a lesser extent the Miller Lite ad, it would appear that these companies have exactly the formula and knowledge necessary to get you to become a ladies man. The Old Spice advertisement is depicting what would appear to be an ideal man for women, someone who is completely unattainable. Yet, they are saying that if they want their men to strive to be like him, they are to convince their men to wear Old Spice. Do our youth “buy” into this concept? What do girls think of this simplistic representation of what it takes to make them happy? Do guys believe that Old Spice would give them an extra advantage over other guys in pursuit of a woman? More importantly, when guys go to the store looking for deodorant, is this the advertisement and message that will be replaying in their minds as they go to make their decision? It would appear that these are the assumptions being made by the advertisers, so what do our students think of that?

Viewing Session:

In this advertisement, a man is wearing tight jeans, which is the new fad. The female bartender removes his masculinity as she mocks him for trying to look cool. She says he can only have a Miller Lite when he obtains masculinity. At the end of the ad, his buddies mock his jeans by pointing out that he may be watching his figure, which is depicted as being feminine, not manly.

This is an old spice commercial that is trying to appeal to ladies. The man is claiming that he is the most desirable man in the world, albeit unattainable. So if women want to be with him, tough, the best chance they can get is by having the men in their lives use Old Spice. As for the male viewers, seeing the man in the commercial talk to the women in a matter-of-fact manner gives them the impression that this decision is a no-brainer. If they want the girls, they must wear Old Spice.


Questions to be answering in the writers’ journals after commercial.

Old Spice/Men – What generalizations are the advertisers making about me with this ad? Are they correct? Does this make me want to get Old Spice? Do I think this will help me get the girl?
Old Spice/Women – What generalizations are the advertisers making about me with this ad? Are they correct? Does it bother you that they are telling you what you want in a man?
Miller Lite/Men – What generalizations are the advertisers making about me with this ad? Are they correct? Does this really make that guy any less of a man? What is this commercials desired effect on me? What does it say about society’s views on men? Is this a widely accepted belief system?
Miller Lite/Women­ – What generalizations are the advertisers making about me with this ad? Are they correct? If I see a guy dressed like this, is this commercial accurate in portraying how I would view him?

After asking these questions, students will be divided into groups of four, two guys and two girls. Once they are divided into groups of four, one male and one female will discuss their thoughts while the other male and female will do the same. Then, they will switch partners. Then, the two guys will prepare a five minute presentation for the next class period on what they learned from the girls, and the girls will do the same about the guys. After the presentations, the students will then look back on what they’ve learned and will write a 3-5 page paper covering how these advertisements made them feel. Do they feel as though the ads portrayed the gender roles of men and women correctly? Do they feel that the advertisers have an accurate assessment of who their target audience is? What does this say about society? How do the students feel about these dominant social constructs of society? Is there any demographic that the student can think of that is not represented in these advertisements? If so, why?

Online resources to help teachers navigate discussions about gender and advertisements in the classroom:\
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Women and Men in TV Shows
TV is an escape, right? Well, yes and no. Sure, it removes you from the immediate pressures of life. But does it bring about additional conflicts? For our male youths it could very well do just that. Television “perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes because it reflects dominant social values” ( But if you are a young male who does not fall into the dominant social norm, where does this leave you? In the past, the male protagonist on television “tends to be physically strong, aggressive, assertive, takes the initiative, is independent, competitive and ambitious” ( What used to be known as the minority example has become more prevalent on modern day TV series, and that is the non-dominant male. Leading males are often depicted as being flawed outsiders searching for their place in this world (see The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, etc). In the depiction of these males, they serve as comic relief instead of dramatic identification. These new types of men often show traits that is considered undesirable for a real man, such as: one who is in touch with his emotions, non-athletic, or extremely intelligent and socially awkward. When our students see these characters, do they make the connection that these male characters are being depicted any differently than our traditional views of what a “man” should be?

Modern Family is a hit comedy series on ABC. It is a single camera, documentary style TV series which follows the lives on several members of an extended family. Two of the major male characters are Phil and Jay. Jay is the head of the family, and his character comes across as your typical dominant patriarch who loves sports, expensive toys, and is loaded with money. Phil is married to Jay’s daughter, Claire, who is the dominant personality of their marriage. Phil is very in touch with his emotions, loves computers, is obsessed with robots, and always needs Claire to clean up after him. The differences between Jay and Phil could not be any greater, and anytime Phil is around Jay, he is the butt of several jokes aimed at insulted his manhood. However, when moments are tense and stress levels are to the max, it is Phil who becomes the rock for everyone around him.
The other two adult males in this show are the homosexual couple of Mitchell, Jay’s only son, and his partner Cam. Not many network television shows have depicted a homosexual relationship, let alone a depiction in which the gay couple adopts a child. Mitchell and Cam represent two other looks at masculinity, as Mitchell plays a paternal role, yet is completely nonathletic, non-aggressive, and has little to no physical strength. On the other hand, Cameron is very athletic, possesses a great deal of physical strength, is totally aggressive, yet is very maternal in his demeanor.

The title “Modern Family” is a perfect description of what is occurring in this television series. While it depicts a new wave of family life, it also illustrates the recognition of a male figure that does not emulate a dominant persona, is not a beacon for physical strength, and does not show any assertiveness. Yet, while it recognizes the multiple male personas, does it evolve the overall message about masculinity?

Here is the link for the episode:
Sorry, you will need a Hulu membership to view this entire episode. Unfortunately, during the creation of this wiki, ABC pulled the entire episode from its website. This episode will be out on DVD by the end of August, 2011. In the off chance that ABC adds the episode back to their site, here is that link:
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Viewing Session – Watch the “Mothers Day” episode of Modern Family. Two plot lines within the episode that bear following are Jay and Phil cooking together and how Mitchell treats Cam on Mothers Day.

Questions to think about while viewing:
1 – What are we learning about the male gender in the interactions between Jay and Phil?
2 – Cameron feels personally slighted. On what grounds does he have a point?
3 – What makes each man different or similar to the commonly accepted social norm for an adult male? 4Are the men of this show really modern? If so, then how?
Activity Idea #1:
Students will be asked to concoct “the perfect male character”. In doing so, they must write down at least one attribute of each of the four adult males in the episode. As they are crafting their character, they will explain why each attribute is a necessity for the modern man. In further establishing this necessity, students must write how or why this male character would buck the trend of the typical male figure as portrayed by television and dominant social norms. Students will then break off into groups of at least three students and compare the male characters that each has created. One of these students will take down notes of positive and negative attributes of the men of the show. The class will then discuss the results.

Activity Idea #2:
Students will be assigned one of the four male characters. They will become this character and, in character, will be a transfer student in our high school. The students will then take their writer’s journals with them throughout their school day for an entire week and will write down how they think these characters would fit into their current social constructs. After the week is over, students will be asked to write a two page paper depicting whether or not their social circles, classmates, sports teams, etc, would accept them for who they are. Students will be asked to identify how this person would have it easy or difficult with the current social expectations of a male individual. Is this fair? Will this affect how you treat others? Will these change how you see others? Will this alter how you see yourself?

Women on TV
Rationale for critically examining the roles of women on TV:
According to Nielsen (2011) surveys the average person watches about 35 hours of TV each week. Considering that 35 hours per week is more time spent watching TV than most students spend at school, it is vitally important for students to use a critical eye when it comes to gender portrayals on TV. According to a media study conducted by Smith and Cook (2008), “Similar to our other studies, we observed (on TV) significant deviation in alluring attire and body shape variables. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waist line. Unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males. Similar to our other studies, we observed significant deviation in alluring attire and body shape variables. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waist line. Unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.”Exploring female roles on TV shows can be both interesting and eye opening for students. By using popular TV shows to hook students’ attention and hold their interest, teenagers can explore the portrayal of men and women in their favorite television shows. This page contains some specific examples of how to use TV shows to explore female gender roles and stereotypes.

TV Show Ideas for the Classroom
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Teacher’s Pet” (1997)external image buffy_and_logo.jpg
Season 1, Episode 4
Summary: In this episode one of Buffy’s male teachers is found dead in the school cafeteria, and in the process of investigating the death; Buffy realizes that the sexy substitute is to blame. As the episode unfolds the substitute is revealed to morph into a praying mantis and is literally a “man eater.”
Discussion Points/ Questions for the Classroom:
  1. Metaphor in the episode: woman = man eater. Ask students to identify where else they may have seen this stereotype used to portray women.
  2. Ask students to come up with a list of common stereotypes about women and men. Have students discuss the stereotypes: Why do stereotypes exist? How do stereotypes become so widely known and accepted? How can you challenge stereotypes?
  3. What do you think this episode is saying about how women can use their sexuality?
  4. How do you feel this stereotype affects women?
  5. Buffy as an empowered female: How does the episode show that Buffy has a significant amount of power? Where does Buffy's power come from? How does she use her power?
  6. Describe Buffy’s character. Does Buffy fit traditional gender stereotypes about women? Why or why not?

Modern Family: “Strangers on a Treadmill” (2010)
Season 2, Episode 4
Summary: This episode features a storyline between the teenage sisters, Haley and Alex, in which Haley is trying to teach Alex how to be “popular.” Haley convinces Alex that she needs to play games with her female friends in order to have control in the relationships. She explains rules about using the phone, texting and pretending to be busy when her friend invites her to a party in order to make Alex seem more aloof and therefore more desirable to the “cool” girls in school.
Questions for the Classroom:
  1. Describe the female characters in the show: how are they dressed, what job(s) do they hold, what roles do they play and what groups do they belong to?
  2. Describe a time you felt compelled to pretend to be someone you weren’t to fit in or be accepted by your peers.
  3. Discuss the "identities" available for high school age females. What happens when someone doesn’t fit into a traditional female role? How are they treated?
  4. Compare the definition of a "cool" boy to that of a "cool" girl. How do both genders construct "coolness"? Is it different or the same?
  5. Ask students to think of and discuss other texts that examine the idea of "fitting in" to a group or that feature a character searching for their identity.

Exploring the women of Friends
Although some students may not be too familiar with the TV show, the female stars are still famous (especially Jennifer Aniston). Ask students to watch each clip and keep a list of characteristics they notice about the women. After the activity students should be able to see how each female character is based on common stereotypes about women. Phoebe is portrayed as a "dumb blonde," Rachel is a waitress and she appears to have a hysterical reaction to seeing some of her girlfriends, and Monica is portrayed as having an obsession with cleaning and household chores. By answering the questions below, students will critically examine the gender stereotypes present in the women of Friends.

Questions for the Classroom:
  1. What is important to each woman? How do you know?
  2. What tasks are the women completing? What are the women talking about?
  3. What is the reaction of other people featured in the clips to the female character? How do are they mocked or embarrassed by the other characters?
  4. Describe the physical appearance of each woman. How are they physically similar?

Clip: Friends (Ross and Phoebe argue over evolution)
Clip: Friends (Rachel and her friends- “Look, I have elbows!”)
Clip: Friends (Monica and Vacuum)
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Women and Men in Film
Films are often depicted as “reflections of our culture.” If that is true, what are the predominant themes of today's culture? The character of a male in the lead role of a movie has begun to go through a metamorphosis; no longer a certainty to be stereotyped as physical strong, assertive, and dominant. Yet this is not necessarily a step forward in the depiction of the male gender as in many films, these unorthodox males struggle throughout the film to achieve power, a woman’s affection, a handle on life, or a firm grasp on their self-identity. Men that are considered to be clumsy, awkward, shy, nonathletic, or in touch with their feelings are now being used as the focal point of the storyline, if only as to serve as propaganda for what it takes to be a “real” man. While there are exceptions to this rule, these exceptions show that while it is refreshing to see the little guy win his battle, we still come away knowing that this could never happen in the real world. The youth of today look at celebrities as role models. They try and identify with the characters that their favorite celebrities are playing on screen. What they are not doing is looking at the inaccuracies of stereotyping genders. They need to ask more questions like, "Why is this particular type of guy or girl lacking power in this situation? What is the director's purpose here? Do I agree with this depiction?" That last question is imperative if we are to build critical thinkers in our classrooms.

In the movie Hitch, Will Smith (Hitch) tries to help Albert (played by Kevin James) turn his life around by assisting him in his quest to woo a highly established female of society. If we merely look at the physical prowess of the two men, we would see that the physically fit and attractive Hitch can get any girl he wants, yet the overweight and nerdy Albert is struggling to get any girl's attention, let alone an attractive woman. Why couldn't the roles be reversed? That's simple, it is because that is not how our stereotypes work. Throughout the film, Hitch points out that being cool and masculine are the only ways to get the girl of your dreams. In doing so, Hitch succeeds in encouraging Albert to change who he is in hopes of becoming a man for Allegra. But by the end of the film, it is Hitch who ends up learning a few things from Albert about what it takes to fall in love. The entire movie is geared around Albert stumbling and bumbling through one awkward situation after another, leaving us hoping that he gets the girl of his dreams. Albert serves as comic relief and though he is a likeable character, our desire to see him win the affections of Allegra isn’t one of identification as much as it is about pity. While the common man may want to believe that he can get the girl of his dreams, he recognizes that this is a highly improbable endeavor, especially given the type of man Albert is. In this scene, Hitch is teaching Albert how to be cool.

In 500 Days of Summer, Tom is clearly not the dominant, assertive, overtly masculine lead that we are accustomed to from our male protagonists. In fact, it is the female, Summer, who has all the power. Throughout the entire film, Tom behaves in an open-wound type of manner. He drifts about his days gushing about how much he is in love, and how much he is heartbroken. In both cases, his friends implore him to be more of a man and to take control of the situation. Then there is Tom’s little sister who is still very much in her early years, I doubt she is in her teens, and yet she serves as Tom’s surrogate psychiatrist in hopes of helping Tom overcome his heartbreak. So while we are clearly hoping for things to work out for Tom, we are not left with a strong sense of identification because even the characters of his close friends cannot fully identify with what he is going through. We are left with the perspective that this man is an anomaly who really doesn’t live in the real world, where men are to be macho and dominant to their feelings… and women.

In the two scenes, we see Summer tell Tom that she isn’t looking for anything serious, something that traditional films have depicted as being more of a guy thing to say. Immediately after she says this, they spend the night together. The next morning, Tom wakes up feel exuberant and celebrates by dancing with complete strangers in the park… not exactly something a man would do.

Students will be put in pairs, one male and one female, and their assignment will be to create two checklists for what it takes to be a man. The first checklist will be what it takes to be a man when it comes to the dominant beliefs of society. The second checklist will be what it takes to be a man in their own opinions. This assessment will have three categories: physical, emotional, and social. Students will be responsible for creating two more categories for each checklist in terms of what they and society feel is imperative to being a man. Then, they will be asked to compare and contrast the checklists. How close is the dominant view of society to being a realistic expectation? Is this wrong? Are there any types of men that are left in the cold with this stereotype? If so, how are they affected?

After they create these checklists, they will assess Hitch, Albert, and Tom according to these rules. For homework that night, the male students will write a two page paper assessing themselves when it comes to the checklists they created. When they are done assessing themselves, they are to write another page talking about whether or not they are comfortable with who they are in terms of what is expected of men in society. Is this something they think about? If not, should they be? The female students will write two pages about whether or not the dominant depictions and expectations as males affect their own roles in society. Is the demands of masculinity in society infringing upon femininity? If so, is there any way that young men can change the culture? Then, they will write a one page conclusion in which they discuss how the depiction of men on film influences society’s views on the roles of women. In other words, why is Summer looked upon as villainous for wanting to stay unattached to Tom? Why is there a double-standard? How can we change this?

Women and Music
Rationale for examining gender and music:external image Beyonce-Girls-Who-Run-The-World.jpg
Just like TV and advertisements, song lyrics and music videos also reflect stereotypical portrayals of gender. Unfortunately it is very easy to identify stereotypical and hurtful portrayals of women in songs, written by both men and women, and much harder to find song lyrics and videos that celebrate females or question the way women are portrayed in pop culture. One singer/songwriter that is gaining popularity and addressing some social concerns with her music is Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Garbus draws upon her own experiences, including painful memories from her teen years, and influential female artist to create her own unique music. In a recent Pitchfork (2011) interview Garbus said, “It's just going to be this interesting battle in my life; not only am I performing, but I'm performing songs about self-loathing in front of people, or about sex, or about violence. These things are very dear to me in some ways and, in another way, I feel that this is my job and my role and I need to have a distance and get over myself and my self-hatred to do my job well. And as more people are telling me how they are moved and affected by my music, that becomes clear. I think, "If you get over your crap from adolescence-- which is where it comes from-- then you get to do this more and better and for more people. You get to be more empowered in this new job." Clearly
Garbus draws upon her feelings about important issues to fuel her music and to pose questions to her audience about important social issues. Like many female musicians in the public eye, Garbus’ physical appearance has been critiqued by the media and her listening audience on blogs and message boards all over the internet. It is important to highlight and discuss with our students the way that women’s bodies are objectified and criticized even when the reason they are famous has nothing to do with their appearance. Although Garbus may not be well known to some high school age teens, her music is interesting and her lyrics are controversial enough to stir up some great classroom conversation. She does not fit the mold of the “pop star;” which will hopefully encourage students to see female music artists from a different perspective.

Classroom Activity:
A Comparison Between tUnE-yArDs video “Bizness” and Beyonce’s video “Run the World”
Show both music videos:
(tUnE-yArDs video for song: “Bizness”)

(Follow link for Beyonce's video for the song: “Run the World”)

Questions to Consider:
  1. What do you think is the message of each song?
  2. How are the women/girls in the video dressed? How do they dance or move?
  3. What role do men play in the video? How are they dressed? What activities are they doing?
  4. Which video do you find more empowering for girls and why?

Empower our students by asking them to respond to a popular song or video that they feel has a problematic portrayal of women by creating their own response. Students can create an argument for why they don’t like the gender portrayal in the song using a variety of response formats. Some ideas: students can write a persuasive essay “debunking” the myths or stereotypes perpetuated in the song, students can rewrite the lyrics to demonstrate a more “authentic” view of women, students can create a response in the form of a podcast or video.
After watching the Beyonce video, play the response video as an example of one way to respond to a song or music video:

Works Cited