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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Girls Next Door" and Gender Stereotypes

Gender identities and norms are adopted and expected to be followed by society’s members. These expectations are instilled at birth; for example, when a baby is born they are immediately dressed in one of the two colors that correspond with their sex, blue or pink. Gender roles are enforced in the home, school, and work place. While these environments provide the foundation in which gender roles are created, there is one aspect of society that emphasizes gender roles on a much greater scale: the media. Reality television in particular depicts ideal gender characteristics. The Girls Next Door is a television series that gives America a glimpse of the glamorous, lustful lives of Hugh Hefner and his three prized Playboy bunnies, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra. Viewing this show through a gendered lens, one can identify both male and female stereotypes created and emphasized through the characters; some of these stereotypes are somewhat true, in that males and females today still accept them to be true, and therefore conform to them.

The Girls Next Door contains an abundant amount of content that emphasizes, and perhaps slightly exaggerates the female stereotypes of today’s society. First, there are physical stereotypes. Beauty plays a major role in the image of the ideal female. A beautiful woman has more power in the eyes of the media and society than a plain, unattractive woman. The Playboy bunnies portray the ideal female physique: thin, voluptuous, blond-haired women. These three characteristics alone epitomize what the ideal woman, according to the media, should look like. Also, the ideal woman is well-kempt and feminine; her outfit is girly and accentuates her curves, makeup, hair, and nails are religiously tended to, and her poise and aura reeks of femininity. In The Girls Next Door, the three women sport platinum blond locks, sexy, tight-fitted outfits, dainty shoes, and dolled up faces and manicured nails. Another physical stereotype that thrives in this reality show is the idea of women as sexual beings and objects of lust. While this show is quite the extreme when it comes to lust and sex, the stereotype still lingers in society. In one particular episode about Hef’s birthday, the first scene is a clip of Kendra dressed up in a dominatrix outfit with a whip in her hand. What does this say about the woman’s role in society? Is one of their main roles to act as eye candy for males?

Next there are mental and emotional stereotypes. In The Girls Next Door, women are portrayed as ditzy and giggly; women cannot handle stress as well as men. For example, Bridget is practicing her burlesque strip tease from inside a birthday cake for Hef’s birthday. In the scene, she giggles and screeches, expressing her woes and fears about the strip tease: Bridget squeaks, “I’m so nervous!” Bridget’s mother is seen giggling at the sight of her daughter stripping down to pasties and a g-string. Also, one of the “serious” problems that arise in the episode is Kendra’s dress is too tight, and it is therefore extremely uncomfortable for her during the party. These scenes degrade the woman, depicting the woman as one whose biggest concerns in life are unimportant and silly. Also, the manner in which a woman handles situations is by giggling frantically and carrying on. Women can be mistaken for being downright stupid in this episode; Bridget exclaims to the camera that her favorite thing to do is stripping. Kendra spends several minutes dancing provocatively in front of her mirror, obsessing over how great her backside looks; soon she states that she is bored and walks away from the mirror. During the party, Holly cannot remember how to get to the peacock cage in the backyard, simply because the party tent is in the way of her usual path. This three examples do not create any positive, endearing images of a female; from these situations, one could gather that women lack a decent attention span, are forgetful and dopey, and have difficulties thinking, and would simply rather use their beauty as opposed to intelligence. According to Jean Kilbourne, author of Can’t Buy My Love, this seemingly lack of intelligence and overload of ditziness may be a result of attempting to hide their true selves in order to become more feminine. Young women feel the need to “dumb down” in order to appear flirtier, cuter, and more appealing to men.

In addition to these stereotypes, women in The Girl Next Door are portrayed as delicate and dainty. Bridget’s mother and father visit the mansion for lunch; as the father scoffs down his lunch, Bridget and her mother, slowly pick at their salads, careful not to be sloppy or give the impression that they actually have an appetite. Weakness as a female characteristic is conveyed in the scene where Holly can’t slide open the peacock cage door; she complains that she is too weak. Females often strive to “appear off-balance, insecure, and weak”(Kilbourne 265). Also, for the most part, women on the show rarely talk about anything of true substance; discussions generally concerned their outfits, their appearance, or other petty subjects. Bridget’s mother was fairly quiet at the lunch visit, with exception of her comment about how the carrots in the salad looked good. The idea that women say more with their appearances than with their words can be gathered from this show. Kilbourne claims that women are taught that saying less is more; is it attractive for a women to be silent, mysterious, and to talk softly. Finally, there is the stereotype that woman are concerned with beauty and physique to the point of obsession. Bridget claims she wants to be “super healthy” to look good for the strip tease; she does so by eating practically nothing. Kendra obsesses over herself in the mirror when she tries on her new corset dress. The message that in order to be considered beautiful, one must be thin is causing psychological harm to women, especially girls; Self-objectification, the tendency to consider physical attractiveness to be more important than being healthy, is a serious issue among women. (Kilbourne 260).

While this show focuses largely on female stereotypes, men are also branded with the typical characteristics associated with masculinity. For example, sometimes men are portrayed as having a large appetite, being sloppy, and possibly having a beer gut. Bridget’s stepfather is filmed scoffing down his chicken Caesar salad and guzzling down beer after beer, while enthusiastically commenting on the warmed chicken on the salad. The producers don’t forget to add the stepfather belching at the end of the scene as well. Males in this show are regarded as the dominant leader, the one in charge. Hugh Hefner is the man of the Playboy Mansion; he has control over these three girls. He cares for them, pays for their expenses, and has them at his disposal. A specific example of Hef playing the role of leader is when he leads the girls to the peacock cage because they don’t remember how to get there. This scene also emphasizes how men are portrayed as smarter and having more common sense than women. One other stereotype of males that bluntly degrades females is the belittling attitude and behavior men toward women. For example, when Bridget appears in her strip tease outfit, her stepfather catcalls at her. This demeaning type of behavior degrades a woman to a mere object of lust and beauty.

These various stereotypes, while they are extreme due to the nature of the show, reign true to a certain extent in today’s society. There is no doubt that women have come a long way in breaking down the many stereotypes society has imposed. However, many still thrive in the various aspects of media. Media reinforces false stereotypes, resulting in a misled society that is still attempting to overcome the gender obstacle.

-Miss Nooch

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add." Can't Buy My Love. Simon & Schuster Publishing, 1999.