Selected Topics in Gender Studies
-analyzing gender images in popular media

Kristina Davidson


I. Introduction…………………………………………………………....... p. 3

II. Culture: creator of our values & attitudes..................................... p. 4
The hiphop-culture......................................................................... p. 5

III. Missy Elliott: Work it........................................................................ p. 6
Chronological description of the video............................................... p. 6
Messages delivered through the video.............................................. p. 8

IV. Analyze and Conclusions............................................................... p. 11

V. Literature.......................................................................................... p. 12

I. Introduction
Feminism has, since its evolvance as a ideology, always questioned the fixed roles and the expectations about how women are supposed to be and has strived to acchieve a more equal society. Through media strong women has a new way of expressing themselves, but the media can also contribute to the solidification of existing sexual roles and create new ones. Therefor it is very interesting and important to look at music videos and to analyze these through a gender perspective, in order to find out in which way this modern way of communication contributes to the feministic discussion and how it may affect societal norms. As human beings we are all influenced by the culture we live in and societal norms and values are passed on to us through sozializing agents, such as parents, the media etc. These help us to conform to societal expectations, teach us to behave in an appropriate way and take a part in forming our self-images. But the sozializing agents can also pass on stereotypes and the images of traditional roles, making it difficult to change the society in order to acchieve a more equal structure. Because of this, the messages sent out by different artist through their music videos can play a vital role when it comes to forming the minds of young adults, who are the most common consumers of music videos.

The aim of this paper is to identify in which way music videos through a cultural socializing process influence today’s sexroles and gender stereotypes. The music video Work it! By Missy Elliott will be analyzed in order to see which messages are sent out and how Missy Elliott, being a woman, uses the video to send out a certain picture of herself.

II. Culture: creator of our values & attitudes
All people are part of different cultures. A culture represents the common values, norms and attitudes shared by a group of people. The way we approach different issues depends on our values, attitudes and believes, which are passed on to us through a socializing process. The most common values, attitudes and beliefs are usually called the norm, which may vary between different cultures and subcultures . We need these skills and knowledge in order to function well in our society, since the norms express society’s expectations about how people should behave. Norms can be of different importance, i.e. the norm to say hello in the morning is not as important as the one saying you shouldn’t commit murder. In creating our attitudes we are influenced by different socializing agents, such as our family, friends, social class, reference groups etc. Lately, media, including music videos, has also become an important socializing agent with a big impact on our attitudes and behaviour. Many blame the media for reinforcing cultural stereotypes and as responsible for today’s often unrealistic beauty ideals.

This approach first arrived in the 1920-1930s known as the “mass society theory”, or the “hypodermic approach”, since it argues that the media is a powerful source that can exploit and manipulate individuals, through injecting ideas into the minds of a target population. Also recent marketers and social scientists suggest that media and advertising do more than just create product awareness and preferences. They suggest that the impact on the audience’s values, attitudes and beliefs is extensive and that stereotypical images can contribute to social problems, like for example a sexistic view on women or unrealistic thin body ideals which can cause excessive dieting and lower self-esteem.

Reference groups are important when explaining the socializing process that all people go through. There are three types of reference groups to which people may belong. Aspirational reference groups are groups that people admire and wish to be part of, but of which they are currently not a member. Associative reference groups are groups to which we do belong, while disassociative reference groups are groups that we do not want to be associated with and with whose attitudes, values and behaviours we do not agree. Sozialisation is a life long process and the impact of different reference groups changes over time. At an early age parents are important influencers, while friends become more important at an older age.

Models, artists and actors are common role models and for a lot of people they form an aspirational reference group, i.e. a group that people admire and wish to be like, but of which they are currently not a member of. The attractiveness of such a group affects what people are willing to do in order to become part of the group. This can be illustrated by people behaving like their idols and taking on their values and attitudes. There are two different types of influence identified by researchers: normative and informational. Normative influence is defined as “social pressure designed to encourage conformity to the expectations of others” , while informational influence is influence through provided information. Normative influence can affect a person to conform to a certain behaviour in order to fit in. This wish to conform is usually stronger when it involves achieving or communicating status.

The hiphop-culture
During the early 70´s Black radio went through a major format change and out of the will to be seen and heard, hiphop evolved. There was a desire of self expression and the hiphop-culture was a direct response to an older generation´s rejection of the values and needs of young people as well as a reflection of the customs and values in particular communities . Today people in the hiphop-culture is a class based on the historical and conscious aspects of this cultural movement .

IV. Missy Elliott: Work it
The hiphop-artist Missy Elliott is an important icon for the era and in her videos she generally proves that women can be both sexy and forceful. Besides both writing and performing her own songs, Missy Elliott has also worked together with several other artists and has helped them to score great hits. She released the song ”Work it” in 2002.

Chronological description of the video
The videoclip starts with a scene with a man making a phonecall. There is a short clip with a loads of bees and then the scene with the man returns. The next scene is an abandoned playground at night. The atmosphere is very spooky, it´s dark, dead trees, windy and bad weather with thunder. The scenery is similar to the one in the movie “Terminator 2”. Suddenly Missy Elliott is “shooting” forward on the ground, as if she was dragged forward. Before the next scene there is again a short clip with the man by the phone box. Then Missy Elliott is being a DJ. There are bees all over her and the wall behind her looks like a bee-cupe. In the following scene Missy Elliott is back at the playground dancing. She is dancing together with four guys and they all make pretty much the same moves and wear the same type of clothes. The scene with Missy Elliott in the bee-cupe is shortly cut in, but then the scene at the playground returns. Then there is a scene in what looks like the underground and there a little boy is carring forward a stereo and the ground is black and white, like a chessboard. Then there is a scene with Missy Elliott dancing at this chessboard in the underground. She is wearing a babyblue joggingdress and there is a scene when a lot of phones are given to her and she sings “give me your phonenumber so that I can call you”. Then we are again back at the playground and Missy Elliott turns her back on the camera so that we can see a picture of Aliya on her jacket. Then some guys are dancing on the chessboard and then Missy Elliott makes a gesture when she blows hair from her hand. The following scenes are all different guys and Missy Elliott dancing and making cool moves. Then the sorroundings change and we are at a hair-cutting salon. The salon is a quite sterile environment and the female costumers all look very similar, while the women cutting their hair all have big afro haircuts. Missy Elliott moves into the salon wearing a more boyish outfit and thereby looking very different to the other women. She dances and makes a “Michael Jackson”- move while singing “got a big, let me search ya, let me know how hard I gotta work ya”. There is a scene with one of the female costumers talking/singing to the camera and telling what a girl has got to do if she is a flygirl. At the next scene Missy Elliott is sitting at a table in a restaurant with a man. She is still wearing sporty clothes, but her appearance is although a bit more feminin. She sings about Halle Berry and not wanting to look like a Halle Berry-poster. The man holds up his glas and sees Halle Berry instead of Missy Elliott. The man later falls from his chair down on the floor. Then, after quick scenes at the playground and underground, Missy Elliott sings to a guy in a car and on the front of his cars there are paintings of Aliya and Left Eye Lopez. Missy Elliott then dances together with four women that are showing a lot of flesh. Missy Elliott still lookes more boyish compared to them and does not show much flesh. At the next scene Missy Elliott is again dancing at the playground, but now together with a group of younger girls. They all wear similar clothes, except for the youngest girl that is a wear a pink outfit. Then there are a series of short clips from already shown scenes. Then followes a scene with a lot of guys standing in a line. After that Missy Elliott is in a nightclub and there are girls pole-dancing. Missy Elliott has a lot of cash and sings that the girls should not be ashamed, but make sure they are head of the game. At the the following scene, Missy Elliott is laying on a couch and a guy looking like Prince is wanting to touch her. Missy Elliott sings that no Prince could make her change her name. Then the next scene is a white man with his black servant. The servant hits the white man, who turns black. Then in the next scene we see Missy Elliott eating up a car. The following scenes are again Missy Elliott in short clips at different backgrounds. Then there is a scene where she is in a class room with an american flag next to her. She having the body of a child and she wears a big red hat – a “dumbhat”. She sings about girls that play dumb. Then there is a drummer boy infront of the american flag. Then there are short clips of Missy Elliott dancing and at the sofa with Prince. The end of the music video is pretty much a repetition of already shown scenes, until the very end when all the ladies at the salon are dancing and the young girl in pink is dancing alone. At the very end Missy Elliott is dancing at the playground, then makes a move as if “now it´s enough” and turns her back on the camera and walks away.

The environment throughout the video is cold, grey and masculine, except for the beauty salon scene. At the underground it is also interesting to notice that it looks like a tunnel and at the end of the tunnel there is light.

Messages delivered through the video
My interpretation of this music video is that Missy Elliott is trying to take on a more masculine role through the way she acts and dresses. She is objectifying men and telling girls to stand up for themselves and to be strong and independent. She is also proclaiming sexual freedom and that women should be able to act the way men does and not having to feel ashamed for wanting sex or for using their sexuality. I will now describe a few scenes where this can be seen.

At the beginning of the video there is a scene where Missy Elliott is being a DJ with loads of bees around her. I interpretate this as Missy Elliott being the bee-queen and all the male bees are working around her. She is taking on a stereotypical male role by being the strong central figure who is in control. It becomes very obvious through the fact that female DJ:s are very rare in the hiphop-culture.

A few scenes later, Missy Elliott is dancing at the playground together with four guys. Here we can see that Missy Elliott is dancing and making pretty much the same moves as the guys. It is obvious that she is part of the group and not very different to the guys. She is also wearing the same kind of clothes and does not show much bare flesh. It is important to notice that Missy Elliott through the whole video does not show much flesh and wears a boyish style of clothes. This becomes especially obvious when she is surrounded by other females, that look more feminine and shows more bare skin.

The scene where several phones are handed over to Missy Elliott. Here Missy Elliott takes control by asking for the guys´ numbers instead of giving out her own. She is thereby avoiding a more passive role when she has to wait for the guys to call her. Traditionally the guys are supposed to call the girls, but Missy Elliott breaks this traditional behaviour by taking initiatives and also by measuring guys physical appearances.

A bit later, Missy Elliott is dancing on what can be seen as a chessboard. The ground consists of black and white squares, which looks just like a chessboard. Our society can be seen as a game with fixed roles and one can only, or is only expected to, act according to ones specific role in society. By dancing on the chessboard, you could say that the dancers and Missy Elliott are dancing upon the societal structure and thereby disrespecting it.

At the beauty salon, the set is very light and feminine. The women there are all very similar and stereotypical, while Missy Elliott acts like a contrast trought the way she moves and how she is dressed. Again she wears, compared to the girls, a more boyish style of clothes and does not show much bare flesh.

Missy Elliott is a contrast to the environment also at the restaurant scene. She is wearing a sporty style of clothes, but does here appear a bit more feminine than in the rest of the video. Through her gestures and from the lyrics one can understand that she does not want to be just a beautiful woman, like Halle Berry, who is just sitting there smiling. She is saying that she will never change who she is and the guy could never find anyone better.

When Missy Elliott is dancing together with four other women, they are all dressed in a sporty way, but Missy Elliott is showing a lot less bare skin. She is again looking contrastingly more boyish than the rest of the women. Through the lyrics she questions wheather the men are men enough to handle her. She is giving an independent impression and she is in control. She seems to be saying that a strong woman needs a strong man.

There is a scene with several guys standing in a row. Here Missy Elliott turns the traditional situation around through objectifying men. The set looks like a situation at a police office where a witness is to identify a suspect.

A few scenes later, Missy Elliott is at a club and there are pole-dancing girls working. Missy Elliott encourages the girls to be proud of themselves and not to be ashamed, but to make sure that they are in control of the situation and that they take advantage of the situation in order to get the money, instead of being exploitated and used by men.

The scene with Prince. Missy Elliott is laying on a sofa and a man, looking very similar to Prince, is acting as if he finds her really hot and he wants to touch her. Missy Elliott announces that she would never change her name, not even for a prince. She is proud of being who she is. There are two interpretations possible here. The first is that she is simply making fun of the artist Prince through pointing at the fact that he has changed his name many times. The second way of seeing it is that if she would get married she would never change her name, not even if the man was a prince with a noble name.

Through the scene with the black servant hitting the white man Missy Elliott is encouraging us not to accept inequalities and classdifferences. One should not accept to be treated differently and one should fight against the patriarchy.

Later there is the scene where Missy Elliott is at a classroom, looking like a little girl and wearing a big red “dumbhat”. Here I interpretate it as if Missy Elliott is telling girls not to play dumb. She wants to fight the female stereotype of being pretty and dumb.

At the end of the video, Missy Elliott is dancing with a group of young girls and I believe that the conclusion of the video should be that the next generation of women will be more independent and speak their minds. Also the tunnelview at the underground, where there is light at the end of the tunnel, can be interpretated as if today the situation for women looks dull and women are still often exploitated, but there is hope and the light symbolizes a brighter future for women.

IV. Analyse and Conclusions
Through analysing the messages delivered by Missy Elliott through the music video we can see that Missy Elliott wants to express herself as a strong and independent woman. She makes it clear that she is not depending on any man and that she would never become that eager to please a man that she would change anything about herself – neither her personality nor her name. She makes it clear that she is in as much control as any man would be and she encourages other women to also make sure that they control their own lives.

It is obvious that Missy Elliott on the one hand wants to communicate a portrait of herself like someone who is part of the group and on the same level as the guys she is dancing with. This can be seen through the fact that when they dance together they make pretty much the same moves and Missy Elliott is wearing similar clothes in the same boyish style. But on the other hand Missy Elliott also contrastingly portraits herself as stronger and as unreachable for other men in the video, for example at the scene with the Prince look-alike. Maybe this contrast is due to the possible difficulty for women to be at the same level as men. Often women have to show themselves as a lot better and stronger, than any ordinary man has to, in order to be accepted.

It is interesting to note that Missy Elliott encourages a fight not only against gender inequalities, but against all types of discrimmination in society. Being both a woman and black, she probably has experienced different types of discrimmination or at least seen it happen to other people. She is probably aware of the influence of music videos on young adults and therefor wants to deliver this important message through her video.

Through analyzing Missy Elliott’s music video I come to the conclusion that she presents a picture of women as strong and independent and I do not believe that this particular music video has any negative effects on young adults or that it creates or solidifies negative gender roles. On the contrary, I believe it can have a positive effect on young girls that might want to be as cool as their idol; that is to step forward, speak their minds and not letting guys control them.

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• Loken, Barbara; Peck, Joann (2004): When will larger-sized female models in advertisements be viewed positively? The moderating effects of instructional frame, gender, and need for cognition, in: Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 21(6), pg. 425-442.

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