Using Film to Teach Women’s Studies Courses: A Teaching Aid Recommendation By Diane Kholos Wysockii
I was recently sent a copy of the film “What a Girl Wants” (Produced by Elizabeth Massie, Made with a grant from the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation, CHC Productions @2000, Distributed by Media Education Foundation www. Mediaed.org). I teach “Introduction to Women’s Studies” and other classes with sex/gender/sexuality components built into them. My university is in the middle of Nebraska, where s trict gender roles typically are firmly planted in the minds of my students, and I often use films as a way to help my students learn the lessons that are important to Women’s Studies. This 33-minute film uses the interviews of eleven girls, ages 8 to 16, from a variety of economic, ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds who talk about their views on media and how it impacts their lives. The film begins by introducing the young girls, and then is separated into seven different sections that include Teen Products, Premature Toothpick, Big Ones, Get the Guy, Follow the Leader, Booty Shots and I Could Be Your Daughter, and All Girls Got Killed. The view that gender is socially constructed, and that the differences between males and females is produced by the social experiences people have, rather than biology alone, is held by many of us who teach from a feminist perspective. As a result, the images that are displayed in various forms of media socialize us and shape our understandings of both femininity and masculinity. The social construction of gender is “taken for granted,” pervasive in our culture (Lorber 1991), and gives us the scripts for how we display gender in our day-to-day lives (West and Zimmerman 1991). The first section, Teen Products, shows teens stars such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore whose success is dependent upon the way they portray themselves in their films. These young stars teach their viewers that they must be beautiful and sexy to be thought of as ‘real’ girls in our society. Even though the feminist movement has helped move forward the personal freedoms that allow people to live “outside the mold” that has been established through the media, young models show girls ways in which they should spend their money to attain the ideal beauty. Furthermore, more women and girls are spend increasing amounts of money on products to make them beautiful (Saltzberg and Chrisler 2000). The young girls in this film actually appear to see through the media’s social construction of reality, but still choose to conform to it. As one of the girls states, the videos taught her that to “be sexy means life will be great!” Adolescence is one of the most complex times in the lifespan and one that is greatly affected by the mass media. The media has been implicated in the formation of unrealistically thin body ideals for girls by relying on fashion models and actresses who are underweight (Story, Neumark-Sztainer and French. 2002). This, in turn, affects eating behaviors and contributes to eating disorders. The next section Premature
Toothpick , illustrates this fact by showing how young girls compare their own bodies to what they see in the media and, inevitably find their own bodies lacking. This section demonstrates how it is the norm for young girls in the United States to feel dissatisfied with their bodies and how they are willing to go to any length to turn their bodies into ones similar to those they see in the media. The pressure to look like a model makes it difficult for children and youth to accept and love their bodies as they are, which can lead to a negative body image, less confidence and decreased self -esteem (Snow 2000). Since the sixteenth century, women have bound themselves into garments to alter their breasts and abdomens in such a way that it made it impossible to draw breath or to bend (Chrisler 2000). With the introduction of newer technology, this...
References: Saltzberg, E. A. and Chrisler, J. C. (2000). Beauty is the Beast: Psychological Effects of the Pursuit of the Perfect Female Body. Reconstruc ting Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. E. Disch. Mountain View, CA, Mayfield. Maticka, E. T., Herold, E. S., Mewhinney, D. (1998). “Casual Sex on Spring Break: Intentions and Behaviors of Canadian Students.” The Journal of Sex Research 35(3): 254-265. Story, M. ,Neumark-Sztainer, D., and French, S. (2002). “Individual and environmental influences on adolescent eating behaviors.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102(3): 40-52. Moskowitz, H, Griffith, J.L., DiScala, C., and Sege, R. D. (2001). “Serious Injuries and Deaths of Adolescent Girls Resulting From Interpersonal Violence: Characteristics and Trends From the United States, 1989-1998. (Statistical Data Included).” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 155(8): 903. Jacobson, N. (2000). Cleavage: Techology, Controversy, an the Ironies of the Man-Made Breast. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press. Lorber, J. and Farrel, S. A. (1991). The Social construction of gender. Newbury Park, Calif, Sage Publications.
Snow, S. (2000). “Fostering Positive Body Image in Children and Youth.” Reclaiming Children and Youth 9(3): 187. West, C. and Zimmerman, D. (1991). Doing Gender. The Social Construction of Gender. J. L. a. S. Farrell. Newbury Park, CA, Sage.
Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Women’s Studies, University of Nebraska at Kearney 120 D Copeland Hall Kearney, NE 68849 308-865-8804 firstname.lastname@example.org
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