Friday, February 18th, 2011

Gender, Sex, & Perfect Couples

Thursday at approximately 7:10 pm is my favorite time of the week. It’s when my last class ends and Friday is finally on the horizon. My usual routine is to leave all of my scholarly thoughts behind as I travel away from campus and towards a night full of Must See Thursday on NBC. It’s a whole lot of television to watch in one sitting, but after an intense week of work and school I usually deserve it. And, even though my television go to’s are Community, Parks and Rec, and this season’s The Office (we have to admit, they’re bringing the big guns for Carrell’s eventual farewell), I usually watch all of the shows in between (I’m a dedicated 30 Rock fan, but still waiting to be wowed this season!).

So, by now you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about Thursday night comedy and what this has to do with the title of this post, “Gender, Sex, & Perfect Couples”. As mentioned earlier, the almost 3 hours I spend watching television on Thursday nights acts as an escape for me from the grip that is grad school. Or, so is usually the case.

This semester I am enrolled in an Intercultural Communication course on Thursday afternoons. The topic of this week’s discussion happened to coincide with the story line of this week’s Perfect Couples, which made my attempt at leaving scholarly thoughts in the classroom a failure (I’m sure my professor is glad to hear this – might you be reading?). Just to recap – the title of this week’s Perfect Couples episode was “Perfect Crime” and the stimulus for the episode was a middle of the night intruder scare that brought to fruition three different responses:

  1. Rex taking a super masculine role and jumping out of bed with a lacrosse stick,
  2. Dave being emasculated by Julia as she yells out the window to the rowdy guys outside, and
  3. Vance and Amy hiding scared behind a shoe rack.

In essence, these three responses were capitalizing on the gender stereotypes we have in American society and using them for humor. Coincidentally, the topic of discussion for my intercultural class was gender identity, so my mind was already primed for this episode. It’s possible that I’m reading too much into the episode due to my 3 hour exposure to gender identity during class, but the lesson that I hope everyone took away from this Perfect Couples episode was that gender doesn’t have to be associated with sex.

On the surface, this statement might seem logical to some and completely illogical to others. What’s the difference between gender and sex you might ask?

To borrow from the wonderful Brenda J. Allen, “Sex is a biological classification…[whereas] gender refers to cultural norms of femininity and masculinity” (p. 42). So, what does this mean? Well, it means that gender is something that we do as opposed to something that we inherently have. In American society, as well as most others, men are expected to be strong, both physically and emotionally, and women are expected to be more delicate and wear their emotions on their sleeve. Therefore, we gender stereotype men as masculine and women as feminine. Still with me? If so, let’s move on.

What I want to argue, however, is that men and women can “do” both gender roles, which Perfect Couples illustrated perfectly. In the context of this post the argument may seem fairly cut and dry, but let me outline a question that one of my fellow grad students presented last night in class.

“Many same sex colleges now face a situation where students are admitted as one sex, but change identities during enrollment (i.e. nongender-conforming or androgynous, transgendered students). What is the most appropriate way for same-sex colleges to handle this situation, when the original purpose of same-sex schools is to cater to the needs of a specific gender?”

Now, I want you to take specific notice of the last part of this question, “…the needs of a specific gender”. Considering what we have just discussed in terms of gender not being something that is inherently male or female, how can a same-sex school cater to a specific gender? Since the criteria for attending a same-sex school has everything to do with biology and nothing to do with gender, can they really evict someone for changing or shifting their gender identity? Furthermore, what does gender shift even mean if both men and women can display both feminine and masculine gender traits? How do we shift gender identity?

We all struggled with this a bit as a class and I’m not even sure that there is a right answer, thus, the reason why I pose it to you. What are your thoughts?


Allen, B. J. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Mobile Technologies and the Digital Divide

As you may remember from Hulu, Netflix, and Displacement Effects, I have a bit of an obsession with the ability of online video to displace traditional television viewing. The question of whether or not new media will replace traditional media is one that has been under discussion for some time now, however, the answer still eludes us. As planned, I further developed this line of thought into a research proposal for my Theories of Mass Communication course last semester. Considering that watching television online is a relatively new act, I didn’t expect to find much research in this area and, unfortunately, my expectations were met. Long story short, the paper ended up not being as exciting as I had hoped. On the bright side, my extensive research ended up giving rise to an equally interesting yet completely different inquiry – the behavior of mobile communities.

But, how did I go from displacement effects of new media to uses and gratifications of mobile technologies? It was pretty simple really. The amount of research available on new media is still pretty limited, so there is a lot of overlap. Whether you’re interested in uses and gratifications for television viewers or Internet users, mobile technologies can play a role in both.

At any rate, the research I found on mobile communities ended up being more intriguing than any of the recent research on displacement effects. Specifically, my research led me to study after study confirming that minorities are the dominant users of advanced mobile functions including accessing the Internet, sharing videos, using social media and so on. This was surprising news to me – and apparently many others in my program – considering the costs that come along with smart phone ownership.

So, it got me thinking. How can mobile technologies be used to narrow the digital divide? Or, better yet, are they already being used? Specifically, my research proposal set out to establish the mobile phone as a significant source of information-seeking online for persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES). In other words, are people with low SES using their mobile phones only for entertainment-seeking? Or do they use their mobile device as a means for knowledge growth and information acquisition?

Though currently just a research proposal and not a research study, I believe my inquiry is important for any future policy development and regulation that is placed on the mobile community – specifically any future legislation that develops over the debate for net neutrality. As I concluded in my paper:

“Advanced mobile technologies have become as prevalent among minorities and persons of low socioeconomic status as television has, which is certainly evidence of their influence – although arguably a better portal for information-seeking, the computer cannot say the same. This being the case, it is important to fully consider the implications of future policy decisions on persons of varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in an attempt to improve the existing digital divide and knowledge gap in America.”

As someone who comes from a family of lower socioeconomic status, this is an issue that is quite close to my heart. I have witnessed the perpetuation of the digital divide for as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time that we become accountable for the decisions that contribute to it.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

In Honor of Thanksgiving: Let’s Talk Food!

During last year’s Thanksgiving holiday I had the pleasure of stumbling across this delightful article and video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz titled “Feast – A Thanksgiving tribute to images of food on film.” The article itself is both enlightening and insightful while the video essay is certain to bring a smile to your face (Who doesn’t love the Bumpus hound, turkey stealing scene from A Christmas Story?).

I particularly enjoyed Seitz’s stance that images of food on film can be just as alluring as sex and violence. As communication researchers, we spend a vast amount of time studying the media effects of sex and violence and more often than not the effects are dismal. So, how about we study positive effects for a change? What if images of food on film could serve as more than just transitory pleasures? Food has the amazing ability to transcend all cultural boundaries both onscreen and in the real world and I think we would be accurate to say that the effects of food imagery are significant.

Further, as Seitz puts it, “Food is a uniter, not a divider.” No matter the culture or social identity, food has an uncanny way of bringing together the most idiosyncratic individuals and that’s what I love about it. Perhaps my brain has been overcome by the spirt of the holidays, so I pose the question to you, “Is it too far-fetched to think that food on film could elicit powerful media effects in the same way that sex and violence do?” Either way, I for one will continue to enjoy the increasing number of films centered around food, culture, and the culinary world and I hope you will too.

Finally, in honor of Thanksgiving and the topic of food on film in general, here are some of my favorite food moments:

  • Julie & Julia (2009) – The scene where Julie drops her stuffed chicken on the floor and she ends up on the kitchen floor crying. In some way, I think we’ve all been there!
  • Hook (1991) – The scene where Peter finally starts to play pretend and is able to envision a table full of wonderful, albeit strange looking, food. “You’re doing it, Peter. You’re doing it!” Definitely a favorite childhood memory.
  • Ratatouille (2007) – Never has animated food looked so good!
  • Home Alone (1990) – Food and emotion are very closely associated in a lot of scenes in this movie. Kevin shows anger when Buzz eats all of his cheese pizza, happiness while eating a huge ice cream sundae, and we see our first signs of guilt/fear in the macaroni and cheese dinner scene.
  • Spanglish (2004) – Gourmet egg sandwich scene. Mmmmm. Enough said.
  • A Christmas Story (1983) – Whole roasted duck with head attached anyone?

These are just a few food scenes that come to mind and I’m sure there are countless others that deserve attention, but it’s the day before Thanksgiving and I better get going…I have some cooking to do! I welcome you to share your favorite food moments, thoughts, or memories. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Ignorance or Intention?

I recently began watching the series Breaking Bad on DVD (side note: I’m hooked!) and I noticed that the Sony disclaimer was available in three separate languages. First English, second French, and third Spanish. We’ve all seen the disclaimer before, but if you need a reminder it goes a little something like this:

“The following Interview and Commentaries are for entertainment only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their respective affiliates or employees.”

No big deal, right? I probably wouldn’t even have noticed if it weren’t for the three prior warning messages including one from the FBI that were eating into my viewing pleasure (just let me watch my show already!). It seems like overkill, but as someone who works in an office primarily responsible for enforcing regulations, I can’t really say that I blame them. However, I must admit that it got me thinking. How do they decide which languages to use? Why English, French, and Spanish? Why not more? Why not less?

As someone who is not familiar with the regulatory policies governing the distribution of film and television content, I do not have an answer for you. Instead, I have a related observation. While running errands last week, I was stopped at a red light when I noticed a “No Trespassing” sign at the entrance of a members-only recreational club. I normally wouldn’t think twice about a sign like this, however, upon further observation I noticed that the sign was written entirely in Spanish. As bilingual signs are quite common in this area, I expected to see an English translation of the same message nearby. To my surprise, there wasn’t one. Instead, I noticed a second duplicate sign, again, written only in Spanish. Now, I was stumped. What kind of message is this sending? Was it really the club’s intention to only warn the Spanish speaking community? This certainly could not (well, definitely should not) be the case, right? Is it okay for everyone to trespass, except Spanish speaking individuals? Do they assume that only Spanish speaking individuals are likely to trespass?

Perhaps they posted the sign without realizing its hidden meaning, but perhaps they didn’t. Whether the sign was posted out of ignorance or intent, there is certainly an opportunity here to reflect on how we practice intercultural communication. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge that we live in a multicultural society. Learning how to successfully engage in intercultural communication is certainly paramount. Getting back to the Sony disclaimer, I am sure there were certain legal obligations that led to their multi-lingual message, and as they are a large corporation I wouldn’t be surprised. But do we really need government intervention at the personal (or small business) level? Do we need laws to govern what should already be a part of our cultural perception?

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