From the pages of every mainstream women’s magazine—between the list of 43 things every confident woman knows and the six-week ab-blasting plan—the ads beckon. Conditioners enriched with vitamins vow to make each strand 10 times stronger. Undereye concealers containing white-tea antioxidants claim to combat the cellular damage that deepens those oh-so-unsightly dark circles. Pricey foundations promise to rejuvenate the face at the molecular level with the new Pro-Xylane compound, carefully extracted from Eastern European beech trees.
“When I started out, gaming was a geek thing,” says Sean (not his real name), a 38-year-old senior director of product development for a major electronic game publisher. “Now, it’s totally mainstream. It’s clear there’s money to be made.”
It’s not like there’s any nostalgia in his voice. With a six-figure salary and a generous bonus, Sean is one of those making the money. Electronic games—which encompass both computer games and console-based games—generated nearly $10 billion in revenue last year, thanks in part to top-selling titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Madden NFL 2005, ESPN NFL 2K5, and NBA Live 2005.
Given the fact that electronic games have their roots in geekdom, the sheer jock/thug appeal of the above-listed games is striking. You’d think that geek boys, having been a) persecuted by jocks and bullies and b) heavily involved in the production of electronic games, might take advantage of the latter to redress the former. But somewhere between Pong and Madden, those geeks began spending their days and nights creating universes in which testosterone rules, in the process reinforcing the gender roles that made their young lives hell.
The first thing you see is food. a breastlike dome of cake towers at the top of the ad, frosted pink with a raspberry on top. “It’s like dessert for your legs,” declares the text, and just in case this copy wasn’t clear, below it a pair of cellulite-free gams balances a bottle of Skintimate After-Shave Gel in lieu of icing.
From the ancient Greeks to the current Queer Eyes, the cocktail of knowledge, ideals, aesthetics, and manners that makes up the concept of taste has served as a tireless organizing principle for a class-based society (and really, is there any other kind?). Like all organizing principles, taste is a construction rather than a law of nature: It’s almost impossible to say why, for instance, we believe it’s in good taste to put flatware in a certain order, or in bad taste to wear vinyl pants to your cousin’s wedding.
"Analysis is hard, it's complicated, and it disturbs the comfortable simplicity of familiar worldviews." So writes Susan Bordo, professor of English and women's studies at the University of Kentucky. And she should know: Her incisive writings on a wide variety of topics cut through thickets of controversy and rhetoric to produce a fine, elegant, and, above all, resonant analysis.
To stroll the aisles of your local Toys “R” Us is to venture into the heart of gender darkness. Whether you believe that boys emerge from the womb with dump trucks clutched in their tiny fists or see toys as an early means by which kids are trained to hew to culturally determined gender differences, you’ll find plenty of evidence to back you up. (It basically comes down to how you interpret all that pink.)
When we heard that Jane Pratt, the former editor of Sassy—the sharp, celebrated teen mag that above all was absolutely unwilling to pull its readers into the spiral of insecurity and product consumption so endemic to all others in the genre—was launching a new grown-up glossy, we, along with other feminist pop culture junkies nationwide, squealed with excitement. Then Jane launched. And we weren’t excited anymore. Here’s why.