In class this week we briefly Kim spoke about gender assigned toys, which brought us to the “Toys” portion of Rowland Barthes’ Mythologies. In light of the minor “throwback” here is “an oldie but goody”:
Myths can be seen as gifts, handed down from one generation to another. Creating reason and definition for something people may not understand. For as long as the myth is given life and applied as the hard facts of its environment, then there is no denying it. When looking for passages to read from Ronald Barthes’ “Mythologies”, our choices were made in part by our interest but mostly by the myth’s application to our own experiences. Pipé was lured to the segment called “Toys”, Kim was attracted to “Striptease” and “Lady of the Camellias” I (Kasia) was intrigued by “Soaps and Detergent.” The following is a summary of our discussion in relation to our choices, and our fellow group member’s input:
Toys, most often given to us as children, are our first interaction with the world around us. Pipé expressed her realization that toys are but a microcosm of the “adult world.” They are what Barthes calls signs; their meaning however is wrapped in gender roles and their respective assignments. When Barthes gives an example of a toy, he choses a baby doll. The doll is to be given to little girls to “ to prepare [her] for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her for her future role as a mother.” (53) Condition? Even Barthes himself put the word in quotation marks. Pipé thought all myths were another form of ideology, but telling his audience toys have the power to condition upcoming generations of their place in the world before they have had the opportunity to actually explore it, gives it the “air” of ideology.
Kimberly and I agreed to the ideology behind gender roles and toys. We explored the scenario if a young boy was found with a doll; he would promptly be stripped of the toy and be given something more “masculine.” I chose say “found” because in our society masculinity has such a cut definition many parents, if any, would never willingly give their sons a baby doll to play with. He would be forced to play with a ball, a sword, a war action figure; something that shows him what to be a man is really about. The ideology of hegemony in this case limits interaction between genders, but not by choice but by social demands. Toys are then split into groups of toys “for her” and “for him.”
Reflecting on the toys of our childhood, a common one we all had was Barbie. Barbie’s origins root all the way to Germany, when toy models of a popular character were made and sold in bars for men. We were shocked to realize how far the image of Barbie has come from a doll many consider a sex toy. To realize the the image of Barbie was made from a play thing meant to be visually appealing to men, means there is some expectation of what women should be like. In a hegemonic ideology women are supposed to cater to the needs of men. Modern Barbies serve as a prototype for the “ideal woman.” She reiterates the message that not only is skinny beautiful but white is also beautiful.
The company that produces Barbie, Mattel, has made efforts to include other Barbies to their line of dolls. Cultural Barbies have been added to the mix including, African Barbies, African American Barbies, even a Muslim Barbie. This Barbie includes traditional wear for her public life and her private home life. The Muslim Barbie, called Fulla, comes with many values shared by Islamic followers. In order to sell your merchandise you need to appeal to the greater audience, and that should not be a problem if you know what they’re expecting.
“Soap and Detergents”
Soaps and detergents. There is nothing special about soaps and detergents that appear magical and wonderful, and full of qualities that may pertain to a myth. However, when one evaluates the advertisements associated with selling the product, can’t they be confused with mythological traits? “Dissolving stains”, “removing dirt with a single wash”, “stain fighting” are some of the slogans and one-liners meant to romanticize the power of washing clothes. In our group however we could not help but connect the associations with color. Dark, dirt, brown is all negatively accepted terms; white, clean, pure are terms not only welcomed but also desired by the public. We began to wonder what the connections were to racism, that white is acceptable and anything else is not up to par with hegemonic ideology.
Pipé told us the chapter reminded her of colonization, of how the colonizing party would take it upon themselves to “wash” out the “savage” of the native inhabitants of an area. It may include a “racial cleansing”, or “cultural cleansing”, where the only prevalent culture in the area from that day forward. Kim then told us about a soap ad she saw some time ago. The soap ad was one of a soap company supporting the idea of skin whitening. Although it was not real skin whitening, the ad wanted to create for their audience the image staying dirty is the equivalent of staying uncivilized. This was not only a racist message but because of the imperialistic sentiment of the time, naturally accepted by the general audiences, and may have only been written off as racist as future scholars have evaluated them in such a light.
“A woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.” (84) Barthes’ words were eye opening to us because he was a man who said something we were not familiar with. We had been told a woman’s body is not only objectified, but rather objectified for sexual purposes. To say she has lost her sexual purpose was to say sexuality actually originated in her covering up. In America, that is what stripping leads to, exposure and hypersexualization. However, Barthes introduces us to a shift in ideologies where the woman is now stripped of her sexual value as she is completely exposed. We were stricken with confusion and astonishment because strip tease is used to increase sexual value, as little is left to the imagination in a venue where “sex is meant to be sold”, the value of a woman’s body increases.
As is linked to this blog, Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” is included to reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is rejected in the public view. In the video Erykah has stripped naked and as she removes each article of clothing you can see people staring at her, some in fascination, others in disapproving manners. The public’s reaction is legitimate for Erykah had the video filmed without much acknowledgement to the city of Dallas. The site of the video’s filming location was the Dealey Plaza, infamous for the location of the Kennedy Assassination. Maybe people were angry for “disrespecting” the location of a president’s assassination. Yet, when there is a venue where it is expected for the body to be matched by a price, nudity and the female figure is valued above anything. In a growing industry of sex, form and figure are the dominating influences behind sexual worth.
“Lady of the Camellias”
Romance and the illusion of a love story was what caught the attention of our cafe discussion group. “Love” and its meaning was what first came to our mind when discussing this myth. Kim enlightened us that in other languages there is a distinct word used to describe the type of love that is being talked about. Love between a mother and son would be completely different then love between someone who courted another. Pipe then explained how it was the result of cultural invasion, which not only stripped l native meanings of language but stripped dialect of its rich word value.
When internalizing these meanings, love is then split into categories, not of who a person loves, but what it is worth. There are pre-set social hierarchies and class is one of the major influences in maintaining these social ladders. In “Lady of the Camellias” the young girl is in love with a man who is well above her class level, which shed light on sex and power. In love stories it is always a man who has the wealth, it is always he who is born into money and usually old money at that. The girl is usually of the lowest class, and her beauty is what makes up for the lack of money. In the end they both conquer every possible obstacle to their love, and they move into his mansion. As is evident with numerous princess stories (Cinderella, to name the most famous case) women are only saved from their misfortunes by a man, a man with power that is.
We wonder if people who are apart of the lower class recognize their status, and look to these stories for inspiration on how to get out of these positions. Pipe told us she’s always heard “the poor are better dressed then the rich.” Not that they are better dressed with clothing of same quality or price, but rather they are more extravagant with what they have. For example, in New York City you have people who can barely afford their rent and living expenses, buying sneakers that cost about $200, $300 dollar a pair, only to flaunt “they have the money” to spend like that.
Myths proved to us people want things from the age they are able to recognize those wants (toys), to trying to get basic needs to live day by day (soap and detergents), to the taboo sexual fantasy, or lack there of, (striptease), and to getting the new sneakers with your mother’s rent money to impress the “shorty” down the street (Lady of Camellias).) However, as consumers of these myths we need to distinguish the fine line between desire and reality.