Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Critical Readings: Media and Gender (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)
by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner
Open University Press
Copyright December 2003
Paperback, 384 Pages
This is a definitive piece of literature on media and gender studies. The text’s fascinating research and incredible educationality makes it an essential tool in the pedagogy arsenal; the in-depth investigations and intellectually-stimulating examinations if strategically and effectively studied will help promote intellectual maturation in students.
The earnest study of the notion of femininity as manifested in the media comprise a critical realm of exploration. It is certainly profound to learn of the multiple associatory, and supposedly more inferior, denominations to which femininity is ascribed to—the feminine as linked to the visual instead of the verbal, and to the physical instead of the cerebral; the feminine being typecast to that which is devalued and trivial, of a low public status and associated with mass culture; and with feminine discourse dishearteningly occupying a marginalized space in society.
The exhaustive investigation of the cult of femininity as applicable to women’s magazines is one such example of amazing coverage in the text. The profound syntheses and evaluations churned out are rather mind-blowing. Of equating the presentations of anything but femininity—femininity is the standard bearer for females—to being mere “theatrical display[s]” or tools with ulterior purposes, for example the performance of toughness and the cosmetic featuring of “tough” women in the pages of the magazines. The scope of coverage made compelling especially so with the explicit statement that women’s magazines indeed play consequential roles in “formulat[ing] gender in our culture.”
The text will amaze the reader with the rich critical, theoretical and intellectual possibilities and depths to which the concept of femininity is examined to intersect with the various forms of media. Television talk shows for example, are designated to be a feminized media genre; the shows argued to be a product of the feminist movement as a challenge to patriarchy. Prefacing the introduction of the idea that women therapists of daytime talk shows typically come out of bourgeois feminism, the chapter furnished very interesting supplementary information on the “four broad types of feminism,” of which includes as well Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and poststructural feminism. As a further testament to the academically-vigorous approach undertaken by the text, the analytic discourse on television talk shows encompass such angles including the discussion of the significance of rational emotive therapy (RET), the Freudian theory, or comments on the power hierarchical structure inherent in the shows.
Page Three in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun was cited for exemplifying the wave of sexualization of media platforms, whilst five interesting case studies of recent prime-time American television shows were elucidated as a springboard for a poignant exploration of the portrayal of lesbian women on American television. The latter was achieved through the analysis of for example, narrative closures and its implications on the patriarchal order or socially acceptability of being a lesbian. At the same time, the text again goes beyond the agenda of merely explicating issues of concern interlinking media and gender; the functionality of the technique of utilizing textual ambiguity for films, for example, was covered.
The interlocking relationship between the feminine gender and media are also expounded through media genres such as soap opera texts, computer game play, consumer discourses, American films, and as contextualized in British rock music journalism. Embedded in these examinations are further discussions of the subordination of women, of the systemic exclusion of women from historical or current discourses, of unsubstantiated gendered assumptions, negative stereotyping of Aframericans and Latinas, and more. Discussions of masculinity, for example its commercialization in the form of laddism, or the “new lad,” and more, are also found within the text.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.