Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blog Post #3 - Supernanny: Saving The World From Masculine and Feminine Ideals, One Family at a Time

Reality TV is a growing genre in the world of entertainment. There are reality shows on how to be fashionable, how to succeed at work, how to alter and improve our bodies, how to manage our families and domestic lives, and so much more. According to Pozner in her article, “The Unreal World”, “Viewers may be drawn to reality TV by a sort of cinematic schadenfreude, but they continue to tune in because these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men, love, beauty, class and race” (Pozner 97). While some of these programs promote valuable life lessons, others simply reinforce gender stereotypes, as well as masculine and feminine beliefs. However, not all reality TV shows enforce these ideals. For example, “Supernanny”, a series on ABC in which a nanny is brought into a family with naughty, misbehaved children for a week to bring order back into the house, is an exception to this widely shared belief about reality TV shows. Through her role as Supernanny, Jo Frost encourages families to break away from normative gender roles.

The families who call on Supernanny for help all have a couple factors in common. They all have kids that are out of control and act up as well as parents that need to regain command. Furthermore, another similarity that may be overlooked is that “The program also focuses almost exclusively on ‘helping’ heterosexual nuclear families, so that techniques for managing the family and the home are situated within this sanctioned ideal” (Ouellette 95). The families always include a husband and wife and children of various numbers and ages. According to Newman, “American culture is considered heteronormative – that is, a culture where heterosexuality is accepted as the normal, taken for granted mode of sexual expression” (Newman 60). For the most part, the families are white, middle class citizens living throughout the United Sates. Very rarely is a colored family, a blended family, a single parent, or any other type that differs from the norm, featured on the show. This is most likely due to the fact that these are not the acceptable standards in society.

The parents on “Supernanny” also usually follow the hegemonic norms and expectations based on masculine and feminine ideals and stereotypes. Throughout each season, and most evident in Season 1, “Mothers are almost exclusively stay-at-home, or work as teachers… Fathers frequently work long hours, or have jobs that require them to be out of town for long periods of time” (Lenos). The hegemonic belief that men are the breadwinners and women stay at home to take care of the children and the house is noticeably apparent in almost every episode of “Supernanny”. Even when the mothers do work, it is usually at home or part time during the day while the kids are at school. Fathers rarely have the responsibility of watching or nurturing the children. Typical gender stereotype roles are portrayed by the parents in most episodes, which may send out a negative message to the viewers.

However, recent episodes of “Supernanny” have begun to take the first steps in breaking away from the norm. For example, in Season 4, Episode 3, the Schumacher family called on Supernanny for help. The Schumacher family included mother Teri, father Brian, 14 year old daughter Jessica, 11 year old daughter Alexi, and 7 year old son Dylan. The husband and wife both work. Teri works at a specialty grocery store and gets home around 1:30 and Brian works as a bartender and leaves for work around 2:00. According to Teri, they “decided to work split shifts so that the kids were kept out of day care” (Supernanny - Schumacher Family). However, Brian comments that the split shifts have caused a strain on their marriage. While the parents do not follow the stereotypical gender roles, the children are given extremely gender stereotypical labels. The girls are described as “materialistic” and “selfish”, they like to shop and are on the computer or phone all day. Dylan is labeled as “aggressive”, “angry”, and “violent” often cursing and hitting his mother and sisters. Not only are the girls’ qualities characterized as feminine and Dylan’s as masculine but they are also considered bad behaviors. Therefore, it is up to Supernanny to break them of these habits, thus breaking them from the hegemonic norms of masculine and feminine ideals.

Jo Frost, also known as Supernanny, is a 32 year old English nanny, with a British accent and a Mary Poppins-like appearance, as well as sixteen years of nanny experience. From watching her character on the show, it is clear that she herself is an example of breaking out of the gendered ideals that society has built up. Jo displays both feminine and masculine qualities. In every episode “She is dressed in extremely conservative blue or plum colored suits and prim pumps, her hair is pulled into a severe chignon, she wears glasses … (Lenos). By dressing like this, she is completely desexualized, which clearly goes against the way most women are portrayed on television. Her feminine characteristics are demonstrated in the way she interacts with the children, playing with them and reinforcing their good behavior. Her masculine characteristics, on the other hand, are shown when she uses her forceful manner to take control of the household. While it is important for her to not follow the stereotypical behavior and ideals associated with femininity in order to enforce a positive message, what is even more important is the way she attempts to break the families from their hegemonic gender roles.

Parents who beg Jo for help with their uncontrollable households are also inadvertently asking Jo to completely change their lives. The families admit they are not good enough and not living the ideal life so Jo pushes a new ideal lifestyle onto them. The important aspect of this lifestyle though is that it does not abide by the feminine and masculine beliefs that have been the ideal in the past. Jo encourages fathers to spend more time with the family, advises mothers to be more assertive and have more authority with the kids, and forces children to change their behaviors and attitudes. One normative gender stereotype in our society is that men work and make the money while women are the caregivers of the family. Instead of enforcing this idea, Jo, very forcefully, makes the men realize that it is important for them to take time to play with the kids rather than leaving the wife to do all the nurturing. Furthermore, society views men as having the authoritative roles in the household. However, Jo encourages the mothers to also hold power within the family. In most episodes, the mother has trouble disciplining her children and the kids usually take advantage of her. Jo makes the mothers understand that they can still be nurturing and loving while being assertive and powerful at the same time. In her attempt to create a better lifestyle for the families, Jo blurs gender roles by making both men and women perform roles that were designed to be so-called “masculine” and “feminine”. The families on “Supernanny” know their house is out of control and the kids misbehave so Jo is needed to come in and change that, not only to benefit the family, but society as well.

“Supernanny” is a great example of a reality TV show that both disciplines and entertains us. According to Ouellette and Hay, “The goal is for parents to learn to manage on their own so Frost can move on to other needy families. The program promises to equip parents with the skills they need to improve their lives as well as their families, and in so doing allows for a range of viewing strategies, from emotional identification with the harried mothers to relief that one’s own children are not quite as out of control as the ones being documented by the TV cameras” (Ouellette 98). We, as viewers, learn valuable lessons from Jo about child rearing and effective parenting, but we also get pleasure out of seeing these dysfunctional families on television. We are able to distance ourselves from the experience but still come out with indispensable lessons. Jo is a great teacher, not only in her role as a nanny, but also in the way she encourages people to break away from the norms and create a new, less hegemonic, ideal for society.


Jo Frost. AOL Television. 28 May 2008 .

Lenos, Melissa. "We Need Another Hero. . . Our Contemporary Gunslinger, Supernanny." 27 May 2008 .

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 60

Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2008. 95-98.

Pozner, Jennifer L. The Unreal World. 97.

"Supernanny - Schumacher Family." Surf the Channel. 2007. 27 May 2008

Supernanny Logo. About Supernanny. 28 May 2008 .

Friday, May 23, 2008

Blog Post #2 - You're Perfect... Just Not By Our Definition

Seventeen, YM, Cosmopolitan, Ms., ‘Teen. These are the materials that define “perfection” for young and adolescent girls. However, the messages these magazines are sending are often conflicting and paradoxical. Girls see these images everywhere and they are affected by what the images are telling them about the way they should look. Some teen magazines contain advertisements that promote natural beauty, such as the Dove campaign and the NOW Foundation. If these were the only messages being conveyed through the magazines, then the girls would clearly benefit from the positive statements. This, however, is not the case. The same magazines with the real beauty advertisements also encourage diets, hair products, cosmetics, and so much more that imply that the natural look just is not good enough for society. At an age where girls are easily influenced, images in magazines emphasizing body image that send contradictory messages lower girls’ self-esteem and cause emotional distress.

When flipping through magazines that are targeted towards teenage girls, one usually finds advice columns, inspiring true life stories, quizzes, and advertisements. If looked at and analyzed more closely, one sees that the messages being sent to these young, impressionable girls are all about body image. However, while one piece of advice tells a teenager to love themselves for who they are, the next column gives them suggestions on how to lose a couple of pounds or tells them what products to use to improve their hair or complexion. According to Anastasia Higginbotham, “When it comes to body image, teen magazines send a convoluted message. Girls are encouraged to love their bodies, no matter what they look like, by magazines with fashion spreads featuring only stick-thin, flawless-faced white models in expensive outfits” (Higginbotham 95). These magazines try to encourage girls to be happy with themselves and empower them to break away from the hegemonic beliefs about gender and social ideals. More over though, at the same time, they promote this idea of the perfect, yet unattainable body. One must ask themselves, how are girls supposed to be content with their bodies when they are basically being told they are not beautiful unless they look like the photoshopped, airbrushed, and retouched models shown in magazines?

By conveying two completely different messages through its images, magazines have a tremendous impact on girls. Adolescent girls are at a very vulnerable stage in their lives. They are easily influenced and “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions” (Kilbourne 258). Girls are already insecure about their identity because of normative gender roles and stereotypes. When magazines play their part in sending conflicting messages to these susceptible victims, their self-esteem is compromised even more. They become more confused about their identity because while they want to feel good about their body and accept themselves as beautiful, they find it difficult to do so with the constant images of thin, pretty, and usually blonde females. Emotional distress is also another consequence of these contradictory messages. Girls become depressed when they realize they do not have the ideal body and they push themselves so hard to try to achieve this image that is not even “real”. With so many messages being sent to young girls regarding body image, it is difficult for these girls to differentiate between the good and the bad.


Dines, Gail, Humez Jean M, eds. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.

Higginbotham, Anastasia. Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem. 95.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add" in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 258

Love Your Body: Positive Ads. 22 May 2008 .

Love Your Body: Poster Contest Winners. 22 May 2008 .

Styledash. 22 May 2008 .

The Gender Ads Project. 22 May 2008 .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blog Post #1 - Children's Toys' Effect on Gender Identity

Gender stereotypes play a large part in the toys and games we play with as children. This belief is widely shared among many societies. So you can believe me when I say I was very surprised to see that on the homepage of the Toys R Us website there is no search that you can do by gender. There is a “SHOP BY AGE”, “SHOP BY CATEGORY”, and “SHOP BY BRAND”, but nowhere on the homepage can you choose what gender you want to shop for. This lack of choice gave me hope that maybe the world does put too much of an emphasis on gender differences and maybe Toys R Us is taking the first step in reducing gender stereotypes by advertising more gender neutral toys. However, this sense of hope did not last long, for when I chose to “SHOP BY AGE” and clicked on “8 – 11 Years”, I was taken to a page that allowed me to “NARROW BY BOY/GIRL” ( These simple search categories that we usually take for granted in helping us find the perfect gift for a child are what truly help to enforce the idea that toys do send messages about gender stereotypes and normative gender roles. Children’s toys and games reinforce the gender stereotypes that the media presents and that the world has come to live by.

I chose to go shopping online at for a nine year old boy. His wish list is compiled of toys such as roller skates, Nintendo DS games, a remote-controlled car, LEGOS, and a bicycle. As I searched for these products I had no problem finding each one under the Boys’ category. I found Typhoon 1-4 Adjustable Skates that are navy blue, black, and silver ( As I was searching the page
for skates I observed that all the skates for boys were blue, red, black, or silver. Curious about what, if anything, that meant that girls’ skates looked like, I went to the page for roller skates under the Girls’ category. I was surprised to see that they had as many as they did, however, I was not all that surprised to find that all of them were pink, purple, or white. There were tons of pages of video games, most of them of sports, racing, or fighting evil. For example, there is a Nintendo DS game called “Ben 10: Protector of Earth” that is perfect for a nine year old boy ( I found it pretty interesting that included right in the title was “Protector of Earth”, thus implying that boys are the protectors and more often than not, the girls are the ones that need protection. Lacking in the videogame category were games where females are the heroes and the ones who save the world. There were less remote-controlled cars for boys ages 8 – 11 compared to the number I found in the older boys category, but the ones I did find were NASCAR cars and bulldozers ( The results from this search indicated to me that boys are all about speed, aggression, destruction, and violence. When I searched for LEGOS for boys and then compared the results to LEGOS in the Girls’ category, I have to admit I was surprised by what I found. There were many more choices for boys than girls, including themes such as Indiana Jones and castles, but what I found surprising was that both Boys’ and Girls’ categories had Star Wars and SpongeBob sets ( Filter%7C8-11+Years). I expected the Girls’ category to, if anything, just include pink, green, and white blocks to build houses and gardens, so to see similar sets to the boys’ LEGOS was a shock. There were also several different bikes to choose from for both boys and girls. The 20" Boy's 260SX Rallye Bicycle, for example, was described by one user as “Lightweight, Stunts are good, Versatile, Tough, Stylish” and was said to be best used for “Freestyle, Trail, Street Riding, Racing, Vert, Stunts” ( This led me to believe that boys’ bikes are tough and durable and allow boys to be adventurous and explore the world around them. During my search for the wish list items, I found that most toys and games do enforce the gender stereotypes that our community has come to believe. However, there were a few that gave me hope that we may be breaking out of the normative gender roles that have existed for so many years.

As children go through the basic stages of development, they are also learning about themselves. It is critical that they go through the process of gender socialization, “…the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules of a particular society” (Newman 108). During this process, they learn their identity, or “sense of self”, mainly, how to be a girl or a boy. Toys play a major role in this process. For the most part, toys are designed for a particular gender. Girls’ toys, such as dress-up clothes, and arts and crafts, are used to develop creativity and imagination. Furthermore, dolls and Barbies enforce the concept of beauty and body image as well as encourage nurturing and care giving. Boys’ toys, on the other hand, such as LEGOS and K’NEX encourage logic and thinking development. There is also an enormous emphasis on war and violence, such as in video games. In addition, in a study of the portrayal of gender in children’s books by Lenore Wietzman and her colleagues, Newman says “They found that… Boys were more likely to be portrayed in adventurous pursuits or activities that required independence and strength; girls were likely to be confined to indoor activities and portrayed as passive and dependent” (Newman 90). These toys and books send out specific messages about girls and boys. Girls tend to be more creative, but also more submissive and nurturing. Boys tend to more aggressive and forceful.

Another message toys send to children is that boys and girls can be separated into two different spheres, the public and the private. Boys’ toys have a tendency to be more associated with the public sphere, or the outside world, thus sending the message that boys are more curious and adventurous and are more likely to delve into the world. Girls’ toys tend to be on the complete opposite side of this spectrum. They are associated with the private sphere, or the indoors. Girls’ toys, like the Easy Bake Oven and dolls, reveal that girls are more domestic. Toys that are gender specific greatly affect the way children understand the normative gender roles. Those that keep girls in the house push them to stay there and become housewives and mothers and not aspire to anything more. Boys’ toys that promote outdoor play and adventure encourage them to go out and explore different aspects of the world and get jobs that are described as tough and masculine. The problem with these toys is that the impact the messages have on children may cause them to hold back their potential in the future. In a society that is breaking away from the “norm”, it is important for children to learn that while gender is a part of their identity, it should not limit them in life.

Even when we try to avoid the gender specific toys that separate girls and boys into two distinct categories by focusing on gender neutral toys, it is difficult to do so. As I was shopping for the wish list items I found that there were several toys that were designed to appeal to both boys and girls. However, the problem with these products and why they cannot be considered gender neutral is that these products come in different colors or in different themes. For example, a bicycle may be seen as a gender neutral toy, but there are blue bikes, red bikes, pink bikes, flowered bikes, and so much more. These different types of bicycles provide a way to distinguish between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike. This same problem can be found with several other toys as well, such as LEGOS and dolls. Toys shape the way children learn their gender and consequently their gender roles. Therefore, without gender neutral toys, it becomes difficult for a girl to define herself as anything but a dependent, nurturing, domestic female and a boy to define himself as anything but a competitive, independent, strong male.

One reason toys are so popular among children is due to advertisements in media. Children are easily influenced and the more they are attracted to an advertisement, the more they want whatever it is the ad is selling. The media plays a major role in what consumers buy. Lipsitz describes commercial network television’s “important role in this merging economy, functioning as a significant new object of consumer purchases as well as an important marketing medium” (Lipsitz 42). Children spend many hours watching television, and as they see all the commercials and advertisements they become consumers. Companies know that kids make up a large audience so they appeal to these targets through television to get them to buy their product. Furthermore, schools are becoming more and more like “training grounds for educating students to define themselves as consumer…” (Giroux 172). The vast majority of a child’s day is spent in school. Therefore, through advertisements and products, like certain toys or games, in the classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias, children are influenced to buy these products. Companies that advertise their toys and products in schools and on television play into gender stereotypes through their advertisements, thus promoting the ideas of the stereotypical gender roles. Furthermore, despite attempts to neutralize gender specific toys and games, these gender stereotypes still exist. These toys that the media endorses so well, send influential messages to children about their roles in society and, whether deliberate or not, have a tremendous life-lasting effect on the gender socialization process.


15" CAT Remote-Controlled Bulldozer. Toys "R" Us. 19 May 2008 . .

20" Boy's 260SX Rallye Bicycle. Toys "R" Us. 19 May 2008 . .

Anakin's Jedi Starfighter 153 Pieces - Star Wars: the Clone Wars - LEGO - 7669. Toys "R" Us. 19 May 2008 . .

Ben 10: Protector of Earth for Nintendo DS. Toys "R" Us. 19 May 2008 . .

Dines, Gail, Humez Jean M, eds. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.

Giroux, Henry A. "Kids For Sale" in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader , eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 172.

Lipsitz, George. "The Meaning of Memory" in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 42.

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 90, 108.

"Toys "R" Us." 18 May 2008 .

Toys "R" Us. 2008. 20 May 2008 . .

Typhoon 1-4 Adjustable Skates - Bravo Sports. Toys "R" Us. 19 May 2008 . .