The true meaning of gender

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I never thought the word "gender" could have so much meaning behind it until I had a good look at the people and media around me.  Webster's Third New International Dictionary does not do the word justice by simply defining it as "sex" [1].  Gender helps define what a man or woman of a certain culture does in his or her daily life and how they react to different situations.  For example, the way of life for a family may be that the man goes to work to support his family while his wife stays home to take care of their children.  An example of how a gender would affect reaction would be when a mouse enters a room, the woman may stand on top of a chair and scream while her husband shoos the creature away.  Culture also has an influence on how an individual acts.  Webster's defines culture as "the total pattern of human behavior and its products embodied in thought, speech, action, and artifacts" [2], but I believe

culture is simply the different lifestyles for certain groups of people.   Both culture and gender work together in the media, weaving their way from the visual in the magazine to the subconscious of the viewer's mind.  Half the time the viewer does not keep in mind what these visuals mean.  I have seen pictures in magazines of Middle Eastern women carrying children and laundry, while their husbands are walking with no worry about domestic chores and even seem to have an air of authority about them.  When I looked at those pictures, I thought about how it seemed like the women were doing all the work, while the men were lazy and powerful.  I never gave thought to how the pictures themselves made the Middle East look like a set of nations where women work and men play.  The same concept goes for modern advertising in America.  I have done ad analyses for Pahr the Riv and Gucci advertisements.  If I just saw these ads as I was passing by, I would have never given thought to how they made gender roles look in the United States.  After analyzing the ads, however, I realized that Pahr the Riv portrayed men as people who like sports, don't care about their appearance, and see women as "sexy props."  The Gucci ad seemed to make the point that women like to look beautiful (i.e. make-up, good-looking clothes) and that they like to be on top and be dominant (at least in sexual positions).  These posters suggest that American men and women go by Berger's formula that "men act and women appear" (190)[3].  Even now, I don't give much thought into how an advertisement makes a man or woman look.  I approach television shows the same way.  I can watch entire episodes and not give thought to how it portrays American males and females.  After doing an analysis for a few episodes of The Simpsons on FOX network, I realize that even the television shows that one watches can paint a picture about how people of a certain gender act.  

            FOX network shows a variety of genres throughout the day from cartoons in the morning to comedy and drama in the evening to news at night.  The two main shows for the evening comedy would be The Simpsons and Family Guy.  The Simpsons is a family-oriented comedy show that pokes fun at celebrities, movies, and other television shows.  The targets of the satire can range from George Washington to Transformers.  The Simpsons would be considered family-oriented because the entire family in the show is involved when it comes to the tactics performed in the episodes and the viewer can 

tell that the family members all love each other.  Family Guy is a series that is very similar to The Simpsons in that they also poke fun at celebrities and other forms of media with the same amount of variety, butFamily Guy takes these elements and turns them into situations so stupid, that they are funny, referring to such elements as burping and farting. Family Guy is also different in that the family is always getting into fights and the family dog is always trying to bring peace within the family. The Simpsons, however, portrays a family in which the members have their own disagreements occasionally, but they still love each other in the end, without the help of the family pet.  This portrayal of a normally functioning family is why I chose The Simpsonsfor analyzing how gender is portrayed on television.  From watching the three most recent episodes, "Double, Double, Boy In Trouble", "Treehouse of Horror #19", and "Dangerous Curves", I was able to come up with the following conclusions about how The Simpsons portrays gender.

           Homer is the husband in the family.  He is overweight, balding, and has a beard, suggesting that men do not care about their looks, a characteristic that would make him masculine according to Bordo(193)[3].  Homer is not very intelligent and goes about things in an unintelligible way (in a later analysis of other masculine figures in the series, one may conclude that The Simpsons portrays men as not-so-intelligent).  The episode, "Treehouse," shows just how unintelligent Homer is.  In the beginning of the episode, when he was being sucked in to the voting machine, he made the comment that stuff like this happens in Ohio, but not America, indicating that he did not know Ohio is a state in America.  In another scene, Homer was reading the newspaper in the kitchen when all of the kitchen appliances turned into robots.  When he asked if there was "something different," all of the appliances told him "no," and he believed them, even though the appliances do not normally talk.  His stupidity was also evident in "Trouble," when he threatened to run the car into the tree if his son did not stop flicking boogers, putting his entire family, and himself, in danger because of the son's misbehavior. 

       Though his roles in the episodes may be considered masculine, there are a few traits that some outside sources may consider not-so-masculine.  For one, he shows an everlasting commitment to his wife, Marge.  "Curves" is an excellent example of this attribute.  During the flashbacks that occurred during this episode, we find that, even though Homer and Marge were not too wild about the idea of marriage at first, after some convincing from a friend, Homer was the one that brought up the subject of marriage to Marge.  Years into the couple's marriage, Homer seemed to go astray when he noticed an attractive and possibly younger woman named Sylvia at a party.  However, he was clearly just interested 

in a buddy to have fun with, indicated by participating in a sushi fight with Sylvia.  By the end of the day, Homer was quick to go back to Marge for a romantic evening, even though Sylvia was offering a romantic night of her own.  Five years later, Homer and Marge find out each other's secrets about how they almost cheated on each other.  Even though the couple was mad at each other when the truth was revealed, Homer was still willing to save their marriage and tried very hard to salvage an old carving that said "Homer & Marge".  The fact that Homer was willing to commit to Marge and stay married to her contradicts the Messner's statements about men not being willing to meet the women's demands for high levels of commitment (481)[4].  Homer also participates in helping Marge to raise the kids.  This trait does not necessarily take away from Homer's masculinity, because research that was conducted in the 1980s showed that more fathers were becoming involved with taking care of their children (214)[5]. 

        Homer showed his paternal side in "Trouble" when he was worried about Bart hurting himself from jumping shelf-cases in the Kwik-E-Mart.  Homer's paternal side was more evident when he broke from buying a lottery ticket to save Bart when he jumped off one of the shelf-cases.  Homer also played his fatherly role when he and Marge dropped their baby daughter, Maggie, off at a daycare center.  Both Homer and his wife shared concern about leaving Maggie with unfamiliar faces and Homer decided he would get the baby familiar with the place by showing her a mural that featured Krusty Klown's face, a popular icon to the children in the show.  Homer became protective when Krusty Klown made Maggie cry and took care of the situation by killing Krusty.  Considering all of his traits, Homer would be more of a masculine figure because he is not self-conscious and plays father figure for his children.  The fact that he chooses to be committed to Marge does not really take away his masculine image.

Marge is Homer's wife, who stays at home to do the housework, and often plays the role of mediator in many of the episodes.  Marge's role would be that of a feminine one because she plays the traditional role of housewife, as shown in a scene of "Trouble," when Marge was singing to the dishes as she was washing them.  She shows her motherly attributes in all of the discussed episodes.  Her first attribute is her role of mediator, as shown in "Trouble" and "Treehouse."  In "Trouble," Marge had to stop the family disagreements in the car by telling Bart to stop flicking boogers at his sister and telling Homer to not run the car into the tree.  She played mediator in "Treehouse" when she attempted to break up a fight between two transformer robots by asking them why they were even having a war in the first place and praised the robots when they decided to work together. 

Marge is a very laid-back mother, especially towards Bart, as she showed in the episode, "Trouble."   She justified Bart's recklessness in Kwik-E-Mart by saying, "boys will be boys."  In another 

scene of the episode, after Bart switched places with his rich look-alike, Marge excused "Bart's" weird vocabulary as a stage in his life. Marge also displayed her motherly tenderness when she tucks the imposter Bart in for the night in "Trouble."  She served him a pizza with the crust cut off, tucked his blankets in, and sprinkled his bed with cinnamon to keep the monsters away.  At the end of the episode, when she tucked in the real Bart, she used baby talk to tell him good night. 

Marge would definitely fit into Berger's formula because she has shown a few cases where she was very self-conscious about her looks.  In "Trouble," Marge was concerned about her dress making her arms look fat and was taunted by a kid for being self-conscious.  She did a heavy-hearted sigh in "Treehouse" after a throwing weapon ruined her hairdo.  It seems funny that Marge was picked on for being concerned about her arms looking fat because Bordo stated that "women are supposed to care very much… about looking good…" (193)[3].   Marge does not seem to have any masculine traits at all, so her role would be that of a feminine one. 

Bart is the oldest child and the only son.  He is a big risk-taker, as seen in "Trouble," when he jumped tall shelves in Kwik-E-Mart and attempted to jump off of one of the shelves to land in a grocery cart full of marshmallows.  Later in the episode, when Homer threatened to run the family car, with everyone in it, into a tree if Bart did not stop flicking boogers, he egged Homer on by continuing to

flick his boogers, even though he knew he was putting the entire family in danger.  Bart appears to be addicted to violence and chaotic situations, a trait considered masculine according to Messner when he says "Boys will be (violent) boys" (483)[4].  In "Trouble," Bart was at a family friend's party and set some robot vacuum cleaners to a violent mode so he could send them out to terrorize the guests.  Bart was also shown playing a video game that involved shooting classic cereal mascots, including Captain Crunch and Trix Rabbit, in the episode, "Curves."  Bart would be considered masculine because he is the daredevil of the family and there is nothing feminine about him.

Lisa is the older daughter and the middle child.  She is the one with the intuition in the family, a trait stereotypical of a female.  In "Trouble," Lisa was the first one to figure out that Bart's odd behavior had nothing to do with puberty as the parents suspected.  It turned out she was correct when she bullied "Bart" into admitting that he switched families with the real one. More of her intuition was apparent in "Treehouse."  When the house appliances and cars started acting funny and turned into transformers, Lisa was the first person Homer turned to when he asked her what was going on.  Even though she had no prior knowledge of what was going on before, Lisa was still able to explain that the transformer robots were waging a war with each other and chose Earth for their battleground, which turned out to be correct.  There was another scene in the episode when Bart's friend Milhouse's imagination brought forth the Grand Pumpkin who terrorized the children.  It was Lisa who came up with the solution that Milhouse should use his imagination to conjure another large creature, Tom Turkey, to vanquish the large pumpkin.  Of course, the plan worked.  Lisa was also the one who attempted to warn Bart and Milhouse about telling Tom Turkey about how they eat turkey for Thanksgiving, but she could not get the warning in on time, and Tom Turkey began attacking the children. 

Despite her feminine intuition, Lisa seems to have a somewhat violent streak, a trait that is considered more masculine. She does not stick with Devor's statement about women acting in ways that display weakness (429)[6].  In fact, Lisa could perhaps be a good example of a third-wave feminist, as 

these days "men and women can adopt one another's lifestyles" (202)[7].  In other words, it seems to be okay now for women to mix gender traits.  In "Trouble," she settles her disagreements with Bart by engaging in fistfights.  In "Treehouse," she vents off her frustration with Milhouse by shaking him and punching him before walking off to attend a party.  Despite her violent streak, she is a very sympathetic character.  Her actions indicate that she is "sensitive to the needs of others", a trait considered feminine (429)[6].   Lisa chose to stay with Milhouse when he was crying in "Treehouse", even though it was just because "his glasses might fog up."  She also showed her sympathetic side in "Curves" when she got onto Bart for "waking the baby" with their fighting.   Even though she has sympathetic traits, Lisa's smarts and streak of violence make her seem like an independent woman.  However, it's really hard to tell if that is how she is going to be the rest of her life because she is still very young and has plenty of time to change her attitude and personality.

Milhouse is Bart's best friend and though his roles are generally small, he did have a more significant one in "Treehouse."  Milhouse imitated Linus from Peanuts by dressing the same way as him and carrying around a security blanket like Linus.  The fact that Milhouse needed a security blanket would suggest that he has some insecurities and he is displaying that to the public, which would not be a masculine trait at all because men must hold "a position of secure dominance" in order to be considered manly (431)[6].

He also showed his lack of intelligence by believing Bart about the Grand Pumpkin, who is really just a make-believe character.  In fact he even seems to be worshipping the Grand Pumpkin by praying to 

it.  His low intelligence is more proof that The Simpsons portray men as stupid.  Milhouse's stupidity is ridiculed by peers when they make fun of him for believing in the Grand Pumpkin.  His lack of intelligence also proves to be disastrous when he informs the now real Grand Pumpkin that they carve and eat pumpkins.  This fact sends the Grand Pumpkin in a rage and he eats anyone he sees exploiting his kind.  Milhouse still did not learn from his mistake after he conjured Tom Turkey.  Both he and Bart were trying to invite him to be the honorary guest for the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner and brought up how they eat delicious turkeys every year.  Tom Turkey was enraged and he became the new terrorist for the children. 

Milhouse seemed to have a narcissistic trait to him, something Bordo says is a woman's trait (190)[3].  He woke Lisa up while he was rehearsing how to say the Grand Pumpkin had arrived.  As a result of this narcissistic act, Lisa shook him and punched him before leaving for a party.  It is also important to note that Milhouse is the only one who cries, besides baby Maggie.  Milhouse would be the least masculine figure of the show because he has insecurities, is narcissistic, and cries.  The only trait that aligns him with the other male characters would be his stupidity.

There are other gender stereotypes that are portrayed in the series that are enacted by other characters.  The transformer robots in "Treehouse" had masculine voices and showed their violent side by engaging in war combat.  They also proved their stupidity when Marge asked them why they were even having a war, with which the transformer robots replied that they could not remember.  These transformer robots once again prove the fact that The Simpsons portrays men as unintelligent life-forms.  Feminism appears to be criticized in "Treehouse" when Milhouse complimented Lisa's witch costume and she retorted that it was not a witch costume, it was Wiccan.  She then stated in frustration, "Why is it when a woman is confident and powerful they call her a witch?"  Lisa's statement goes along very well with the idea in "Mediating Hillary Rodham Clinton" that "women in power are… to be feared" (377)[8].  This part in the show seems to convey the message that women who have power will be compared with figures that are much feared by mankind, i.e. a witch.

Whether or not any of the main characters have a job or a career is not indicated in any of the three episodes I viewed, so I cannot come to any conclusions about whether The Simpsons have men stick to the traditional breadwinner role. All of the older couples that were shown in the three episodes were married and still in love, which disagrees with Messner's statement about men not being willing to commit to a relationship with a woman (481)[4].  It seems the male figures in the series are not very smart and for some reason only Milhouse's lack of intelligence has been punished while Homer's yielded no consequences.  Marge's passivity and Lisa's somewhat fiery character are both good indicators of how women today fit into so many roles, such as the tender mother and the woman who will not accept any wrong done to her.  Nearly all of these points, with the exception of men being portrayed as stupid, apply and do not apply to real life.  This is because today's American culture is so diverse that it is really hard to tell what the specific expectations are.  For example, men are portrayed as violent in The Simpsons, but at my high school, I believe there were just as many girl fights as there were boy fights.  Also, feminism is criticized and accepted in my home town of Bainbridge, Georgia.  While some people cringe at the word "feminist", others are strong advocates for gender equality.  As far as the whole part about men staying committed to their spouses, that too is diverse.  It seems that half of Bainbridge consists of married couples and most of the other half consists of people who are divorced.  Wives are just as likely to be unfaithful as are the husbands. However, Bainbridge fathers are not as involved in their children's lives as the mothers, a contrast to Homer, who shares the responsibility with Marge.