Popular culture takes many forms, and is present in almost every aspect of today’s society. Although many people today view popular culture as simply a form of entertainment, it is much more than that. Through various elements of popular culture, society as we know it today is shaped and molded, and vice versa. Particularly, pop culture has, over time, shaped the lens through which society views the increasingly controversial topics of gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Television shows, for instance, have made very clear that many stereotypes pertaining to these issues are still widely used and accepted. Specifically, reality TV has become an outlet for all of these stereotypes. The reality television show, Survivor, for instance, portrays the many stereotypical characteristics of both femininity and masculinity.
Over the years, the concepts of femininity and masculinity have been clearly defined and engrained into today’s society. The word femininity has easily become synonymous with terms such as weak, emotional, sensitive, powerless, and simply beautiful; nothing more nothing less. Masculinity, on the other hand, can be described as strong, powerful, in control, and hard-working. Because these adjectives have been associated with femininity and masculinity for so long, they are also engrained into today’s popular culture. Within the cast of Survivor, a strong the majority fit these descriptions perfectly. The basic idea of the television show is that men and women are sent to an island to live for about a month, while competing in various challenges in order to gain both power and control in the game and ultimately win the million dollars. Within these thirty days femininity and masculinity are very clearly defined.
Throughout “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media” written by David Newman, the different characteristics of each gender are analyzed. For instance, in an effort to sum up exactly how femininity and masculinity are portrayed through popular culture and the media, he states “Males are more likely to be portrayed in some kind of recognizable occupation, whereas females are more likely to be cast in the role of caregiver” (Newman 90). As a frequent viewer of Survivor, I find that many of the women fit into these stereotypes. The women go into the game of Survivor knowing what to expect, however that doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on their behavior on the show. Many walk around the camp in skimpy bikinis and claim to be too weak to do anything. They act very emotional and due to all of this, they seem powerless in the game, and have no choice but to latch on to the strong men, who will end up bringing them to the finish line. Simply put, they cook the food and cater the needs of the men, who do the high majority of the work around the camp, which directly relates to Newman’s quote about women in the media and the aspects of femininity they portray. These women, similar to the women on many other reality television show portray what it means to be a woman in today’s society, and in turn, through our popular culture. All of the women fit into the characteristics listed above, however, in different ways. While some are just weak and refuse to do any of the work, others prefer to use sexual appeal to get farther in the game, which has been proven to work, and says a lot about femininity and the way it is used by women on reality television shows.
Masculinity is also clearly portrayed throughout Survivor. The stereotypically ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ men build the shelters, gather the food, and often win the challenges. In addition to this, they are usually the ones on the show who come up with the more intelligent strategies, and most frequently prove to be the people who should “outwit, outplay and outlast,” which has become the motto of the reality show. This is primarily because many of the masculinity traits can be easily associated with the ways to win the game. In order to ‘outwit’ you have to be smart and create good strategies throughout the game; in order to ‘outplay’ you have to by a strong physical competitor, and in order to ‘outlast’ everything comes together and gets you to the final two of the game which is the point where power is handed over to the jury. The masculinity portrayed in and throughout Survivor shows that a male figure should have no problem winning the competition. However, other factors have come into play, as this is surely not the case.
There are also ways through which the men and women cast in Survivor go against the norms of gender roles. In “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or am Us,” Johnson states “To have power over and be prepared to use it are defined culturally as good and desirable (and characteristically “masculine”), and to lack such power or to be reluctant to use it is seen as weak if not contemptible (and characteristically “feminine”). In addition to the women who have every ‘femininity’ characteristic, there are also those that go against the norms. Some of the women at camp never hesitate to help the men, an act that is almost seen as intimidating by many. The help build shelter, help find food, and are also physical threats in the competitions. They do not at all lack power, and never hesitate to use it, which directly contradicts Johnson’s statement. There are also men who contradict the norms of masculinity, based on its definition through popular culture. The strong, brave men on the show are the same men who bring these ‘weak’ women along with them to the end of the game. These are also the men who are attracted to the weak and often ‘dumb’ women on the shows. Once this occurs, the once strong and powerful men loose all power, and again, Johnson’s statement is contradicted.
Femininity and masculinity have been clearly defined through today’s popular culture. Society is made up of the weak and powerless women, and the strong, hardworking men. Due to the fact that these definitions are so deeply engrained into today’s society, the media also brings forth these characteristics. Reality television shows have become a huge outlet for portraying what both femininity and masculinity mean for people today. The show Survivor is a great example of this, as within the cast, every stereotype of men and women are portrayed. In addition, there are some individuals who do go against the norms of gender roles, as they are defined though popular culture and these aspects of femininity and masculinity can be examined on Survivor. The variation in feminine and masculine characters on the show, and the ways through which some exemplify the meanings and others go against the norms, shows me exactly what it means to be feminine and what it means to be masculine. In this way, I feel that reality television shows portray these aspects of life very clearly to the public and show that while the typical understanding of what femininity and masculinity mean.
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot:
Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple UP, 1997. 91-8.
Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the
Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-105.
Parsons, Charlie, prod. Survivor. CBS. 1992. Television.