Gender Analysis 101: The PNE

by | August 26, 2009
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture

If you are ever taking Women’s or Gender Studies , or even just spending an inordinate amount of time with me, you may find yourself unable to go through your normal daily activities without things jumping out at you and making you think about the implications in our gendered society. Yes, life and the world are full of endless inspiration when you’ve learned about gender analysis.

NZAID has a cool outline of what gender analysis is. You can find the whole thing here. But right now I’m going to focus on the last point in their list: gender analysis “makes visible assumptions based on our own realities, sex, and gender roles.”

So from that perspective, here’s what my day was like yesterday at the Pacific National Exhibition:

My friend Tannis and I decided to visit the PNE since neither of us had gone for several years and it was VanCity Members’ Day. We had a great time checking out the petting zoo, Superdogs show, various art installations, and filling ourself with mini donuts.

Me and a goat

Me and a goat

But while minor, there were some things that caught my eye as exemplifying interesting gender divides.

To begin, decided to take a swing through the PNE Prize Home. The home featured “the girl’s room” which was a hideous lavender festooned with flowers, featuring a flouncy bed and fluffy purple slippers on the floor. By contrast “the boy’s room” had a blue wallpaper with an African wildlife theme including a giant 3-D giraffe coming out of the wall. You can take a virtual tour for yourself here.

So looking at our guideline, what are the assumptions about gender roles being made by the prize home decorators? There’s clearly an assumption about girls’ and boys’ interests and personalities. The girl’s room seems like a place you’d put your “little princess” but there’s no evidence of toys, unlike the boy’s room, just a feminine flower motif. The boy’s room implies more of a “little explorer” with the wildlife theme and toys.

There’s also an assumption being made about a family structure. We’re looking at an idealized home for Dorothy Smith’s Standard North American Family (SNAF), with room for mom, dad, and two kids.

It was also interesting to see the Oscar Wilde motif in the upstairs office, complete with a quote on the desk encouraging non-conformity, in a house so desperately trying to conform to a North American societal ideal.

Another place at the PNE that was full of interesting gendered messages was the marketplace. At the marketplace you’ll see vendors with signs for products like a line of cleaners called “Mother’s Choice.” Tannis pointed this one out to me. Yup, in the SNAF it’s the mom who can be trusted to pick the best cleaning products. I guess calling it “Father’s Choice” cleaning products kinda makes you think you’d be hospitalized for food poisoning within the week, huh?

See how these assumptions also limit what men are encouraged to do in our society? What if a man really wants to clean? He’s practically excluded from the product marketing efforts, not just in the PNE marketplace but everywhere.

I also loved this sign at a table where you can get custom caricatures drawn:


The sign’s actually pretty interesting because it admits there are “idealized bodies” that are different from realistic bodies.

Also shows us that people are looking for a caricature of them that shows them in a flattering light. Judging by the samples up this means skinny for girls and built for guys. Both genders should have bright eyes and shiny white teeth.

If only we could really expect to attain these idealized bodies “at no extra cost” but sadly life doesn’t immitate the caricature industry. Luckily the marketplace has a plethora of booths to help you with your body, from hair removal to hair accessories to a weight-loss machine that makes you look like a wiggling excited puppy while you’re on it. I’m sure it really works.

So the lesson for today is have fun, enjoy yourself, but be vigilant and ask what the messages are in the things you see around you.

Next week we can explore neo-colonialism by looking at ads like this:

P1010794And we can question why the model for the “African Butterfly” hair clip is a white woman.

Class dismissed.

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