The Codes of Gender

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The Codes of GenderWritten and directed by MEF Executive Director Sut Jhally, The Codes of Gender applies the late sociologist Erving Goffman's groundbreaking analysis of advertising to the contemporary commercial landscape, showing how one of American popular culture's most influential forms communicates normative ideas about masculinity and femininity.

In striking visual detail, The Codes of Gender explores Goffman's central claim that gender ideals are the result of ritualized cultural performance, uncovering a remarkable pattern of masculine and feminine displays and poses.

It looks beyond advertising as a medium that simply sells products, and beyond analyses of gender that focus on biological difference or issues of objectification and beauty, to provide a clear-eyed view of the two-tiered terrain of identity and power relations.

Watch the full documentary now

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Ratings: 7.86/10 from 14 users.
  • http://www.topdocumentaryfilms.com Epicurus

    excellent documentary

  • dewflirt

    Loved this lots! Got a bit sucked in by what was being said and had to look again at some of the images as he spoke. With some, I see it as he does, particularly the more child like poses of the women, maybe that's because of the risks involved for young girls and that it pushes an uncomfortable (and misleading) idea that men are predatory and like their women as young as possible. Those pictures make something nasty out of the viewer. Other times I struggled to fall in with his interpretation, the women in more sexual poses sometimes showed power or control over the viewer, take me if you dare, are you man enough ? Would have liked to see more on the men. They seem to be presented as emotionless furniture to drape women over. The men alone and half naked are selling to women, buy these jeans, make your man look like this. Raw deal all round but plenty to think about. Also got me thinking about some of the names of people here, it's sometimes unsettling and confusing when you don't know people's sex, impolite to ask and it does affect how you communicate. Also kind of liberating though. Of course, I might change my mind about this in a minute, I am a woman after all ;)

  • http://profiles.google.com/bdaura BlackDog Aura

    i dont agree with advertising imagery. and ussually employ the so called feminine method of phasing out of my environment. i liked this documentary for its critique.
    yet i also think that certain male and female qualities were not created by the media, but simply taken by it out of their context.

  • kexblex

    I agree with Paul Marciano. will aggression not increase if a women don't assume their position lets face it we are made different even physicaly ladies have got more fat men more muscle there is where it all starts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Xercès-Des-Stèles/100002540053129 Xercès Des Stèles

    theres some truth to this, interesting.

    i think that the problem with all this is that when young guys (like me) try to approach girls, we find ourselves rejected for some superficial reasons and later we see the same girl going with a guy that maby looking like a man but treat her like crap. and then girls think all guys are immature even when they are men. and the girls think they are women when they dress up and everything but really they act like little girls and seems to think as soon as they have regular sex they are women but really they are just being raped over and over without realising it.

    obviously i realise i cannot generalise but thats what i had to say

  • PaulGloor

    Its unfortunate the narrow and black and white roles that are held as standard.
    Even the ones with women in a predatory "take me if you can" pose are still submissive. Back arched, haunches raised, singling out the viewer with perceived eye contact it is more to the effect of elevating the viewer to the dominant role, inferring that they are man enough and she wants them specifically.

    Its quite disappointing really, because it affects not only our consumer habits but how we view ourselves, others around us and what we expect to see/be while forming relationships. Ultimately, in our minds, it becomes our own fault when we don't or can't fit the code.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZJRXQ6RHS5QPRP3QX5HZDKRZLE Jeremy

    Modern people are narcissistic as hell, nuff said.

  • http://twitter.com/AmyDansja Amy Dansja

    it'd be interesting if there was some anthropological comparisons of women in other cultures - seems most people commenting here still don't get that nature doesn't separate as much as they think. women in guineau bissau for example hunt while men look after kids, there are countless other examples, men in cambodia are often much more feminine while the women are tough.
    there are too many examples too mention.

    comments like
    "I agree with Paul Marciano. will aggression not increase if a women don't assume their position lets face it we are made different even physicaly ladies have got more fat men more muscle there is where it all starts."
    just don't cut

    women have more fat in the west (though generally most people are pretty fat these days!!!) but take a look to other cultures.

  • adilrye

    It was an interesting concept and a generally good insight in gender and media, but I feel like he drolled on and I found myself falling asleep when he was speaking. And, it seemed like a production a university student would make, what with the lack of music, the monotonous narration and the weird orange background.

    It's a good topic to discuss, but just presented in a rather boring way, in my opinion. They should have gotten someone more lively when they spoke.

    As for the content, it speaks of the power of hegemony. Women and men alike consider the sexually available, fragile, child like, submissive female to be "sexy." I won't lie, I do find it sexy. But that's because of where I live, my gender expectations and how I operate within the code. It's changed somewhat now, but generally, the code still applies.

    I would have liked to see more analysis of the impact of images of men on men themselves. I feel like there's the adverse affect of making me STRIVE to be like them, physically, but still the emphasis on strength. Whereas with women, to be sexy, it means to be weak.

  • adilrye

    No, physically women, regardless of where they live, tend to have more fat than muscle.

  • dewflirt

    Scanned the few comments here and noticed that although the opinions are broadly the same, we get to it via different routes. We are all seeing the same set of pictures and getting slightly different feelings and reactions to them. I wonder how much influence we take from the negative view of the narrator as we watch. You could after all think of this as an advert for his ideas, he uses a lot of sexual imagery to keep us watching. The pictures are designed to involve you one way or another, I don't like to see women as submissive, maybe I'm imagining them as stronger. Do the photographers see beautiful composition, nice lines and curves, pretty women, sex, colours? Do they think the way the photos make us think? Most of the time I barely even notice this stuff ;)

  • adilrye

    I don't think it's about: "oh, let's make women look and feel weak", it's a combination of what is naturally appealing (seeing their breasts, their curves, etc.) and a hegemonic feeling that women are sexy when they're submissive and fragile. Frankly, until someone mentions it, like this guy does, I barely noticed any of it.

    Perhaps BECAUSE he's framing it so negatively, we come out of this with a negative feeling. But in literally any other context, I wouldn't even notice it and probably justify it as just being "artistic." But there is no neutral picture, right?

  • Sieben Stern

    very good docu - made me think of 'killing us softly' by Jean Kilbourne, which is also about the image of women in the media.

  • Sieben Stern

    i think it might be because we grow up seeped in the media that we think that submissive and fragile is what is supposed to be appealing, where male is dominant and female is submissive. this docu actually takes you out of that fish bowl we've grown up in and points out, using queer and trans as examples, that gender codes/ roles / imagery are just constructs created by culture.

    i think there is a neutral picture, but we're polarized from birth (pink and blue) to think there is only the extremes for female and male.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=516794152 Art K.

    what is this this made up pseudoscience ********? no culture comparisons, guesses. fail

  • http://twitter.com/Hypermobile2011 hypermobile.co.uk

    Thought it was pretty good, its pretty much on par with a lot of stuff on the vigilant citizen website especially when talking about the objectification of women and the sexualisation of children. One thing I dont understand is the parents of these children, how could any parent be comfortable with their child being dressed up as an adult and posing in sexual ways. Things like that are pretty damaging to a person not just that its like they are saying its ok and its normal when its just so wrong. Certainly opened my eyes to another dimension of how the media advertises, thought the research it was based on was pretty spot on!!

  • adilrye

    I also didn't like how he seemed to just regurgitate the work of someone else...it added to the "college project" vibe I got.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003603958180 Haley Euphemia Ashley

    This is a Good documentary

  • quiv240sxse

    awesome...thats why i wear ten dollar jeans

  • http://www.facebook.com/daveewer David Ewer

    Very informative and relevant doc - I studied Goffman in Sociology and Cultural Studies and this film explained his ideas well. What a sad world we live in.

  • Robyn318

    I see another mechanism at work here also; that the male potency has been usurped by the corporate workplace, and these female vulnerable and male powerful positions serve to soothe the male ego into believing ‘he’ is still in charge.

  • Guest

    I can't think of a more bland person to talk about sexy people.
    az

  • Jerry Mia

    Women are held back in life because they waste so much time waiting for somebody else to take charge.

    Women are influenced from childhood to wait, starting with fairy tales that tell females they are supposed to smile while they get pushed around, and if they are good natured enough while being stepped on a perfect man will come along to make their lives awesome. It's not fair to men or women.

    How could men respect women when women often wait on men to do things women could EASILY do themselves: Carry a bag, set up a computer, take out the garbage, balance a checkbook, change a tire, hang a shelf, replace a watch battery. Meanwhile, in many ways, women are stronger than men, and easily just as smart.

    Then, women end up not respecting men because how could any man be as rich, strong, handsome, and wise as the one who is supposed to make life "perfect" and provide a stress free "happily ever after?"

    I think these gender stereotypes have pigeon-holed us both into very unrealistic molds which are frustrating to both sexes. It's probably why people (including women) are getting to the point where they'd rather just pay for sex than have to deal with the unrealistic expectations placed on all of us, and the disappointment we feel when relating to a real person of the opposite sex who can never seem to relate to us as simply human.

  • Sieben Stern

    i think it merges with my other answer to adilrye - when you grow up submerged in a culture you're enculturated and their practices are normalized for you.

    so when we stand on the outside and say - 'don't sexualize children' - we're doing so from the outside of that culture (think of the child pageants as a good example) and talking to people who grew up with it and think it's normal.

    same with the idea that abused children become abusers.

  • PavolvsBitch

    the fish knows not it swims in water ... until of course, it leaps out of the pond to catch that excruciating pain of breathing air or the 'not-water'. we have an innate curiosity and volition to go beyond boundaries. therefore we can be enticed, seduced and trapped into multitudinous diversions and perversions and believe these to be 'liberating' as in providing the ideals of joy in freedom. only to find it is anything but joy or freedom; anymore than it is stuck in the mudflats at the bottom of a stagnant pond.

    monkey see, monkey do and since the message being broadcast is one of bestiality, brutality and decay the survival instinct to avoid all that insists on money, stuff and ever increasing debt in pursuit of ever decreasing freedom.

    on the 'sex war' propaganda cum reality, i believe that all it was ever about originated between sodomite pederast warrior males raping/impregnating women to bear their sons. the cruel injustice and inequality has been played out on the threatres of war, in theatres of entertainment and especially through their media. They are not showing us representations of ourselves but of their own screwed up psychopathology. The women of these nazi sodomites are breeders made nuerotic through ancient endless rituals and feasts. the women are used and abused; hence the backlash.

    through warfare, our men have too become beasts and are often raped as part of the all men initiation rights, emulating what's been de rigour at the top for thousands of years. as the entire top down system is parasitically predatory, little wonder over time that we have become divided by their porn and unsexed through their toxic medications.

  • PavolvsBitch

    hoffman would say that,now wouldn't he? as for his book, what of Kinsey's, Johnson's and other filthy outright deceptions? that advertising merely reflects what and who we are is absolute bunkum. the ghastly coagulation of hollywood and tv ensured that the public mind was molded to perform the desired behaviours all via Tavistock Inst. If advertising is merely a passive mirror, why prey are the most devious minds behind psychology employed to advise on hypnotic techniques and commands?

    GenderBender politics has always claimed through these Jewish psychologiest (mindthe-rapists) who practise the sodomic rituals and debach of children as being inherently environmental and social programmes that the child can be liberated from. Why, prey, always such rabid interest in our children?

    Yet, in study after study and in home after home, boys will gravitate to action and guns (as little boys are only given guns to satisfy their need for contest, improvement and training in a skill) and little girls do the same for dolls etc. it's hardwired into our genetics as it is hardwired into the genetics of every specie for common duh sense survival.

    Homosexuals/transexuals and all the other ex-you-wills are made not born.They used to be 'turned' from a very young age through noble warrior lines in power today who are primarily homosexual and submissive to greater power/authorities but woe betide the innocents under their command.

    Now, there is no need for women as the wombman has evolved in a lab capable of churning out little boys to specification as is already done on the pederastic pizza roll passing for press.

    Most natural men have been bomblasted with phytoestrogens all thier lives, lowering their masculine perogative of protecting and defending their women and children. This together with the beastly insult to humanity of pornography, war and crippling never ending taxes to feed the perversions of a NAZI Elite.

    Can't expect any documentary on here to be 'objective' really as they all require funding channelled through the usual sources.

  • PavolvsBitch

    Women were lured into the 'sexual liberation' of being used without consequence for casual sex, free of time to bond or love. They were sick of seeing their mothers drudge for the price of a blow to the head or body if his lordship had had a hard day with the boss. she was expected to be the punchbag, sex object, skivvy, childminder, cook and confident. No wonder feminazism got it's claws into the tender flesh of the unaware and uniformed. All women got from the deal was the privilege of 50 hour weeks, paying heavy taxes for lesser wages, abandoning her children to the state or to strangers and gettting knocked up by the boss and losing the whole fricking show.

  • PavolvsBitch

    The parents see no wrong. They have been kept in perpetual arrested development via their own cultural programming. They see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Because they can't; it's all a bit of fun and they want their daughter to be 'the little princess' of their childhood fantasies courtesy of Disney horrorflicks. The fathers also (if not already perverted) want to see their litle girl or boy do well. It becomes part of the natural parental pride to have their kids looking like miniature whores and rent boys. And that's no accident.

  • PalTonk

    What a bunch of crap.. Couldn't really watch the whole thing, we're even born differently, we are just not the same, we are different, and woman should be happy to be what they are and express their femininety, just as men should express their masculinity.. They're both beautiful things and should not be hidden.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samuel-Morrissey/627791008 Samuel Morrissey

    The point being made is; media and advertising should stop telling us what masculinity / femininity are as their interpretations are wrong and damaging, to individuals and society. Not only that, it is often simply false, as images are carefully manipulated after they are taken. No one actually looks like that.

    And we are all born the same, apart from minor physical differences, we are the same in terms of potential intelligence, capability for compassion, vulnerability or violence.

    We learn to be different, from culture and society. We are not identical, but we are far more similar than our current culture would teach us to be.

    Until this is addressed we have an imbalance within our culture. I for one am sickened by the portrayal of stick insect women posing like infants in our media. The masculine image is just as ridiculous, the only men I know who look like that are self obsessed body builder types who have a penchant for looking at themselves in mirrors, and when you get them working you realise that those 'muscles' don't even work.

    Regards, Sam.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samuel-Morrissey/627791008 Samuel Morrissey

    Really good Documentary. Thanks TDF.

  • Guest

    I know this is somewhat out of context but i got to think how in the botany of marijuana, a female plant can turn hermaphrodite but a male plant will not.

    On an other note, when i was in my twenties i photographed models for hair salons every saturday for about a year. One shoot we were trying to create an androgynous look....not easy with everyone. Some women just can't look manly no matter how you try.
    az

  • janet miller

    Not out of context at all. Thank you so much for taking the old news in this documentary to a deeper analysis of why this all didn't stop a long time ago, especially once we really knew better and even gained the technology to change things. There are deeply vested interests for maintaining a status quo which is essentially abusive to all human beings.

  • janet miller

    Thank you Azilda! Not out of context. A deeper discussion examining why we still haven't changed things after all this time of knowing better by now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gwayne.li Gwayne Li

    Greatly surprised by this documentary. Recommended. Good analysis.

  • brutusaurio

    Great documentary. If you have a look at a magazine, everything this documentary says is there.
    If you see ads bearing in mind these things, the pictures just change. They are not the same anymore.
    Thanks for this doc.

  • PaulGloor

    "...A deeper discussion examining why we still haven't changed things after all this time of knowing better by now."

    Its a matter of distillation and desensitizing.
    In the grand effort to churn a profit on their designer clothing they produce ever more risque adverts while we become ever more desensitized to it. It becomes the norm. There is no moving forward on the issue except to forcibly deconstruct the industry or their policy from the inside out.
    I personally hate branded clothing, you pay extra for the name, become a walking billboard for their product and and often get no better quality then el-cheapo on the back shelf at Walmart.

    My 2 bits on the differences in genders that have been mentioned;
    Advertising didn't create any physical or general intellectual differences, they have evolved over thousands of years of the genders successfully working together in specialized roles. There are physical traits specific to each gender, there's really no point in getting angry over it. You cannot erase thousands of years of evolution with rebellion. Truth being, we are not equal, BUT, neither is either one less important. That's what makes us successful, but only if we positively and respectfully exploit our strengths as a team.
    While we do occasionally see role reversals, they are still humans and would probably still respond to the same advertising since the sexual cues are still based on much the same physical cues, although they may view the poses as entirely odd behavior from a cultural point of view.

  • bcbingram

    Ahh this the latest scientific / political / social agenda ??
    I wanna be politically correct...

  • fonbindelhofas

    borat would say- Great success!

  • StevenLJones

    How many men do you know with builds like these? What kind of man wants a girl bride? Or a submissive powerless female? I think this is to cash in on men's insecurity about themselves. To want someone that you have total control over you must be one insecure son of a bitch.

  • Thabo Mophiring

    Please read Bell Hooks "Will to Change - Men, Masculinity and Love'

    It takes a lot of effor by society to create the illusion you refer as proven by research, which I suppose you get get from Men's Exercise type of magazines.

    Research is clear this 'Boys love guns and girls dolls' is a result of socialization not nature'

  • IAmAnApe

    I'm much more concerned about men being portrayed a gang rapists and no one batting an eyelash about it, and in fact consumers giving money to these companies for their products than I am about men having more muscles than the average dude. Rape as a platform for selling? Disturbing and enraging. Not what I want my son to learn.

  • IAmAnApe

    I blame the invention of agriculture. In simplistic terms, men lost their role as hunter and have been taking their angst out on their female counterparts ever since. The women of the community maintained a very similar role to that which they occupied prior to agriculture so felt little change, thus no struggle for identity. Not so for the men. Where the men dominated the prey before, with agriculture and no prey, they turned their focus of domination to women. We possess the ability to choose, so choose better.

  • Robyn318

    I don’t see how agriculture had a major role reversal in the male/female relationship arena. It was still the male’s role to supply the knowledge and muscle for survival, and the female’s to be the nest builder; her role became more important because more hands were needed as the male grew older. If anything I would say it was the industrial revolution that changed the male role. He became a walking paycheck with less available time for paternal nurturing and if he died another could just as easily replace him by having a paying job. With the male working 14-18 hours a day, the female took on both role models for rearing their young.

  • sknb

    I have repeatedly found in my short 27 years that many, many, many men want submissive powerless females, the younger the better.

    I have found it the rule rather than the exception.
    A damn shame.

  • StevenLJones

    You might be right. If men seek their mothers as Freud said then secretly they must be little boys. On the other hand there is the hen pecked husband. So appearances can be deceiving.

  • Chris Rieth

    Wow; movies used as examples in the beginning, then going into critiquing advertising, as if movies are the reality? Laughable contradiction.

    Also, the critique on homoeroticism in advertising seems to completely avoid bisexuality being implied in the homoerotic pictures that also contain women.

    Without going too in-depth, I think this documentary misses way too many points, with a clear bias towards Feminism.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4MQEVLENX3UW2XEZ2SE7NK4E Nicholas

    I agree when you say the video missed points but all the points are certainly valid (a little too much evidence maybe haha) and you have to accept reasonable expectations on one guy with 45 minutes.
    And isn't our culture biased towards feminism? I like the term commerical reality, it goes to reinforce the reality of our culture's social construction. I believe all depictions (of anything) are by definition agents of influence, as we perform learned identities relative to advertised ideals. So whether the ideal woman/character of our culture is acted or captured the bar is set for all of us to reference

  • edith pissy

    I am confused, so what we create in advertising is cultural and we as humanity are responsible for how gender is displayed in the media, yet this is not natural? why then do we do it if its not natural? are there some group of secret media guys who have decided to make unnatural gender roles? oh ok one guy who makes guess jeans did it? or are our gender roles in advertising what they are, because thats what sells because its what we want on a primal level? im all up for sexualising us all, male or female, the infantile aspect is a bit f'd up but

  • http://www.facebook.com/CrackQueen Mehiella Satchi

    Damn if people use ads and movies to learn about real life we're in alot of trouble man.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2GU6W723EAKJZEOAB7M2SDAPOM Hans

    You spend 20 years realizing something this obvious? O.o. Did it ever occur to you, that it comes natural to females, to act what we've chosen to call "feminine" and, that they're not acting feminine, cause we somehow invented female and male behavior. A good tip, would be to include a little more biology in your research.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2GU6W723EAKJZEOAB7M2SDAPOM Hans

    Exactly. It's kinda sad that this guy have spend so long thinking about this, without coming to the realization, that the advertisements etc are a reflection of human behavior and not the other way around. I couldn't even get through the whole vid. It was just too plain silly and well....not too bright, if you ask me.

  • Robyn318

    This is all about mass marketing, if you can get males to dress a little more feminine and females to dress more masculine, and you are the first to break into this market, there are $ tens of millions to be made.

    People buy into this stuff partly because we are taught to be followers in school. The days of mass individuality are over; to be an individual you have to be a rebel which is frowned upon by society yet immortalized in cinema and the media.

  • sknb

    Reading your post is like watching a horrible car wreck... the ignorance, anti- semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and general hatred are so vile, so ill - informed, so clearly coming from a place of pain and misinformation that one can not help to look...

    You have mixed scientific fact (phytoestrogens and plastics messing with hormones) and managed to align it with your own bigoted views. Damn shame.

    I feel so sorry for you. What if your daughter wanted to play with guns? I worked in a nursery school for many years and both boys and girls played with dolls at an equal rate. I am familiar with the study you quote, which was done many years ago, but you are failing to account for the power of culture. If you have a culture filled with homophobic hate filled men with narrow gender roles filling their sons heads with a narrow form of masculinity then OF COURSE little boys will pick up on the prevailing sentiment of the culture. Why do you think girls in America begin to hate their bodies starting at puberty? Because the culture and people like you tell them that's all that's important about them and the media needs them to hate their bodies so they can sell them products. Both sexes are being f*****.

    Gender is a social construct and genitalia is not.

    Anti- semitism is a refuge of the lowest form of weak mindedness.

  • sknb

    You clearly miss the point.

  • PavlovsBitch

    I agree with your insights into the cultural conditioning 100% via Me-Jah! indoctrination etc. which is all powerful mind control.

    However, reporting on the methods of the Lords of Hate, does not make me 'hateful' of anything or anyone except for those who are hateful and most of my research has been into their works, their words and their own anal-y-Isis of their own projected psychotic hatred of what they term 'goyim' or 'cattle'.

    As they point out themselves, the term 'Anti-Semite' is an oxymoron used to confuse and silence the ignorant 'goyim'.

    Semite or Shemite refers to the LANGUAGE of the region of The Middle East spoken by those who originate from there. So these would be Arabic peoples speaking a semitic tongue. So you are accusing me of hatred against a language or against the people who've been invaded by a foreign race. Non-sense.

    Yiddish, the mother tongue of the Ash-can-Nazi is GERMANIC in origin.It is the primary international language of the Bankster Zionista Mafioso in control of all wars (show me a better example of hatred, fool!) on all fronts; psychological, psychopolitical, gender etc.

    Living in this dystopian World is like a bus crash mate; they've transformed natural paradise into a parasitic sewer where only a psychopathic can survive. I'm for all races and all natural life and this oddly enough pitches me against those hellbent on destorying everything from an unfathomable source of intense hatred themselves as has been PROVEN throughout at least 3,500 years of history which is about to END thanks to the usual culprits. Now go educate yourself whilst there's still a little time left. Shalome.