selling freedom: the socialization of girls through the media.

for

SOCI 3490 6.0 T. McCauley

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R. Bromley on

June 2nd 2005

R. Bromley 205409404 June 2005

The concept that would become critical theory was born of the Frankfurt School in the midst of the economic and political revolutions of the 19th century. Since then, critical theorists have sought to explore identity within the private and public spheres, and the dissonance that exists between the two. Additionally, critical theory examines the specific ways cultural institutions are used to fashion identities through the creation of norms and values and the marginalization of those who dissent. During the Second World War, while the exiled Frankfurt School made its home in America, Horkheimer and Adorno produced Dialektik der Aufklärung.

While the

authors retain a largely Marxist analysis of social domination and rationality, their focus shifts from the industrial capitalist to the entirety of Western Civilization. In their model, perhaps most frighteningly of all, there exists no social force analogous to the proletariat – the group which, according to Marxist theory, would emancipate the subjugated. Among many others, the media exists as an institution that serves to socialize and normalize (Brym, 2001: 93). In the tradition of Marx (and in the writings of the modern day thinkers that he inspires) the media may be viewed as a means of control – an evolution and extension of the capitalistic economic domination with which Marx was faced and to which Marx responded. While the media gears its messages to a varied collection of demographic groups, the 1971 film Growing Up Female by Reichert & Klein focuses on the socialization of girls and young women. Although the film was created during a decade of women’s political activism, it draws attention to the attempts and successes of multiple institutions that combine to create a submissive, subverted, and feminine female. Though young girls are primarily socialized by the family and the school, young women are subjected to forces of the media.

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institution has been (and continues to be) an instrumental force in the socialization of

the fairer sex throughout Western society. Throughout Growing Up Female, Reichert & Klein question the Interactionist standpoint, and purport that the life choices offered to women may not be choices at all – but something that is pre-determined by the manner in which they were socialized. According to the film’s omnipresent voiceover, “by the time a girl is four, she has already learned many of the rules of being female” (Reichert & Klein, 1971). Not surprisingly, the nursery school teacher that is interviewed unknowingly corroborates this viewpoint by stating that the male members of the class enjoy playing with trucks and blocks, while the female members of the class would rather bake pretend cookies for their pretend babies (Reichert & Klein, 1971). When the film begins its discussion of eleven year-old Janelle, it describes her happiness at being tom-boyish and her mother’s dissatisfaction with her unwillingness to wear dresses: “Janelle resists femininity, sensing rather than knowing that it will limit her” (Reichert & Klein, 1971). It seems then, that the film seeks to draw attention to the fact that children are socialized by elders who have been socialized by the media: they are subject to the institution’s effects through their stay-at-home mothers and their (largely female) school teachers. As girls grow, they become keen observers of gender and confidently question the imbalance of power between men and women that they observe (Kilbourne, 1999). However, the very passivity that girls question in adult women is reinforced by their own daily encounters with various agents of socialization. By the time young girls become young women, the media’s influence over them strengthens and serves to shape their perceptions of themselves and of others (Kilbourne, 1979). According to the advertising executive featured in Growing Up Female,

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[In order] to sell to women, you gotta make them insecure […] the thing you have to sell ‘em is freedom […but] the illusion of freedom is transitory […so] once she decides she’s going to get married, you sell her on the wife/mother image […] they’ll run right out and buy those items – and then you’ve got ‘em right where you want ‘em (Reichert & Klein, 1971). The stratagey that is described by the film’s unnamed advertising executive is reinforced by Jean Kilbourne in her Killing Us Softly series – a group of lectures that deconstruct modern advertising in order to critically scrutinize how, why, and to what effect corporations use images of girls and women to promote the sale of their products. Through the scholarship of critical theorists it becomes clear that advertising, working through the media, has both the capacity to produce and to affirm the desires and identity that they profess to be tapping into and reflecting back to their female public. It is argued by Horkheimer, Adorno, Kilbourne, Reichert, and Klein that there is little that is natural or innocent about the manner in which modern institutions socialize individuals with hegemonic norms and ideals. Although the violent revolution that Marx anticipated failed to throw capitalism to its knees, the hushed and gradual evolution of society will inevitably alter our institutions, and through them, ourselves.

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References Text Brym, R.J. (2001). New Society, (3rd edition). Toronto: Harcourt Canada, 2001. Kilbourne, Jean (Lecturer). (1999) Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women [Motion Picture]. The Media Education Foundation. Kilbourne, J. (Lecturer). (1979) Killing Us Softly [Motion Picture]. The Media Education Foundation. Reichert, J. & Klein, J. (Producers). (1971). Growing Up Female. [Motion Picture] New Day Films. Image Lincoln, Lion, and Murray, Licensed Daycare (n.d.). daycare. Retreived June 2nd, 2005, from http://www.llmhs.com/daycare.jpg

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selling freedom: the socialization of girls through the ...

Jun 2, 2005 - The concept that would become critical theory was born of the Frankfurt School in the midst of the economic and political revolutions of the 19th century. Since then, critical theorists have sought to explore identity within the private and public spheres, and the dissonance that exists between the two.

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