Monday, February 22, 2016

Core Post #2: Sexuality, Femininity, and Typecasting

I thought this week's readings were very interesting. Undoubtedly, one cannot discuss femininity without also talking about its intrinsic link to sex and sexuality. In both of the text readings, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe are analyzed as varying representations of femininity. While Kelly's privileged background contributed to her classy yet aloof public image, Monroe's troubled upbringing and lack of a familial unit ultimately contributed to her aura of vulnerability that all the more painted her as a sexual object. It's interesting to think about the different ways these personas were portrayed and perpetuated in the media: Kelly consistently was casted in more traditional, oftentimes regal roles, whereas Monroe played around with more gritty, tongue-in-cheek films. We can certainly see similar typecasting with female celebrities today. Megan Fox, for example, is an international sex symbol, though certainly not to the same degree of notoriety as Monroe. In the Transformers series, she is portrayed as actor Shia LaBeouf's love interest -- a character with little emotional depth or development, but as a hot body and spicy aesthetic. Similarly, she was casted in Jennifer's Body, a horror film that played on the common male fantasy of two women together sexually. Fox is typecast as a smoldering sex symbol that is good for little else than her looks.

"Heavenly Bodies" goes more in-depth into Monroe and her image. It is particularly interesting to break down her image to pick out the traits and features that /really/ made her appealing (besides the obvious). Dyer writes that her platinum blonde hair symbolized whiteness, wealth, and youth, apart from her sexuality. Monroe symbolized the perfect All-American woman that men lusted after, which was particularly significant in the 1950s and 60s, decades where, according to Dyer, sex came to the forefront of American culture.

Sex, apparently, never left our culture. Today, now more than ever, we see sex everywhere in the media. We see sex in television shows, films, commercials, social media, the news, and more. With the new wave of feminism and uproar over female objectification and sexualization, one must ask how pervasive rape culture and other negative side-effects are because of this sensationalism surrounding sexuality (and the women who convey it on screen) and the objectification (blatant or hidden) of women.

Typecasting is also an interesting phenomenon. Marketing wise, it's genius. If people like what they see in one film, they are likely to associate the star with a certain character or character type and are thus more likely to see said star in a similar role in the future. Women have almost always been portrayed as vulnerable (Dyer writes that Hitchcock claimed he looked for some degree of vulnerability in his female leads) in comparison to their male counterparts. Even today, it is true. In most superhero movies, the male superhero has a female love interest who inevitably falls under distress and needs his rescue to survive. Women are portrayed as needing men to survive.

Furthermore, in a in-depth discussion of sexual intercourse, Dyer notes that while men are sexualized often on their own, women are portrayed as physically needing a man in order to achieve vaginal orgasm. I thought this was one of the most interesting ideas in the reading: perhaps biologically, women are taught to need men. With a sex-heavy media, will this culture ever change? We can call our society progressive, but it's difficult to dispute facts that are (supposedly) rooted in both biology and culture. I certainly believe in feminism and female independence, but it's difficult to overlook and override this systemic patriarchy that isn't just ruled by media executives, actresses, actors, and consumers, but also subconscious biologic and historic values.


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