Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Genuine Ken: Episode 4 ("Ken He Cook?")

Well, apparently Mattel has solved the problem of why they are promoting Ken... even though he and Barbie broke up 7 years ago... they've gotten back together!

As one commenter on Hulu said, "I ran out of TV shows to watch and this was featured on the front page. Big mistake, I wish I could request a refund for my time."

Another commenter summed up my feelings by saying,
"ok honestly how is this even a competition. Chris is so obviously the best boyfriend material by far.... the rest of the guys are ridiculously dumb/ arrogant/ and just not that good looking. Chris is just so sweet AND cute.
Derek: can't even be for real- just so odd.
Kurtis: obnoxious
but mostly- all i can do is ask myself why i'm watching this crap when i have actual stuff to do.... guilty pleasure much?"
Yep, episode 4 and I'm still watching. In this episode, the contestants were charged with the task of planning and executing a meal for ladies who work for in the Barbie division of Mattel. Cue the jokes about cooking in microwaves... certain dishes always "working" on the ladies etc. Discussions about masculinity in this show are conspicuously absent. This is probably because of the editing process... Mattel wanting to construct a certain "Ken" image... whatever, but I can't help but wonder about what these guys are saying that doesn't get into the show. In a TV show sponsored by Barbie about equating men to a plastic doll (with no genitals) as the ideal of boyfriendhood... how are the contestants constructing their masculinity within this context?

Alright, excuse the academic crap, but in the past couple weeks of one of my classes we've been reading a lot about the social construct of masculinity and I think it's a really important topic to discuss because gender for men is largely seen as "invisible" (as one article put it). On Genuine Ken, masculinity is a much more implicit concept. It doesn't need to be talked about because as Americans, we recognize this group of dudes battling for the title of Greatest Boyfriend in America--assumedly so that they can be the boyfriend to a girlfriend, but like I've said, it is quite possible that some of the contestants could be gay and then would be boyfriend to a boyfriend--as masculine people doing what it takes to win a competition that is based on gender but constructed so that that gender is invisible. The whole idea of men competing in for a title that supposedly deems them the "ultimate" of boyfriendhood (and thus masculinity... so far there have been no contests in which they bake cookies or use a vacuum) is a very safe, insular, and patriarchal concept. One passage from one of my readings I think makes a really good point and I will share it with you all because I believe in spreading knowledge (and I can't find a link to the article online):

In this same way, men often think of themselves as genderless, as if gender did not matter in the daily experiences of our lives. Certainly, we can see the biological sex of individuals, but we rarely understand the ways in which gender--that complex of social meanings that is attached to biological sex--is enacted in our daily lives. For example, we treat male scientists as if their being men had nothing to do with the organization of their experiments, the logic of scientific inquiry, or the questions posed by science itself. We treat male political figures as if masculinity were not even remotely in their consciousness as they do battle in the political arena. (Micahel S. Kimmel and Michael Messner, "Men as 'Gendered Beings' from Men's Lives, 1989)

So essentially this passage is saying that we should be looking at masculinity and how it is constructed in society. And this is where I think a lot of men (and women) are surprised to learn that feminist theory can actually apply to men and masculinity. In thinking about women as the "second sex" (an idea introduced by Simone DeBeauvoir, in her work, The Second Sex), as people who are defined by what men aren't, we should be considering what in particular men are. If men are supposedly violent and impulsive, why do we think that? If men are thought to be stronger and more competitive, what is the root of this assumption? How is masculinity constructed, and how does that construction relate to biology, culture, society, and how femininity is constructed?

To give an example not from Genuine Ken, last year I went to my first concert with a woman-fronted headlining band (since I saw B*Witched at a music festival in 2000). From ages 13 through high school, when I was really developing my musical tastes and started going to the concerts of my favorite bands, I saw all male-fronted bands. However, I didn't go see the Dropkick Murphys thinking "Wow, I really like this band of all-men," I just went because I like the music. However, when I saw the Cranberries, it struck me that this was the first time that I had gone to a concert where the headlining band was lead by a woman. I was only conscious of the gender of the lead singer when the singer was a woman, and ergo, something different from the "masculine" norm. The invisibility of gender for men is really quite striking when you think about it.

... More to come with my review of episode 5, now online! I will get back to you on masculinity because it's something I'm glad that I'm thinking more critically about.


  1. Being a girl who mostly liked to play video games growing up, most of my friends were male. I witnessed the bullying and harassment of my "nerdy" friends because they didn't always fit the stereotypical gender norms. One of my friends liked to dress up in women's clothing and one time he decided to dress up for Halloween. He was constantly harassed and called names such as "sissy" or "pussy" and he was beat up a few times because of it. Another one of my friends was recently murdered by some guys who had been harassing him on the bus for awhile over his LARP hobby.
    It isn't always safe to be who you are if you don't fit in with gender stereotypes. The pressure is far worse for women, but a man who does not fit into this idea of machismo feels as much pain as a woman who does not fit the stereotypical version of femininity.
    I too ran out of stuff to watch on Hulu and decided to watch Genuine Ken. I honestly still don't know how it got the green light!

  2. Wow, I am so sorry for your loss. I think it's difficult to say whose burden of gendered stereotypes is worse--but I do think it's a lot clearer in women because men are seen as "genderless," so it's a lot harder to recognize how men are oppressed by gender stereotypes. I'm glad you've been able to see this even though the circumstances of coming to this realization are less than ideal.