Thursday, March 1, 2007

Masculinity and Femininity as Portrayed on "The Girls Next Door"- Part I

I recently watched an episode of “The Girls Next Door,” entitled, “Mutiny on the Booty,” in order to analyze the concepts of masculinity and femininity as found in popular media. On this show these two concepts stand out in particular. The concept of masculinity can be seen by examining the role of the male character, Hugh Hefner, while the concept of femininity can be found in the roles of his girlfriends, Holly, Kendra, and Bridget. It is not difficult to see the messages being sent about the normative definitions of masculinity and femininity, as well as the traits that are left out from each idealized view.

On this show, Hugh Hefner is a perfect example of the view of masculinity that is portrayed in today’s media. According to this view, men are supposed to be the dominant figure in a household. Although they are his girlfriends, one gets from watching this show the feeling that Holly, Kendra, and Bridget are merely renting rooms in Hef’s house.

Men are also supposed to take control. In an episode where his girlfriends are in charge of photo shoots for a magazine, Hef still takes control of all decisions made about the publication of the photos without any input from them. This show in general also shows that men are supposed to make a living so that they can support themselves and their wives/girlfriends.

It is because Hef embodies these masculine ideals that so many men look up to and even idealize him. Another factor that contributes to this idealization involves the non-masculine traits that are omitted from the show and public view. One trait that is clearly left out of the portrayal of Hef is emotion. He never shows any type of emotion that might make him less than the man that he is. However, the editors of the show make sure to show Bridget crying when she is upset at her photo shoot, because being delicate and showing emotion are characteristics of the normative definition of femininity.

Masculinity and Femininity as Portrayed on "The Girls Next Door"- Part II

In this, and probably every episode of “The Girls Next Door,” Holly, Kendra, and Bridget all portray perfect examples of a feminine figure as portrayed by the media. Women are supposed to have a certain appearance. The three girls are all slim, with dyed blonde hair and large, fake breasts. For the individual shoots that they are doing for an upcoming magazine they all choose very feminine roles. Holly is a Marilyn Monroe-type movie star, Bridget sits in the clutches of King Kong’s giant hand, and Kendra is a football player in a cut-off jersey. Although Kendra’s may not be the most feminine role, she has the other two girls dressed as cheerleaders to accompany her. Women are also supposed to be submissive to men. In an industry where they are already objectifying themselves for the pleasure of men, they work for the approval of Hef instead of for their own personal growth as professional models.

The trait that is missing from the portrayal of these idealistic women is the depiction of any sort of thought that would show that they are intelligent human beings. Although in this episode they are all planning their own photo shoots, including sets and costumes, the focus is instead on the actual shoots themselves, which more or less involve them simply standing around naked.

This episode is a clear example of how the normative definitions of masculinity and femininity are portrayed by the media. Masculinity, as seen through the role of Hugh Hefner, is embodied by dominance and control and lacking in any sort of emotion. Femininity, as seen through the roles of Holly, Kendra, and Bridget, is characterized by submissiveness and an appearance that is appealing to men. What is lacking is the depiction of any kind of thought that would show their intelligence.

These ideals of masculinity and femininity are perpetuated in popular media by shows like “The Girls Next Door,” because people watch these shows and look up to and idealize the main characters. “The problem isn’t society and it isn’t us. It’s the relationship between the two that we have to understand, the nature of the thing we participate in and how we choose to participate in it and how both are shaped in the process” (Johnson, 97). We all participate in the media and pop-culture, and we need to understand that we have a choice about how much and what way we participate in it.


Johnson, Alan G. (1997). “Patriarchy, the System. An it, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press.