Exploring Gender in Cultural Artifacts Essay

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Gender in Cultural Artifacts

In the United States of America, in order to be considered beautiful, a woman must fit into very specific parameters, particularly involving her weight. Being beautiful within this society demands that a woman be thin; heavy women are not beautiful in the United States. The cultural artifact attached is an advertisement from the Gap, a popular clothing store chain. This image serves to exemplify the problem of social pressure put upon women to starve themselves in order to be considered beautiful. Throughout the rest of the world, curvaceous women are valued. Indeed in many countries a woman without these curves is considered unattractive. However, in this country the desired physical shape is stick thin. This ideal of beauty demands that a woman have perfect air, be a size 0-2 at the most and weigh in the vicinity of 100 pounds (Herbozo 2004,-page 21). Any woman who does not share these characteristics is made to feel ugly and wrong; forever believing that since she does not look like the women in this advertisement that she is unattractive.

In this advertisement for the Gap, seven different women stand against a light blue background. The letters G, A, and P. are seen in white behind them as well. Each woman is dressed in some combination of white and light blue. Some are wearing sweaters; some shorts and paints while others are in skirts. These are casual clothing items. The women are not standing up straight, but are instead slouching, furthering the idea that this is a casual group of women who just happened to be standing around together when they got photographed. They are not heavily made up. Nor are they showing a lot of skin. At first glance, it looks like an advertisement only aimed at women, to show them some clothes which they might like to buy. However, upon closer examination, it is evident that several of the women are in heels. They are in makeup and each has had her hair carefully coiffed to look so carefree and effortless. Real women do not often look like this.

In addition to this false message that buying these clothes from the Gap will make the wearer look like a supermodel, there is a definite lack of diversity in the advertisement. The company has obviously tried to overcome such a claim because the seven women are all of different races and ethnicities. This too comes off as unnatural. It is diverse in a way that screams to the viewer that the company wanted to look diversified and so made sure they had a model representing each ethnic group. Although the Gap made sure to ethnically diversify, in terms of physical body types, all of the women are the same. They are of approximately the same height and are all incredibly thin. A consequence of such an ad is that the clothing maker, and it can be argued, the rest of the society says that you can be perfectly beautiful even in grubby, casual clothing…so long as you are a small clothing size. According to researchers, children in preschool have been inundated with enough messages that already they have come to understand that to be thin means to be beautiful (Pappas 2011). Women can be beautiful in heavy makeup and evening gowns or they can be beautiful in jeans and sweaters from the Gap, unless they are overweight.

Authors in literature and non-fiction have tried to explain this characteristic of western society. Fatema Mernissi's article "Size Six: The Western Women's Harem" explores the victimization of women in the western world by the patriarchy of their society and throughout the world. This author is all too familiar with the subjugation of women. By her own admission, she was born into a harem. From the outset, this term divides western and eastern cultures. For those who live in the west, a harem is a fantasy of male sexual gratification where he is allowed a bevy of women to fulfill his needs. Women in these fantasies are unimportant in terms of anything that would make them individual. This is symptomatic of a wider problem in the world: that even though we like to think of ourselves as having progressed beyond archaic ideas of gender roles, women everywhere are still put into positions where…[continue]

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