Oppression Through Infantilizing, Exotifying, and Fetishizing Asian Women in Media

Asian women’s portrayal in the media is filled with hypersexual imagery, racist connotations, and unfounded stereotypes that works congruously to disempower Asian women and delegitimize their struggles. This essay will start by exploring history and how ‘The Orient’ and womanhood are used as social constructs to create discernable ‘Others’ that intersect while hegemonic norms and applications of the male gaze reinforce their constructed ideals. Through objectification it will further be examined how hypersexualization through eroticized, infantilized, and fetishized representations perpetuate stereotypes into becoming normalized beliefs that disempower Asian women. Lastly, it will be discussed how under-representation, misrepresentation, and erasure are extremely harmful to the Asian youth and do little to correct the current dogma and corresponding stigma in the media. Ultimately, this essay seeks to bring awareness to a lot of misrepresentations about Asian women and examine how this portrayal creates power structures, a racial order, and overall negatively impact Asian women.

Movie Poster

There are two ways in which Asian women’s intersectionality arises, both of which are due to societal constructs – the first being the notion of Orientalism which arose during European colonialism. Orientalism is the eurocentric idea that positions Asia as the East, the Middle East, and the Far East in relation to Europe, along with their desire to occupy what is referred to as ‘the Orient’ through conquest (Bong, 2015). These orientations placing Europe as the center lead to ideas and classification of things as ‘Other’ and less important than Europe, or in our case, ‘the exotic Other”. “In its conquest, this concept of the exotic ‘Other’ was created “as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.’” (Bong, 2015, p. 4). Through complex political, economic and military power dynamics, the development of an ideological racial hierarchy began to form constructed ideologies about what it means to be Asian from a white male perspective, “For instance, Professor Darrell Hamamoto of UC Davis points out that ‘the historical legacy of U.S. imperial conquest, neocolonial occupation, dislocation, exclusion, relocation, and the depredation of global capitalism as the underlying factor for shaping the multiform sexuality of Asian American men and women.’ Furthermore, the objectification of sexualized Asian women is maintained by and for white privilege and the ‘male gaze’.” (Bong, 2015, p. 5). Other things to consider is how internment and World War II played a huge role in the creation of this perceived hierarchy to originate in the United States, positioning Asian men as emasculated and Asian women as inferior to white women. The resulting view as Asian women as both frail and attractive from this perspective then becomes apparent as, “Asian women are simultaneously portrayed as sexualized and infantilized, for they are seen as both ‘sexy’ and ‘cute’ at the same time.” (Bong, 2015, p. 7). Although there are other factors playing that may enhance this view of Asians as both sexy and cute in that from the lens of the typical male gaze it can be easy to infantilize Asian women due to a large assortment of neotenous feature and notions of Asian women being “Others” or non-white also plays into their exotification. “At the same time, Asian women are exotified through the process of infantilization.” (Bong, 2015, p. 9).

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The other thing leading to Asian women’s intersectionality is obviously that considering the construct of womanhood and its associated struggles, “‘Woman’ has been constructed by men, by a society which maintains ideological systems prescribing her subordination, and by womens’ own participation in those systems.’” (Bong, 2015, p. 5). Being that Asian women are both Asian and women, they face the unique struggle of being portrayed in a sexualized and typically submissive fashion due to simply being a woman, but also being exotified and infantilized due to being Asian. “All remnants of contemporary standards of beauty with regard to the ‘perfect’ Asian woman can be traced back to the history of oppression, white imperialism, and exotification of the ‘Orient’.” (Bong, 2015, p. 5). These combined constructs manifest into a hypersexualized break from the hegemonic norm in the form of offensive archetypes that are highly fetishized through being exotic, “Modern archetypes of Asian women have blended with historical, outdated racist images, including the hypersexualized, submissive Geisha Girl, China Doll, Lotus Blossom, the powerful, untrustworthy cold Dragon Lady, and the Dominatrix.” (Bong, 2015, p. 7).

Full Metal Jacket, Screen Shot From Movie

Portrayal in films do no justice in trying to correct these misconceptions and repeatedly rely on the same tropes, stereotypes, and archetypes to construct the world as they see fit. Given that most directors are straight white males, this should come as no surprise to the (mostly white) viewing audience who marvel in the spectacle. In ‘The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene’, Shimizu powerfully argues that a crucial part of race politics is talking about the “pleasure and fantasy from the sexualization of race”, not just for Asian/American women but all women of color.” (Bong, 2015, p. 8). With lines such as, “Me love you long time”, “Sucky sucky”, and “Me so horny” the infatuations with the exotic and overtly sexualized characters becomes apparent given the character’s one dimensionality. Without any real counterexample to this notion throughout the film, the audience is forced to take what they viewed as a generalization about all Asian women to be true at least according to the movie, however, “As Shimizu puts it, ‘it is a violent homogenization of Asian American women who are lumped together in representation where cultural and other specificities are lumped together in representation where cultural and other specificities are obscured and eclipsed by hypersexuality.’ (Bong, 2015, p. 8)” Although in this particular instance, any meaningful cultural truths are erased and misrepresented entirely.

Mail-Order Brides

The white man’s infatuation with Asian women has become such an interesting and widespread phenomenon that it managed to originate its own term “yellow fever” to classify it. “The term ‘yellow fever’ refers to the phenomenon of fetishizing Asian culture, especially Asian women.” (Bong, 2015, p. 9). A rather shocking side effect of this fetishizing is that of mail order brides, where Asian women (though women of other ethnicities that are fetishized are also available) can list themselves for purchase by someone. “Contemporary stereotypical views of Asian women are depicted through a strange phenomenon called ‘yellow fever’, which includes calling them ‘mail-order brides.’” (Bong, 2015, p. 9). To make matters worse, there was even a documentary made showing the nitty gritty of the process of finding a partner, “There has even been a documentary film called ‘Seeking Asian Female’, by filmmaker Debbie Lum, that follows a 60 year old white man’s search for a potential Chinese bride through online matchmaking sites focuses on white men’s infatuation with Asian women.” (Bong, 2015, p. 10).

Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Film, by far, does the worst in misrepresenting Asian women since it can create narratives that give people lifelike examples of what it means to be an Asian woman through the male gaze. For example, Charlie’s Angels released in 2000 is filled with hypersexualized imagery along with stereotypical tropes of Asian women expressed through the secret agent or ‘angel’ Alex Munday. “Although all the female lead characters are donned as equally hypersexualized, Lucy Liu’s whitewashed character wears racially stereotypical costumes, such as a ‘kimono dress’ and a ‘sexy masseuse,’ essentially reinforcing these racist tropes of being a fetish.” (Bong, 2015, p. 11). Of course, the grotesque portrayals don’t stop at the TV screen. They are also highly exacerbated in the porn industry, which attributes Asian women and their representations to the success of the industry. “For Asian media representation, many pornographic videos depicting Asian women assume that they are ‘exotic and hold limitless sexual knowledge, yet docile and eager to please’, and the ‘‘presence of Asian bodies’ is in part responsible for the ‘phenomenal success of the online adult industry.’’” (Bong, 2015, p. 13). It doesn’t matter what media platform you look at, representations of Asian women will often be exotified and sexualized, be it pornography or mainstream movies (Bong, 2015).

Wolverine (2013), Screen Shot from Movie

The use of Asian women in film is more multifaceted than just simple portrayals and is generally used to advance the plot of a white protagonist or even establish racial hierarchies and proper social orders as seen fit. This is highly apparent of the character Mariko in the 2013 release of Wolverine. “More recently, The Wolverine (2013), a huge blockbuster hit, turned out to be another ‘typical Orientalist love story,’ where a ‘girl’s life is endangered by the backwards misogyny of Asia (in this case personified by a literal giant samurai robot)’, and a manly, white, male protagonist sweeps in to save the day.” (Bong, 2015, p. 12). In the movie, Mariko is a rather one-dimensional character in a typical damsel in distress trope. Although she is set to become the most powerful woman in Japan she is set as a side character whom Wolverine must inevitably save. Even when she does gain a small bit of agency and break the expected stereotype of passivity by kicking someone off the balcony of a building, which just so happens to be a ‘Love hotel, she still is portrayed as overtly sexualized and fearful in a nightgown and robe. “Instead, she is a sexualized object for the leading protagonist to win over while residing in the paradigm that she is a quiet, passive, and obedient Asian female character – all racial and sexist stereotypes of Asian women.” (Bong, 2015, p. 12). Mariko’s character ultimately does little than being a stereotypical, sexualized side piece in someone else’s movie, to make matters worse during the single love/kissing scene she turns into the white girl that Wolverine really loves due to a weird dream or hallucination of some kind instead of her.

Wolverine (2013), Screen Shot from Movie

A good Western movie would not be complete without having another problematic woman character to contrast with the other to form the ambivalent dialect between the two in the film. Whereas Mariko is the passive and quiet damsel, Yukio is the strong and powerful action girl. “She is the ‘dragon lady to Mariko’s lotus blossom, dressed in fetishistic schoolgirl garb and shock of red hair against Mariko’s traditional kimono and obi, yet desexualized to allow for Logan’s sexual conquest of Mariko center-stage.’” (Bong, 2015, p. 12-13). Although there are times when her power really shows in killing off a bunch of unimportant side characters, Yukio is no match for an important male character who incapacitates her while she’s trying to save Logan. It is then up to Logan to save the once action girl now damseled last second and beat the Asian villain. Which only further reinforces the hierarchy of White man, Asian man, then Asian women. “Ultimately, Mariko and Yukio’s characters are simply depictions of reigning stereotypes of Asian women, where they are constructed as sexual objects that lack of power and are also willing to sacrifice themselves to save, in this case, the white male savior protagonist.” (Bong, 2015, p. 13).

Orange Is The New Black

As Kim explains, while it’s been highly acclaimed for breaking stereotypes pertaining to gender, race, and class using a diverse assortment of characters, most of which are women with more complex roles, Orange Is The New Black falls short on representing Asian people and instead seems to rely on typical racist tropes. “With an extremely diverse cast the show plays an influential role in bringing the marginalized groups of society into the spotlight, and then deconstructing the oppressive stereotypes that society has normalized. OITNB, however, is problematic in the way that it reinforces racist ideologies through its poor representations of Asian Americans.” (Kim, 2016, p. 78). Asian characters, if even portrayed at all, are often placed in tokenized, one dimensional roles, such as Chang throughout the first season of the series, “Chang is inarguably the show’s most under developed character—we know nothing about her until halfway through Season Three in an episode titled ‘Ching Chong Chang.’ Even the title of the episode is grossly racist, drawing upon a commonly used pejorative to mock the Chinese language, culture, and the people themselves.” (Kim, 2016, p. 79). It would be one thing if the representation was to prove a point later in the episode with some moral associated with it, but no justification was ever made and instead. “Another similar instance occurs later on in the same episode when Piper tells Soso that she cannot say her name ‘with a straight face.’ The subtlety of this bigoted and racist behavior goes easily unnoticed, normalizing and reinforcing the racist hegemonic ideas.” (Kim, 2016, p. 80) and it appears that the creators chose to double down on the racist remarks. Given the popularity of exposing oppression, it seems rather odd that the show could overlook something to such a severe degree despite typically progressive narratives. Kim speculates why that might be the case in considering perspectives of people who consider Asian women and people in general ‘model minorities’. “Perhaps the myth of the model minority has instilled the ideology that Asians are highly successful and their degree of socioeconomic achievements somehow negates any other forms of oppression. This suggests the notion that Asians are not a marginalized group in many aspects, so racism towards Asians is neither offensive nor problematic (Kim, 2016, p. 79) who ultimately are not entitled to their own oppressions due to their privilege. This clearly is unjustified and only perpetuates the problem and acts only to invalidates opposition to the current precedent.

Underrepresentation

Although Chang is represented as a rather masculine, non-sexualized, one dimensional character, Soso is seen as the opposite (however she is still the butt of racist jokes and commentary), “Big Boo objectifies Soso as she labels her as “the hot one of the Asian persuasion,” reinforcing the often fetishized portrayals of Asian women in the media.” (Kim, 2016, p. 80). This can be seen very early on when Soso in the episode ‘Bang-off’ where Big Boo and Nicky compete to see who can have sex with her first. “Big Boo becomes very predatory in her pursuit of Soso, who clearly exhibits her discomfort when around Big Boo. In this way, OITNB fails to challenge the recurring trend in television and film of either desexualizing or fetishizing Asians. (Kim, 2016, p. 80). Instead of breaking down barriers as it does with other races and classes, the show underrepresents and misrepresents its Asian characters through two egregious stereotypes. Where some media representation in the current day have been able to correct some of these portrayals most works, including Orange Is The New Black, fall short, “While current manifestations of Asian American popular media have been able to subvert mainstream white dominance through addressing anti-Asian racism and telling Asian American stories, the most popular works continue to reproduce imagery that is heteropatriarchal, self-orientalizing, and narrow in scope to the reality that is a heterogeneous Asian America.” (Liu, 2016, p. 1). Representations of Asian women in the television industry and media as a whole can have some pretty drastic effects on the youth who perceive it as well. The youth is forced to try to relate to clichéd characters and horrible archetypes since there are so few being presented in the first place. This is seen in research examining the effects of underrepresentation: “Research examined the effects that underrepresentation has on children and found that ‘television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys.’” (Kim, 2016, p. 79). It can be easy to see how this research would relate to Asian girls as well if only they were considered for the research in the first place.

Orange Is The New Black Group Photo

The group photo above includes: black people, white people, hispanic people, a Russian person, a Jewish person, even gay people – however it does not depict a single Asian person (or the token Trans character, for that matter). More importantly than what a show chooses to include, however, is what it chooses to exclude and as we see above (or don’t see) is Asian people being erased. As Kim put it as well, it makes sense for Season 1 not to include its token Asian character since she was highly one-dimensional and didn’t really add to the story. However, subsequent photos with Soso, the more developed character, would be expected: “It would be understandable if they were left out of the group photo for Season 1 as Chang is far from being a developed character and Soso was not even at Litchfield yet, but neither of the subsequent seasons’ promotional photos include them.” (Kim, 2016, p. 80). Even though Orange Is The New Black along with other films’ depictions are highly scrutinized here, they are not isolated occurrences, and these issues are prevalent in most of the media presented (or if even presented) about Asian women as a whole. “A study done at the University of Southern California examined the top 100 grossing movies of 2013 and found that only 4.4% of speaking characters were Asian. This underrepresentation is extremely detrimental because when individuals of a marginalized group do not see themselves represented in the media, it reinforces the notion that they do not matter. (Kim, 2016, p. 79). Visibility is important, it is how change is enacted, viewpoints are changed, and how identities are developed. Without it people appear as though they simply don’t exist or are even relevant to society in any meaningful way.

The negative representations of Asian women are multifaceted and are hyper focused on their status as both a woman and Asian. Media presentations of Asian women often show them in demeaning ways using racial connotations, unfounded and offensive stereotypes, as well as hypersexualized imagery that is eroticized, infantilized, and fetishized all of which works to disempower Asian women and prescribe them agency based on the heterosexual white male’s perspective. This is apparent in the use of constructs such as “The Orient” and “Woman” to “other” Asian women, which in turn create clear preferences to the hegemonic norm and ‘racial hierarchy’. The effects of the negative representations are detrimental to Asian people and particularly Asian women’s mental health and struggles with self-image. Through the use of misrepresentation, underrepresentation and erasure, existing power structures oppressing Asian women remain intact and will continue to spread damaging misinformation currently regarded as true by the viewing public.

Works cited

Bong, Mabelle. (2015). Grotesque Depictions and Seduction: Exotification of Asian/American Women. Retrieved from https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1530&context=scripps_theses

Kim, Clare. (2016, November 13). Asian Misrepresentation in Orange Is The New Black. Retrieved from https://ejournals.bc.edu/index.php/elements/article/view/9380

Liu, Theanne. (2016, May). Making Mainstream Asian America: Productions and Representations of Asian American Identity in Television and Web Series. Retrieved from https://nurj.cdn.prismic.io/nurj%2F0e9dd250-1d6c-4e6c-ad51-b5d891768b5e_theanne+liu+honors+thesis+-+making+mainstream+asian+america+%281%29.pdf

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Popular Music Videos and Depictions of Womanhood in the 2010s

Pop music is one of the defining aspects of culture, and with some music videos getting over a billion views, it is undeniably powerful in terms of its influence across the world. Over the past decade, depictions of women are starting to change, with women defining for themselves what it means to be “beautiful” and women gaining control of their sexuality. We will examine several music videos made by female artists who have defined this decade.

1. Can’t Be Tamed – Miley Cyrus (2010)

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This is Miley Cyrus’s first video after years of playing the sweet, country-pop singer Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. In the video, we see Miley trapped in a large birdcage, a metaphor for the boundaries that society has placed on her, and we watch as she eventually breaks free of her prison. It’s clear that this is her attempt to break free of the Hannah Montana character and redefine her image. Released the year that she turned 18, this video is also Miley’s declaration of her adulthood — but more specifically, her womanhood and her sexuality. When this video premiered, the masses were shocked at her performance because her main fanbase was made up of teenagers and pre-teens and their parents believed that Miley Cyrus as a sexual being was a negative image to convey to young kids. 

 

2. S&M – Rihanna (2011)

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Garnering over 100,000,000 views, S&M is one of the most blatantly sexual songs of the decade, with the title referring to Sadism and Masochism, a kind of BDSM. Very rarely do we women publicly declaring their sexual preference and it is even rarer for a global pop sensation to specifically reference the BDSM and kink communities in a song. From the video, it’s very clear that Rihanna is empowered and is in control of her sexuality — we see her acting as a dominatrix, inflicting pain on others, and as a rope bunny, as an exhibitionist, as a pet owner, and kissing members of the same sex. 

The lyric, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me” is a direct reference to BDSM and what’s important to note here is that BDSM is built on trust and communication and even when a submissive is acting in the submissive role, they still have control with regards to being able to stop the action at any point (if not, it’s abusive). Rihanna articulates her preferences loudly and proudly, making S&M one of the strongest examples of female sexual liberation found in any music video. 

 

3. Formation – Beyonce (2016)

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Beyonce is perhaps the most influential singer of the past two decades. Formation is a feminist anthem, but specifically, is a black feminist anthem. The song speaks to Beyonce’s experience as a black woman and is a showcase of her pride in her identity. Black women (in songs produced by men) often function as one-dimensional sexual objects, but Beyonce is a perfect example of an idol who counters hegemonic thought in regards to womanhood/motherhood in the music industry.

 

4. All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor (2014)

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With a whopping, 2.3 billion views, All About That Bass is the most viewed video on this list. It’s raging success is likely because the song is a departure from the norms that state that beauty is Barbie-esque and declares that “the bass” (or “thickness) is desirable. Trainor critiques the industry for its use of photoshop and espouses a body-positive message that was nearly unheard of in mainstream pop culture.

The song has become a body-love anthem with lyrics like “I know you think you’re fat / But I’m here to tell you… / Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” and “You know I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll / So if that’s what you’re into, then go ‘head and move along.”

 

5. Anaconda – Nicki Minaj (2015)

Anaconda is Nicki Minaj’s ode to large booties and it had a huge impact in changing beauty standards for women. After Anaconda, girls wanted a big booty as opposed to a small one. In the video, Minaj displays her body with pride, countering Western beauty standards that say to be beautiful, you must be thin and blonde. At first, it seems like Nicki is being sexualized, but really, she has created her own jungle world where she is in control and where there are no men. She is not a sexual object, but a sexual being, with her own autonomy — she is unapologetically sexual and she does not exist for the male gaze and she is free to explore her sexuality free from it. We see Nicki shown in erotic situations with other women, which is rare in an industry with so few queer women of color.

The only man we see in the video is her friend, Drake, who she gives a lapdance, but she completely dominates him as he sits powerless and then at the end, walks away in a tease, showing her complete control. What’s important to note here is that Nicki’s work exists in the male-dominated Hip-Hop climate, where she emerges as a force to be reckoned with. She was the first female Hip-Hop artist to go Platinum in nearly a decade and she is unrefutably the defining female Hip-Hop artist of the 2010s. 

6. Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift (2017)

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Look What You Made Me Do is a departure from the classic “fairytale princess” Taylor Swift and we see her fully-empowered. There is a part in the video where she sits on a throne and is served tea by a snake, showing her power and prowess. We also see Taylor in a cage, much like the imagery in Miley Cyrus’s Can’t Be Tamed — the cage represents societal constraints put on Taylor and all women. In the photo above, we see Taylor in a bathtub of jewels, with a $1 bill to her right. The dollar bill represents the $1 she was awarded in the 2013 sexual assault case against DJ David Mueller. She was sexually assaulted and won her case, so the dollar in this video represents the empowerment she has found in the aftermath of that instance. Taylor Swift is one of the most iconic singers of this decade, with this video sporting over a billion views.

 

7. Truth Hurts – Lizzo (2017)

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Lizzo’s Truth Hurts is about self-empowerment and self-love, and she reminds the listener that they are beautiful, strong, powerful, and worthy and that they don’t need a man in order to feel that way. The video centers around a wedding, but we don’t see the groom, but at the end of the video, we see that Lizzo is marrying herself — the truest declaration of self-love imaginable. The song is a post-breakup anthem, where Lizzo is reminding herself that she is #1.

The song starts with the question “why are men great ’til they got to be great?” Lizzo tweeted that this is criticism against men in power and generally against the inability of men to manage their positions effectively.

Lizzo’s songs center themes of body-positivity and this video, in particular, emphasizes that women of any size are worthy of loving themselves and being loved by others. She does not deny the sexuality of heavier women, instead, she emphasizes it. The media likes to sell the idea that beauty is synonymous with being skinny, but Lizzo (along with Nicki Minaj and Meghan Trainor) is working to dismantle that ideology and promote body-positivity.

 

8. Bad Guy – Billie Eilish (2019)

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Billie Eilish is a 17-year-old taking the music world by storm. She is tomboyish and intentionally wears baggy clothes in order to avoid being sexualized, which is another way of taking control of her body and the perception of it. Rather than being scantily clad and owning her sexuality, she is baggily-clad and owning it. In Bad Guy, Eilish showcases herself as powerful and even gets to humiliate some men in the process. For instance, her taunts include everything from force-feeding them milk to sitting on them while they do push-ups. She claims that she’s the “bad guy,” which is an act of defiance of female stereotypes.


Seeing as we’re five months away from its end, we can look back on the last ten years. The 2010s were a pivotal decade for women’s liberation in popular music — women became more empowered in terms of both their ability to own their sexuality and their personal empowerment. Music made during this decade had the ability to change the norms of what was considered beautiful (bigger butts and more bass). The music became less exploitative and female artists had more control over the content that they were making.

The Development of Emphasized Femininity Concerning Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Written By: Aileen Martinez & Hyunmin Oh

Historically, the superhero genre has been, and still is, mainly dominated by hegemonic masculinity. The majority of superheroes are white, heterosexual, and cisgender men, all of which are tall and attractive. The characters outside of these traits are either the sidekick, comic relief, or villain. Fast forward to present day, the superhero industry is putting in effort in order to bring about more diversity. By analyzing the development of Black Widow’s character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, viewers can see how the industry has evolved over time in their portrayal of emphasized femininity. 

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Image Source: Syfy Wire

Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, was first introduced in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man 2 (2010). She was the first and only female superhero in the MCU until Scarlet Witch in The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) debut. In the beginning, Black Widow displayed many characteristics of emphasized femininity. Hechavarria and Ingram define emphasized femininity as, “a conceptualization of the female, which endeavors to preserve hegemonic masculinity through conformity with gender structures” (2016, p. 246).

When Black Widow first appeared in Iron Man 2, she was portrayed as the “sexy secretary” who seductively stared into the camera as she entered the boxing ring in her tight blouse. Throughout the entire movie, she wore body-con dresses with a low neckline which emphasized her curves in an attempt to gain the appeal of young male viewers. During one scene of the film, Black Widow changed in the back of the car, causing the driver to swerve as he was distracted by peeping at her half-naked body. Keep in mind, this movie is rated PG-13.

The Avengers (2012)

Image Source: What Culture

Unfortunately, this hyper sexualization of the only female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe did not stop. In the very beginning of The Avengers (2012), Black Widow was tied on a chair surrounded by multiple men dressed in full suits. I find it difficult to find another reason besides fetishizing BDSM and abuse towards women for her short black dress and high stockings as she was interrogated by the villains. Moreover, how can we discuss sexualization without taking her uniform into account? In the film, Black Widow fights in a leather unitard. God forbid the suit is not fully zipped, because that would be too “uncomfortable.” I may not be a super spy, but if I were to fight aliens and super villains who were trying to take over the planet, a skin-tight leather suit sounds extremely incongruent.

Hawkeye Initiative

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Image Source: Deviant Art

While Black Widow was ranked third for most screen time in The Avengers (2012), she was overtly sexualized and played a ‘mom role’ to her male teammates that embodied hegemonic masculinity. Take the poster for example, her pose is significantly different from other fellow heroes in the hit film. She is strategically positioned to exemplify her breasts and behind simultaneously while the male heroes appear strong and powerful. To criticize the sexualization of female heroes in the MCU, a trend called “The Hawkeye Initiative” started via Tumblr. This movement was created to reiterate sexualization of women within the superhero genre by replacing Hawkeye’s character in the place of the female character and seeing if it is acceptable or not. Avengers Booty Ass-emble by Kivinbolk demonstrates “The Hawkeye Initiative” by criticizing Black Widow’s pose for The Avengers (2012) wall poster.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Instead of her solo movie, Black Widow appeared next in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Although her sexualization substantially declined compared to her first two appearances, her suit remained the same. She still smirked suggestively at the villains before the fight and managed to stay sexy while fighting. In addition, her role as the assistant and caring after the men did not change at all. Up to this point, her character primarily assists the male protagonist, which is Captain America in this case, reach his goals. While the male heroes are written to be imperfect and allowed to develop over time, Black Widow has to be impeccable at all times so she can assist their growth instead of hers.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Image Source: Entertainment Weekly

From Iron Man 2 to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the character Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow has ‘developed’ from sexy secretary to sexy spy with her impressive combat skills and feminine physique to destroy enemies of all kinds. Unfortunately, up to this point, she is unable to progress far from the stereotypical romantic and femininity tropes. Drawing from Hechavarria and Ingram’s (2016) article, emphasized femininity is a “conceptualization of female ideals supporting male authority and dominance through the practices of women and is seen as complementary to or opposite those of a culture’s ideal male” (p. 246). Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the female characters either begin as or simply become a romantic interest centered around a main male character. The film Avengers: Age of Ultron features a glimpse of Black Widow’s past which ultimately weakens her character and fuels a relationship between with Bruce Banner or the Hulk. The backstory led to more controversy concerning Black Widow’s representation due to the fact that the character refers to herself as a monster because of her infertility.  Natasha confides in Bruce:

“They have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It’s efficient. One less thing to worry about. The one thing that might matter more than a mission. Makes everything easier. Even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Her dialogue plays into the gender role characteristics associated with emphasized femininity, implying that the worth of women depends on their capabilities as mothers and insults women who cannot bear children. DeMarchi (2014) highlights the fact that men maintain the structural power and women maintain the intimate power (p. 32).

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Image Source: Slash Film

Fast forward to Captain America: Civil War, Natasha’s Black Widow costume continues to showcase her body and cleavage rather than her combat skills. In reality, her sexualized apparel would make running painful without proper breast or feet support (DeMarchi, 2014, p. 31). Every article of women’s clothing and pose in the Marvel Cinematic Universe never fails to reiterate the patriarchal body objectification characterized in hegemonic masculinity. Moreover, the female characters within the MCU continue to lack agency in comparison to their male companions. In Captain America: Civil War, Natasha warns Steve Rogers to stop pursuing Bucky Barnes, watching out for her friend. While her advice is considered, her fellow Avengers do not heed her counsel (Gerard & Poepsel, 2018, p. 43). Black Widow visually demonstrates the caring, communal, and relational attributes of emphasized femininity.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Image Source: Amazon

Nearing the end of the Avenger’s series, Avengers: Infinity War took multiple strides in an effort to give Black Widow the representation and credit the character deserves. Not only is Black Widow the only female founding member, she is integral in the formation of the Avengers. Natasha, after all, brought in Iron Man and the Hulk (Gerard & Poepsel, 2018, p. 44). Her combat uniform throughout the international hit was less form-fitting and did not appear as sexualized as the films before. While her screen time was shorter in comparison to the male characters, she performed an equal as she walked alongside her teammates. In this capacity, Black Widow is depicted with more agency, professionalism, and a sense of the greater importance.

*SPOILER ALERT BELOW*

Avengers: End Game (2019)

Image Source: Fandom

Sadly, as the Black Widow’s character came to an end, this photo essay is at its end as well. The final film in the franchise Avengers: End Game ended with the epic sacrifice of Natasha Romanoff. The character received more screen time than she has had before and continued to remain less sexualized as in Avengers: Infinity War. By recognizing the major differences from her introduction to her death, it is clear to see that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has diverged from the stereotypical characteristics of emphasized femininity. Over the course of the multi-billion franchise, viewers were encouraged to lust after Natasha, be in awe of her power and capabilities, and pity her. (Gerard & Poepsel, 2018, p. 50). All in all, Black Widow was predominantly characterized in ways which upheld the male dominant social structures. However, the filming of her solo film began in late May of this year, so fans have yet to see if her portrayal continues to break from the concept of emphasized femininity or falls back into the highly sexualized and feminized representation of women in the media.

Bibliography

DeMarchi, M. L. (2014). Avenging women: an analysis of postfeminist female representation in the cinematic Marvel’s Avengers series. College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations. 167. https://via.library.depaul.edu/etd/167

Hechavarria, D. M., & Ingram, A. E. (2016). The entrepreneurial gender divide: Hegemonic masculinity, emphasized femininity and organizational forms. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 8(3), pp.242-281, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJGE-09-2014-0029

Gerard, M., & Poepsel, M. (2018). Black Widow: Female Representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Polymath: An Interdisciplinary Arts & Science Journal, 8(2). Retrieved from https://ojcs.siue.edu/ojs/index.php/polymath/article/view/3314/1334

Bury Your Gays: A look at HBO’s Game of Thrones

Fans of HBO’s widely popular and critically heralded series Game of Thrones are accustomed to seeing scandalous sex and frequent bloodshed.  Based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, the appeal of the series largely comes from its world – rife with dragons, undead, giants, and other fantastical creatures.  The show’s complex web of political and personal intrigue is complemented by fantastical portrayals of sex and human relationships. Screenwriters David Benioff and D.B. Weiss do not shy away from sexual taboos like incest, and they have included a few homosexual relationships within their predominantly heteronormative world.  However, their treatment of one of the most prominent among these few relationships ultimately falls into the trope known as “bury your gays,” where homosexual characters are quickly killed off and removed from a series predominantly focussed on heterosexual characters.

The homosexual relationship between Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell did not ultimately transcend the social stigma within the world of Game of Thrones as fans might have hoped, as Renly was killed only a season after their relationship began.  Although the series is infamous for unexpected deaths, Renly’s end stood out even among these, as he is inexplicably murdered with a vague magic spell that is never used again in the series.  After Renly’s death, the situation did not improve for Loras, who is exposed as homosexual to the High Sparrow, imprisoned, and tortured for his “sins.”

While Game of Thrones certainly perpetuated the “bury your gays” trope it also serves as an example of the how writers are consciously working to subvert the trope by giving the last openly bisexual character, Yara Greyjoy, additional plot armor where it seems she is able to slip out of death’s jaws more than once. This is idea is called “preserve your gays” and will be explored along with “bury your gays” trope in the context of Game of Thrones. 

“Bury Your Gays” defined

The “bury your gays” trope is a cliche in Hollywood films and television alike where LGBT characters seem to be more expendible than their straight peers and typically do not find their “happily ever after” at the story’s conclusion. According to Kelsey Cameron, “‘bury your gays’ is the narrative arc wherein queer charcaters die, often violently, in service of someone else’s character development.” However, this is not to say that gay characters should not be exempt from tragedy, but instead is about there being a diverse ensemble of charcaters who are representative of the real world. A world that is not exclusively straight despite what the television landscape may suggest. Bonnie Dow explains how, “homosexual characters are rarely shown in their own communities, homes or same-sex romantic relationships, but are depicted in terms of their place in the lives of heterosexuals.” This holds true for Renly and Loras in Game of Thrones as they both die at the expense of a heterosexual character’s agenda.

Renly and Loras

In HBO’s Game of Thrones the gay relationship between Loras and Renly is not only hinted at or merely implied, but bluntly unfolds in the bedroom. For example, in season 1 episode 5, Renly and Loras share their first intimate moment in Renly’s bedchamber.

Later, in season 2 episode 3, Loras and Renly have a intimate moment in bed before Loras leaves to fetch his sister, Margery, who is also betrothed to Renly.

This is the last time audiences will see a sexual relationship between two men in Game of Thrones as Renly is murdered by a ghost two episodes later. In a show that ran for 8 seasons, it is a shame that one of the only gay plotlines in the series was extinguished in only the second season. Although visibility for LGBT characters has increased in recent years as witnessed by Loras and Renly’s relationship on the show, the way these characters are often portrayed within tropes can have harmful effects.

Pinterest

In the case of Game of Thrones, we see Cameron’s definition really come to life as Renly’s violent murder strengthened his heterosexual brother Stannis’ claim to the Iron Throne. Not only was Renly killed, but Loras was eventually forced to confess his sexuality to the High Sparrow who tortured and imprisoned him until he died in an explosion at his trial.

#buryyourgays

In a world dominated by social media, audiences have a larger platform than ever before to voice their opinions. In 2016, a wave of queer deaths pulsed throughought television within the span of a single month as four openly lesbian female characters were killed off in shows like Jane the Virgin, The Walking Dead, and most notably The 100. This led to major fan backlash, which eventually generated the hashtag #buryyourgays on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. As a result of disgruntled LGBT fans speaking out against the trope, a new phenomena has found its way into the television landscape called “preserve your gays” where it seems screen writers have started to make a conscious effort to keep gay characters on the screen.

Yara Greyjoy

Yara Greyjoy has become an LGBT fan favorite as the only remaining openly bisexual character on Game of Thrones. Although Yara’s character is straight in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels, Weiss and Benioff made a deliberate departure from the books and decided to make her bi in the show. While the show runners have never explicitly commented on the #buryyourgays fan response, it seems as though Yara’s character has benefitted from good fortune more than a time or two since the hashtag went viral in 2016.

Perhaps it is just storytelling, perhaps it is an effort by Weiss and Benioff to have a slightly more colorful cast left standing that is not exclusively heterosexual. Despite being the only openly bisexual remaining on the show, Yara eventually has a seat at the council of lords as the Queen of the Iron Islands. This is a significant moment in the canon of the series because it was most likely the first time in the history of the Seven Kingdoms that a bisexual women ever had a say in politics.

Game of Thrones is not entirely reprehensible in its treatment of homosexual characters, but it does perpetuate some harmful narrative tropes with little in the way of recourse.  For a fantasy series so liberal in its depiction of sexuality, we might have expected better representation; however, it is refreshing to see a bisexual character who is not completely handcuffed by a worn out, homophobic trope. In the information/social media age of today, viewers have more of a platform to speak their minds than ever before. Perhaps this will lead to the world we see on screen better reflecting the world we walk around in everyday. 

by Ben Monsour and Bradley Bonette

Bibliography

Cameron, K. (2018, May). Toxic regulation: From TV’s code of practices to ‘#Bury Your Gays’. Retrieved from http://www.participations.org/Volume 15/Issue 1/18.pdf

Dow, B. (2001). Ellen, Television, and the Politics of Gay and Lesbian Visibility. Critical Studies in Media Communication,18(2), 123-140. doi:10.1080/07393180128077

Latinx Women: More Than Curves

Latinx people are constantly being stereotyped. Especially, Latinx women who have had a long history of being stereotyped for being ‘hypersexualized’ in films and television shows. In this short blog post we will be analyzing the ‘passionate’ and ‘hypersexualized’ stereotypes of Latinx women in the media in shows/films. Our research concludes that more accurate representation of Latinx women in the media has grown and is continuing to grow in the upcoming years by the introduction of our new shows/films such as  Jane the Virgin, Shades of Blue, Colombiana, Grand Hotel, Station 19, Rosewood and many more. 

Sofia Vergara From The Odyssey Online
A Meme exposing the sexualization of Latinx women: From Educated Latinas

What does it mean to be a Latinx woman in film and TV? Well, one of the biggest tropes representing Latinx women is that they are ‘spicy’ and ‘hot blooded’; this means that Latinx women are mostly represented for their curvy bodies and their instinct to snap at someone at any moment (Felix). The trope of ‘spicy’ Latinx women was created based on the male gaze, which means that the audience sees a woman as visual pleasure and an “object of desire” through the perspective of a male (Jackson & Hogg, 2010). Having ‘spicy’ Latinx women in the media can make other Latinx girls and women feel insecure if they do not have the body that is constantly shown on screen (McLaughlin). This trope is also problematic because it excludes other women with different body types and with other favorable traits that Latinx women struggle with in reality. This trope does not give the audience much characteristics for them to understand a Latinx women. This ‘spicy’ Latinx women  trope basically says that Latin women are passive and are only there for the pleasure of the male protagonist. They are describing an object or like Liz Felix says, “a chicken sandwich” (Felix, 2014). It is time that we see more diverse Latinx women in films and TV shows so they are more relatable to other Latinx women. There are shows and films that are pushing back against the trope of ‘spicy’ Latinx women to show that there is more to them than meets the eye. There are TV shows and films that show Latinx women as intelligent, skilled, and can be leaders, and it is about time the entertainment industry reflected how powerful these women can be in reality.

In the TV series, Jane the Virgin, we see Jane as this confident, strong, smart Latinx woman. She was a teacher trying to inspire young kids to do their best. She became a writer and we got to see her constantly struggle with what to write next, showing her using her mind instead of her body to get what she wants out of life. There is a new TV series that just premiered on ABC June 17, called Grand Hotel. Only two episodes have aired so far, but we get an immediate impression of a character when they are first introduced. We are introduced to Alicia Mendoza whose family owns a hotel. Alicia came home from graduating from college where she received her masters in business, so she can help run her family business. She’s intelligent in deciding to go to college so she can figure out new ways to keep the hotel going and thriving. If she was a ‘spicy’ Latinx women, she would allow a man to go to college and be educated instead because that is what passive characters do. In this series, we get to see Alicia’s intelligence and creativity in action. She is not just sitting on the side-lines looking pretty while a man tries to figure things out. She is willing to take on the future challenges head on. In neither of the shows does the woman’s sexuality represent her in any way, it is just a factor of her life. They are not constantly showing their bodies off, or spending all of their waking time to trying to grab the attention of a man. Yes, Jane sexuality plays a part of her character description but that is only because she was a virgin when she got pregnant and it references religion. These women have proven that they are more than their bodies. Not only are Latinx women intelligent, but they are also skilled.

Jane from Jane the Virgin: From Imdb
Alicia from Grand Hotel: From Miami

In the show Shades of Blue and the film Colombiana, we get to see Latinx women as resourceful and skilled women. In Shades of Blue, we see Detective Harlee Santos is a crooked cop who is an informant to help with the FBI anti-corruption task force and is also working with other crooked cops. She framed her abusive ex-lover for murder but it takes skill to cover-up such a crime, to frame someone else for that crime, and be able to stay above the frame where she does not have to worry and hide from the police. It takes a lot of effort and skill to be able to out-smart cops on a murder case. We see through the series that she does bad things for understandable reasons like to protect her daughter. She never does anything bad for no reason; in this world it is a lot more complicated than right and wrong, and I am sure people in reality can relate in a similar way. In the film Colombiana, a woman named Cataleya Restrepo watches her parents get killed in front of her and decides she is going to get revenge on one of the biggest drug lords in Colombia. She has to train for a long time, get connected, and find resources in order to defeat these drug lords. If she was a true ‘spicy’ Latinx woman, that would have been her backstory that should have to live with and move on. She is determined to avenge her parents. She cares deeply for the ones that are around her and she loves even if she tries not to show it. She is very skilled fighter; the fact that she is able to take down a big drug lord and not get caught shows. In both the film and TV show, these Latinx women are very resourceful especially when they are motivated by family. These women take action when they know that no else is going to help them. Being resourceful and a skilled fighter are still a few of the many traits that make up Latinx women.

Zoe Saldana playing Cataleya from Colombiana: From What’s On TV
Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue: From the Hollywood Reporter

Latinx women are also leaders in their own right. In the TV shows, Station 19 and Rosewood, shows women in active leadership roles in very demanding active careers. In Station 19, Andrea “Andy” Herrera is a firefighter. In the series people look to Andy to lead them when they are in a difficult situation. She was co-captain when her father was diagnosed with cancer and needed to take it easy. She was going to be captain until someone else was chosen over her but the captain they chose comes to her on how to gain the trust of the other firefighters. She is the daughter of a former captain, which means a lot of people are expecting great things from her, but there are challenges that come her way just because she is a woman. She rises above and is willing to overcome any obstacles that come her way. She is able to beat all the stigmas that say women cannot be a firefighter. If Andy was a ‘spicy’ Latinx women she would not be in this type of career and would just be the love interest of a firefighter instead of being an actual one. In the show Rosewood, Annalise Villa is a detective who works with a pathologist in Miami, Florida to solve murders. She is looked to solve the murders; her partner provides the evidence while she questions people and pieces the evidence to get a clear picture as to what happened to the victims. Without Annalise the murders would not get solved, and the new police captain even knows how skilled she is and comes to her to get advice on how to run things. She is intelligent, skilled, and determined, and cannot be shaken easily; these qualities do not make up a ‘spicy’ Latinx woman.

Andy in Station 19: From Variety
Annalise from Rosewood: From Pinterest

All of these women are beautiful in their own ways and their beauty and sexuality does not define them. They are not just on screen to look attractive while the men do all the work. These women are here to show that Latinx women can be anything they want to be when they set their minds to it, and that is what we want to continue to capture on screen. The time for  Latinx female characters being passive is finally over. We want to continue to see Latinx women being portrayed in the best way, so that the Latinx girls watching can see that body types and beauty does not matter in reality (McLaughlin). Latinx women can go after whatever career they want to because the sky’s the limit and times are changing forever. 

Works Cited 
“Are Latinas Made of Sex, Spice, & Fabuloso?” Educated Latina, 28 Mar. 2018, http://educatedlatina.com/are-latinas-made-of-sex-spice-fabuloso/
Best, Jason. “DVD Review: Colombiana - Zoe Saldana Kicks Ass as Besson's Latest Avengeing Angel,  Movie Talk, What's on TV.” What's on TV, 24 May 2016, www.whatsontv.co.uk/news/dvd-review-colombiana-zoe-saldana-kicks-ass-as-bessons-latest-avengeing-angel-322717/.
Bryan McLaughlin, Nathian S. Rodriguez, Joshua A. Dunn & Jobi Martinez (2018) Stereotyped Identification: How Identifying with Fictional Latina Characters Increases Acceptance and Stereotyping, Mass Communication and Society, 21:5, 585-605, DOI:                 10.1080/15205436.2018.1457699
Busto, Carolina del. “ABC's Grand Hotel Is Set in the Magic City and Stars a Very Miami Cast.” Miami New Times, 4, 12 June 2019,     www.miaminewtimes.com/arts/grand-hotel-new-abc-series-premiering-june-17-features-miami-cast-and-crew-11194745.
Felix, L. (2014, Mar 21). Latina representation on TV: We're more than just a spicy chicken sandwich! La Prensa San Diego Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/docview/1511436657?accountid=7118 
Fienberg, Daniel. “'Shades of Blue': TV Review.” The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Jan. 2016, www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/shades-blue-tv-review-851408.
Jackson, R. L. & Hogg, M. A. (2010). Visual pleasure. In Encyclopedia of identity (pp. 868-870). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412979306.n279
“Jane the Virgin.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 13 Oct. 2014, www.imdb.com/title/tt3566726/.
“Rosewood (TV Series 2015) | Rosewood | Tv Series, Rosewood Tv Show, Tv Shows Funny.” Pinterest, www.pinterest.com/pin/313563192786597343/?lp=true.
Saraiya, Sonia. “TV Review: 'Grey's Anatomy' Spinoff 'Station 19'.” Variety, 22 Mar. 2018, variety.com/2018/tv/reviews/station-19-review-greys-anatomy-spinoff-1202733867/. 
Torres, Andrea. “The Sexualization Of Latinas.” The Odyssey Online, 25 Aug. 2017,            www.theodysseyonline.com/the-sexualization-of-latina-bodies.

How Glee subverts traditional stereotypes

Image: Gifer

When Glee came out in 2009 it was an immediate success, with many praising the ensemble comedy about a high school glee club for its willingness to tackle controversial topics like gender and sexuality. Glee was progressive for its time, undermining stereotypes of female sexuality, and presenting queerness with more understanding than most of its peers on network TV. In seasons one through three, Glee provides a nuanced treatment of women’s sexuality, with depictions of female sexuality that subvert hegemonic stereotypes, and the inclusion of queer narratives not typically seen on TV.

The most prevalent examples of the first phenomenon comes from the show’s exploration of two cheerleaders who join the glee club, Quinn and Santana.  The contrast of Quinn and Santana in Season One sets up and then subverts the virgin / whore dichotomy frequently presented in pop culture. At the show’s beginning, Quinn falls firmly into the “virgin” side of the dichotomy. She works hard to fit into the ideal of “emphasized femininity”, and in addition to superficial qualifiers of being white, thin, blonde, and pretty, she goes above and beyond by being president of the celibacy club.

Image: Netflix

Her choice to brand herself as “pure” is significant, as under the virgin / whore dichotomy being discussed, any sexual activity by women lacks nuanced discussion, instead immediately placing them in the controversial second category. Quinn plays further into traditional gender roles by being the feminine foil to hegemonic masculinity, embodied in her boyfriend Finn. She is the head cheerleader to his football captain and at the beginning of series seems clearly posed to maintain her idealized image. Below she is praying with Finn after their makeup session gets too steamy.

Image: Netflix

Santana is another cheerleader, but she fulfills a very different stereotype, providing the “whore” to Quinn’s “virgin”. Both her behavior and her demeanor land her on this end of the spectrum– she is in a physical relationship with Puck, another member of the football team, but Quinn is quick to point out that they aren’t dating, just having sex. By Quinn’s definition, this disqualifies Santana from being “pure” and lands her on the other end of the spectrum. Santana’s race also complicates her sexuality, and furthers alignment with pop culture stereotypes. Because she is Hispanic, her personality falls in line with the “Spicy Latina” trope, of a Latinx woman who is passionate, impulsive, angry, and sexy. Santana exhibits all of these traits, as she is quick to anger, chew people out and threaten them, often escalating to physical violence. Additionally, as previously mentioned, she is open about her high sex drive, which aligns with the idea of the “Spicy Latina” being more promiscuous than a virginal white woman like Quinn.

Image: Netflix

Glee featuring characters that fall into these stereotypes would not be surprising– they are stereotypes because of how often they appear– but Glee’s writers trouble and subvert these stereotypes through the characters’ behavior. For example, Quinn’s self-professed virginity is called into question when the audience learns she is pregnant.

Image: Netflix

She lies, trying to preserve her reputation and self-image, and tells her boyfriend, Finn– who she hasn’t slept with– that the baby is his due to his make-out induced ejaculation in a hot tub they shared. However, in truth, the baby is the result of infidelity, a one-night stand between Quinn and Finn’s fellow football player, Puck, during which she lost her virginity. The fact that Quinn failed to live up to the strict emphasis on “purity”, a societal standard she values, illustrates how meeting all the rigid standards for emphasized femininity is unrealistic, even for those who strive to meet this trope’s ideals. Glee’s portrayal of this gap between the societal standards women hold themselves to, and actual women’s behavior, shows how nonviable emphasized femininity is in real life, and gives Quinn’s character more nuance. 

Santana’s character, on the opposite side of the virgin / whore dichotomy, also subverts her assigned “Spicy Latina” stereotype. Throughout her relationship with Puck, it is implied she also engages in physical intimacy with her best friend, fellow cheerleader Brittany.

Image: Netflix

Season Two further explores this relationship, and although at first, Santana insists she only views Brittany as someone to mess around with, by the end of the season she has realized she has real romantic feelings for Brittany stronger than any she has for men. This subverts her stereotypical presentation in two ways. Firstly, the “Spicy Latina” is overwhelmingly presented as an “exotic” fantasy of men, through a heteronormative, hegemonic gaze, so the fact that Santana is a lesbian troubles this aspect of the stereotype. Additionally, when she comes out to Brittany, Santana acknowledges her anger– a large part of how she fits into the “Spicy Latina” trope– is due to her fear of being outed as a lesbian. Both these elements of Santana’s personality– her queerness, and her suppressed, sensitive side– cause her to deviate from being a “Spicy Latina” and provide a more thoughtful portrayal of a Latinx woman on TV. 

Images: Netflix

Glee’s depiction of young, queer characters also was refreshing for network television, as Glee . The first obviously gay character on the show was Kurt. While gay men had achieved some visibility on TV when Glee came out in 2009, more feminine gay men, like Kurt, rarely got to be the main character. This can be seen in shows like Will and Grace which gave humanizing lead parts to masculine gay guys like Will, and relegated more feminine gay men to characterized side, like Jack. However, on Glee, Kurt is practices more feminine in gender presentation, with a high voice, delicate features, love of glamorous flashy clothes, and generally feminine physicality. Despite this, his gender expression and sexuality is never treated as a punchline, and the show’s negative portrayal of his bullies makes it clear homophobia is no longer acceptable. He is also a lead on the show and enjoys a full inner life. The viewer becomes very invested in his relationships and ambitions throughout the shows run. 

Image: Giphy

While Kurt’s centrality and complicated inner life may have been new for TV, his “coming out” storyline was familiar to audiences by the time the show came out in 2009. Some queer studies scholars even criticize the continued prevalence of “coming out” storylines among queer characters, as they argue making queerness something that continually has to be disclosed makes non-straight sexualities both invisible and hypervisible.

Image: Giphy

Even the critics of “coming out” storylines have something to celebrate in Glee, though, through Brittany’s character. Brittany, the aforementioned love interest of Santana, embodies the future queer studies scholars dream of: she never comes out, because she doesn’t feel the need to. She simply loves who she loves, which includes men and women, and never questions herself.

Image: Netflix
(Brittany sharing her feelings with Santana)

Glee continued to address issues of gender and sexuality throughout its run, and by the end of the final sixth season it had featured narratives centered around fat women, trans men, and many other queer people. The women and queer characters within the first generation of Glee, such as Quinn, Santana, Kurt, and Brittany set the tone for a show and provided many teens at home their first exposure to nuanced, thoughtful depictions of feminine people and queer people.

Image: RedBubble

Works Cited

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://gifer.com/en/GMsbMurphy, R., Falchuk, B., & Brennan, I. (2018, December 01). Glee. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/70177126?trackId=200257859Murphy, R., Falchuk, B., & Brennan, I. (2018, December 01). Glee. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/70184841?trackId=200257859Murphy, R., Falchuk, B., & Brennan, I. (2018, December 01). Glee. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/70177128?trackId=200257859Murphy, R., Falchuk, B., & Brennan, I. (2018, December 01). Glee. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/70184852?trackId=200257859

https://giphy.com/gifs/glee-kurt-hummel-11m7aRXoAURMI

Igor Identity: How Tyler the Creator Challenges Hip Hop Norms, by Juan Selvera and Christian Haigis

Tyler the Creator is something of an anomaly in the modern hip-hop scene. In some ways, he has embraced many genre-defining elements. At the same time, many of his albums (especially the more recent works) seem to challenge those elements and turn them on their head. At some points in his career, the lyrics and themes of Tyler’s earlier works have been critiqued for spouting the same bigotry and hate-speech that people have been fighting against for generations. At others, the artist has managed to foster a genuine sense of tolerance in his works, perhaps indicating self-growth and maturation, that has spoken to a global audience. To further explore and better understand the evolution of Tyler the Creator’s solo discography, we need to start from the beginning.

Tyler began his controversial solo career with a bang in 2011’s Goblin. The cover image perfectly captures the intense irreverence that awaited listeners within, portraying the artist with blacked-out eyes and an upside-down cross (the symbol of the Antichrist) on his forehead. While some picked at the atypical beats used in many of the songs, others were more transfixed on the violent, chauvinistic  and homophobic lyrics. Overall the criticism was justly leveraged, given that the word “faggot” is used nine times on the album, not to mention the infamous line in which Tyler the Creator mentions raping a pregnant woman and telling his friends he had a threesome. However, while the slurs and violent rhetoric can be quickly regarded as regressive and bigoted, they become a more intriguing topic when analyzing the man himself, as well as his future albums.

YSF

Along with his music, Tyler the Creator’s fashion line, Golf Wang, has met with critique and controversy over the years. In the above image, Tyler co-opted a well-known white supremacist symbol, the Celtic cross, and repurposed it to take on a new meaning. The cross is filled in with a rainbow, adding an element of LGBTQ pride to something that has historically been a symbol of hate. To further this point, notice the choice to have two men of different ethnicities holding hands, giving another slight nod to the queer symbolism. The question many raised with this particular shirt pertained to whether or not Tyler the Creator was genuine in his message. Nothing new for the rapper up to this point of course, given that being something of a provocateur had become a brand for him.

Given the fact that Tyler the Creator’s interviewing presence has been something of a drought since his career began, many have been left to fill in the gaps of meaning in essentially any critiques surrounding him. I think this is due to the fact that there is an unshakable quality and genuineness in his work that is indicative of a deeper reading. In some ways, Tyler the Creator is like the Andy Kauffman of hip-hop. At least in the sense that we, the audience, are typically left wondering what is real and fake— what is a controversy for the purpose of delivering a message or for the sake of controversy itself. Is the t-shirt in the above image supposed to evoke some form of biting commentary, or is it purely for shock value?

Following the critical and commercial success of his 2017 opus Flower Boy, on May 6, 2019 Tyler teased his highly anticipated fourth studio album, IGOR, with a reveal of the album’s cover posted to his Instagram. The image evoked the feminine power of 80’s New Wave icon Grace Jones. In particular, the image resembles the cover of Jones’ seminal 1981 album Nightclubbing. Nightclubbing was Jones’ departure from the disco-centric sounds that built her early music career in the late 1970s into the New Wave sound that would dominate the 80s with the likes of Talking Heads and Tears for Fears. In a similar way, though it was not yet known at the time of Tyler’s posting of this image, IGOR was a departure from the stylistic sounds of late 2000s hip-hop that established Tyler, the Creator as one of the power-house rapper/producers of his time. Instead, IGOR is a soulful, at times even jazzy, story of Tyler’s love triangle with another man that is stuck in a heterosexual with a woman.

Another point of interest becomes the notation that the cover states that: “All songs written, produced and arranged by Tyler Okonma”. On several albums throughout his career, Tyler embraces the use of characters, albeit in flashes on select tracks on each album. These characters range from the aggressive and hyper-violent “Wolf Haley” on Tyler’s controversial Wolf project, to the very goofy and playful “T” nickname that Tyler often uses to refer to himself in the first person throughout his career. Tyler’s choice to use his legal name is a sign that he was separating himself  from the “Creator” name that was present on every album he released thus far.

Retro World News

Upon IGOR’s release, Tyler released subsequent music videos for various tracks on the album. In every single video, Tyler uses the same unnamed character to deliver his lines on each respective song. This character, though different from the Grace Jones inspired version of himself he portrays on the album’s cover, acts as a liaison between Tyler, the Creator and the Igor persona that Tyler embraces on the album. Where Tyler, the Creator is a tide-shifting catalyst for controversy, Igor is a man heartbroken by the circumstances of his love. Though the album IGOR explores the more intimate side of Tyler Okonma as a man and an artist, Igor the character in sound and depiction in music videos has the same goofy tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and style as Tyler, the Creator.

This gender-bending of one’s self as well as the neo soul influenced sound of IGOR is similar to a former contemporary of Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean. (Dhaenens and De Ridder, 289). Frank Ocean and Tyler were founding members of the hip-hop collective OddFutureWolfGangKillThemAll (often shortened to Odd Future). Odd Future was a revolutionary hip-hop collective that was home to a large number of young, West Coast talent- from lesbian neo-soul producer Syd tha Kid, to the often-sudated son of African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, Earl Sweatshirt and about half a dozen other rappers, producers, and songwriters. Among the young talents that gained early notice within the industry were Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator. Tyler, for his edgy and provocative voice as the leader of the collective and Ocean for his genre bending take on the soul sound.

What was unknown about both of these men at the time was the influences their subsequent solo projects would have on the R&B and hip-hop landscapes respectively. Frank Ocean’s debut album, Channel Orange, revolutionized R&B and the heteronormative nature of the genre. After a highly publicized coming out via tumblr, Ocean’s debut album became a cultural and musical phenomenon for the critique of the heteronormative roles that men play in the larger R&B landscape. The album, though aesthetically similar to countless soul and R&B singers of yesteryear, thematically created a new precedent for the sound and representation of soul music.

Taking the influences of Tyler’s former crew-mate Frank Ocean, it is clear to see where the formation of an IGOR makes its case in the greater Tyler, the Creator discography. Unlike his previous works, IGOR in a similar way, through similar means subverts hip-hop listener’s expectations of Tyler and instead gives them a genuine version of the man of Tyler Okonma; trapped and confused by his love and circumstances that surround him. Rather than playing to the heteronormative expectations of rap music and R&B, Tyler tells the tale of a queer man trapped in a love triangle that is pushing him to the brink of distruction.

Separate from the visual aesthetics and influences of the Igor character, the very name Igor evokes a particular thought into the minds of listeners. The name comes from Dr. Frankenstien’s assistant in Mary Shelly’s horror novel Frankenstein. The character is portrayed in Shelly’s novel and the subsequent adaptations of the novel as a hideous and deformed man with very low skill and intellect. Though Tyler’s characterization is not a one-to-one match to Shelly’s Igor, Tyler’s Igor does act as a “B-Team” monster in the grander scheme of the Tyler, the Creator-character pantheon. Igor is underapreciated and lives in the shadows of Tyler Okonma’s mind and inner-self, whereas Wolf Haley and “T” are at the forefront of Tyler’s musical portrayal of himself.

This separation the individual self and musical caricature of Tyler, the Creator is not unlike  Janelle Monae. Throughout her studio discography, Janelle uses the fictional character of Cindy Mayweather as her musical muse to articulate her thoughts and positions on life, culture, and the future. To quote Grace D. Gibson’s Afrofuturism’s Musical Princess Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe with the help of android Cindi Mayweather, aka Alpha Platinum 9000, is more than just a one-trick pony, her rare gender-bending, genre-bending, Afrofuturist, cyber vibe is sure to keep you thinking, reflecting, and dancing all wrapped in one.


Though aesthetically and thematically Monae’s Cindi Mayweather differs from Tyler’s Igor, she is not unlike how Tyler uses Igor to separate between himself and his art. Igor and Cindi both allow their respective artists to become more abstract and larger than life compared to their “human” counterparts. Each character allows each artist to convey the thoughts and emotions present on their respective bodies of work. The question remains, will Igor be a one-off character, or one that grows and evolves with the artist they are attached to?

Throughout his career Tyler the Creator has been, if nothing else, attention grabbing. His source of influences and choice of words are both heavily discussed and debated by large swaths of listeners. The scope of his art ranges from music, music videos, to fashion and in every instance, despite the shift in style, theme or ideology, Tyler remains true to one thing: himself. For better or worse, this is what makes Tyler so compelling as an artist- his willingness to constantly reinvent the way in which he is perceived. By not tying himself to a particular sound, style or ethos Tyler becomes larger than his art. He becomes an individual that is not dragged down by what made him successful, whether that be the hyper-violent lyrics of his youth or the deconstruction of the male identity in hip-hop. With Tyler, the Creator the question is never, “What did he do this time?”, but rather “What will he do next?”

Dhaenens, F., & Ridder, S. D. (2014). Resistant masculinities in alternative R&B? Understanding Frank Ocean and The Weeknd’s representations of gender. European Journal of Cultural Studies,18(3), 283-299. doi:10.1177/1367549414526730

Anderson, R., Barber, T. E., Brooks, L. A., DeIuliis, D., Gaskins, N. R., Gipson, G. D., . . . Whitted, Q. (2016). Afrofuturism 2.0: The rise of Astro-Blackness. Lanham: Lexington Books.

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