Thursday, March 1, 2007

"The Girls Next Door" Part 1: An Analysis of Femininity

“The Girls Next Door”- What are the concepts of gender being shown?

“The Girls Next Door” may best be described as a reality show chronicling the lives of Playboy creator Hugh Hefner and the many playmates of the Playboy Mansion. Viewers see extensive footage behind the scenes of Hef’s everyday life as well as an invitation to the many extravagant parties that take place at his home. Although this show is found entertaining to many of its viewers, one must question the content of a reality television program such as this. What messages are being conveyed to its audience and what do these messages say about our pop culture environment today? What ideas does this show demonstrate about sex and gender in today’s society? Through an analysis of an episode titled, “80 Is the New 40” I will attempt to bring these underlying messages to the surface and discover the true significance of this popular reality television series.

One concept of femininity that can be seen throughout this show is the desire to be thin and sacrificing of ones self in order to obtain this goal. Two of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends Kendra and Bridget help to present this concept, each in their own way. While getting ready for Hef’s Casablanca party, Kendra realizes that her dress does not fit her right and that it is way too tight. A few weeks prior to the party Kendra had been sick and after losing a few pounds decided to get her dress taken in. However, after she discovers that her dress is too tight she chooses to squeeze herself into it instead of wearing a different dress. Throughout the party, Kendra complains of being unable to breathe as well as a discomfort and inability to walk while wearing her high heels. Her actions clearly demonstrate her desire to remain thin by forcing herself into a dress that no longer fits her. When discussing the issue of thinness in today’s society author Jean Kilbourne commented, “Even more destructively, they get the message that this is possible, that, with enough effort and self-sacrifice, they can achieve this ideal. Thus many girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable.” (Kilbourne, 260)

While Bridget also conveys the desire to be thin, she has a different method of staying skinny. In preparation for Hefner’s party, Bridget prepares a striptease routine to perform for his birthday. In order to remain thin and look good for the performance, she creates a diet for herself to follow. During this episode Bridget is seen eating only carrots for lunch while her parents are eating chicken caesar salad. The radical diet that she uses demonstrates the same concept of femininity presented throughout the show. She is using an unrealistic method to reach an unattainable goal. Demonstrating dieting such as this through the media influences others to diet in a similar fashion and causes viewers to compare themselves to the thin characters that they see. “Before television was available, there was little talk of dieting in Fiji…In 1995 television came to the island. Within three years, the number of teenagers at risk for eating disorders more than doubled, 74 percent of the teens in the study said they felt ‘too big or too fat’ and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month.” (Kilbourne, 262)

Bridget also presents different concepts of femininity related to sexuality and fashion. While practicing her strip tease she makes a comment that pasties and a g string are practically dressed to her. She also practices her performance in front of her parents, who seem very approving of what she is doing. These ideas demonstrate the over sexualized concept of femininity. Through this concept, the media is sending the message that it is ok for women and girls to wear little clothing and to be over sexualized in today’s society.

One characteristic that seems to be omitted in the portrayal of women and femininity on “The Girls Next Door” is intelligence. None of the girls featured are ever shown reading, or doing anything that would make them appear smart or clever. In fact, Bridget mentioned that her striptease was one of her favorite things to do and jokes that she may want it as a new career goal. This statement does not make her appear any smarter. It also helps to show the over sexualized concept of femininity in that she wants to make a career out of stripping.

These ideas of femininity presented in “The Girls Next Door” can be closely related to Jean Kilbourne’s article “The More You Subtract, the More You Add.” In this article Kilbourne discusses that young adolescent girls are prime targets to market products towards and often follow closely what they see in pop culture. These girls feel the pressure to be thin as well as the desire to look like those they see in the media. By watching television shows such as that of “The Girls Next Door,” young girls will continue to follow and be strongly influenced by these concepts of femininity that are presented by Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. (Kilbourne)

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add". Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

"The Girls Next Door" Part 2: An Analysis of Masculinity

Hugh Hefner is the major male character throughout the show. Hugh Hefner is the owner of the Playboy mansion and creator of the Playboy magazine. Hefner, at the age of 80 has three different girlfriends that all live with him in his home. In this episode the three girls struggle to find birthday presents for him because they feel he already has everything. Hugh Hefner illustrates male dominance as a concept of masculinity. Hefner appears to act more like a fatherly figure around the girls, while the girls appear to be more childlike during their conversations with him. Hugh Hefner is also significantly older than the three girlfriends and possesses control of the money he provides for the girls as well.

Hugh Hefner’s display of the concept of masculinity may be closely related to the article “Real Men Don’t Cry…And Other ‘Uncool’ Myths” by Phil W. Petrie. In this article Petrie describes the inability for men to express their feelings and the need for men to be in control of their emotions. It also discusses the ideas of control when Petrie believes that men should be in control of women. “Wasn’t that what she really wanted from me as head of the household- control? Wasn’t Freud correct when he proclaimed that our anatomy was our destiny (that is our genitals determine our behavior)?” (Petrie, 222) Hugh Hefner seems almost emotionless in this episode of the “Girls Next Door.” He seems to be in control of his three girlfriends in terms of his age, power, and money.

“The Girls Next Door” is a reality show that exhibits many different concepts of both femininity and masculinity. When these concepts are presented on television and through the media they may send messages to young viewers about how they should act or what they should look like. The girls featured on the show demonstrate many of the same qualities of remaining thin, dieting, and being over sexualized while the men of the show present characteristics of control and power. Overall, the show seems to poke fun of these concepts while also making them some of the main focuses of the program.

Petrie, Phil W. "Real Men Don’t Cry...and Other "Uncool" Myths." Essence (1982): 221-226.

New Links

Here are the new and updated links. Most of them are the same as last just one slight change.

American squirm: At home in a crowd

Salon Arts & Entertainment: Don't call it a comeback

Home Depot Taps the Weepy Part of Reality TV

Television and Gender Roles- General Advertisements

Male Bashing on TV

There is also a gender analysis of "The Girls Next Door" on the way after i figure out how to paste things into the new post box. Hopefully it will be up soon..