Gender and the Mass Media

SPC 389

Winter 2004. Tuesday & Thursday 2:00p.m. -3:50 p.m. Goldspohn 32.


Instructor: Dr. Steve Macek                                     Office Hours: W 10-12 noon;

Campus Phone: 630-637-5369                               T–Th 4:00-5:30 p.m.; and by

Home Phone: 630-718-0836                                  appointment. 



Office: Pfeiffer Hall, Room 40


Course Description


This course explores how gender and sexuality shape and are shaped by media production, content, and consumption. Drawing on recent work in feminist theory and media criticism, we will examine the ways in which mainstream media images perpetuate sexism, homophobia and patriarchal power relations. We’ll spend some time studying how gender impacts media use and the interpretation of media texts. We will also consider cases in which media of various sorts have served as vehicles for challenging entrenched gender and sexual ideologies. Throughout the course, we’ll pay special attention to advertising, film and TV programming, although we’ll refer to magazines, radio and the recording industry from time to time as well. Ultimately, the course aims to make students more conscious of the ways the media influence, reproduce and sometimes even subvert gender hierarchies and identities. 


Required Texts

Gail Dine and Diane Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media. 2nd Edition. (Sage, 2003)


Yvonne Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema. (London and New York: Routledge, 1998)


Also required are a packet of five additional readings which you’ll purchase directly from me and a small number of articles that are available on-line.


Procedures, Requirements & Expectations


Course Format.  This course presupposes the active involvement and collaboration of everyone enrolled. I will give some prepared lectures and we'll occasionally look at a film or video clips during class. We may also have a guest lecturer or two. The rest of class time will be given over to structured group discussion of issues and questions raised by the assigned readings. That means that you'll have to do the required reading for each session, attend class regularly and make an effort to participate. Each member of the class will take a turn leading class discussion as part of a group. In class discussions that aren’t lead by students, it will usually be my job to facilitate and to keep the ball rolling.


Writing Assignments. In this class, you’ll be asked to complete a total of three short papers and one long research paper broken into three graded steps. The short papers will each be 3-4 pages long and on an assigned topic that emerges from the reading for the course. The final research paper will be 12-15 pages long and on a topic of your own choosing. In the 7th week of the course, I’ll ask you to submit a proposal outlining your topic and how you plan to research it along with an annotated bibliography of sources you intend to use. In the 9th week of the course, you’ll be required to submit a rough draft of the paper. I will then comment on your draft and return it to you in time for you to take my comments into account while revising. The final version of your paper will be due March 16th (Tuesday of finals week). All writing assignments for this course should be machine produced (i.e. typed or printed) double-spaced in 12 point Times or New York font and should be free of mechanical and grammatical error. My grading criteria for written work are laid out in detail at the end of this syllabus.


Leading Discussion. Each of you-- as part of a 3-4 person group-- will take a turn leading discussion of the readings and themes for a particular class session. Groups will be expected to introduce the day’s topics, raise questions about and provide context for the readings and stimulate a broader class discussion. If they like, groups may use audio-visual material or class exercises, provided they are relevant to the topic at hand. Students will sign up for their discussion leader group on the first day of class. It is expected that the groups will meet at least once in the week before they are to lead discussion to plan what they’re going to do. I’ll assign your group a grade based on your written plans or preparation notes and on your performance leading the class discussion.


Attendance. It will be extremely difficult for you to do well in this course if you don't come to class. I expect you to attend class regularly, to be on time and to stay for the entire session. I'll allow you three (2) unexcused absences without penalty; after that I will lower your final grade by 5% for each unexcused absence.


Participation.  The amount and quality of your contributions to class discussion will determine 10% of your grade for the course. To receive a high score for your participation, you should not only do the reading for class but also come prepared to say something. It might help if you came to class with a list of questions or a passage from one of the books you'd like to hear discussed.


Grades.  Your grade for the course will be based on your three short papers, your performance as a member of a discussion leaders group, your research paper proposal, your annotated bibliography, your rough draft, your final research paper and your participation in class discussions.  To make it easier for me to calculate final grades, each assignment or grade component will receive both a letter grade and a corresponding point score. On my grading scale, an A is 93% to 100% of the possible points, 90 to 92% is an A-, 87% to 89% is a B+, 83% to 86% is a B, 80% to 82% is a B-, 77% to 79% is a C +, 73% to 76% is a C, 70% to 72% is a C-, 67% to 69% is a D+, 60% to 68% is a D and anything less than 59% is an F.


Below is a breakdown of the points for each assignment or final grade component:


3 short papers (3-4 pages) @ 125 points                      =375 points

1 turn as discussion leader @ 100 points                       =100 points

1 final research paper:

            1 proposal @ 25 points

            1 annotated bibliography @ 50 points              

            1 rough draft @ 50 points

            1 final draft @ 300 points

            total for final research paper                              =425 points

Participation @ 100 points                                            =100 points


                                                                                      1000 total points possible


If you want to figure out how you are doing in the class at any time during the semester, simply divide the points you've earned so far by the number of points you could've earned.


Late Work. The due dates for each of the writing assignments are clearly listed on the schedule below. All written work will be docked half a grade for each week it is overdue.  I will only allow you to make up the final exam if you have a real medical or family emergency.


Course Schedule

Week 1.

Tuesday January 6. Introductions; Learning about gender from Barbie, Disney, Bob the Builder and the Powerpuff Girls.


Thursday January 8. The social construction of gender and sexuality; the media as a source of gender ideologies

Reading: Dillon, “Why Don’t You Tell Them I’m a Boy?” and Lorber, “’Night to His Day’: The Social Construction of Gender” in the Packet. Kellner, “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture”; Rogers “Hetro Barbie?”; Raymond “Popular Culture and Queer Representation”;Perry, “Who(se) am I?: The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.


Week 2.

Tuesday January 13. Targeting women, targeting men: The gendered logic of commercial culture.

Reading: Ouellette, “Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams”; Schor, “The New Politics of Consumption: Why Americans Want So Much More Than They Need”; Griffin, “ ‘You’ve Never Had a Friend Like Me’: Target Marketing Disney to a Gay Community”; Steinem, “Sex, Lies and Advertising”; Breazeale, “In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer”in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Discussion Leaders Group #1.


Thursday January 15. Is advertising harmful to women?: The feminist critique of advertising.

Reading: Jhally, “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture”; Kilbourne, “‘The More You Subtract, The More You Add’:Cutting Girls Down to Size”; Kirkham and Weller, “Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study”;  Crane, “Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs”in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Screening:  Killing Us Softly 3.

Discussion Leaders Group #2


Week 3.

Tuesday January 20. Advertising continued.

Reading: Fejes, “Advertising and the Political Economy of Lesbian/Gay Identity”; Ghosh, “‘Con-fusing’ Exotica: Producing India in U.S. Advertising”; Wilson and Gutierrez, “Advertising and People of Color”; Sender, “Selling Sexual Subjectivities: Audiences Respond to Gay Window Advertising” and Katz, “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinique for Men” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media. Wolf, “Anti-Consumerism equals Anti-Womanism” (on-line at ).

Discussion Leaders Group #3.


Thursday January 22. The gendered lens: Hollywood’s gender narratives.

Reading: Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in the Packet. Introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 in Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema.

Assignment Due: Short paper #1 (on the feminist critique of advertising).



Week 4.

Tuesday January 27. Movie Day.

Screening: The Lady From Shanghai (1948, Orson Welles, dir.).

Extra Credit Assignment: You can earn 20 points of extra credit--  that’s right, 20 points-- for attending Robert McChesney’s lecture “The Emerging Struggle for Control of U.S. Media” this evening, from 7:30-9:00 in WAC and writing a one page response to his talk. For more information on McChesney, whose essay on the Internet we’ll be reading later in the course, see his website:


Thursday January 29.   Femme fatals, tough guys and film noir. 

Reading: Harvey, “Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir” and Kaplan, “The Struggle over the Female Discourse and Female Sexuality in The Lady From Shanghai”in the Packet. Chapters 4 and 5 in in Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema.


Week 5.

Tuesday February 3. “Chick flicks”: melodrama and other women’s genres.

Reading: Chapters 6 and 7 in Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema.

Discussion Leaders Group #4.


Thursday February 5. Singers, stars and directors; radical feminist cinema as an alternative to Hollywood.

Reading: Chapters 8 and 9 in Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema.

Screening: Chantal Akerman’s Saute Ma Ville (1968); Clips from Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983) and Working Girls(1987).


Week 6.

Tuesday February 10. TV and gender: inclusiveness, stereotypes and “positive images”; The soap opera and consumerism.

Reading: National Organization for Women’s “2002 Feminist Primetime Report” (on-line at; Lipsitz, “ The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class and Ethnicity in Early network Television” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Assignment Due: Short paper #2 (on gender roles in Hollywood film).


Thursday February 12. The soap opera’s “feminine aesthetic”.

Reading: Radway, “Women Read the Romance: The Interaction of Text and Context”; Fiske, “Gendered Television: Femininity”; Lee and Cho, “Women Watching Together: An Ethnographic Study of Korean Soap Opera Fans in the United States”; Baym, “’I Think of Them as Friends’: Interpersonal Relationships in the Online Community”;  Scodari, “’No Politics Here’: Age and gender in Soap Opera ‘Cyberfandom’”; and Hayward, “Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Soap Opera” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Discussion Leaders Group #5.


Week 7.

Tuesday, February 17. The sexual politics of daytime talk shows

Reading: Moorti, “Cathartic Confessions or Emancipatory Texts: Rape Narratives on The Oprah Winfrey Show”; Peck, “The Mediated Talking Cure: Theraputic Framing of Autobiography in TV Talk Shows”; Tavener, “The Case Against Sleaze TV”; and Gamson, “Sitting Ducks and Forbidden Fruits” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.   

Discussion Leaders Group #6.


Thursday, February 19. Primetime masculinity.

Reading: Butsch, “Ralph, Fred, Archie and Homer: Why Television Keeps Re-Creating the White Male Working-Class Buffoon”; Hart, “Representing Gay Men on American Television”; Turner, “This is for Fighting, This is For Fun: Camerawork and Gunplay in Reality-Based Crime Shows”; and Locke, “Here Comes the Judge: The Dancing Itos and the Televisual Construction of the Enemy Asian Male” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Assignment Due: Research paper proposal and annotated bibliography.


Week 8.

Tuesday, February 24. Primetime women.

Reading: Hubert, “What’s Wrong with this Picture?: The Politics of Ellen’s Coming Out Party”; Byars and Meehan, “Once in a Lifetime: Constructing ‘The Working Woman’ Through Cable Narrowcasting” and Lindsey, “In Their Prime: Women in Nighttime Drama” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Discussion Leaders Group #7.


Thursday, February 26. The interplay of race and gender on TV; The Internet

Reading:  Zook, “Living Single and the ‘Fight for Mr. Right’: Latifah Don’t Play”; Zook, “The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television”; Donald Bogle, “Workplace Dramas, Ensemble Casts, 1990s style”; Antler, “Jewish Women on Television: Too Jewish or Not Enough”; McChesney, “The Internet Sails on: Why the Internet Won’t Sink the Media Giants”  and Seiter, “Television and the Internet” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Discussion Leaders Group #8.


Week 9.

Tuesday, March 2. The Internet continued; Introduction to the pornography debate: Misogynist propaganda or sexual self-expression?

Reading: Berry and Martin, “Queer ‘n’ Asian on – and off – the Net: The role of Cyberspace in Queer Taiwan and Korea”; Clark, “Dating on the Net: Teens and the Rise of ‘Pure’ Relationships”; Bautista, “Staking Their Claim: Women, Electronic Networking and Training in Asia” and Rich, “Naked Capitalists” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Screening: Not A Love Story

Assignment Due: Rough Draft of Final Paper.


Thursday, March 4. The pornography debate: the anti-porn case.

Reading:  Boyle, “The Pornography Debates: Beyond Cause and Effect”;  Jensen, “Pornography and the Limits of Experimental Research”; Snitow, “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different”; Caputi, “Everyday Pornography”; and Dines, “King Kong and the White Woman: Hustler Magazine and the Demonization of Black Masculinity” in Dines and Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media.

Dworkin, “Pornography Happens to Women” (on-line at )

Discussion Leaders Group #9.


Week 10.

Tuesday, March 9. The pornography debate: the anti-censorship/ pro-porn case.

Reading: Bright, “My First Dirty Picture” (on-line at;  Kipnis, “The Eloquence of Pornography” (on-line at ) ; McElroy, “A Feminist Defense of Pornography” (on-line at ), “From a Sexually Incorrect Feminist” (on-line at ) and “Banning Pornography Endangers Women” (on-line at ).

Discussion Leaders Group #10.


Thursday, March 11. Conclusions.

Assignment Due: Short Paper #3 (on gender and TV genres or on the pornography debate)


Finals Week.

Tuesday, March 16. Final Paper Due.

Guidelines and Standards for Written Work


            All written work must be typed or printed in dark ink, double-spaced, stapled (not paper clipped) together, in 12 point Times or New York font with one inch margins and should have a title page.  It must be responsive to all aspects of the assignment, including length, and should use the Modern Language Association (MLA) system of documentation and style.

            Written work should be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error.

            Document every reference, including page numbers whenever possible. Refer to a writer’s manual if you need guidance about how to do this.

            Support claims not common knowledge with evidence and conclusions with argument. Take time to plan your papers and devote some time to rewriting them. Always keep a second copy of your work.

            Assume your reader has not taken this course. Define all terms whose definitions are controversial or obscure. Take time to explain the theories you are using. Include as much detail as you need to support your argument. Illustrations (diagrams, storyboards, photographs, photos of still frames, etc.) are always welcome.

            Avoid racist or sexist language and cliches.

            Grades: Failure to follow any of the above guidelines will result in a lower grade. Otherwise, here are my standards:

            An "A" paper demonstrates that the writer has not only mastered the concepts of the course, but has applied them in an original, imaginative and incisive manner. The paper shows a command of the language that allows the writer to express ideas and observations clearly, effectively, in detail and with virtually no mechanical errors. The paper includes adequate documentation. "A"s are reserved for exceptional essays.

            A "B" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood the concepts of the course and has applied them with some originality. The paper shows the writer can organize a coherent essay with few errors. The paper for the most part includes adequate documentation.

            A "C" paper demonstrates that the writer has understood most of the concepts of the course but needs to pay more attention to reading or writing. Documentation is erratic.

            A "D" paper demonstrates that the writer has only a minimal understanding of the concepts of the course. Significant gaps in the writer's comprehension indicate the need for more study. The paper shows the writer's basic compositional skills are below satisfactory. Documentation is unsatisfactory.

            A "F" paper demonstrates that the writer has little, if any, understanding of the concepts of the course. Because of the writer's lack of skill or concern, the work includes gross errors as well as a lack of content. Documentation is negligible. The paper may also fail to address parts of the assignment.

            A paper may combine characteristics of different levels of work. In that case, the grade will depend on the paper's overall demonstration of knowledge of the material and of college writing skills.

            Please see me if you have questions about my standards or about any of your grades for the course.