What not to wear: Paul Henry
Okay, so was shocked to see this item this morning - I missed it on Breakfast this week. In between banter on products we should buy and pseudo-news, Paul Henry would like to tell us women how we should look.
I'm sure TVNZ are more than slightly alarmed at Henry's outburst - who does he think it is that constitutes the audience for his show that they can then sell onto advertisers at this time in the morning? From the responses I have read from other blogs, I would say that TVNZ may have just made a serious dent in its female audience for Henry's show.
We are used to being judged continuously on surface appearances, this is part of what life is like as a woman under patriarchal culture. We are bombarded with unrealistic images continuously of what women should look like. In fact, by the end of the 1990s, theorists such as Jean Kilbourne estimated that the average American was exposed to over 3,000 advertisements per day. As academics such as Jean Kilbourne, Sut Jhally, Gillian Dyer, Stuart Ewen and Anthony Cortese have argued, the images of women that we see in advertising and on television are remarkably standardised according to dominant social norms of what is considered beauty: thin, glossy hair, thin nose, full lips, big eyes. The images we see of women have changed little since sociologist Erving Goffman published his 1976 study Gender Advertisements, which concluded that from a sociological perspective women were shown as having the same social status as children in advertisements. Goffman used the analogy of aggressive and passive dogs: while men, even when positioned in their underwear, were shown standing upright and strong, women in contrast were positioned cant and contorted in the same way a dog might reveal its neck to demonstrate its submissiveness. While men look straight at the camera, women in ads are overwhelmingly positioned looking vacantly into wistful space in a process Goffman terms 'licensed withdrawal'. Some 40 years after Goffman's study, it demonstrates how little we have progressed when I turn on the television and an advertisement for toilet cleaner illustrates double cleaning power by two women miraculously materialising.
Television, for women (and men), presents a distorted, sanitised, norm(alised) reality of what gender constructions are; a framework that is responsible for socialising us with levels of anxiety about whether we can fit in socially so that purchasing products becomes the magic acquisition to solve our problems. The outrage at Henry's response points to the role of the host in such a programme to be able to distinguish between the mythic realities of femininity that we are presented in advertising and the 'reality' of the news format - a distinction that clearly eludes Henry. For all those women out there who are outraged at TVNZ for allowing this to run, I suggest that we hit Breakfast in the pocket where it hurts the most by refusing to buy the brands advertised during Henry's programme. Perhaps that way, Henry can be left blowing his Civil Defence hooter under the table by himself.