Friday, June 12, 2009

The Fanpop Gender Division

So, I’ve recently made an account on the website Fanpop. It’s a collection of various little fan clubs for things like Star Trek and Heroes, including the more specific and/or obscure things like characters and fan pairings. I found it while searching for an Elle Bishop forum, and the little fan club they have there is probably the best Elle site I’ve yet found. With polls and fan discussion, Fanpop’s good for some light entertainment in one’s spare time.

In addition to the clubs relating to fictional media, there are also non-fiction subjects. In the Society & Lifestyle section, there are the two clubs Being a Woman, and Being a Man, of which users can declare themselves to be fans. I find the differences between the two clubs to distinctly represent the cultural divide between the two gender groups, and as an extension to represent the forms of sexism developed by the society.

First of all, let’s examine the avatar used by each club. The avatar used to represent being a woman is an artistic depiction of a female face. The face is formed from colorful designs of teardrops, striped waves, and circles, in addition to distinct facial features (i.e. lips, eyes, nostrils). In contrast, the avatar used to represent being a man is a sexually attractive woman. Just that. Nothing fancy at all.

What do these avatars convey about being a woman or being a man? Well, the Being a Woman avatar suggests that women are interested in aesthetics, color, and beauty – even that these are inherent features, given that the designs make up the face of a woman. As for the Being a Man avatar, all it really suggests is that men inherently perve on women.

Okay, there are a lot of ways that the Being a Man avatar is offensive. I’ll just cover the few that come to the top of my mind. For one, it’s heterosexist to assume that all men are attracted to women. Some men are attracted to other men and they are no less male than the heterosexual men. Same goes with asexual men.

For another, the avatar sexually objectifies a woman. She’s not really related to anything like, say, a sexually attractive image of Elle would be for the Elle club. She’s just a random hot female there to be eye candy. In my opinion, the avatar is both offensive to women for obvious reasons and men for the implication that the privilege of being able to sexually objectify women is the greatest part of being a man.

Moving on with the examination of the differences between the clubs, we have the club taglines used at the top of the page just below the club title. The Being a Woman tagline is the simple “Women are essential”. Pretty straightforward, though it can imply various things from biological fact to political statement. Nothing really offensive.

In contrast, the Being a Man tagline is a quote from Conan the Barbarian: “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of the women! - Conan the Barbarian”. It’s an aggressive macho declaration glorifying fighting and being dismissive of women’s emotions. This is the epitome of masculinity?

Then there’s a banner for each club that rests beside the avatar on the club page itself. The banner for Being a Woman displays a collection of various women’s heads. They appear excited and happy. I’m not sure who they are or if I’m supposed to recognize who they are. They could be an Olympic team or something like that.

In contrast, the Being a Man banner depicts a silhouette of a man holding a sword out horizontally, so that the blade stretches out along part of the length of the banner. I don’t recognize him either. Maybe he’s Conan or he could be something else. Anyway, it fits with the Conan quote in an expression of aggression. I guess men can’t be men without a threat of death.

Moving on to the content of the clubs, I’ll give a brief rundown on the club layouts. Each Fanpop club has sections for embedded videos (such as from YouTube), a trivia quiz game, an answers section (based on Yahoo! Answers), fan picks (polls), a forum, an image gallery, a section for submitted links, and a section for articles written by the users. Each of these sections has a small space visible on the club’s homepage where the most recently added content is featured. I’ll scan the homepages of both of the clubs.

The Being a Woman club’s most recent videos added are “7 Things Guys Don’t Have To Do”, “How Lovely to be a Woman”, and “She’s a Lady – Forever The Sickest Kids”. Three music videos, at least one comedic, about the idea of being a woman.

The Being a Man club’s most recent videos added are “The Power of the Brain”, “Man Rides Motorized Beer Cooler”, and “If I Were a Girl”. The first is a shot of what appears to be a naked woman’s waist and hips with hairy crotch, but what turns out to be a man’s armpit as the camera pulls back. The second shows some half-naked moron thrill-seeker doing what is described as the definition of manliness as he zips down a road without any head protection. The third video shows a guy wearing a girly wig and looks like some sort of comedy.

The trivia question up at Being a Woman quizzes on who sings the song “I Am Woman” (Helen Reddy, by the way). A quick look through the various trivia questions shows that they include questions relating to biological facts, women’s lib, and fashion, among others. Being a Man is without any trivia questions whatsoever.

There are no questions in the answer section at Being a Woman. The Being a Man questions include asking who is the woman on the cover of a magazine swimsuit issue, whether beauty and sexiness are the same thing, and how much to tip hotel housekeepers. So, two related to ogling women, and one about tipping protocol.

The Being a Woman fan picks consist of “Do you think men treat women like crap? (Not all men, just some)”, “Do you have an issue with crying? (Too much of it)”, a guy asking if women would rather date a guy smart and sexy or fun-loving and sexy (I notice he posted the same poll at the guys’ section), “What do you have planned for your future career?”, and “If u could get something pierced, what would it be?”. At Being a Man, we have “which pic is hotter?”, “what’s hotter babe on a car or on a motorcycle?”, the smart/sexy or fun-loving/sexy poll, “does it bother you if the tits are to big” (classy), and “what is your favorite magazine?” in which the choices are Maxim or Playboy. So, the Being a Woman polls are related to living as a woman and gender relations (I’m not counting the guy-posted one), and the Being a Man polls are about ogling and dating preference.

The most recent Being a Woman forum topics include what to do when your husband leaves you for a man, what women look for in a guy (or girl), and a woman saying she considers herself a feminist and invites radical feminists to post about their beliefs. The forum of Being a Man is rather sparse, only containing one thread of any real substance and that is about who is the hottest chick on the planet. Its other threads include a woman popping in to say hi and a duplicate of the hottest chick thread, in which only the original poster has posted.

The image gallery at Being a Woman contains two images of women, I guess because they represent femininity, in addition to boy eye candy. Only one of the boys shows much skin, and only his chest is bare. The Being a Man image gallery contains one cartoon image of a fat man seeing a buff reflection in the mirror – kind of cute, I guess. Other than the cartoon, the gallery is filled with soft-core pornographic images of female models in skimpy outfits. The contrast is blatant.

Being a Woman’s links include “Girl on the go: Essentials for todays modern woman”, “Tips for getting your ex boyfriend back fast”, an ad for girl power typographic prints, “The Nielsen Power Moms 50 List”, and “Traveling Mamas Give Back: Skin Cancer Foundation”. Being a Man’s links include “BodyRock.TV” – a work-out video with a hot teacher, “A spot for pick-up artists”, “Maxim's 100 Sexiest Women [2008]”, “Celebrity Bikinis”, and “Ladies of Liberty City” – GTA IV gameplay. Yeah…

As for the articles, Being a Woman has “One Flaw In Women” – an ‘appreciate your worth’ kind of thing, “Guy/Girl” – a ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ kind of thing about the different ways guys and girls show they like someone, and “Girls Don’t Realize These Things” – a rant written by a bitter guy who thinks he deserves credit for not date raping his female friend. Now at Being a Man, there is the same “Guy/Girl” article cross-posted, in addition to “A Guide to Threesomes” and “FHM 2009 - UK - Sexies Women of 2009”. Once again, we have lifestyle vs. hot girls.

In conclusion, I find the Fanpop sections for women and for men to be demonstrative of the cultural gender division. As it would seem from the Fanpop club, the glory of being a man involves ogling countless hot women, being aggressive, and doing stupid things. This is not to say that the women’s club is perfect either. In addition to its progressive features, it has some ideological content I see as lagging behind. In any case, the clubs stand as symbols in my mind of the sexist culture that surrounds us.