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The Portrayal of Females in Hip- Hop & Rap

The Portrayal of Females in Hip- Hop & Rap


“Well, hip hop is what makes the world go around.”

Snoop Dogg (Rapper)

So where did it all begin?  Hip-hop also known as hip hop, rap is a genre of music that dates back to the 1970’s, rooted in the Bronx, New York City, mostly amongst African Americans and Latino youths, hip hop allowed them to channel their thoughts and expressions.  Fast forward to 2012 and in the words of Snoop Dogg “hip hop is what makes the world go around,” it has evolved with music magazines, videos and other media making it one of musics most popular genres to date, however in the predominately male culture that is hip hop and hip hop, rap can women ever be seen as equals?

Hip-hop and hip hop, rap has over the years made as many enemies as it has made fans. Often refered to as a genre that encases sexism and misogyny, a term that refers to the revulsion shown towards the female gender, in particular in commercial hip-hop and rap. Feminist theory claim that misogyny can be manifested in number of ways such as the sexual objectification , violence, denigration and sexual descrimination of women.

In the words of Joan Smith “Misogyny wears many guises, reveals itself in different forms which are dictated by class, wealth, education, race, religion and other factors, but its chief characteristic is its pervasiveness.”(Smith 1989, xvii) [1]. Joan Smith touches on education and rap, stating it is an art form of musical expression that rappers use to express their knowledge of where they’re coming from onto others, that may be coming from a completely different community or part of the world. Many rappers and people refer to the streets as education 50 cent (rapper) says ‘Hip Hop is a reflection of the harsh reality we grew up in,’ [2] so when a male rapper refers to a female in an unpleasant manner it can be said that the rapper is just expressing his voice on how he is, or was treated by females. The rapper 50 cent, grew up Jamaica Queens, New York one of the roughest neighbourhoods in America, as a child he was exposed to female prostitutes, male pimps and gangsters, whilst men were seen as dominating figures in their roles as pimps and gangsters representing power and control, female prostitutes were seen as dirt, ‘hoes,’ and ‘slags.’  If 50 cent and other rappers like him have been brought up in this type of environment he or they will know no other depiction of females other than what they have seen in their societies.   Remarkably many rappers do not refer to their Mothers or other female members of their family in the same way, they claim that they are simply responding to the vast majority of females that portray themselves that way. St Louis rapper Nelly gave a great example “If I came home to find my wife surrounded by three men in the room, would I be wrong to respond to her as a hoe? ” many would say that this would validate the point that if a female did not carry on in a particular manor there would be no need for her to be referred to or associated with such words.

The use of vocabulary in commercial rap lyrics is found to portray woman as objects of sexual desire. The lyrics ‘I said it must be ya ass cause it aint yo face,’ [3]used by rapper Nelly in his song Tip Drill describes a conversation he is having with a female  these hugely offensive lyrics degrades the opposite sex by suggesting that he is only attracted to her body and has no interest in her face, basically saying she is ugly this definantly causes the female to question her self worth.  The lyric also acts upon the idea of the ‘male gaze’ and at the same time shows evidence of misogyny. Through out the chorus of the song the rapper refers to words ‘tip drill’ continuously, the term which means a female that is up for anything, together with the lyrics and video it is not hard to notice that the rapper is imitating the role of a ‘pimp,’ collecting his money as a queue of men line up to have sex with a single female. Some argue the song acts as method for Nelly to assert himself as a ‘pimp’ boosting his male ego and masculinity over the opposing sex. The tricky question however, is who is to blame for this?  Is it the video vixen (the female in the video), that by choice has decided to prance around half naked and allow herself to become objectified to degrading lyrics such as Nellys, helping to connect the spoken word, to be physically seen by others? As hip- hop is viewed

Worldwide, certain viewers that have no clue of hip hop and its origins, would know no better than to believe what is seen in front of them, if an image is continuously put into your head slowly, but surely you are going to believe there is some truth in what you are being shown. What many of these women seen as video vixens, do is to allow themselves to be dressed and behave (simulating sexual positions, using water and oils in a sexual way), in a way that characterises the typical stereotypes of a ‘Ho.’  This leaves the values of representation on females from that community to be seen as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy.’

A common reason for video models to participate in videos is that they view it as an easy way to get noticed and make effortless money. The female model in these videos have taken it upon themselves to use their bodies to cause seduction and weakness upon the viewer, often Men. In the book Gender differences in seeing women John Berger mentions ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.’ [4] So females have basically assereted there doinance by creating the desire of want from the viewer putting them in the more dominant position. Mellisa Ford is a prime example of a video vixen using her assets to gain a much profound postion in the industry, she has worked her way up from being a video model to being an actress and successful business woman.  Mellisa has made herself iconic in the sense that she saw a weakness in men, and acted upon it.

The technique of using sex to sell has been proven as a successful formula  to create the buzz around the artist and create instant popularity in the western world, hip hop and rap is just one genre that uses sexual contents to both physically and vocally increase exposure.

Hip hop is seen as a male oriented genre due to its masculine presence, which makes it hard for females to find there common ground and establish themsleves within the genre. Salt-N-Pepa are one of the pioneering female rap acts  invloved in hip hop who took it upon themeselves to challenege the double standards and sexual power involved between men and females of this genre.  Playing on the femenist idea of equality Mc Lyte of the group raps in her song Brooklyn:



I got the intro along with the cash flow

Make all the bad boys seem like nymphos

Yeah, I’m hard, I get sexy like Veronica

I use sex as an instrument like the philharmonica

In this Mc Lyte uses the dominant characteristics  of the male figure as a metaphor to intelligently strengthen her presence against the male. She uses ‘phallic imgery through the word “hard” as being strong and street smart for both men and woman and being sexually erect for men’, she intelligently states that she uses sex as an intsrument within the lyrics.  This shows that she notices the male empoweremnt but puts herself in the position of the oppposite sex to get her point across, but still maintains her feminity to gain the gaze with the word Veronca to symbolize her sexiness.

Rappers such as Queen Latifah and BWP (Bytches With Problems) have created a much more up front resistance to the objectification of females in hip hop by not using sex at all, Queen Latifah marketed herself by taking on the male persona of masculinaty to get her point across, she chalenges other rappers who uses the term “bitch” to refer to woman by releasing the song U.N.I.T.Y. in which she ends each verse with the question “who you caling a bitch?” taking a much more in your face approach to the situation. But inspite of the efforts of rappers like Queen Latifah on opposing to females misogynisitic representation  in hip hop others like Lil Kim, Nikki Minaj to name a few have contradicted the efforts of there “sistas” to gain fame by calling themselves “bitches”and refering to other females as bitches in their lyrics and put across the image as themselves as gold diggers and coniving. They have subjected themselves to industry and media which has picked up aspects of so called reality and reshaped it to gain appreciation from the audience.

Fig. 1 : Nikki Minaj & Lil Kim

The figure above (Fig 1) displays both females in what some might call degrading and unlady like manner, this would make some assume that they are what the male rappers term a ‘Ho,’ now whilst both females were were not originally perceived in this manner, see Nicky Minaj in figure 2, they have and some may argue by choice become a subject to societies needs and perceptions of females in this genre in order to make sales.

Fig.2 Nikki Minaj

Figure 2 shows a young Nikki Minaj before her current fame, she is fully clothed not in the most attractive attire, but presents herself as a decent, respectable and independent woman. but she found her efforts were in vain as she was not taken seriously or seen as a good rapper, she therefore moulded herself to the image we have seen in figure 1, to gain more media attention and the needs of the consumers as a result she has eradicted all traces of her independent female image.

To conclude the article of blame, can clearly not be labelled on to a single race, gender or person, the male species could argue that they know no better and that their portrayl of women is all they know due to their upbringing, but in fairness these male rappers are reffering to just a small minority of females.  Drawing on the influeneces of media organisations such as SKY and MTV they too have helped deliver the misrepresentation of women in this genre, by feeding children or people that know no better that this is the true potrayl of hip-hop and rappers and that the female sex are  “bitches” or “hoes.”

The hip hop vixens or models along with some female artist often subject themeselves to degrading names and imagery connected to them, by using their body to make money and draw attention  to themselves, this in turn has done nothing but add fuel to the males arguments and perception of them as the mannerism and image of strong independent females in this genre steadily vanish.  True to be said we are all projects of our society and as a society, if we failed to accept this profound method of expressionalism the portrayl of females in hip hop and rap would not be as it is today.

















Book References

[1]Antifeminism and Family Terrorism: A Critical Feminist Perspective

By Rhonda Hammer “Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?” (Smith 1989,xvii). Page 176

[4]Gender differences in seeing women [Berger, John. (1972): Ways of Seeing, p. 42]

[5] Dines, Gail. Humez, Jean M. Gender, Race and Class in Media. California: Sage Publications, 1995




Fig.1 Nikki Minaj& Lil Kim- google, (2012), Nikki Minaj & Lil Kim [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 23 April 12].

Fig.2. google, (2012), Nikki Minaj Before [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 23 April 12].


Gender, race and class in media

Gender, Race And Class In Media

Reading on the book of gender, race and class in the media it has given me an insight into how we acknowledge our needs and we place ourselves in society. The forms of media that are of tools which project methods of representing one’s self in society can be from radio, television, films and other products of media culture materials. Douglas Keller (1995: 5) states that ‘ media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values: what we consider good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil. Media stories provide the symbols, myths and resources through which we constitute a common culture and through the appropriation of which we insert ourselves into this culture. Media spectacle demonstrate who has power and who is powerless, who is allowed to experience force and violence and who is not.’

Looking at gender, race and class in media and the forms of advertising. It can be clearly seen that the most dominate race which have been carefully placed in society to be looked upon as a superior race would have to be the white race the most common idol which is seen multiple times in advertising, and I say the word idol because how society has been created is that the level of hierarchy would begin with whites at the top as a superior race then others come after, and with the black ethnic group last.


Within the media you can clearly see the tools and many methods of how racial segregation is. The choice of models that are picked when advertising products or what product could be seen more important would be placed with the model who would be at the higher hierarchy as the white race, or you would see a black or anyone other ethnic group than the white race being used in lower roles of the advertisement or in some circumstance these other ethnic groups wouldn’t be placed in advertisements that reach out to the every ethnic group, such as products like Huggies  in each one of their products and I would say 90% of their advertisements the white race are vastly the main models picked for their products. A company like Huggies who base their products on the young, it will make sense for their adverts to advertise their products for all ethnic backgrounds because of the nature of their product its aimed at infants so their products should have a multicultural affect when seeing their adverts, but what we clearly see is the white race being used again as a higher or superior race when advertising products for the masses, this is hinting that being white is beneficial for you are more profitable and looked up on more than any other ethnic groups.


Thomas J. Burrell states that ‘ underlying the Burrell styles are two key concepts: “psychological distance” and “positive realism. “Burrell describes “psychological distance” as a felling of separation between the black consumers and a mainstream product.’ Thomas J. Burrell (1995: 93). This technically says that in advertising, the black race are least the ones who will be used for products that are mostly for the popular market, for they do not reflect out what the advertisers are trying to put out to their customers.  The stereotyping of the black ethnic group also plays a major part of how advertising are created for what the black ethnic group have been labeled as, such as “lazy nigger, the welfare mother, the ghetto drug dealer or even the violent and unemployed youth”.


Thomas J. Burrell states that ‘There was one ad that we did for Coca-Cola some years ago that really surprised me, because I thought it was really doing a job. There is custom, an old black custom that goes back to the days of slavery, that when a couple got married, there was a ceremony in which they jumped over a broom. It was a part of that tradition that had continued to exist in some places- where when you jump over a broom it means you are married. So we did a commercial that had a couple getting married, and they were getting married in a traditional style of African-Americans, and I thought it was very touching and very enriching and all those other positive, good things, and we got these letters saying, “I’m offended by that commercial. I’m offended because you’re bringing up all this negative imagery. That’s something that existed in slavery.’


I have taken an understanding that within advertising its more deep than normal, for when choosing a particular ethnic background you will be looked at on how well you present them and with what you are trying to advertise with them. A complicated topic yes, for when trying to put a black person into a advert you really have to think deeply about how you try to define that person without making it relate to either a racial discrimination  problem or even worse to the slavery age.


‘While making this film, we found many examples of racism in the fashion industry.  Take the L’Oreal scandal in France, where it was felt that the French woman would not be represented by a model without white skin.  Or the famous “Black issue” of Italian Vogue that made headline news in 2008 and sold out in 72 hours.  Some saw this as a turning point for Black models, but others considered it a poor apology for the lack of diversity at Milan’s fashion week and a token gesture to models of colour.’ Aisling, Y. (2012) Racism in the Fashion Industry, [Online], Available: [14 April 2012].


‘We also wanted to show the responses to bold moves by the fashion industry to be more culturally inclusive. For example, the Sikh Model who caused a buzz among fashion professionals and the Sikh community. There are also many in the industry who actively want to change the face of fashion, like Norwayne Anderson of NAM Agency in Toronto, and Dallas Logan, an acclaimed photographer who speaks candidly about why we do not see more Black women getting the high-end campaigns.’  Aisling, Y. (2012) Racism in the Fashion Industry, [Online], Available: [14 April 2012].


Looking more into advertising and how they’re manipulated to work so the public are more unconsciously purchasing their products, especially how images are edited to another level where they have famous black ethnic ideals to pose for a magazine or any other forms of visual adverts. You can clearly see how different the skin tones of each these models are, in some the skin are brightened up almost to a point where the person could be perceived as a “light skin” person, in that result it could be thought as best of two worlds.

‘Sony, seriously, this is getting out of hand. Every time we want to rethink what you’re doing and try to back you guys up, you go and pull some stunt like this latest ad campaign in Holland, which, as one can see above, depicts a “white PSP” avatar/model violently holding the mouth of a “black PSP” avatar/model — in commemoration of the launch of the ceramic white PSP, of course. The billboard pictured here is one of supposedly somewhere near 100 evocative images created for the campaign with the same theme, which found viewers of the ads — and game lovers alike — crying foul at Sony’s latest foible cum PR fiasco (and believe us, we’re sure to catch some fire for calling it just that). When it comes down to it we honestly don’t think Sony is stupid enough to mean any ill will — or smart enough to capitalize on a PR firestorm — with such an ad campaign.’ [Online], Available: [14 April 2012].


‘One woman working in the recruitment firm involved said foreign-sounding names or photos showing a candidate was of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian or other African origin would ensure candidates were eliminated. Another said: “I once had a good woman candidate but she was non-white. I had to ask someone to pretend that our list was full. It was hard.”

One experienced candidate said she realised she was not eligible because she was of mixed race. In a normal sample of women recruited for similar sales work, around 40% would be non-white. For the Fructis project, less than 4% were of “non-European” origin.

SOS Racisme said hundreds of jobs had been subject to discrimination in the case. Garnier and the recruitment company were initially acquitted last year, but the appeal court yesterday overturned the ruling. A former Garnier head and a senior recruitment agency executive were acquitted.’ [Online], Available: [14 April 2012].


So looking at how the media or most advertising companies are now reaching to their customers, I can clearly see a bit of a change to how they represent other ethnic groups. This has been an interesting  topic to talk on, seeing how society shows the levels of hierarchy with race when it comes to different forms of media, it’s still has a long way to go for a better change so it can benefit all races.




  1. 1994. Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 1 Edition. Sage Publications, Inc.
  2. 1994. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research (Routledge Communication Series). 1 Edition. Routledge

Feminism Within Pornography

Feminism Within Pornography


I am writing to convey issues dealing with feminism within pornography.  Pornography is a social issue revolving sexual voyeurism through different media of photos and film. With such an erotic context it changes society views and influences through generations. Throughout the year’s pornography have evolved through media, from newspaper to film.  It has revolutionize the world by the influence peoples way of thinking and living, therefore the fuses attitude to younger woman and men, which is an endless cycle. How can equality of sexes convey, if all it does is undermined the word of feminism.

The female gaze within pornography gives a sense of vulnerability but domineering attitude towards the camera like a desire to be notice or a desire to capture the audience. The gaze represents power and express as a sex object, which is massively dominant. As a sex object it is idolized as a tall, beautiful woman with the perfect body, it becomes revolutionary in creation of modernism. On the other hand, ‘Woman are objectified erotic objects existing in film simply as recipients of the male gaze’[1]. This quote suggests that the male gaze is an assistant informing a desire as a separate character. It creates an idea of a man looking for women to contribute in a sexual voyeurism. The gaze represents the male domination in film. ‘The gaze is not the act of looking itself, but the viewing relationship of the characteristic of a particular set of social circumstances’[2]. In consideration, this suggest that pornography can be a more meaningful and expressive.


[Fig.1 T.Tanaka –

In fig.1, is photograph of a pornstar posing for the camera. Her eyes glares with the twist of her neck giving a lusty desire which as we refer to the gaze. Her posture and the lack of clothing are to seduce and lure viewers into the gaze. Also, she is glamorize into a doll, which creates idolism within younger people or younger adults. The harm of pornography lies within film and photography because the effect of these media represents realism.

In Fig.1, the focal point is the women because it’s gender and the sexuality, other than the male is lost in the movement. This is because females are dominant in the world of media because it produces the desire for society in influential meaning. The narrative within the film is a form of technique to arouse the fantasy of female and males fantasy to encourage voyeurism. The boundaries between pornography and erotic art are highly criticized. The character gazes, camera catches the gaze, the audience gazes within the film. It’s three looks. The verbal and visual stimulation is a perfect entertainment combination.

The use of vocabulary may be explicit; this may suggest a way of talking to women in a violent or perverted way. Also, the development of pornography has become an issue of soft porn into hard porn. It creates a new meaning into sexuality in the modern era. It contradicts the idea of women and creates bad negatively. Violence is also a factor is deploy because it influence others to relate in their lifestyle creating a new understanding of sexual relations.

Feminism is a level to establish between things that are negative or positive. Pornography relating to woman being nonetheless than a piece of meat contradicts stereotypes in pornography. This would therefore create negative influence  which has its consequence, which can be spread. It’s iconic by the fact that feminism comes from the idea of equality. ‘Criticism of pornography/ erotic film can thus raise questions for female spectators about their relation of her image to her life’[3]. It clearly states a possibility of people raising negative issues about the lifestyle choice of a woman acting in such an intimate sexual thing. Pornography is defined as a description of prostitution, or an intended to arouse sexual desire. Pornography sends a clear message that people should lust for women, to have no emotional connection but all physical. This therefore represents a revolutionary issue to use people as sex object. Pornography has a large influential purpose to entertain and satisfy the public. It is all about power and sex as a tool or mechanism to lure minds of people. ‘Pornography exists on the margin of visibility’ this states pornography has the power and depth to encourage and influence people.[4] Planting an idea which grows to something which is uncontrollable.

Pornography, then, is verbal or pictorial material which represents or describes sexual behavior that is degrading or abusive to one or more of the participants in such way as to endorse the degradation. (Longino, 1980. P.29) Longino theory states that pornography is a vicious cycle of abuse, violence and regret. Within the pornography it consists of different scenarios; Women are presented as sex objects, things that are dehumanized. As sex objects, they enjoy the humiliation or pain to satisfy the employers.  Being tied up and tortured and psychically hurt women is what pornography is trying to say that it ok that women can be abused like an animal. It is also linked to weird scenarios of sexual assault, rape, injury, bruised, bleeding, and things that make it possible to call it pornography. I feel that women in pornography are portrayed as products to entertain; therefore it suggests it’s a form of acting or a job. I believe it does have a great influence in society, in the way we act around women because it gives us a reason to be idiots.


[Fig.2 G. Atkinson –


In fig.2, is a prime example of the how younger women and men are affected through idolism of pornography.  Gemma in the photo is a young actress with lots of potential. At that time she had a lot of weight issues but it clearly an average people. She then lost so much weight to be an icon if people to drool over her body and advertise it throughout the world. Which brings things into consideration, how things like pornography can revolutionize the world.  Younger men would clearly assume that women are sex objects, which leads to damaging idolism.

Some feminist views ideas of pornography as a degrading meaning towards women as sexual object but also, gives an representation of a tool for abuse. Within the industry, men are dominated in having this sexual activity. It’s their depicted ideas, which plays a role in society shown women as extremely passive. This show weakness within feminism.

Pornography has evolved in recent years, in relation of Marxist theory it has many similarities. ‘Capitalism is dependent upon the overproduction of goods and the need for workers to be consumers and spend large sums on mass-produced goods’[5]. Pornography is a concept deprived through media. A reproduction over many generations, it has evolved into an idea of a product. The product it is reproduced into different forms. The idea of women in advertisement is a clear signifier, a tool of seduction; it recreates the sexual connotation within pornography. The idea and the product in fig. 3 have no clear meaning or depth in this design to represent the brand. It’s clear that sexual voyeurism is part of the modern era tool to entice consumer to buy. The gaze from the character expresses a desire to become her or to have sexual relations.  ‘Changing in relation to new social, moral and political discourses  and through circulation of new technologies and media’ media has encourage these kind of values fore years because it is the focal point in everything we do nowadays.[6]I n my opinion, the character within the poster is beautiful but doesn’t have to be nude to convey a message.


[Fig.3 Miss Doir Cherie –

In conclusion, pornography is part of a controlled system of media. It is related in everyday lifestyle such as music video, adverts, Internet, films and many more. Its outrages me by the fact that women became the soul entertainment of filthy, pervert men with the mindset of animals! Women are like robots, always being controlled and manipulated in the male dominated corporation. ‘level of public social life and through the corruption of every individual who came into contact with the poisonous material’ [7]In used games of sexual pleasure, gaining in their enjoyment. In consideration, pornography has the power to influence others to express negative approaches and have a clear understanding of how women are represented. Looking is more effective. Being lured by visual representation and translating it becomes apparent and easy to react. The violence involve is a clear understandings that it is a crude and despicable way of enjoyment. The years of women fighting for equality have been critically damaged by pornography. In this capitalism era we are all victims of this endeavor.



Dines.G & Humaz.J. (1995). Gender, race and class in media

Longino, H. E. (1980). Pornography, oppression and freedom.

Nead,L (1992). The Female Nude

Sturken. M & Cartwright. L. (2001) Practices of looking an introduction to visual culture

Storey, J. (2009) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture 5th ed.

Anon 2012 [online]

Anon 2012 [online]

Anon 2012 [online]

[1] Perspectives on Pornography. Day.G. & Bloom.C. page. 70

[2] Practices of looking an introduction to visual culture, Sturken.M. & Cartwright.L. page, 76

[3] Perspectives on Pornography. Day.G. & Bloom.C bloom page. 72

[4] The Female Nude, Nead,L page. 97

[5] Practices of looking an introduction to visual culture, Sturken.M. & Cartwright.L. page,192

[6] The Female Nude, Nead,L page. 99

[7] The Female Nude, Nead,L page. 99

Women in Art


I am going to explore the idea that as far as we have come ideologically, morally etc as a society (it is now for example an abhorrent offence to discriminate or persecute someone based on their ethnic origin-wasn’t always the case) yet the way women are portrayed in media (in this case art/animation) has remained largely the same, as the object of desire, something to possess.

The first form of art we tend to view would probably be as a child watching animated cartoons of some sort. If we look at, say Disney animated cartoons and films (entertaining generations of kids and adults alike). For over 70 years they have depicted their lead female characters (especially so) as the idealised version that has come to dominate the way in which women are drawn. Perfect physical proportions, flawless skin, big bright eyes, perky or enlarged bust, a tiny waist, curvaceous, graceful, virtuous creating in those minds the idea of physical beauty, with the ethnic characters symbolised as sexualised version of their white counter-parts (but I digress). But are these images (and especially the ones depicting ethnic characters) unrealistic, harmless, a bit of fun using artistic licence?

As children, we soak up information like sponges and whatever we are told to think, we think and tend not to question (due to intellectual immaturity maybe) especially imagery, flashing lights, bright colours (look at children’s toys and the cartoons aimed at the very young) and such so all these things will account for the way we see the world and as such adding to our superficial outlook of beauty. The Greeks did it; look at any sculpture depicting ancient Greece. The perfectly sculptured physiques of the young men, to the pert bosoms and shapely figure of the female, art foes indeed shape societies idea of beauty.  But, with the idealised sexual versions being aimed at children, thus giving them unrealistic ideals about the human body (both male and female might I add) have we crossed the line somewhere?



Michelangelo’s David


Expulsion from the Garden: Massacio (Florence)

Painted in 1427 and depicts Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. This is the first nude depiction since ancient times.


Here we can see the ‘shame’ surrounding issues of the female nude form-note how the hands are covering both sets of genatailia whilst Adam has his face covered.  Is this an early form of the sexualisation the female body? Why is it Adams genatalia is uncovered? Also when looking at the image of the birth of Venus, again we see her covering her body (also if we look at the figure of the image it does appear in a more idealistic form), although there is a figure looking to clothe her in the right of the image, opposing there is also a figure of the wind (depicted as a man) blowing in the direction of Venus (it could be interpreted that he wants her to remain naked) thus keeping the object of the gaze firmly fixated on her nude body.

‘ The female body is constantly subjected to the judgemental gaze’ (pg. 81 Nead. Lydia)  (by both men and women might I add) be it at a medical examination or by society itself that determines whether or not a woman is beautiful by definition and the way we as artists depict women has a role to play in this. Is the gaze different when a man or a woman creates the image?

Alarmingly I found numerous sites depicting these Disney characters in a more ‘grown up’ form, which whilst in their original form was fairly ‘tame’ and ‘innocent’ I’m sure the artists who drew them would’ve watched those same cartoons as children themselves, subsequently, on a subconscious level perhaps influenced by those images, but why would they re-draw the characters in this overtly sexualized way? Is it not just male artists but women too? Can they be classed as feminists or are they pandering to a male dominated world, thus making art to suit the male gaze? Can two artists make two similar pieces of art depicting the female form with one not being said to objectify women? When looking at the way women are depicted it is hard not to ask oneself these questions.



Frida Khalo

I chose this image from Frida Khalo’s work to highlight the idea that the male gaze has influenced even an artist who’s work involving the female form, that whilst in itself isn’t an idealised view of women or necessarily intended to be viewed as such, can be. With the image of the monkey hiding in the leaves (could be depicting man as in the male) gazing upon the two female nudes suggests an air of voyeurism raising the question, whose gaze is this image intended for?


Now, I grew up watching Disney cartoons, but I was raised in a predominately female household so my view of women (and subsequently what a woman looked like) was gained by watching my mother, sisters, aunties etc (so I like to think that I have a more realistic view of women in general) but, I also noticed that when I used to draw women (and in some instances I still do) I also tended to draw a more idealized version (alas I don’t have any examples of my earlier work, mostly done in my adolescence due to a fire in my maternal home) but the point I am trying to  make is that even myself, enlightened as I am, am in some ways still influenced by those images I would’ve seen growing up.  But the question I ask myself now is,‘ Am I influenced by the cartoons I watched as a child or am I influenced by MY own particular tastes and opinions of what a woman SHOULD (for want of a better word) look like?’  But then in asking those questions, I have to wonder where my aesthetic tastes come from? Is it influenced by the images I was exposed to as a child? The adverts, cartoons, films? Even the art I consider to be religious art depicts, in my opinion women in an idealized form (pandering to the sense of taste etc of the time) but not limited to physical appearance, look at the pose in which the women are posed. Demur, the gaze lowered, at the receiving end of an action or in the role of mother and whilst these images are of a religious nature, somehow the woman retains an air of sexuality about her.


Danae and the Nursemaid: Titian



La Naissance de Venus – Bouguereau


The Problem I find with today’s art is that even when a female character is portrayed as being, strong, empowered (all the ‘new modern’ charateristics associated with ‘modern women’ etc she is still put form as the idealized perfect form with the gaze still a sexual one (thus one can assume aimed at men) But it is giving off the opinion that a woman, no matter what role she plays still has to retain that sexuality thus almost reducing her again to an object of desire pandering to the male i.d if you will )*RLwcmT7eqMt/Cheetara.png?width=613&height=358



The image above is from the 2011 version of the 80’s cartoon Thundercats and you can see that even today a cartoon aimed at kids has an overtly stylized and sexual (even though she is supposed to be cat like) version of the female form.



Whilst Cheetara was a strong, powerful character, he demeanor at times was still one of a ‘traditional female’ in a group of men. The tight outfit, suggestive posing, idealized physical perfection dominated the cartoons of the 80’s and early 90’s. You can also see this is any form of ‘fan art’ depicting female characters.



In conclusion, This article has probably raised more questions than it has answered but, from what I have discovered it appears that as artists, or for that matter anyone who creates media, we must remember that we are shaping the future, ideals, tastes, and in some senses morals, are all influenced by the images we create.  Considering that children are the future and as I stated earlier, retain information like a sponge, It’s up to us to change the way we portray and present women in our work and, to an extent the overall human form (both male and female) in our work. But, with the overt sexualisation of almost everything around us and people putting financial greed before moral, I fear that may never be the case.





Bibliography and image sources




Gauntlett, David (2002), Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction, Routledge, London and New York. (Extracts available at


Lynda Nead, 1992. The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality. Edition. Routledge.


2006. The Lure of the Object (Clark Studies in the Visual Arts). Edition. Clark Art Institute.


Alison Smith, 2001. Exposed. Edition. Tate Gallery Publishing.


Chris Barker, 2000. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Edition. Sage Publications Ltd


Michael Gill, 1990. Image of the Body: Aspects of the Nude. Edition. The Bodley Head Ltd.*RLwcmT7eqMt/Cheetara.png?width=613&height=358






The Role of gender in Comics Books- Focus on DC Cimics and Marvel

I will investigate the role of gender in American comic books such as DC and Marvel and the modes of imagery representation (also known as semiotics) of the female in the these mainstream comics.

When drawing elements of gender stereotypes to explain media material we tend to focus on these elements. According to Dines and Humez ‘Ideologies of gender promote sexist representations of women’ (Dines and Humez,1994, p.7). This is just the basic interpretation of gender stereotypes. The term ‘gender’ has now become broad and as Gerard Jones believes ‘these images reflect the fact that women are challenging the male monopoly on power and aggression, a shift that has broad ramifications for how gender is constructed.’ (Inness, 2004, p5)

Comic books are created by an industry of male dominated writers/artists and targeted to a male dominantly heterosexual audience. In the mid nineties, highly sexualized nature of action females ‘dominated the struggling comic industry’ (Inness, 2004, p61). ‘In a blatant attempt to attract the attention of the predominantly male adolescent comics consumer’ (Inness, 2004, p61). This has changed slightly over the years as now we have female writers/artist for mainstream comic books, women as the main characters (heroines or villains) where all are not only heterosexual but also the introductions of bisexual and lesbian nature in comic books which were not seen before. One such character of this in Marvel’s X-Men Comics is Mystique who was the biological mother of Nightcrawler and Graydon Creed. Later Mystique formed a life long loving relationship with Destiny, Irene Adler, and adopted Rogue who later joined the X-men in fighting evil mutants, even Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In DC Comic there has been speculation of the portrayal of a few characters, the likes of Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn and poison Ivy. The speculation of Wonder Woman rose due to subtle clues derived from the comics. One of the obvious clues and most prominent is the origin of Wonder Woman from Paradise Island where it is ‘completely inhabited by women’ (Comic Vine (2010) Available at: – Accessed on 10/03/2012). Bruce Timm portrays in his drawings the sexual relationship of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, which has led to speculation of their sexual nature/preference. This speculation can be taken further to imply that Poison Ivy is DC’s equivalence of Marvel’s Mystique as she uses her ‘looks to manipulate men and women into doing her biding’ (Comic Vine (2010) Available at: – Accessed on 10/03/2012).

When reading comic books you instantly realize there are more male characters in relation to female characters in the comic universe, DC and Marvel. Women did not develop a role in comic books till the Golden Age, 1930-1940. They were portrayed as career females who works as news reporters, receptionist etc but were not given the job roles which were thought of as male orientated.

We are presented with the first protagonist female super heroine known as Fantomah, immortal Egyptian women who fights evil, in the Jungle #2 in 1940 by Fletcher Hanks the writer/artist. This also led to the debut of Invisible Scarlet O’Neil in a newspaper comic strip on June 3, 1940. From this it can be determined that Marvel and DC Comics, the two comic book giants, were not the first to introduce females into the comic industry. DC Comic’s introduction of their first female protagonist character was by William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth who debuted Wonder Woman in All Star Comics #8. The creation of Wonder Women was Marston’s approach to create a positive role model for the females around the world as the comic books was failing to address this matter as he states, “America’s woman of tomorrow should be made the hero of a new type of comic strip. By this, I mean a character with all the allure of an attractive woman, but with the strength also of a powerful man. There isn’t enough love in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. What women presently lack is the dominance or self-assertive power to put over and enforce her love diaries. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force, but kept her loving. It is my hope to make this strip as appealing to adults as it has proved to kids.” (Comic Vine (2010) Available at: Accessed on 10/03/2012). Marvel’s first female character in a protagonist role was Susan Storm (Invisible Woman) from the Fantastic Four.

Wonder Woman was the first of many of a long line of female protagonist superheroes in mainstream comics such as DC and Marvel. We see the introductions of Miss America, Sun Girl, Blonde Phantom by Marvel Comics and the revival of Phantom Lady and Black Canary by DC Comics.

The 1960-70 is referred to as the silver age of comicswhere comic books took up the notion of romance. During this era female characters were dominantly demonstrated as secondary characters, help support the protagonist male and the move the story forward but do not have a major impact on the story. These women were not given super abilities or portrayed as sidekicks. Characters that we can relate to provide evidence for this statement from DC Comics are Lois Lane working with Superman, Carol Ferris (before becoming Star Sapphire) the boss and attracted to Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Iris West the on-off girlfriend of Flash. All the characters of secondary importance where displayed with the connection of love/romance towards the protagonist male character. Marvel’s use of secondary role females in comics during this era were Mary Jane the girlfriend of Spiderman, Betty Rose the on-off girlfriend of Hulk and the complex love triangle relationship of Angel, Jean Grey and Cyclops all three part of the X-men (all three were action characters of the X-men comic but during this relationship Angel and Jean Grey had a minor role compared to Cyclops).

Female action characters were also introduced into comics as secondary character with bit of romance, but more as an action/aggressive character. These can be seen by the names given to the female characters such as Supergirl, Superwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Catgirl, Catwoman, She-Hulk, Spidergirl, and Miss America. The names given to these characters depict that these are secondary characters as sidekicks to move the story forward. Also the name can imply that in the comic industry male characters are still portrayed as dangerous, superior, and more powerful and have authority over female characters. This is clearly evident from the Batman comics where he is portrayed more powerful and with more authority acting as the mentor over Batwoman and Catwoman seduces Batman to get out of trouble as he is depicted more powerful. We also see in DC’s Justice League the main powerful characters portrayed to us are Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman with Superman the leader of the group. This is also seen in Marvel’s Avengers where the main dominant characters/heroes are Iron Man, Thor, Hulk Captain America even though female action heroines, Black Widow and Ms Marvel are part of the team from the inception of the super hero group. This notion can be taken further to say the secondary female characters of action or romance role are merely being objectified by the reader’s gaze. This latter point is also associated with certain female action protagonist role clearly shown by the characters such as Star Fire and Catwomen.

The roles of women in comics not only as secondary character but also as female protagonist characters changed. This result can be related to the changes that took place in the women’s real lives and which in turn had an effect of changes in the popular culture. As mentioned before the Female’s characters were depicted as career girls. But during the modern age (early 90’s to this day and still going) most women in comics were/are not given the careers of the stereotypical female jobs of secretary, nurses as before but were given careers that were once believed to be male oriented jobs such as detectives, adventurers, bosses/ company owners, soldiers, doctors etc. This portrayed women as independent, challenging the parameters of gender roles and ‘no longer could women be represented in the same stereo typical ways as they had been in the past’ (Inness, 2004, p6).

This portrayal of females gave rise to female action heroines and they were presented as more aggressive, powerful and masculine than before. The action heroines gave the women in real life something they can relate to offering them different roles that were available to them. Action heroines displayed themselves not only as career girls but more independent then before as they never needed to be rescued or wait for the male hero to rescue them from trouble. This can be seen with Jean Grey from the X-Men comic that she soon realizes the potential of her powers and how dangerous they can be. She is the most powerful Mutant, A-Class Mutant, in the X-men comics and Storm who later becomes the leader of the X-Men after Professor Xavier dies. Wonder Woman does not need Batman or Superman to save her as she is capable herself. This female independence was a stereotypical characteristic of the action heroine stating she does not need any support and is well off on her own. This in return questioned the scope of gender stereotypes implying that ‘women are fighting to escape conventional gender role expectations that, in the past, have kept them from being aggressive’ (Inness, 2004, p7).

The modern age where female action heroines were starting to be portrayed more as the protagonist character giving them their own title comic books. The tough action protagonist female was more masculine or muscular than the female characters in secondary importance/supporting role. Another typical stereotypical element of the female heroine was that she was made muscular but not too muscular or muscular as the male protagonist characters of the comic universe whether it was Marvel or DC. This was due to her toughness should be impressive for a female but should not challenge the boy’s masculinity, whether by making the reader question his masculinity or posing as a threat to the male she stars alongside. When observing comics such as the Justice league or the Avengers this is clearly expressed as a group of superheroes coming together to save the world from chaos and destruction. But the group consists of mostly male superheroes and their powers and abilities are of no match or challenge for the female action heroine. Hence the male, reader or hero(s), are still more powerful and superior to the female.

Even though these female action heroines are depicted as tough and aggressive they are still made to look feminine and attractive, presented as fear and desire. The action heroines or female characters are represented as beautiful, desirable, and heterosexually appealing. Some may even identify these action heroines as ‘“figurative males”, “masculinized female bodies”’ (Inness, 2004, p48) or ‘pseudo males’ (Inness, 2004, p51) as they are attractive but possess traits of aggressiveness that are believed to be male orientated. Some protagonist female characters are displayed as objective and some as subjective. This can bee seen from Star fire and Catwoman being displayed as objective and Wonder Woman and Storm are subjective. One can argue that the later two are also objectified to a certain extent. These points are discussed later on in the essay.

We see all Female characters are depicted as sexualised hyperfeminine; ‘huge gravity-defying breasts, mile-long legs, perpetually pouty lips, and perfectly coifed big hair’ (Inness, 2004, p63). This means that all female characters especially the aggressive/action protagonist are over sexualised and over exaggerated as their bodies are biologically impossible and throughout the comic we are displayed with poses that are impossible to achieve. The female heroine kick- ass in outfits that deem ‘more suitable for seduction than combat’ (Inness, 2004, p37). One can also counter argue stating the male superheroes are also depicted as hypermasculine, ‘excessive representation of the male body’ (Inness, 2004, p61), where they are ‘routinely drawn with arms as big as couches and chests the size of minivans’ (Inness, 2004, p61). This exaggerated body form is also biologically impossible to achieve.

This point is best expressed by exploring the characters Catwoman and Star Fire in comparison to Wonder Woman.

Available at: – Accessed on: 16/03/2012″]”]Selina Kyle is introduced to us as half undressed generously displaying her bright red lingerie. We are not shown Selina Kyle’s (Catwoman) face or as a whole person till after two pages of viewing her breast and body parts throughout.

Available at: – Accessed on: 16/03/2012″]”]Available at: – Accessed on: 16/03/2012″]In fact, we are shown her bottom in black latex pants even before her face is shown. Hence, Selina Kyle is introduced to the reader through sexual fetishism/fetishized body parts. This perception can be taken further to state that it indicates the reader is being scopophilic as he is gaining pleasure in looking as well as being a voyeur. This can be related to different parts of the comic as we are meant to view her as the subject, a protagonist, even when she is in action: fighting, jumping or climbing out of the window etc. But we depict her as a fetish since her body parts are mostly concentrated upon even when in action and she is drawn to be winking at the reader when landing from jumping off a rooftop She also uses her sexuality to seduce and overcome the Russian mobster and than again in the final scene to overcome Batman seducing him into sex, on the rooftop, making him submit to her desires. But Selina Kyle’s characteristic of short hair makes her look slightly masculine and implies for the reader to take her seriously when in action even though she is objectified.

Available at: – Accessed on: 16/03/2012″”]

Star Fire is introduced to us in the Red Hood and Outlaws even wearing less skimpy clothes than Catwoman and in a seductive posture of submission with her head down while hovering in air after she has destroyed three tanks and yet the focus is on her. The only characteristic that is noticeable of Star Fire after destroying the tanks is her huge breast.

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The comic continues and we are presented with her in the water sexually posing in a bikini at awkward angles. The next few drawings of her, focuses on the front of her body, mainly at her breast and at her back, her bottom. We’re also shown a little boy, being a voyeur, taking pictures of her in these sexually seductive poses informing us there is no problem in being a voyeur. In addition, we can also imply that the little boy represents the reader who is also a voyeur, looking at Star Fire with pleasure without being seen.

Available at: -Accessed on: 16/03/2012″”]

Star Fire also propositions the male character for emotionless sex. To argue the sexualisation of these two characters it can be said they are transgressive characters; ‘both subject and object, looker and looked at, ass kicker and sex object (Inness, 2004, p52).

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While on the other hand When Wonder Woman is introduced to us in All Star Comics #8 she is naked in bed. But soon takes charge in the comic and plays an active role. She does not use her attractiveness to seduce the male character or get out of trouble but uses action, her whip. But can be argued that Wonder Woman is fetishized to a certain extent. She wears a miniskirt and a top that looks like a corset and which is normally not ideal in fighting. Her golden lasso (whip) is a symbol of phallic cliché ‘when men are bound with it, they must submit to her will’ (Inness, 2004, p65). This notion can also imply that when men are bound with her whip they have lost or she has stolen their phallic/physical power. Therefore, she is deemed to be over powering the men. This is also clearly evident with Catwoman who uses her sexuality to overcome trouble by seducing Batman and the Russian mobster as mentioned before. Another character who acts on this notion is Rogue, from X-Men, who can steal a man’s power/psyche by touching her flesh with his. But she chooses to do this by kissing the man being her preferred method.

Available at: -Accessed on: 16/03/2012″]

The sexualised hyperfeminine depiction can be argued to compensate for the female heroine taking on the masculine role but also combine the ‘manliness’ (toughness) with the ‘womanliness’ (feminine characteristics). It can be argued further to compensate the notion that ‘toughness does not need to be conceived as gendered trait’ (Inness, 2004, p63). Also the use of whips, and tools can be said to mark the heroines as more as dominatrixes rather than masculine as the tools subject them to fetishization through the use large weapons and tools.

Another typical characteristic of the tough female protagonist, which we are displayed with throughout comics, is that she is single and childless. We see from the famous action heroines such as Wonder Woman, She-hulk, Star Fire, Catwomen, Star Sapphire, Invisible Woman, Storm, Jean Grey, Black Widow etc are all childless. We also are displayed with super heroines becoming parents and thus decide to leave the super heroine life for their child. This issue becomes more evident when Jessica Jones becomes pregnant and marries Luke Cage, Power Man, and leaves the U.S. to go live in Toronto for their safety as fearing of a civil war breakout in the U.S. This issue is also prominent when the ‘Black Canary also gives up her career of being a super heroine in order to raise her newly adopted child and she seems clearly devoted as she says,

“It’s more important for me to be faithful to you, and that means getting you away from all the costumes and crazies.

See, the mistake mom was afraid I’d repeat was that I wouldn’t spend enough time with my own kid,” in issue #100 which was published in 2007’. (Comic Vine (2010) Available at: – Accessed on 10/03/2012).

From this we can conclude that since the start of comic books we have come a long way from not including females to making them into secondary characters to the protagonist. We also see woman taking on roles of high ranks, as we see Storm become the team leader of X-men after defeating Cyclops over the challenge for leadership. But women characters are still treated as objects, some more than others, and hypermasculine males still tend to dominate the comic industry. The action super heroines led us to question, break down and exploit the boundaries of genders as the display both masculinity and femininity. Thus enacting principles of dominatrixes that can be understood as using masculinity symbols/signs to mock masculinity. These female action heroines have adopted masculine behaviour but are still depicted as the stereotypical female of being feminine, attractive and heterosexually appealing to the reader. Finally, ‘even the most systematically masculinised of’ female ‘action heroines incorporate conventional feminine sexual attractiveness to some’ extent and we have seem is strongly evident with the character of Wonder Women who is a subject of the comic book but is sexualised to a certain extent.


  1. Dines, G. and Humez, J.M. (ed.) (1994) Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. First Edition. Sage Publications, Inc.
  2. Inness, S.A. (ed.) (2004) Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular Culture. First Edition. Palgrave Macmillan)
  3. Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2001) Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture. First edition. United States, New York: Oxford University Press
  4. Comic Vine (2010) Available at: -Accessed on 10/03/2012
  5. Slideshow Collectibles (2007) -Accessed on 10/03/2012
  6. Comic Alliance (2011) -Accessed on 10/03/2012
  7. The Dollar bin (2011) -Accessed on 10/03/2012


As a group you will choose one theoretical “lens” (such as feminism) covered in lectures and apply it to a different media object or phenomenon (we might call it a cultural text).

As a group we have decided to undertake the scope of gender, race and culture in media. The media industry is broad umbrella term split into sections of the entertainment industry. We split the media industry into sections we each would like to study.

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