Saturday, March 3, 2007

"The Girls Next Door"- concepts of masculinity and femininity Part I

"The Girls Next Door" is a reality TV show that depicts the everyday life of billionaire Hugh Hefner and his girlfriends who live and play in the infamous Playboy Mansion. In the first season's episode, "80 is the New 40" Hef is turning the big 8-0 and the girls are determined to make it his best yet. The show demonstrates many concepts of masculinity and femininity to its viewers through Hef and his three favorite Playboy bunnies.

What is masculinity and femininity? Masculinity is what makes a man a "man". It means being physically and emotionally strong, powerful, successful, and of course, experienced sexually. Femininity on the other hand is usually represented in the media as being one that is weak, gentle and powerless. One that is "ditzy", attention-craving and thus of great sexuality.
On the show, Hef is the only male figure present, and with this is portrayed as the epitome of masculinity. At the age of 80, he maintains a high fitness level and his appearance as a result of aging does not limit him from getting what he wants- the ladies, the ladies one-forth his age. With his exceptionally active sex life and his ability to shamelessly have three girlfriends, Hef is considered the "ultimate'" man. Hef is shown as highly interpersonal, constantly throwing parties, building relationships, and dominating his girlfriends and his endless billion dollar Playboy Industry. And when it seems he can't get any more "masculine", his success, ambition, and fame prove he is the subject of every man's envy.

Femininity in "The Girls Next Door" Part II

The main stars of the show are Hef's favorite girlfriends, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra. Through these girls, we can see how the concepts of femininity are expressed in the media to the show's viewers. The girls all share the same physical appearance- bleached blond hair, bronzed skin, skinny waists and voluptuous breasts. Each girl has a unique personality apart from the whole "ditzy", very materialistic, and over-sexed side. For example, Holly is the cheerleader, Bridget is the nerd with a M.D., and Kendra is the sports-loving tom boy.

On the show, femininity is seen as being very sexual. The girls are all very open and comfortable with their sexuality and bearing a lot of skin. Kendra dances around in front of the mirror with only underwear and a bra on, while Bridget performs Hef's birthday strip tease for her mother and father with only a string thong on and flower-shaped pasties covering her nipples. "Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly."
1. Thus, women are assumed to use their physical assests to gain attention and be admired.

The girlfriends portray American women as being desperate "gold diggers" hungry for money, status and fame. They spend their lives trying to please a man that is well "over the hill" in order to live comfortably in his mansion and gather the perks that come along with his status and power. For Hef's birthday, Holly, Bridget, Kendra are stressed about buying Hef a remarkable birthday present(with his money, of course). Bridget worries about how her body will look during the strip tease, and eats almost nothing (with a beer) for dinner in hopes to look flawless for Hef. Thus, in society "single women are depicted as shrews or 'gold diggers' while bachelors are advised to pursue sex on a casual basis to avoid getting snared in a 'long term contract.'"

It is evident that Hef as the masculine figure has superiority over his girlfriends. Their relationships resemble more of a father-daughter one than one of an intimate nature. Hef only gives affection to his girls in the form of a hug or peck on the cheeks or lips. Everything they do is to please him. Obviously, his money and status show his power over the girls and displays them as weak and inferior. Without Hef's political power and wealth to support the girls, it would be nearly impossible for them to achieve the status they have today.

Ultimately, "The Girls Next Door" is an example of how the concepts of masculinity such as power, strength, and status, and those of femininity- inferiority, sexuality, and desperation, are portrayed in the media. The show relates femininity with big breasts, skinny bodies, and blond hair accompanied by "ditzy" thoughts and very sexual behaviors. In constrast, masculinity is shown through being wealthy, successful and a life-time bachelor.

1. Gender, Race, and Class in the Media.Image-Based Culture.p.253.

2. Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Inventing the Cosmo Girl. p.120