Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sexy & I Know It? How Does Our Media Represent Sex?

cross posted from my Media Justice column

Today (Thursday) I’ll be at SUNY Orange providing a discussion on Media, Gender, and Sex as part of their Women’s History Month series. Much of my discussion will be about US representations in film, television, and new media. Here’s what I proposed to discuss:

“Media is complicated and so are we as viewers. During this presentation, this complexity will be centered with a focus on US television and film representations of gender, sex, sexuality and sexual orientation. This will include an examination of the media over the past 30 years and highlighting important films, TV shows, and characters. This discussion will introduce participants to media literacy and assist them in utilizing the skills that come with interpreting the media and recognizing its constructed messages about sex and sexuality and how they intersect with various dimensions of difference. The presentation will conclude with a look at how technology has changed the way we are consuming media and how viewers are becoming media makers, resulting in more inclusive depictions where we represent ourselves."
It sounds like I’m doing a presentation on all the articles I’ve written for this column! And sometimes it does seem that way, especially as I prepare for this session. I’ve titled my talk “Sexy & I Know It?” and will be discussing various representations many readers are familiar with. I’m working on a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation and will post it on my personal blog when it is completed. What I’d like to do here is share some of the ideas I have for this session and if anyone has feedback please send it along!

I plan to begin with setting some boundaries with the group. It’s often one of my turn-off’s when presenters don’t discuss who and what is included only to find half-way through their session, they are excluding a ton of people and experiences. I have three boundaries: 1. my presentation focuses on US media which includes: film, television, and new media/webisodes; 2. the time period is from 1980-the present; 3. when discussing gender I believe that wo/man is anyone who identifies as a wo/man regardless of what their sex assigned at birth was. I considered a few other bullet points, such as: Tyler Perry and the show Sex In The City was deliberately not included! But I think that will be clear and I will welcome that as a question.

Next, a discussion of how media and sex are defined. I’m defining media (a term that is much like defining “culture,” is one that has many different definitions) as any form of communication, that it is varied and complex and very much created. I share these components of the definition for media because I think it is very inclusive and allows for more traditional forms of media, such as the ones I’ll be discussing, but also room for other less traditional forms of media that we think of such as tattooing, oral narratives, and make-up. Defining sex I go back to the Circles of Sexuality that are popular in comprehensive sexuality education classrooms. I define it as 5 intersecting areas of everyone’s lives that make us complex and interconnected. These include sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health, and sexualization.

Defining media literacy, is my next step. Many readers will be familiar with this piece as I pull from the work of Elizabeth Thoman at the Center for Media Literacy. My overall goal is to have participants leave with an understanding of what media literacy is and what skills they already have that are connected to being media literate. I include a discussion of the framework/guidelines, skills and process in understanding and examining the media which essentially is about asking the right questions.

The 5 elements of media literacy include:
1. Media is constructed
2. Media is constructed using creative language
3. Different people will have different perspectives
4. Media is profit driven
5. Media has embedded values

The questions that media literacy allows us to seek answers to include:
1. Who created this and what messages are being sent?
2. What techniques are used to catch and hold my attention?
3. What values and points of view are presented?
4. How may others view this media differently from me?
5. What is omitted from this message and media?

Beginning with the 1980s, I start with a quote by Slick Rick, a famous MC from the 1980s whose song “Children’s Story” begins “Once upon a time not long ago..” Maybe it’s just me who finds this funny because I remember the 80s and it doesn’t seem that long ago! I begin with highlighting four television series: The Cosby Show, A Different World, 21 Jump Street, Golden Girls, and Roseanne. I begin with these because I think they are still relevant and in the minds of folks who may be present and range in age.

I include The Cosby Show because it was a great representation that challenged theMoynihan report and reinvisioned the Black family living in the US by representing a Black family that challenged stereotypes presented in the Moynihan report. A Different World is included as a spin-off of The Cosby Show that showed Black college students building and sustaining an intellectual community of practice (and all the other reasons I wrote about a few weeks ago). 21 Jump Street is included because it represented one of the first and few times we see people of Color in positions of authority and power. This was also one of the most multi-cultural casts on television at the time with Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen, and Steven Williams. This is included to provide a comparison of what the upcoming movie of the same title represents. Is the cast just as diverse and inclusive or is it marketed at a specific audience? Finally, the Golden Girls. They are still on the vanguard of television by representing older women experiencing pleasure and full lives. You can read more about what I think about this show from my “Revolutionary TV” series.

The two videos I highlight are when Blanche and Rose discuss Rose’s HIV test on Golden Girls. The other video is from A Different World when Freddie experiences a sexual assault. My goal is to have a call and response with the participants, having them use their media literacy skills and see how they would answer some of those questions.

Finally, Roseanne, a television show that represented my upbringing so much, especially as a working-class family. This clip is when Darlene begins to menstruate for the first time and her feelings and response to this development. She beings to throw away the items she loves and that represent her: baseball mitt, basketball, football, etc. Roseanne speaks to her about how her things are “girl” things. She says “these are girl things if a girl uses them.” This sent and continues to send an important message about gender, gender roles and expectations. Check out the clip below. The part begins at the 6.30 mark:

The 1990s had so many television shows. I have yet to decide if I’m going to list the tons and tons of them that I find important such as: The Magic School Bus, Daria, In Living Color, My So-Called Life, Life Goes On, Amen, the Arsenio Hall Show, New York Undercover, I Like It Like That, Living Single, and All-American Girl. The last three media I’m focusing on for discussion. Here’s some of the media I’ll be presenting for each show.

All-American Girl is the television show about the life of Margaret Cho featuring her playing herself. She’s discussed her challenges with this role and show in her stand-up comedy, and the first two minutes of the first episode I’m presenting to discuss culture, language, gender, expectations, immigration, race and identity. Check out the first few minutes below:

Next is the television show Living Single (which came before Sex and the City!) focuses on four Black women living in NYC. Synclair’s character deciding to have sex with her long-term partner for the first time. Her homegirls which include Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, and cousin Queen Latifah, try to help her find confidence and assurance in this decision. At the end of the show, Synclair and her partner Overton decide to abstain until they are both comfortable. This is one of the first times we see abstinence represented for Black women, a community that is often seen as hyper-sexualized and insatiable. This show was produced and created by Yvette Lee Bowser who became the first Black woman to create her own prime-time series. See the clip below:

I Like It Like That is a film I really adore. It focuses on a Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx in the late 1990s. Starring Lauren Velez (from New York Undercover) as Lisette, a LatiNegra mother of three who finds herself needing a job when her husband is arrested for stealing a stereo during a blackout. This film was one of the first times I saw LatiNegr@s represented, a story that focused on women’s work and redefines independence for Latinas. In addition, Lisette’s sister Alexis is a transgender woman (performed by Jesse Borrego) whose character shows the lived reality of transmisogyny that is still present and impacts women of Color in very specific ways. See the trailer below:

For 2000-Present I focus on New Media and more so on films and webisodes. Some of the films and series presented include The Wire, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, Pariah, and Gun Hill Road. I plan to discuss the inclusion and representation of transgender people in the film Gun Hill Road, and connect that to the “activism” that occurred by Puerto Rican activists around the television show “Workin’ It.” A discussion of the show Dexter I also plan to have to discuss again people of Color in roles of power and authority. Lauren Velez as police Captain and C.S. Lee as Vince Masuka a lab tech who offers one representation of Asian men as “getting the girl” which we rarely see. I also think I’ll discuss the film Girlfight with Michelle Rodriguez.

Ending the presentation I focus on webisodes and new media. I highlight the HomeGirl.TV series created by Sofia Quintero, Between Women webseries and how we are all becoming media makers and highlight the S*&% People that was popular earlier this year.

Here’s the trailer I plan to show to discuss Between Women (a webseries that is doing so much so keep an eye out for a post coming soon about this series!). It follows several women of Color who identify as lesbians living in Atlanta, Georgia.

I end with a viewing of the S*&% People Say to Native Americans Part 2 as an example of how folks are becoming media makers and how this connects to media justice.

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