The Quest for Lighter Skin

The media plays a crucial role in setting out the idea of what is considered as “ideal female beauty” in South and East-Asian countries.  Ponds Flawless White, a branch of world-renowned company Ponds, is a fairness cream which specifically targets the young female audience in countries in these regions. In these areas, female beauty is not considered by the features of the woman, which includes facial features, height, body structure, etc, but rather the paleness of her skin. These Asian women have been finely tuned to a certain idea of female beauty, believing that tanned skin represents the impoverished, whereas those with pale skin represent wealth, class and luxury.  The campaign’s tagline, “7 days to Love,” a preferred reading, blatantly reveals to the audience that the only way they can achieve the ideal look is by using the advertised fairness product, ensuring a “radiant” complexion. If not, they will never find someone who will “love” them. The advertisement therefore discriminates women using stereotypical female traits, oppresses and conditions them into a constant state of paranoia.

In short, the advertisement, broadcasted on various forms of media around Asia, depicts a young couple splitting up where the girl is still evidently in love with the boy. After many years, she sees his picture in a magazine with his beautiful and “fair” fiancée. He later sees  her on the road but does not approach her (possibly because she is not as “radiant” as his fiancée). She later texts him, and without him knowing, his fiancée replies with a rude message. This incident urges her to start using the fairness product, where after exactly seven days of usage, she becomes “fair” and “radiant” and her love interest begs to be with her again. The female protagonist in the ad is seen wearing pink throughout the ad, a stereotypical feminine colour as well as the colour of the cream itself, which gives a “pinkish glow” to its users. She constantly thinks about her love interest despite their break up and later texts him with good wishes after knowing that he is engaged, revealing a typical “caring” and “affectionate” female nature.


The socialization process in these Asian nations is such that, from the very beginning of their lives, females are taught to believe that they are inferior to their male counterparts. They live in accordance with the patriarchal system of society, conditioned to believe that they were born inferior, both physically and mentally, and will always remain that way. In the advertisement, the female protagonist only starts using the cream in order to please the eyes and gain the confidence she never had, reinforcing patriarchy. The male, however, is empowered, having two girls to choose from.  There is no depth to her character- she is merely an object displayed for visual pleasure to men (Sellnow 99).


The ads have been reproduced according to country, using renowned actresses who act like models to the younger female population, (i.e. ex Miss World’s). The ad is targeted towards very young audiences, probably aged fourteen to their mid-twenties, who are yet to enter a relationship. Watching such ads at such a vulnerable age conditions and makes them more susceptible to using such products to ”enhance their beauty.” Their psychology is thus greatly affected once they feel as if they do not live up to the social expectations of the ideal woman.



Therefore, the social stigma, beliefs and oppression on Asian women with darker complexions by this advertisement handicaps them, creating a constant state of paranoia and frustration regarding their skin complexion.


Ponds Flawless White 7 Days to Love. Advertisement. N.p., n.d. Web.

Sellnow, Deanna D. “Feminist Perspectives.” The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2010. 98-99. Print.


Feminine and Masculine Ideals of Venus Embrace

Every once in a while, if I find the time, I’ll flip through a Seventeen magazine to relax and see what’s new in the world of fashion and pop culture. The last time I did this I stumbled upon an advertisement for Venus Embrace razors that caught my attention. It displays a man and a woman in an embrace with the phrase, “Goddess of he’s mine”. This ad caught my attention because the people seemed very happy and simply loving their life, but also fairly sexualized. I chose this advertisement to analyze because it strongly reinforces the “typical” male and female roles and portrays them as something that is desirable to the readers of Seventeen magazines. However, I believe that the advertisement has aspects an inflected oppositional reading. The three main ways in which it does this is by reinforcing masculine hegemony along with the ideals of masculinity and femininity; reinforcing the stereotypical roles for men and women to follow; yet, the ad communicates a conflicting message about power between the characters. It conveys these messages through appearance of the characters, the behaviours of the characters, and finally the character position and “slogan” of the advertisement.

One important part of this ad to look at is the support of masculine hegemony and feminine ideals, through the appearance of the characters. The characters of the male and female are explicitly shown as models that the audience should be like, and the anti-models are implied to be the opposite of the presented characters. The woman is seen as a model because she is thin, pretty, happy, and very feminine. The man is seen as masculine, fit and handsome; he emphasizes masculine hegemony because he is a heterosexual male who fits into a specific category of masculinity. Furthermore, the feminine ideals are displayed through the woman’s little pink bikini, smooth legs, and pretty hairstyle. These ideals being reinforced isn’t good because they teach the audience of the ad (typically women ages 13-20) that all of these qualities are what you need to be happy in a relationship, like the people in this advertisement.


Another aspect of the advertisement to consider is the portrayal of male and female roles through the behaviours of the characters. For example, the man staring at the woman’s legs is an instance of “male gaze” because he sees her as a sexual object to be stared at. This is especially detrimental to women since most of the viewers of this ad are women, who are supposed to identify with the female character. If they do this, they may see it as okay for men to appreciate them solely based on their physical attributes and their beauty.

Finally, the part of this advertisement that encourages me to categorize it as an inflected oppositional reading is the conflicting message that it sends about patriarchy and power within the relationship. It seems as though the woman is in power because she has “claimed” her man; this can be seen in the slogan “Goddess of he’s mine” displayed beside the couple, and the way that the woman is embracing the man. Both of these things contribute to the woman’s empowerment because, the possessive quality of the slogan leads the audience to believe that she has power over the man, and the embrace does the same, since the woman is in control in their positioning. Nonetheless, this is a mere bending of patriarchy because it appears that the woman only got her power through being attractive and being something that the man wanted. If she was less desirable to the man, she would likely not be in power. This is a negative message to women as it shows beauty as a necessity to gain power, which is not the case.

It is beneficial to think critically about these types of advertisements in order to question the messages that magazines are sending to young readers, specifically female readers. These messages of beauty and strict feminine and masculine roles are fairly dominant throughout Seventeen magazines, and it makes me wonder, is this really what the media should be teaching young women?

Images courtesy of Seventeen magazine.

Misogyny disguised as Female Empowerment – A Gleeful Analysis by Jessica S.


Every episode of Glee has a theme; and in one of their most recent episodes, Sadie Hawkins, the theme is female empowerment. The episode starts off with Tina, a glee club member, complaining to the “Too Young to be Bitter Club”, a group of girls who complain about being treated unequally, but the name in itself is degrading. She questions “Why are the guys so empowered to ask us to a dance, when we just have to sit around and wait, wouldn’t it be great if we got to choose?” She then proceeds to organize a Sadie Hawkins dance, where the girls can ask the guys. The main hegemony of the episode is introduced, where it is abnormal for a girl to ask a guy to the dance and that they are not allowed to do it any other time otherwise it is abnormal.

The girls are portrayed as models, the viewers are supposed to agree with them. We are supposed to agree with Tina, it is desirable to want to feel empowered, but undesirable to go against societies rules to ask out boys.

In a lot of ways Glee can be looked through an inflected oppositional reading just because the show itself tries to break away from the status quo. However, in Sadie Hawkins, the messages can be seen as preferred occluded reading because they are telling you what is normal and desirable under the blanket that the show is promoting feminist empowerment.

There is a scene where a couple of the glee club guys are walking down the school hallway, the girls are gawking at them, and they feel awkward. Artie and Ryder are having a conversation and Brittany interrupts.

Artie: “I feel totally powerless”                                                                                           Ryder: “This must be what the girls feel like all the time…”                                           Brittany (annoyed): “It is”

These few lines exemplify radical feminism. The ideology being that, women have less power than men. The males feel the difference between having power as a male, whereas feeling powerless when put in a situation a female is usually in. What is worse is that the female reinforces that feeling is accurate. It amplifies the patriarchal system and the masculine hegemony.

Even when asking out the guys, Kitty, one of the cheerleaders in the glee club encounters backlash because she is seen as obnoxious. To refute this she states “I’m a mean, hot, bitch, who likes to get what she wants”, deducing that in order to get what you want if you are female, you are labeled a “bitch”, and she accepts it, as it is what she calls herself.

The girls, in this episode, never actually display any “female empowering” qualities, other than asking out their dates, but instead the men just keep saying that they are “empowered”. The even sing a female empowered song titled “No Scrubs” by TLC. But, by having the men tell them this, they still have all the power, and only if they tell the women they are powerful it gratifies it. Essentially, after the Sadie Hawkins dance is over everything will return to “normal”. At the end of the episode, it seems the females have become empowered and feel good about themselves. The “Too Young to be Bitter Club” gets cancelled, and a bunch of the girls are seen celebrating their newfound empowerment.

When a show such as Glee heavily promotes and endorses acceptance and being different, misogyny tends to get overlooked. The main characters are part of a glee club, and are considered outcasts; they are multiracial, transgendered, gay, bisexual, lesbian, handicapped, and have mental illnesses. Their targeted audience is assumed to be more cultured and accepting, which in some ways makes it easier to accept what is normal on Glee, because the viewers expect them to go against the social norms of society and promote equality. Being a show that is both trying to break away from the social norms, and at the same time ratifying misogyny sends mixed messages. It can make the viewers agree with certain anti-feminist ideologies without thinking about the actual message the show is trying to express.

Girl Meets World



Boy meets world is a television series that features Cory Matthews, a young boy in sixth grade and his struggles of growing up. The series also stars Cory’s two best friends, Shawn and Topanga. In season one – episode four, Cory must work on a group project with a partner that is assigned to him, thus Topanga is introduced.  Topanga is portrayed as the atypical girl, “weird” in the eyes of the other students. She typically goes against the norms of society, doing what she feels is right and not what society tells her she should do, however this leads her classmates to make fun of her and call her names. Moreover, she is a dominating female, often telling Cory what to do and taking the lead. This represents an occluded preferred reading because although Topanga is bending the stereotypical feminine behaviours, her actions are seen as unwanted and abnormal, therefore making her an anti-model.

In the first scene (2:30 – 3:15) Topanga and Cory are named partners and Topanga checks to see if their energies converge. Cory’s reaction to ask to switch partners reveals to the audience that Topanga’s actions are not the norm and one should not strive to be like her. This sets the background for the second scene (8:40 – 9:35), where Cory and Topanga are working on the project. Topanga performs an interpretive dance as a suggestion for their presentation. Cory is not willing to do this in front of his classmates because he think they will make fun of him, further solidifying the ideology of Topanga’s weirdness. Cory goes on to say “You’re gonna be one of those girls who doesn’t shave her legs, aren’t you?” This statement represents the idea that a girl must look presentable, which means shaving their legs and if a girl does not adhere to this idea, she is strange. Topanga’s response of “I haven’t decided yet,” proves that she does not go along with the norms of society.

In the final scene (19:54 – 21), Topanga and Cory are in the school hallway and Topanga is about to kiss Cory. As a sixth grade boy, he is reluctant, yet Topanga points out that it would be interesting if his first kiss was when he thought he looked “weird.” This notion represents the idea that people should not like you when you are weird looking and that it is looks that matter more than personality. Topanga furthers her thoughts by saying “it’s not what you look like on the outside that matters, it’s what kind of person you are.” In today’s society with plastic surgery and the media so readily available, people are always striving to look their best, her statement goes against the norm of looks being the dominant method of judging a person. Furthermore, the scene concluded by Topanga pushing Cory up against a locker and kissing him. This is rarely seen in a typical chick flick or romance movie, because it is usually the women who want the men to make the first move.  Topanga’s dominance over Cory is stereotypically seen as unwanted because a woman is supposed to be submissive to the man and allow him to take the lead.

The messages in this episode of Boy Meets World reveal an occluded preferred reading because the ideologies of feminism are hidden behind the negative reactions to Topanga’s behaviour. The audience is taught that Topanga is an anti-model, and to strive to be like her is to be abnormal. While most young girls are interested in fitting in, looking pretty and boys chasing them, whereas Topanga is only interested in being herself. The idea of being yourself is also seen as atypical because one should do all they can to fit the dominant hegemony.

Cory’s Alternative Friends. Boy Meets World. ABC. 15 Oct. 1993. Television

Being Brave

Pixar’s animation movie Brave is a story about a princess named Merida who is “destined” to be betrothed. Though her mother, the Queen, expects her to be patient, compassionate, elegant and strive for perfection, Merida is not a stereotypical princess. Princess Merida does not follow the stereotype by being an independent, tough, and strong-willed person (not to mention she uses weapons). She is expected to fulfill her responsibilities and has her life set out by her mother, however that is not what she wants. Merida wants to be free and live out her own fate. The movie Brave bends hegemony through actions of the Queen, it challenges stereotypical gender roles through Princess Merida deciding her own fate and the movie can be perceived from a liberal feminist perspective.

Through a feminist perspective, Princess Merida is conveyed with “inappropriate” and “undesirable” gender role and rules. Instead of being the stereotypical princess who is sweet, gentle, elegant and perfect, Merida is strong, independent and perfectly imperfect. Her image is not like the typical princess look of having luxury clothes and straight hair. Merida is rowdy with big curly red hair. She twists the stereotypical gender roles by taking charge of her own fate and not having the “fairy tale ending” with a prince by her side. In a typical fairy tale, the Prince choses the Princess to live happily ever after, but Merida decides that she is not ready and does not want to get married, so then she takes action and behaves in an “inappropriate” way for a princess to fulfill her desire and defies custom tradition.

In the movie, viewers can look at the story through inflected oppositional reading. Brave can be read with inflected oppositional reading because through the structuring of the family there is a bend of patriarchy to suit ones needs. Though the King is to be the ruler of the land, the Queen is portrayed to have more power over the King. The King is supposed to be the mighty and level-headed leader, but in Brave, the Queen is the one who is in higher power and have more responsibilities than the King. For example; in the scene where King gets into a rough dispute with the other Lords and the Queen just steps in and stops it all in an elegant manner. Whereas in other stereotypical scenarios; it would have been settled with the King defeating all the other Lords.

The movie can be studied through a liberal feminist perspective. Liberal feminist perspective focuses on inclusion of women in traditional male dominant areas. This ideology is reinforced within Brave portrayed through Merida and her use of weapons. In the setting of Brave, it is in an era where the men are in active and women are passive. Merida breaks the traditional custom by choosing to take a part in archery. Her passion leads her into a situation where her family choses for her to decide her own destiny. She is the first princess who is able to decide her own fate and not be betrothed through parents’ wishes.

Overall, even though the movie Brave conveys “inappropriate” and “undesirable” roles and rules for women, it teaches the viewers that one does not have to reinforce the hegemony ideology; one can bend or reject patriarchy, break traditional customs, and the alternative worldview can be beneficial to all. Princess Merida shows this moral by being an independent woman and choosing her own fate, which ends in her happiness as well as peace within the kingdom.

♥Stepford Wives♥: True Perfection or a Frightening Ideology? – A Radical Feminist Perspective

Stepford Wives

Paramount Picture’s The Stepford Wives revolves around Joanna, a Manhattan career woman who, after being fired from her job, moves her family to the chic Connecticut town of Stepford. All of the women of Stepford are robotically blissful, tirelessly subservient, and impossibly flawless. Quite the opposite of Joanna’s independent, assertive nature and somewhat masculine appearance which goes against this dominant ideal. (Sellnow, 93) Neither the men nor the women work and the men’s expectations of their wives assume that they spend the day at home cooking, cleaning and awaiting their husbands’ return to feed and seduce them on demand. This suggests that being a ‘Stepford Wife’ is the normal, appropriate and desirable way for a woman to behave in society. Targeted towards a young female audience, this film depicts a subverted oppositional reading in it’s use of exaggerated forms of perceived female normalcy which outrightly mock and reject patriarchal hegemony. With a touch of horror, the female audience is forced to question whether these taken-for-granted beliefs are truly the perfect way things ought to be, or, if society is just adhering to frightening ideologies created by a patriarchal hegemonic system.

The clip begins with Joanna being driven through the perfectly groomed streets of Stepford by a well-known resident; Claire. Upon passing a secluded, sturdy, dark stone building up on a hill, Joanna soon finds out that this is the Stepford Men’s Association. As the women arrive at the Simply Stepford Day Spa for women (a street-level, white structure surrounded by an angel fountain and pink flowers) viewers are immediately reminded of the ideological belief that even the separate associations to which men belong are strong, powerful, and above the ‘pretty’, trivialized organizations of women. Subjects versus Objects.

As Joanna enters the spa to ‘work out’ in sweat clothes she is greeted, in perfect unison, by the ‘Stepford Wives’ ready to begin their aerobics class in dresses and stilettos with flawlessly coifed hair and impeccable make-up; seemingly appropriate exercise attire for women. Bewildered, Joanna questions Claire and is met with a response of equal surprise in reference to her: “…why imagine, if our husbands saw us in worn, dark, urban sweat clothes, with stringy hair and almost no make-up!” (The Stepford Wives, 2004) This reinforces the audience’s initial view of dowdy, outspoken Joanna as the undesirable anti-model compared to the desirable model(s) who follow the rule that women “are supposed to be objects who should look pretty and act only as supporters of male agents and male agendas”. (Sellnow, 94)

The ladies then engage in a series of exercises based on household tasks and appliances suggesting that this is the appropriate ladylike form of exercise and consistent with the created dominant ideology of a female’s single value; a homemaker. As the scene continues, viewers start to identify with Joanna as their views of the model and anti-model begin to reverse. They realize that something is not right about the behaviours of these women and see Joanna as a woman with a brain and a spine; the true model they want to be like.

At first glance, this film appears to portray the message that being a ‘Stepford Wife’ is the normal, appropriate and desirable way for a woman to behave in society. However, a deeper analysis uncovers the true message hidden in the subtext: the taken-for-granted beliefs of how a perfect woman should behave in society are, in reality, only ideologies created by a patriarchal hegemonic system by which we allow ourselves to comply.

Works Cited:

Sellnow, Deanna D. The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2010. Print.

“The Stepford Wives (2004)”. IMDb, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2013

“The Stepford Wives (2004)”. YouTube, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2013

The Stepford Wives (2/8) Movie CLIP – Clairobics (2004)”. YouTube MovieClips, 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.


Feminism and The Paper Bag Princess

Robert Munsch’s classic children’s book “The Paper Bag Princess” provides a twist on the classic “damsel in distress” tale.  In this story, a dragon burns down the Princess’ castle and steals away her Prince, who was also her fiancée. Instead of the typical Prince Charming saving the day, it was the Princess that had to come to the Prince’s rescue wearing nothing but a paper bag. This portrays a subverted oppositional reading that goes against the dominant view of females in fairy tales as wearing sparkling jewelry, long gowns, and dependent on their prince .  The target audience (preschool children) are taught that girls do not have to look pretty and wait for their prince charming to save the day; they can just as easily take charge and solve their own dilemmas. This message is delivered through Princess Elizabeth’s perseverance in fighting the giant intimidating dragon, her unorthodox “unladylike” attire and her decision to not marry the prince in the end.

In the beginning, Princess Elizabeth is introduced as a “beautiful princess” that had “expensive princess cloths”.  She is pictured wearing a long pink dress and blond hair.  However, when the dragon burns down her castle, she is left covered in ashes with messy hair and no clothes or shoes.  This is not the typical princess look. She looks dirty and sloppy which would not be desirable to most people.  Despite this, Princess Elizabeth still decided to search for her true love.  Instead of taking the predictable route of fighting the dragon (as you would expect a male to do in her case), she decided to try and outwit and manipulate him to get her prince back, showing that women can be intellectually capable and employ the power of persuasion.  While most fairy tales would probably have shown a princess being terrified to fight a giant fire breathing dragon, the Princess did not hesitate at all in taking on the dragon.  This teaches young girls the value of fighting their own battles.  In the end, when the she finally saved the Prince, he responded by saying, “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess” (Munsch, 16)

Readers see her appearance as an inappropriate female characteristic.  The Prince’s comment about her not being a “real” princess heavily supports the dominant hegemony that women should be dressed in clean girly clothes.  Despite the suggestion that the Princess should be seen as an “anti-model”, she maintained her headstrong attitude and refused to conform to that stereotype.  Her response was quite witty and unsuspecting for a princess: “Your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum” (Munsch, 17).  They then decided not to get married, and she is shown frolicking in the sunlight, paper bag and all.  This goes against the typical “happily ever after” ending in fairy tales.  She was not left heartbroken and helpless; rather, she seemed to look free and liberated now that she was no longer bounded by the constraints of the typical “princess life”.

The messages depicted in The Paper Bag Princess go against the masculine hegemony that supports the oppression of females.  While typical children’s’ fairytales feature a longing princess waiting for her chivalrous knight in shining armor to come galavanting on a horse, Princess Elizabeth takes things into her own hands in order to save the day.  Although the Prince’s character tries to promote the stereotypical feminine princess image and outright rejects Elizabeth when she shows up in a paper bag, it is her attitude and reluctance to give in to that stereotype that provides the overall basis of the subverted oppositional reading.  She has no problem putting the prince in his place and leave him, showing young readers that women are independent and are not under a man’s control.

Munsch, Robert N. The Paper Bag Princess. Toronto: Annick Press, 1980. Print.