Binary Gender System and Corresponding Media Representations

Jenny Lange and Catrice Stanley

Prof. Jil Freeman

Sex and Media

March 2010

Binary Gender System and Corresponding Media Representations

Image #01: TransAmerica Movie Poster

Image #02:  Homosexual Newborn

Image #03: Michelle Rodriguez

Image #04: I want a Barbie!

Image Group #05: GQ Magazine Covers

A binary gender system consists of polar opposites. On one side there is a female gender, and on the opposing side, there is a male gender. These polar opposites base their genders in the gender specific roles of femininity and masculinity.  This system leaves no room for the queer spectrum or any gender otherness.  Queer theory blurs the lines between heteronormativity and sexual otherness. Anything considered deviant or outside of the norm of the binary system is still acceptable in queer theory.  Queer theory is important to understand because it allows non-normative gender and sexual representations to be included in our society. This is achieved through visibility in the mass media. If the mass media acknowledges something in society, it becomes more acceptable.  If the mass media does not cover these formerly deviant spectrums, our society may continue holding negative views of queer subjects.  The following images show representations of the binary gender system as well as the queer spectrum.

The film “Transamerica” (Image #01) shows a representation of sexual otherness. The female on the poster began life as male, but made the transition to female. There is no in between gender shown in this movie, even queer people represent themselves as male or female. Not many “middle” sexes are evident, especially in popular media. In our society, even individuals that can be considered queer feel the need to represent themselves as completely one gender.  The media took a big risk with this movie because of the lack of heteronormativity, which mediated a different look into our binary system. Films of this nature are not produced on a regular basis. This movie was nominated for two Oscars, and really connected with the transgendered community. Even though mainstream media sources have not produced many movies with this subject matter, this movie shows how transgendered individuals are beginning to be exposed more in the mass media.

In this image of the baby with a hospital tag (Image #02), the newborn is given a homosexual label at birth. Although this is not a gender label, it shows how against the norm it is for us to give a label that is not strictly male or female. In our society, we label children as male or female at birth. There is no consideration for “other” genders that might be in between the spectrum of male or female. This image can be seen as a negative portrayal of the newborn, because we don’t label the baby male or female.  In our society we expect children to be born heterosexual or lacking sexuality in all.  This image assumes that children are not only born with sexuality, but can also be born with a sexuality that is not the norm. 

 In the article Two Steps Forward, one-step back: The Selling of Charlie’s Angels and Alias by David Roger Coon, he lists similarities between Charlie’s Angels and Alias. One of the similarities is the “wide disruption of gender norms” which can also be seen in the picture of Michelle Rodriguez (Coon 3). The picture of Michelle Rodriguez (Image #03) shows an individual identifying on the female gender extreme. By acting “manly”, she contradicts the binary gender system. People are expected to perform certain sexual scripts as determined by their gender.  This woman is wearing boxers, a dog tag, and a wife beater, which are typical male clothing options. She is covered in grease, implying she was working on the car in the background, which is typically male pastime.

The article also mentions “traditional female objectification and sex appeal to sell the product” (Coon 3). The product in this case is Rodriguez herself. Rodriguez is still expected to be sexy in this situation, which is shown by her sexually available pose, her exposed midriff and her inviting gaze. This upholds gender stereotypes of women, even in a typically male situation.

The “I want a Barbie” image (Image #04) contradicts the binary gender system because it shows a male desiring something typically for females. Men in mass media typically show interest toward masculine types of activities and objects, which is why this picture is of a deviant nature. The color scheme of the boy and the Barbie (blue for the boy, pink for the Barbie/girl) still represents our stereotypical gender model of male and female colors, but the message behind the image is trying to show a more diverse gender role.

These GQ magazine covers (Image Group #05) show the different representations of male and female in popular media. The Monk-Turner article argues that women are typically displayed in magazine advertisements as subordinate to men, in passive roles, and sex objects (201).   He goes on to say that the main purpose of women in magazine advertisements is to specifically look appealing for men (Monk-Turner, 202).  This is shown on the cover of most GQ magazines. When the magazine cover presents male actors, the male’s face is prominent, centered, and his gaze is at the camera/observer. In one of the movies we watched in class, the narrator compared the male gaze to animals looking at prey.  The women’s gaze is to attract the observer into a world of wonder.  Another interpretation of the female gaze is a look of confusion, implying that they are distressed and need a male’s assistance. 

In contrast to the male actors’ covers, the female actors are scantily clad and their bodies are completely shown head to toe.  In the article Women, Pop Music and Pornography, Levande writes, “Power is attained when one’s body is on display”, which is what the women on these covers seem to be adhering to (302).  This is a way that women in our mass media try to be heard and gain power.  The women of our mass media seem to be showing more skin in order to gain popularity and power (Levande, 305).

Gender neutral images are absent from these magazine covers. Females on these covers are portrayed in a strictly feminine construct. Both genders are shown in a standardized way; females shown one way, and males in another. This perpetuates the binary gender system by drawing distinct lines between what is feminine activity and male activity.

 The first image and the fourth image contain many correlations.  The movie Transamerica follows the story of a man turning from a male gender norm to a female gender norm. Although the main character of this movie does not follow the acceptable heteronormative system because of her gender transition, she still relies on the binary roles to figure out how to portray herself as female. In contrast, the fourth image of the young boy dreaming of owning a Barbie shows a more deviant version of a male.  In our society, boys are not expected to play with toys meant for young girls. By creating this media image, the author is trying to expand what we think of as acceptable.  The author is trying to show that a male can still be male while desiring things of a feminine quality.  Although the first image is expanding the acceptable subject matter concerning the transgendered community, it does not expand the binary roles our society adheres to.

 The male turning female underwent numerous changes in order to appear more feminine.  The way she dresses falls into social norms of “doing gender”, from the dress she is wearing, to the makeup that is on her face.  The boy dreaming about a Barbie image, as stated above, has a color scheme going on automatically placing both boy and Barbie into their gender placement.  By glancing at the image one can tell instantly which item are feminine and masculine by the color.   Boys in similar circumstances as the boy in Image #04 often are viewed as femininized for wanting a Barbie, while the Transamerica image is depicting how one must go about society to be seen as a female.  Both of these males, because they  are portrayed  as wanting or looking like a female, are demasculinized because of their feminine desires.

In an attempt to defeminize Michelle Rodriguez (Image #3) by putting her in a typically male environment and male clothing, she is still photographed in a way that is not masculine.  She shows the same characteristics as the actresses on the GQ covers. The photographer captures Rodriguez’s body, as opposed to only a face and shoulders in males.  She has a lot more skin showing than a male would if photographed in the same situation. Rodriguez does not obtain an animalistic gaze that is common in photographs of males. Instead, she is looking off into the distance while the male gaze is specifically scanning her in an objectified manner. This image shows the actress in a voyeuristic manner in which the camera is the male gaze upon her.

If a male model is photographed in a feminine environment, it is difficult for him to retain any real masculine qualities. The males in photographs like these are often seen on the queer spectrum or even homosexual.  But, generally, it is almost impossible for women to break into stereotypical masculine roles without being objectified, as Rodriguez and the women on the GQ covers are.

Overall, the gender binary system is used continually throughout these images even when they appear to show sexual otherness.  Gender is an important factor in sexuality because our society requires specific gender qualities. If one is trying to be something different than the norm, it still must fit within the gender binary system. There is very little in our society that is not given a feminine or masculine undertone, as shown by the colors used in the “I Want a Barbie” advertisement.  The different qualities between men and women are shown in the media as polar opposites. When it comes down to it, there is no wide spectrum of gender represented in our media because individuals are trying to fit into a specifically male or female role.

Citation Page:

Bamar Productions. Transamerica Posters. 2008. Web. 24 Feb 2010.                                                

Coon, D. R. (2005).  Two steps forward, one step back: The selling of Charlie’s Angels and Alias.   Journal of Popular Film and Television, 33(1), 2-11.

Gemstone Publishing. Celebrities Birthdays. Web. 2010.       85&arch=y&ssd=7/15/2008%2012:01:00%20PM

GQ Magazine. April 2007. Web. 10 Feb 2010.

GQ Magazine. April 2009. Web. 10 Feb 2010.      magazine-april-2009/

GQ Magazine. January 2009. Web. 10 Feb 2010.      aniston-gq-cover-photo-2009.htm

GQ Magazine. May 2008. Web. 10 Feb 2010.               _magazine_May_2008

Jump, Frank H. “Labels for Less… Less Discrimination – Italian Anti-Anti-Gay Discrimination Ad Campaign Creates a Stir.” fadingad. wordpress, 26 Oct. 2007. Web. 19 Feb. 2010.<;.

KYOSEI. “Homophobia and Heterosexism.” kyosei-systems. kyosei-systems, 4 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 Feb.2010. <;.

Levande, M. (2008).  Women, pop music and pornography.  Meridians, 8(1)  293-321.

Monk-Turner, E., Wren, K., et. al. (2008).  “Who is gazing at whom? A look at how sex is used in magazine advertisements.”  Journal of Gender Studies, 17(3), 201-209.


Response to Jenny Lange’s Blog #6: Socially Constructed “Appropriate Sex”

I chose to respond to Jenny’s Socially Constructed “appropriate sex” blog entry (found at . I was drawn to this entry for a couple of reasons. First, the images she chose were very different from the images I posted in my own blog on the same subject. Also, the reasoning provided for choosing the images were very thought out and accurate, in my opinion.  My blog response consisted of articles written about what types of sex people are having, or how sex is shown on television. Jenny focused more on what is impressed upon young children about what kinds of sex they should be having. I agree with her statement that the ideas presented in the mass media are very conflicted regarding this topic. With certain prevention mechanisms, sex has become more and more represented as controllable. This allows sexual promiscuity to become more acceptable to our society and mass media because there are less obvious consequences.

The KY Jelly Yours and Mine is a widely advertised product. Jenny mentioned that this type of advertising promotes the idea of heteronormativity, which is very typical of a mass media advertisment. I think it is interesting to look at the utter lack of advertising in mass media designed to include “other” types of sexuality, even when appealing to D.I.N.K. (dual income no kids) consumers are a priority of many companies.   It seems to me that having a more inclusive product, or advertising line, would profit both the consumers that are under represented as well as improving the bottom line for companies such as KY.

The next image Jenny posted is of a man and woman laying under the sheets with the man on top of the woman, implying a sexual encounter. Jenny mentioned gender construction in the placement of the man over the woman, and I agree with her statement. I think the man was placed in a more powerful position to align with society’s sexual norms. While sometimes it is ok for woman to be the aggressors in media, it is more often than not, the woman is the one receiving sex from the male.   This continues the stereotype that women are not interested in sex, and do not necessarily get enjoyment out of it. Because the male is the one initiating the contact and in control of the situation, the sexual contact is for his benefit and pleasure before the woman’s. The colllage of Cosmopolitan magazines included in her blog also show how much time and thought is put into pleasing the male first and foremost.

I thought it was a great choice for Jenny to post an image of a condom box for this blog posting. While condom use was not as prevalent in earlier years, our generation has taken this image and ran with it. Not only does a condom equate with a smart, healthy sexual partner, but it also implies that sex is not generally used for procreation anymore. The condom image to our culture in this day and age aligns with thoughts of carefree, inconsequential sex. Diseases are more likely to be avoided, as well as an unwanted pregnancy.  I think this image defines a turn in the conversation surrounding sex.

I really liked the Jenny posted an image of a wedding ring. I had not considered that as an “appropriate sex” image.  For me, this image brings up less the idea of teens being taught that sex is inappropriate outside of marriage (although she makes a great point), and more the utter disregard our society has shown for lasting, caring relationships. Especially in visual media such as television and film, couple sexuality is rarely shown, but single, non-relational sexual encounters are widespread. For me, this image stresses the emotional aspect of sex that is hardly ever mentioned or shown in mass media.

Sexualized Minorities, “Sexual Otherness”, and Heterosexism in Media

This plot synopsis is taken from, for the recent romantic comedy, Valentines Day:

“February 14th, Valentines Day, is not a national holiday, but it is one of those days that must be celebrated. There are “special someones” in your life who expect to receive romantic gifts from their lovers. Commercialism has put a tremendous amount of pressure on men to give their lovers a romantic day with all the trimmings. Women are under pressure to have a man, or they feel desperate and unloved. Valentines Day follows the lives of several couples during this day. Their stories are told through the interconnections they have with each other. Some will find romance in their relationship, and others will feel the heartbreak of ending a relationship. In this Russian roulette world of finding love, everyone in the film is asking for advice on how to find and keep true love.”

This is a great example of heterosexism in the media. The synopsis itself basically states that men and women are the only pairings in this movie. For a Hollywood movie, it is to be expected. I had a difficult time trying to remember the last Hollywood movie I saw that developed a non-heterosexual couple in the plot line, or even had a non-heterosexual be more than just a sidekick in a movie. It seems that mainstream movies like this one allow for sexual minorities to be mentioned, but not developed as characters and definitely not as sexual beings. I have not seen this movie, but from what I have heard, it basically reinforces the standard of heterosexualism in our society. It basically ignores that any other type of romance could be going on, and this seems to be a standard of most Hollywood romantic comedies.

On, under the Sex & Advice heading, the first 6 article titles seen on the Web site were: His 10 Biggest Love Lies, 4 Things He Can’t Get Enough Of, Get Hit on All the Time, How to Have Blind Date Success, Sex With a New Guy, and 5 Secrets to Keep from Him.

This is another example of heterosexualism in our media. This is considered a “woman’s” magazine, it does not allow any deviation from the expectation that these women readers will be straight. I wonder if they get many homosexual men buying their magazine.

The above picture is of a couple from the show “Modern Family”, Mitchell and Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, respectively).  I was pretty surprised to see a homosexual couple in a pivotal role for a television show, especially one that is shown on ABC. This couple even has adopted a child. I thought this was an important media artifact, simple for the exposure of this type of family situation on prime time television.

The above movie poster is from “Secretary”, a 2002 film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. The characters in this film develope a BDSM relationship.  This is one of the first movies I have seen in which a sexual minorities, such as a dominant and submissive, are shown in a positive light. In fact, this film shows these two developing a loving relationship.

This film, staring Felicity Huffman as a pre-op male to female transsexual, shows a story between Bree (Huffman’s character) and her son Toby (Kevin Zegers). The film shows a lot of societal problems that Bree has to face, including finding love. I thought this was a good artifact because it tackles a topic basically unheard of in mass media.

Examples of Socially Constructed “Appropriate” Sex

When searching the word “gay” into Seventeen magazine’s website (, I was a little surprised at the results. The first article was entitled “Could I be gay?”, and was about teens struggling with their identities as sexual beings (found at . This article spoke of being gay as an acceptable form of sexuality. The next couple articles were more of what I expected to see. One was titled “When your friend is gay…” (, and another was a survey teens can take to share their views on sexuality. The first question under the heading was “Would you be friends with a gay person?” I thought this was very interesting. Basically, Seventeen magazine is enforcing the stereotype that teens are typically straight. Although the first article does not really show it, the second two search results do. Being gay is something “other” people are. The readers of this magazine are straight, and they might have a friend who might be gay, but they are most certainly straight. These articles are written with a heteronormative viewpoint.

This article from the Hollywood Reporter was published in 2008 (“Study: TV portrays marital sex as boring” found at ). The author writes about how little sex is show between married couples, and in comparison, how much is shown between non-relational couples. This article is very similar to the one we read for class, entitled “Portrayal of married sex in the movies”, by Dempsey and Reichert. The article in the Hollywood Reporter goes on to say that the mention of sex toys, fetishes, and taboo subjects have risen in television lately. This article expresses the fear that teens will see this subject matter and assume that because it is on television, it is “appropriate” in real life.  The following quote from Michael Medved sums up the problem.

“For many years, parents have worried about television’s glamorization of destructive sexual behavior,” said Michael Medved, the talk radio host and PTC board member. “This important new report suggests another cause for concern: the de-glamorization of marriage. Statistics show that the overwhelming majority of Americans feel satisfied and fulfilled by their marriages. The notion that sex outside of marriage is inherently more exciting, more important, more worthy as the subject of storytelling, is a toxic message for parents and children alike.”

This next article is an argument back about the last survey mentioned ( “Sex and Marriage: Like a Horse and a Horseless Carriage” by James Poniewozik, found at . This author basically writes that change is more interesting to viewers, and that is why these sexual exploits are so prevalent on television. This author does not think it affects what is considered “appropriate” sex in our society.  He writes that the context under which these adventures happens is also taken out in the above study, making it mostly inaccuarate.

 Poniewozik writes, “The report catalogs an impressive list of examples and kinds of sexual behavior—threesomes, masturbation, incest and on and on. But typically, it doesn’t distinguish how the sex is presented: the mere fact of its discussion apparently equals an endorsement.”

An USA Today article entitled “Sex on TV: It’s increasingly uncut and unavoidable” by Gary Strauss (found at speaks more about the types of sex readily available on television. This argues more to the point that the younger audiences are being exposed to things that are a lot more sexualized in their media. This may warpe their ideas of “appropriate” sex, simple because television is showing less of “healthy” relationships, and more of “entertaining” quick relationships.

The link above is to a survey done last year by the Portland Mercury Staff about sex.  Portlanders from all walks of life responded to this survey, and the results are basically a “hot” or “not hot” guide. I thought this was an interesting media artifact because it shows the types of sex that the people around us at Portland State approve of. This is our own “Portland style” guide to what the people around us generally think about sex. This is a guide to Portland’s “appropriate” sex. With subjects such as orgies, threesomes, familial fantasies, rape fantasies, sex in public, and much more, this article looks at the sexual activities on the outer rim and asks everyday people whether they approve of it or not.

Mediated Examples of Masculinity as Specifically Sexualized


This first image is of a popular children’s toy, G.I. Joes. I think this is a good example of Masculinity as Specifically Sexualized because it shows men at a young age that violence is expected. All of these toys come with some sort of weapon, and most of these weapons are almost as large as the action figure itself. It stresses to young children that men are supposed to carry weapons, that violence is a large part of what makes a man manly.

This is the description that came with the toys: “Defend freedom with your specially trained ninjas! The G.I. Joe Sigma 6 Commando Assortment Wave 6 includes 6 individually packaged deluxe 8-inch scale Action Figures, each packed with the latest weapons training and ninja know-how. Of course, you can’t rely on ninjas for everything, so this army of figures also includes heavy gunners and commandos, these tough soliders are specially trained and ready for anything! This case includes: 1x Frontal Assault Duke, 2x Windblade Snake Eyes, 2x Razor Ninja Storm Shadow and 1x Grand Slam.” (from

I also included a picture of the 2008 film “Dark Knight”, which represents a popular genre of film for men; the comic book movie. The men in these movies are buff, intelligent, spend the majority of the movie blowing things up or killing people, hunting down an enemy, and usually have all the weaponry at thei1r disposal. This shows a male ideal in our culture; being able to protect everyone and everything around him. Unfortunantly, it also shows our ideal of mega-muscles and overt violence.

This Dolce & Gabbana advertisement shows a male model physically over powering a woman, while more men stand around and watch from the sidelines. This ad received a lot of scrutiny when it first came out, but it is still a very popular image for this brand. This shows how men are often show as physically superior to the women counterparts in advertisements. It is as though we can’t handle to see a woman in power in our ads. Instead, we want to see her dominated and defeated.

This Entertainment Weekly cover shows again how differently men and women are showcased on covers. Here, the male in the photo is standing straight, taking up more than half of the cover, and being relatively reserved. On the other hand, there is the woman. She is showing off her body with a low, open shirt, using her hands to seductively touch the male in the picture, and has her body curved. She is smiling and excited; he is relatively emotionless.

I took a couple of examples of GQ magazine covers to show the drastic difference in how men are shown in our media world. The difference is obvious. Men are fully clothed in suits, showing mostly just face and some upper shoulders.  Women on the other hand are basically stripped, and in poses showing off their bodies.  Although this is a men’s magazine, it is interesting to see how they show the different sexes. These are two examples of the difference, but every cover I came across of GQ had the sexes shows in this way.

Mediated Examples of Femininity as Specifically Sexualized

I found this picture at, a Web site for the magazine Marie Claire. The article this picture was with was a top ten list for what items one should bring on a holiday trip. I thought this showed very clearly the sexualized manner in which women are usually photographed.  Off balance, not in the center of the photograph, in high heels, and with a leg up in the air. It reminded me of the Sut Jholly video we watched in class on Monday, February 1st. This picture shows how women are usually portrayed in still photographs, and reinforces the idea that women are not stable, as said in the video.

Christina Ricci, first photographed without makeup, then with makeup.

Jennifer Lopez, shown without makeup, then with makeup.

(found at for Christina Ricci’s photographs, and for Jennifer Lopez’s pictures)

This set of photographs show our preference for seeing the women of our entertainment system primped, beautiful, and making sexy faces for the camera. In fact, seeing them in the few moments when they are not fully prepared for the camera is often shocking and unexpected. As a society, we expect our women to be made up and nice to look at.

This still picture from the Tomb Raider game shows how sexualized Laura Croft’s character is in the game. This very well illustrates what was said in the Hunteman article, titled “Pixel Pinups: Images of Women in Video Games”. Here is it evident that this female character is not a standard looking woman. Not only is she wearing very revealing clothing (complete with pixelated cleavage), but her body proportions could only come from a man’s imagination. She really does resemble a porn star in this still picture. Pictures like this inforce the ideas that to be feminine, one must be sexualized.

The pictures above are taken fromthe, in an article entitled “Miss America Competition Shows Some Skin”. According to the Miss America Web site (, their purpose is “rich in history and social significance” and “has maintained a tradition for many decades of empowering young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to express their opinions, talent and intelligence. Scholarships have been the cornerstone of the Miss America program since 1945 when Bess Myerson was the first Miss America to receive a scholarship from the Organization.”  I think this picture shows that even when opinions, talent, and intelligence are the reasons behind the scholarships, our society still wants to see women skantily clad and sexualized.

This picture, taken from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” (found at shows how society’s expectations for beauty have leaked into what is expected of children. These young girls are made-up, wearing revealing bathing suits for their age, and posing in a “seductive” manner for the audience. Especially in the case of Beauty Pageants, our society pushes these unrealistic expectations of beauty and sexuality into the youth of the nation. These young girls are trying so hard to look like the stars we see in movies and television, and forcing a grown up facade on, in order to win at being “beautiful”. The expectations of femininity are pressured into girls at a very young age.

Pornography in Mass Media

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (, pornography is defined as:

1 : the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
2 : material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
3 : the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

A Valentine’s day advertisement from Victoria’s Secret

 An advertisement from Calvin Klein

The pornographic message in the advertisements above are very obvious. The companies are trying to sell lingerie, and the easiest way to do that is to hint at what they think the end result will be if you buy this product.  In my opinion, the Victoria’s secret advertisement is not as racy as the Calvin Klein ad. The model has a seductive finger to her mouth and is staring in a come-hither way, and while this seems enough to classify it as “pornographic” to me, it is pretty mild when comparing it to the Calvin Klein advertisement. In this second ad, not only is it set in a bedroom atmosphere, but the model is grabbing the curtain behind her in a passionate way, and her hand is resting very provacatively on her upper thigh. It seems to me that both of this pictures are trying to encite some type of sexual excitement, thus classifying them as pornographic in some respects.

This article was posted on the Cosmopolitan Magazine Web site. The section posted above is called “Sex Position of the Day”. I found it most interesting that there was no age minimum to view this content. While the descriptions are not graphic, I do not think most parents of teenage girls would not be happy knowing their children had access.  At the end of the section, there is a Cosmo Hint section. The day I found this website this section said, “Right before he reaches the point of no return, plant your feet on the bed and push your body away. Slipping his penis out for even a nanosecond will disrupt the action and draw out your pleasure. An added bonus? You get to relive that give-me-more feeling of him entering you for the first time.” While this might not be fully pornographic, it is pretty graphic for something as accessible to young adults as Cosmopolitan Magazine is.

(picture from:

I chose to post the cover of Paris Hilton’s sex tape because of the media uproar that came with it. The tape itself might not have been accessible on mass media, but for all the exposure given by the press, it might as well have been.  The press, especially tabloids, covered this story intensely. Most people had never heard of Paris Hilton before this. Because of the amount of attention this tape got on mass media, it become one of the most downloaded sex tapes online, and basically made Paris’ career. This shows the power of a pornographic message on mass media.

Above is a list on the Internet Movie Database of movies and television appearances Jenna Jameson has made in her career. In television appearances, there are multiple appearances on popular television shows such as (recently) Oprah, Shatner’s Raw Nerve, The View, The Apprentice, CBS News Up to the Minute, LA Ink, The Simple Life, The Tyra Banks Show, and Howard Stern.  Until recently, being a porn star meant being out of the spotlight of the mass media. Now, it is much more common to see porn stars in music videos, on television, and even in regular movies. This shows that there is more exposure allowed in prime time for this group that was once ignored.

Sexual Imagery as a Social Critique

Above are postcards sent to the Website Postsecret ( found at, where people send in “confessions”. I thought the postcards on this website showed a great source of of social critique (depending on the confession), and I picked out a couple examples that used sexual imagery to get their point across. I picked these examples for a couple of reasons. Not only did they use somewhat explicit pictures in their confessions, but the confessions themselves were not hetero-normative. Although these people identified as straight, they announced that they do not fit perfectly into what our culture defines as heterosexual. Although these messages are not a form of mass media, they are available online and, as the website is a pretty popular one, are seen by thousands of people.

Caption reads “WARNING: Senator Jesse Helms has determined that looking at this picture is hazardous to your health and may cause homosexuality.”

This picture is a perfect example of sexual imagery as a social critique. Jesse Helms, Jr., is Republican that served 5 terms in the United States Senate. He was very outspoken about his conservative views, which included some very negative ideas about homosexuality.  This photograph is in your face with its message, basically drawing attention to the absurdity of some of the fears surrounding homosexuality.

The above picture may not be an extremely sexual image, but it does make a good social commentary on the expectations of women. It has been reported that wives are now receiving better education and better jobs than their husbands (, reported in an article entitled “More Wives are the higher-income spouse, Pew Report says”, by Donna St. George) , so this message seems to ring especially true as of late.  Women are becoming better educated, and therefore get better jobs and make more money than their mates. A message like this throws off the expectations that have always circulated about wives being able to contribute financially, but being a housewife at heart.

I picked this picture, not necessarily because it is meant to be a social critique, but instead because it shows the silly ideals that are thrown around about women. Here is a woman, scantily clad, hair and makeup done, in an impeccably clean kitchen, doing the dishes, all the while with a smile on her face. When I found this picture for the first time, it almost made me laugh because it was so overdone. I think, to women today, this is not so much an ideal as a joke, and that is why I posted it under the social critique section.

“Objectified” and “Empowered” Sexuality

Above is a news website focused on the Queer Community of Portland. Below is an article from the Portland Mercury about the recent launch of many new queer medias.

I picked the articles above to show empowerment in sexuality. By creating an entire website devoted to queer news and events, these writers are providing an easily accessible place for people to find relevant information pertaining to their sexuality. I think this is a great way to keep people updated on the going-on’s of the gay/lesbian/trans community. Larger, more conservative media do not really cover this information, and if they do, it is not right on the front page of the website or newspaper. This website is empowering because it is non-apologetic for being a media source with intention.

I included the link to the Portland Mercury article because it shows that one type of media outlet, a.k.a Just Out magazine, is not enough for the large queer community. People were not agreeing with what that was being published, and felt that it did not fully convey their ideas about gay issues. Now, there are all sorts of small new medias popping up in Portland, to fill the needs that were not being met for the queer community. I think this relates to what was said in the article “The Social Construction of Sexuality,” by Ruth Hubbard. She began the article by saying, “There is no ‘natural’ human sexuality”. Instead, we are attracted to individuals, and gender does not need to be a factor. Just like there is not a single type of sexuality, there cannot only be one source of news media for that entire, very segmented group. Within that group are gay, lesbian, transsexual, gender-reassigned, among millions of other differences. I think this shows another type of empowerment by hopefully allowing more specific media to emerge.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television show with both “objectified” and “empowered” sexuality.


A magazine cover containing objectification.


Michelle Rodriquez, an actress showing both “objective” and “empowered” sexuality.

I picked these images because I can see how they portray both objectified and empowered sexuality.  The first, a picture of a popular television show in the late 90’s, is about a highschool girl who fights vampires and other monsters and looks good while doing it. While Buffy shows the audience that a young girl can do a job that is typically left for men to do (in popular media), the show still allows for her to be objectified by making her eye candy while she is fighting vampires. 

Michelle Rodriquez shows both empowerment and objectification in the same way that the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer does. She typically play very strong women in entertainment (like her character in the television show “Lost” or the movie “Avatar”) with jobs that can be construed as typically male-oriented, she does it while wearing skimpy clothing.

The Teen Magazine cover is another type of objectification. Christina Aguliera is on the cover, but her name is written in small letters (compared to the other titles) and to the middle right side of the cover. Her name and the reason she is on the cover are not as important as the fact that she has a low cut, belly bearing outfit on. Instead, “hair and makeup” is the first thing the eye is drawn to, text-wise. 

Catrice Stanley