Gender, Sexuality, and Popular Culture

Course Description

In the digital media age popular culture saturates many aspects of everyday life. This course is a critical examination of the ways popular culture generates and shapes images of gender, race/ ethnicity, class, and sexuality. In order to understand how popular cultural shapes understandings of and attitudes towards gender, the course will pay special attention to the ways femininity and masculinity are represented and contested in multiple forms of commercial media, independent popular culture including music, film, television, print media, video games, news, sports, social media, and various “objects” of popular culture, such as food, toys, and clothing.  The course will explore the ways gender identity has been, and is, represented in relation to questions of race, ethnicity, and class by examining the reception, production, and social uses of popular culture by multiple communities in local and global contexts.

Key questions we will ask ourselves over the course of the semester are:

  • How are race, gender, and sexual identity socially constructed by the media?
  • How are power and privilege related to media representation and stereotyping?
  • How do the economics and working practices of media industries play a role in portrayals and coverage of groups, particularly racial and sexual minorities and women?
  • What are the differences between how the commercial media and independent media depict people of color, LGBT people, and women?
  • What effects might these images have, and what sense do audiences make of them?
  • What are the needs and interests of minority communities, and are they being met by the mainstream media?
  • Who has the power to define representations and what are the possibilities/limitations of reclaiming representations of ourselves in the media?

Please be forewarned: This class will ask you to look critically at the popular and advertising culture you might love. In a way, we will be deconstructing popular culture as we know it. You may feel the urge to resist a critical analysis. That is understandable. However, as you go through the course, you may find that the readings are enjoyable and the critical analysis enriches your understanding of the pop culture choices you make. We will be looking at both the limits and the possibilities of pop culture as well the pleasure and pain behind it.

Learning Objectives

It is assumed, consistent with Gonzaga’s mission, that students desire and are committed to working toward a more just world.  Our responsibility is to demonstrate understanding and comprehension, thoughtful consideration, dialogue, and mutual respect.  Although we may not always agree about our interpretations of the various materials, we can commit to encounter and engage course readings, course goals, and each other with openness, careful listening, honesty, and mutual respect.  The learning objectives for this course are:

Knowledge and Understanding

1) To articulate the significance of studying popular culture.

2) To differentiate between commercial, independently produced, and grassroots forms of popular culture.

3) To gain historical and theoretical understanding of representations of masculinity and femininity in popular culture.

Skills: Analysis & Synthesis

4) To critically analyze how popular culture influences accepted gender norms in relation to interlocking dimensions of heterosexism, racism, ableism, nationalism, capitalism, globalization, transphobia, fat-phobia, as well as sexism.

5) Analyze and critique the content, theoretical orientation, and methodologies in the materials assigned for class.

6) Explore and express how your knowledge affects your actions beyond the classroom both verbally and in writing.

7) Increase your capacity to synthesize materials critically in group dialogues and written expression.

Everyday Life

8) Reflect on and become more critically aware of how the complex interactions between gender, sexuality and popular culture influence your own life.

9) Recognize the uniqueness of individual experiences with popular culture in the context of group memberships.

Required Texts

Additional readings will be posted on Blackboard.


Grades will be updated and published periodically via blackboard.  You may wish to set it to notify you when new grades are posted.  You can find a link to the gradebook on the Blackboard.

30%     Participation (In-class and online)

40%     Weekly Gender & Pop Culture Blog/Journal

20%     Final Paper

10%     Group Presentation


The TENTATIVE schedule of readings and topics is listed below.  The reading schedule is subject to change to accommodate our learning objectives.  I will notify you of any changes and update this schedule as necessary.

WEEK ONE:  Introduction

W 8/29 Introduction
F 8/31 Zeisler – Chapter 1

D&H – Part I: A Cultural Studies Approach to Media: Theory, p. 1-6

Goals Due

WEEK TWO:  Introduction: Popular Culture in the 20th Century               

M 9/3 Labor Day Holiday – No Class
W 9/5 Zeisler – Chapter 2

D&H 3 Lipsitz – The Meaning of Memory, p. 25

F 9/7 Zeisler – Chapter 3

Blog Post Due

WEEK THREE:  Cultural Studies Methods & Theory

M 9/10 Zeisler – Chapter 4

D&H 2 Winseck – The State of Media Ownership and Media Markets, p. 19

W 9/12 D&H 1 Kellner – Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture, p. 7
F 9/14 D&H 4 Lull – Hegemony, p. 33D&H 10 Hall – The Whites of Their Eyes, p. 81

D&H 5 Palmer – Extreme Makeover: Home Edition An American Fairy Tale, p. 37

Blog Post Due

WEEK FOUR:  Representations of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Class

M 9/17 D&H Part II: Representations of Gender, Race, and Class, p. 67

D&H 8 Rogers – Hetero Barbie?, p. 71

W 9/19 D&H 9 Gerbard – Sex and the City: Carrie Bradshaw’s Queer Postfeminism, p. 75

D&H 11 McKay and Johnson – Pornographic Eroticism and Sexual Grotesquerie, p. 85

F 9/21 D&H 12 Esposito – What Does Race Have to Do With Ugly Betty?, p. 95

D&H 13 Butsch – Ralph, Fred, Archie, Homer and the King of Queens, p. 101Blog Post Due

WEEK FIVE:  Reading Media Texts Critically

M 9/24 D&H Part III: Reading Media Texts Critically, p. 111

D&H 14 Cuklanz & Moorti – Television’s “New” Feminism, p. 115

D&H 15 Cobb –  Mother of the Year, p. 127

W 9/26 D&H 16 Azikwe – More than Baby Mamas, p. 137

D&H 17 Warner – Political Culture Jamming, p. 145

D&H 18 Padva – Educating The Simpsons, p. 155

F 9/28 D&H 19 Han – “Sexy Like a Girl and Horny Like a Boy”, p. 163

D&H 21 LeBesco – Disability, Gender and Difference on The Sopranos, p. 185

Blog Post Due

WEEK SIX:  Advertising and Consumer Culture

M 10/1 D&H Advertising and Consumer Culture, p. 195

D&H 26 Steinem – Sex, Lies, and Advertising, p. 235

D&H 25 Ouellette – Inventing the Cosmo Girl, p. 221

W 10/3 Kilbourne – The More You Subtract, The More You AdScreening: Killing Us Softly 4
F 10/5 D&H 22 Jhally – Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture, p. 199

Blog Post Due

WEEK SEVEN:  Advertising & Consumer Culture, Continued

M 10/8 D&H 28 Gill – Supersexualize Me!, p. 255

D&H 29 Katz – Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity, p. 261

W 10/10 Wilson & Gutiérrez – Advertising and People of Color

D&H 24 Reaching African American Consumers, p. 213

F 10/12 D&H 23 Schor – The New Politics of Consumption, p. 205

D&H 27 Engstrom – Unraveling the Knot, p. 243Blog Post Due

WEEK EIGHT: Representing Sexualities: Pornography

M 10/15 Founders Holiday – No Class
W 10/17 D&H Representing Sexualities, p. 271

D&H 30 Dines –  White Man’s Burden, p. 275

D&H 31 Attwood – No Money Shot?, p. 283

Mid-Term Self-Evaluation Due

F 10/19 D&H 32 Boyle – “That’s So Fun”, p. 293

D&H 34 Caputi – The Pornography of Everyday Life, p. 307

Blog Post Due

WEEK NINE: Representing Sexualities: Gender, Race, and Class

M 10/22 D&H 33 Fahy – One Night in Paris (Hilton), p. 301

D&H 36 Merskin – Three Faces of Eva, p. 327

W 10/24 D&H 35 Rose – “There are Bitches and Hoes”, p. 321

Perry – Who(se) Am I?

F 10/26 D&H 37 Clarkson – The Limitations of the Discourse of Norms, p. 335

D&H 38 Pratt – “This is the Way we Live … and Love!”, p. 337

D&H 44 Farrell – HIV on TV: Conversations with Young Gay Men, p. 399

Blog Post Due

WEEK TEN:  Growing Up With Contemporary Media

M 10/29 D&H Part VI: Growing Up With Contemporary Media, p. 349

D&H 39 Lemish – The Future of Childhood in the Global Television Market, p. 355

D&H 42 Artz – Monarchs, Monsters, and Multiculturalism, p. 383

W 10/31 D&H 40 Schor – From Tony the Tiger to Slime Time Live, p. 365

D&H 41 Goldman – La Princesa Plastica, p. 375

D&H 43 Durham – Constructing the “New Ethnicities”, p. 389

F 11/2 D&H 45 boyd – Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites, p. 409

D&H 46 Montgomery – Born to Be Wired, p. 419

D&H 48 Schut – Strategic Simulations and Our Past, p. 437

Blog Post Due

WEEK ELEVEN: Growing Up With Contemporary Media, Continued

M 11/5 D&H 47 Sanbonmatus – Video Games and Machine Dreams of Domination, p. 427

D&H 49 Bertozzi – “You Play Like a Girl”, p. 443

D&H 20 Nylund – When in Rome, p. 171

W 11/7 Ray – A 21st Century “Hottentot Venus”?

Karkazis et al – Out of BoundsBB Monroe – Gender Fraud

F 11/9 No Class

Blog Post Due


M 11/12 D&H Is TV For Real?, p. 455

D&H 50 Jordan – Marketing “Reality” to the World, p. 459

D&H 51 Ross – The Political Economy of Amateurism, p. 467

D&H 53 Sharp – Disciplining the Housewife, p. 481

W 11/14 D&H 52 Smith – Critiquing Reality-Based Televisual Black Fatherhood, p. 469

D&H 54 Oullette – “Take Responsibility for Yourself”, p. 487

F 11/16 D&H 55 Peck – The Anxieties of the Enterprising Self, p. 497

D&H 58 Moore – Resisting, Reiterating, and Dancing Through, p. 531Blog Post Due

WEEK THIRTEEN: Is TV For Real?, Continued 

M 11/19 D&H 56 Tait – Television and the Domestication of Cosmetic Surgery, p. 509

D&H 57 Joseph – “Tyra Banks Is Fat”, p. 519

WEEK FOURTEEN: Interactivity, Virtual Community, and Fandom

M 11/26 D&H Interactivity, Virtual Community, and Fandom, p. 541

D&H 61 Nakamura – “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game”, p. 563

D&H 62 Brookey & Cannon – Sex Lives in Second Life, p. 571

W 11/28 D&H65 Doyle – Insiders-Outsiders, p. 601
F 11/30 Zeisler – Chapter 5Blog Post Due

WEEK FIFTEEN:  Reclaiming Representations

M 12/3 BB Brontsema – A Queer Revolution
W 12/5 D&H 60 Ng – Reading the Romance of Fan Cultural Production, p. 553
D&H 7 Jenkins – Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten, p. 57
F 12/7 Final Paper Due

WEEK SIXTEEN:  Reclaiming Representations

M 12/11 Self-Evaluation

Due Group Presentations