The aim of this essay is to analyse how gender norms shape performances of attractiveness and how physical norms and performances of attractiveness are related to the construction of gender and gender norms. In the first section, definition of gender and gender norms will be provided and reference is made to theories put forward by academics in the field of gender studies. Following this, attractiveness in terms of the body as a form of capital will be evaluated with a particular focus on physical attractiveness. In the third section, this paper will produce some insight into how masculinity and femininity are represented in the media and the impact of media on the construction of gender and gender norms as well as performances of attractiveness. Finally, the concept of “metrosexual” and “tomboy” will be presented as a primary example of new tendencies to challenge traditional gender norms in order to support the idea that gender norms are not fixed and subjected to be changed over time.
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1. Gender and gender norm
To begin with, it is essential to consider what is meant by gender and gender norms. This section will explore the definition of gender and gender norms and reference is made to the works of academics in the field of gender studies.
Gender, in Hermes’s words, “is the cultural significance given to biological difference of reproductive organs. It refers to men and women, as well as to appropriate ways to be a man or a woman (masculinity and femininity)” (Hermes,2007,p.190). It can be seen that, in Hermes’s account, people’s gender are socially constructed , are culturally built upon male or female bodies. This notion of gender is widely accepted in our society and many feminists defined ‘gender’ in relation to ‘sex’. Feminists assume that sex is biological given and gender is cultural or social construction of this given sex (Gauntlett , 2002). When it comes to gender, it not only means that one is man or woman, “but rather a set of meanings that sexes assume in particular societies. The operation of gender in our society takes up these sets of meaning, organizes them as masculinity or femininity, and matches or line them up with male and female bodies” (Cranny-Francis et al, 2003,p.3). In other words, feminists argued that people will have certain kinds of identity or role due to the fact that they are ‘male’ or ‘female’ in terms of biology (Gauntlett, 2002).
In 1987, West and Zimmerman conceptualise ‘gender’ not “as set of traits, nor variable, nor a role” but as something people ‘do’ recurrently in their interactions with others in social life. They stated that: “Doing gender involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expression of masculine and feminine ‘natures’” (West and Zimmerman,1987,p.14). For instance, when a man hold a woman’s hand and guide her across the street, he “does” being masculine and his partner “does” being feminine when she allows to be guided (West and Zimmerman,1987). In West and Zimmerman’s account, “doing gender is unadvoidable” because society’s structure is based on the “essential” differences between male and female. In other words, individuals just can make their activity accountable by performing it as a woman or a man.
Butler: “the binary divide between masculinity and femininity is a social construction built on the binary divide between men and women – which is also a social construction (Gauntlett,2002,pp.135)”.
No distinction btw sex and gender
A person has a masculine gender not really base on he has a male body or not. Gender is socially constructed and is performed by the individual subject through the repetition of …à through the process of social construction(butler)
Gender is a performance -> link: the performance of attractiveness is the performance of gender, people express their masculinity or femininity through their performance of attractiveness. So, what is the embodiment of masculinity and femininity? How can we assess the masculinity or femininity of a person? It depends on gender norms.
Gender is a performance, therefore, gender norm can be understood as the social expectation of people to perform their gender in everyday life.
Gender norm is a set of rules of social order (gender is the repetition of acts -> people everyday’s actions reinforce and reproduce a set of expectations -> a kind of social structure -> its varied in different context such as history or culture and flexible, can be changed over time) (see Giddens in Gauntlett)
In our society, gender norms seem to be established base on how people look in term of physical appearance due to the fact that they are male or female , how they present their self, what kind of activities they take part in.
Gender as a social structure:
Giddens (1998) notes that: “ Society only has form, and that form only has effect on people, in so far as structure is produced and reproduced in what people do” (quoted in Gauntlett, 2002,p.95). It can be implied that
2. Attractiveness in term of body as a form of capital
3. Attractive men and women and the representation of gender in the media ( Masculine and feminine gender norms)
- Who can be seen as attractive (discuss about traditional gender norms)
- Masculinity and femininity in media
Media change gender norms
In summary, gender is unstable and subject to change in different context and in different time. As Hermes (2007”,p.191) put it: “Gender does not assume the same cultural significance everywhere, and gender codes have changed significantly over time”.
4. ‘Metrosexual’ and ‘tomboy’: against the traditional norms
In an attempt to demonstrate the idea that gender norms are flexible and can be changed, this section will produce some insight into the concept of ‘metrosexual’ and ‘tomboy’ which can be seen as against the traditional masculine and feminine norms.
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“By understanding gender as the crucially important difference between men and women, heterosexuality maintain itself as absolute norm”. or “we understand the difference btw men and women as fundamental and as the norm” (Hermes, 2007,p.197) -> masculinity in many ways is defined as how not to appear to be effeminate , femininity is meant not to be masculine -> link to “metrosexual”and “tomboy”-> challenge the traditional norms.
To bring this paper to a close, I summarise the main points here: gender norms shape performances of attractiveness, at the same time are changed and reconstructed by the way individuals perform their gender. Media as a guidance has exerted far reaching influence on people’s perception of gender norms and performances of attractiveness. Moreover, by representing counter-hegemonic images such as ‘metrosexual man’, media has played a vital role in the reconstruction of gender and gender norms.
This paper set out to examine how gender norms shape performance of attractiveness. Firstly, in order to define gender and gender norms, a literature review was presented. Secondly, this essay produced some insight into how attractiveness in terms of the body as a form of capital and discussed how physical norms and performances of attractiveness are related to the construction of gender and gender norms. In the third section, the effect of the media on people’s performances of attractiveness was considered through the way masculinity and femininity are represented in advertising, magazine, and television. In attempt to demonstrate the idea that gender norms are flexible and can be changed, evidence was presented in relation to the concept of ‘metrosexual’ and ‘tomboy’. In conclusion, this assignment suggested that gender norms remain crucial to performances of attractiveness in our society and varied in different context such as history or culture. It could be argued that by the way people choose to perform their gender as well as perform their attractiveness, they are simultaneously reinforcing and changing gender norms.
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