Feminism at its core is the shared philosophy which aims to create justice for women through equal rights. Feminists are described as a person who believes in equal; social, political and economical opportunities for the sexes. Bell Hooks or Gloria Jean Watkins, a social activist goes further to include men’s liberation; as she contends that all people can suffer from the toxicity of traditional gender roles.
Through the analysis of society, feminist theory was created. It addresses the following areas; discrimination, objectification and commodity, oppression, patriarchy and stereotyping. By examining these societal issues within pop culture and mass media, the conversation of feminism is far more successful as the receptive audience is much greater. The potential to advance feminism, more powerful.
In contemporary society the word; feminism or feminist has become too polluted with negative connotations. In his article, Why men have a problem with the word ‘feminism’ Martin Daubney, addresses this issue, “In the...increasingly hostile world of 21st century sexual politics, to me the word [feminism] now symbolizes a megalith of negativity; a lightning rod for all that is bad about how men and women interact.”
In Why Don’t More People Call Themselves Feminist? Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan emphasizes the negative connotations of feminism, “I believe in equal rights, sure but a feminist? The term seemed aggressive, dated, intimidating.”
The hesitation of embracing the term; feminism, is designed to extend Filipovic’s contention. A survey conducted in 2013 by YouGov found that 72 percent of people do not identify as feminists. Conversely when participants were given the dictionary meaning of this tainted word 57 percent came to the conclusion that they were indeed feminists.
Filipovic is also able to establish connections between negativity/feminist and pop culture. Her examples include media powerhouses like: Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Shailene Woodley all of whom do not identify as feminists. The aim through this body of work is to demonstrate how feminist ideas are still being imparted into mass media and why this is positive thing.
Mass media will be defined as anything that has a wide reaching audience. This new way of showcasing feminist ideas can be regarded to be more effective in imparting feminist ideologies, as they are able to be displayed in a non-threatening manner. Which actively works against what could be considered the pitfall of feminism in the past; its delivery.
The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers, have been selected to reinforce our understandings of feminist ideas in mass media. They are able to convey their message in neat 20-minute installments, they communicate the idea in a humorous, satirical or parodying fashion. The timing of the series is also important to understand, The Simpsons pieces examined are from the mid 90‘s while examples from Bob’s Burgers are from post-2011. This will also enable us to gauge how the presentation of feminism has altered over the last 20 years and how it has strengthened.
The Springfield Connection, first airing May 7th 1995 reaching 12.7 million viewers. This episode explores typical roles inside and outside the home. It challenges the status quo and investigates corruption within bodies of authority.
The episode opens with Marge exposing a con-man, after Homer falls victim to him. This is quickly followed by a chase scene. Marge in this instance takes action into to her own hands after resistance from bystanders. Homer attempts to give chase too but is unable due to his non-existence of fitness. Marge successfully apprehends the criminal while Homer remained useless.
Gender roles are examined here as Marge is the one who is the hero whilst Homer is the passive one. Despite this obvious switch the scene closes with Homer comforting Marge by holding her, thus an act of dominance.This is also connoted in traditional art, for example Pluto and Persephone.
Marge is not content with this forced re-reversal; denoted by her disgruntled exhale and facial expression. The linguistic found within this scene speak volumes, Homer attempts to uphold traditional social order and naturalize Marge’s and the police’s roles in society through speech acts. It is here feminist frustration is effectively conveyed as the patriarchy undermines individual achievement.
Although this does not stop Marge from actively pursuing new desires of becoming a police officer. Later Homer is feeling emasculated due to Marge earning a position amongst the male dominated Springfield police force. This taps into Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey brands on feminism, both forging careers in typically male industries. This scene challenges the ideas of what the passive housewife is. It is also worth noting that for Homer it is acceptable for him to tap into feminine codes but threatening when Marge does the same with male codes. The female codes being the wearing of woman’s underwear and cocked leg during the closing kiss.
It highlights the gap that exists between male and female identities. In the end Marge’s feminist momentum succumbs to the corruption found in the police force, the agent for upholding the patriarchal ideas or law. Marge’s steps to liberation being nullified by an overbearing authoritarian body is all too common in the attempts to advance feminism. Marge’s Daughter Lisa is also actively a representative of feminine ideology. Lisa Vs Malibu Stacy investigates objectification and commodity.
Within this episode, originally airing February 17th 1994, seen by 20.5 million people. The doll is a vessel for exploring a child’s own thoughts and feelings. In Lisa Vs Malibu Stacy, this relationship becomes perverted and provides the stimulus that Lisa needs to embark on feminist conquest. Lisa’s methods reflect real-life feminist Gloria Steinem who was a leader of second wave feminism in the 60’s and 70’s. The subject matter for this episode mirrors real life events where Mattel released a talking Barbie, 1992 ‘Teen-Talk Barbie’, which promoted non-progressive feminist lines, like “Math is hard.” Within The Simpsons, Lisa is disappointed by the new Malibu Stacy doll, as she understands the potential the doll has to corrupt a generation, this aligning itself to the education of young women, also seen as a primary concern Mary Wollstonecraft back in the 1700’s. Malibu Stacy through her speech acts is able to maintain traditional female identity as a passive object, one of the areas that is investigated in feminist theory.
When Lisa retorts Bart about it teaching girls the ‘right way to act’ Lisa is able to verbalize her very role within The Simpsons. That is to be a moral compass and a framework for contemporary conduct for viewers. Her actions and thoughts are progressive. In this sense, she advocates her own beliefs and is able to propel feminist ideologies forward. In Lisa VS Malibu Stacy other feminine notions like; not all woman are feminists are explored, this is put forward by Judith Butler.
This is explored over the dinner table where Marge feels Lisa ‘might be over doing; the stand up for what you believe in.’ Marge supports her own claim by recounting her experience with Malibu Stacy and stating that she was not corrupted. Marge attempts to diffuse the situation with a “big bowl of strawberry ice-cream.” Instead of being submissive, Lisa rebuts by allowing the doll to speak, “Now lets forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice-cream”
Lisa emerges victorious. It is important for characters like Lisa to exist and not be the villain or butt of a joke as it demonstrates that it is acceptable to be yourself. Gloria Steinem testifies this matter, “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke.” These examples solidify the belief of culture contributing to the construction of gender identities.
It is clear within these episodes of The Simpsons that feminist ideas can be presented without it being mocked or viewers being bombarded. In comparison to Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons is more overt in its communication. While characters like Lisa Simpson actively articulate their feminist position, a character like Tina Belcher expresses her feminist views in the mundane actions of her daily life.
The feminist ideas found within Bob’s Burgers are far more subtle in their presentation. However their understated quality makes them all the more enticing. There appearance within any given episode is ubiquitous. The continual representation of feminist goals is more progressive. These goals concerning areas of equal say and discourse of traditional gender roles. The choice of repetition to present feminist qualities actively works towards its own naturalization. This being said, the characters do not label themselves as feminist but rather operate in such a way that their actions are examples of feminism. They embody the positivity that is bought about by feminist efforts.
In contrast with Lisa Simpson, Tina Belcher is far more subversive. At times Tina would even deny her status as a feminist icon, “I’m no hero. I put my bra on one boob at at time like everyone else.”
She is wise and confident beyond her 13 years. She knows what she wants in life and isn’t afraid to make this clear. Her appearance in pop culture is important as puberty has hit her hard. She is boy-crazy. Dissimilar to other characters like Quinn Morgandorpher from Daria, where a girl’s hormones often constitute a motif of ridicule or the female is the subject of masculine desires, in the case of Bob’s Burgers, Tina is in control of the situation. Research published by Western Carolina University states that when exposed to sexist humor viewers are more accepting of hostility and discrimination towards women.
Within Tina’s frequent fantasies there is an instance where she does not want just one boyfriend but ten. This displays her ambition as a contemporary women. She speaks her mind and plays the part of an awkward teen well, all of which she wears proudly. She transcends the patriarchy by not hiding who she is. Tina is empowered by personal liberation. Tina is correct when she declares that she is a “smart, strong, sensual woman.”
Her little brother Gene Belcher is another character who is important to examine in the representation of feminism in mass media.Gene is different from Tina because of what dangles between his legs. Furthermore his penis does not dictate his identity. This thinking is distinctly different from the ideas presented by artists like Steven Cohen in Coq/Cock, where he argues his identity is intwined with his penis.
It is with Gene that gender roles and their normality are examined. More importantly he accepts feminism and moves with the time. Gloria Steinem within Caroline Evensen Lazo declares, “The future depends entirely on what each of us does everyday. After all a movement is only people moving.” Gene can therefore be considered a product of feminism as he accepts those around him as his equals and negates sexism.Gene’s story arcs often include his sisters, spending most of his free time with them, he asserts, “this is why I’m only friends with women”after seeing two boys wrestling.
These subtle jabs at typical gender behavior are significant for the portrayal of feminism. This line polarizes and satirizes those women who condemn their own gender for all being the same and opt for male companionship, as if this is better. Gene is able to champion that it is perfectly acceptable to act in a feminist manner. He normalizes a males relation to the female experience and shows that it is not disgusting. This is seen when he uses tampons, pads and strawberry jam to create a table setting for a competition, naming it ‘menstu-rant’.
Gene is not phased by these products as men are often presented to be. Other cases of Gene presenting feminine ideology are; wearing a female bathing suit while synchronised swimming.
Or calling on Queen Latifah for strength.
Most notably, like Tina, Gene receives no backlash for acting this way. Furthermore Gene does play into typical male codes too by enjoying the production and sound of farts!
To conclude, the presentation of feminism in pop culture and mass media is important for the advancement of feminism as these methods are effective in communicating feminist ideology. Through the strength of Marge and Lisa Simpson we can question gender roles and its cultural construction. In comparison, we see, contemporary feminism in Bob’s Burgers, where males; Gene, promote feminist ideals and finally Tina who is liberated by her own hands. The television series presented mirror our own society in a utopian light which we, in turn should endeavor to reflect.
Steinem, Gloria. “Sisterhood.” In New York Magazine. 41. New York: New York Media LLC, 1971.
Butler, Judith. “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire.” in The Cultural Studies Reader (2nd edition), edited by Simon During, 340-354. London: Routledge, 1993.
hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Lazo. E. Caroline. Gloria Steinem: Feminist Extraordinaire. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 1997.
Martin Daubney “Why men have a problem with the word ‘feminism” The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11220536/Why-men-have-a-problem-with-the-word-feminism.html
Jill Filipovic “Why Don’t More People Call Themselves Feminists?” Cosmopolitan. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/news/a28510/misconceptions-about-feminism/
Vocative. “Sexual Exhibitionism or Performance Art?” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsx9gtQM8f8
Western Carolina University. "Sexist Humor No Laughing Matter, Psychologist Says." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071106083038.htm
WikiBooks. “Relationships/Hades-Persephone” http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Relationships/Hades-Persephone.
Heidi Huerta. “13 times Lisa Simpson Was The Ultimate Feminist Icon” MTV. http://www.mtv.com/news/2140944/lisa-simpson-feminist/
Rachel A. “The Casual Feminism of Bob’s Burgers. The Daily Fandom. http://thedailyfandom.com/casual-feminism-bobs-burgers/
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