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16-Dow-4973.qxd 6/11/2006 1:42 PM Page 297 16 GENDER, RACE, AND MEDIA REPRESENTATION Dwight E. Brooks and Lisa P. Hbert I n our consumption-oriented,...
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297 I n our consumption-oriented, mediated society, much of what comes to pass as important is based often on the stories produced and dis- seminated by media institutions. Much of what audiences know and care about is based on the images, symbols, and narratives in radio, tele- vision, film, music, and other media. How individuals construct their social identities, how they come to understand what it means to be male, female, black, white, Asian, Latino, Native American—even rural or urban—is shaped by commodified texts produced by media for audi- ences that are increasingly segmented by the social constructions of race and gender. Media, in short, are central to what ultimately come to rep- resent our social realities. While sex differences are rooted in biology, how we come to under- stand and perform gender is based on culture. 1 We view culture “as a process through which people circulate and struggle over the meanings of our social experiences, social relations, and therefore, our selves” (Byers & Dell, 1992, p. 191). Just as gender is a social construct through which a society defines what it means to be masculine or feminine, race also is a social construction. Race can no longer be seen as a biological category, and it has little basis in science or genetics. Identifiers such as hair and skin color serve as imperfect indicators of race. The racial categories we use to differentiate human difference have been created and changed to meet the dynamic social, political, and economic needs of our society. The premise 16 GENDER, RACE, AND MEDIA REPRESENTATION u Dwight E. Brooks and Lisa P. Hébert 16-Dow-4973.qxd 6/11/2006 1:42 PM Page 297
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298 ––– ––– Gender and Communication in Mediated Contexts that race and gender are social constructions underscores their centrality to the processes of human reality. Working from it compels us to understand the complex roles played by social institutions such as the media in shaping our increasingly gendered and racialized media culture. This chapter explores some of the ways mediated com- munication in the United States represents the social constructions of race and gender and ultimately contributes to our under- standing of both, especially race. 2 Although research on race, gender, and media traditionally has focused on under- represented, subordinate groups such as women and minorities, this chapter dis- cusses scholarship on media representations of both genders and various racial groups. Therefore, we examine media constructions of masculinity, femininity, so-called people of color, and even white people. 3 On the other hand, given the limitations of this chapter and the fact that media research on race has focused on African Americans, we devote greater attention to blacks but not at the exclusion of the emerging saliency of whiteness studies, which acknowledge whiteness as a social category and seek to expose and explain white privilege. 4 Our theoretical and conceptual orienta- tion encompasses research that is com- monly referred to as “critical/cultural studies.” Numerous theoretical approaches have been used to examine issues of race, gender, and media, but we contend that critical/cultural studies represent the most salient contemporary thinking on media and culture. More important, unlike most social and behavioral scientific research, most critical and cultural approaches to media studies work from the premise that Western industrialized societies are strati- fied by hierarchies of race, gender, and class that structure our social experience. Moreover, cultural studies utilizes inter- disciplinary approaches necessary for understanding both the media’s role in the production and reproduction of inequity and for the development of more equitable and democratic societies. Cultural studies scholars have devoted considerable atten- tion to studies of media audiences, institu- tions, technologies, and texts. This chapter privileges textual analyses of media that explicate power relationships and the con- struction of meaning about gender and race and their intersections (Byers & Dell, 1992). In addition, we draw considerably from research employing various feminist frameworks. Generally, our critical review of literature from the past two decades demonstrates the disruption of essentialist constructions of gender, race, and sexual identities. Black Feminist Perspectives and Media Representations of Black Women A feminist critique is rooted in the struggle to end sexist oppression. We employ femi- nism as a multidisciplinary approach to social analysis that emphasizes gender as a major structuring component of power relations in society. We believe media are crucial in the construction and dissemina- tion of gender ideologies and, thus, in gender socialization. We acknowledge feminism and feminist media studies’ tendency to privilege gender and white women, in par- ticular, over other social categories of expe- rience, such as race and class (hooks, 1990; Dines, 1995; Dines & Humez, 2003). Black feminist scholars have acknowledged the neglect which women of color, specifically black women, have experienced through their selective inclusion in the writings of feminist cultural analysis (hooks, 1990; Bobo & Seiter, 1991; Valdivia, 1995). Black feminism positions itself as critical social theory (Hill Collins, 2004) and is not a set of abstract principles but of ideas that come directly from the historical and con- temporary experience of black women. It is from this perspective that we begin our 16-Dow-4973.qxd 6/11/2006 1:42 PM Page 298
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