Gender Role “Reversal” Requires Revision


Recreated ad by artist Eli Rezcalla

I’ll admit that my first response to these vintage sexist ads where the photographer, Eli Rezcalla, “reversed” the gender roles was “lol :D”. By “simply” switching the genders of the subjects, Rezcalla was easily able to show how these ads, much like many today, reinforce sexist gender roles. Now I’m always a fan of calling out the patriarchy and sexism, however, as I scrolled down through the images my initial feeling of glee was overwhelmingly replaced by feelings of grossness. Why? Because with many of the ads selected, for both the original and the reversal, toxic heteronormativity is represented and reinforced. So what do I mean by heteronormativity and what about it is toxic? Well as is well described here and here, heteronormativity packages ideas like there are only two genders representing two sexes, that members of these two sexes/genders are heterosexual, that this heterosexuality must be strictly monogamous, and that sex serves for reproductive purposes only and then argues that these are the only “normal” or “natural” ways to be human. This is toxic because it has serious consequences for individuals who aren’t heteronormative simply and importantly because it invalidates their existence. Clearly it’s not just ads that represent toxic heteronormativity; this article is a good discussion of toxic monogamy in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. because yes, heteronormativity dictates not just who we have sex with but what kind of sex we can/cannot have, how many partners we can/cannot have, and what is/is not acceptable in relationships in terms of jealousy, commitment, competition, and communication including whether or not you can have other kinds of relationships like friendships (*coughs* “But we were on a break!”*coughs* smdh). So really heteronormativity is toxic for everyone including heterosexuals and cisgender individuals.

I was also bothered by the choice to represent domestic violence. As several commenters noted on the “if your husband/wife ever finds out” ad – it’s not o.k. or funny to hit your partner. Listen I get that spanking can be a very exciting and healthy part of a consensual relationship (especially if it IS being used as “punishment”) BUT there’s nothing about that particular ad that reads as consensual (and no it’s not representing BDSM and I am also tired of that being misrepresented in media too!). And I won’t accept “but it’s supposed to be funny” as a counter-argument because no, domestic and/or sexual violence are never funny. The broader use of domestic and/or sexual violence in advertising is a problem that only serves to promote misogyny and sexism.  I know that challenging all of the problems represented by the “everyday sexism” of these ads wasn’t the point of the project but simply “reversing” the players only serves to reinforce other toxic aspects of heteronormativity.







8 thoughts on “Gender Role “Reversal” Requires Revision

  1. Bailea

    What I like about this article is that it draws attention to different corners of gender expression and gender stereotypes. In the beginning, the article starts with the recreation of the vintage poster, as funny as your reaction was it still managed to maintain the tone needed in order to get across the kinds of toxicity of heteronormative behaviours. I also liked the reference to F.R.I. E.N.D.S not only because I’ve watched each season so many times I’ve lost count, but also because it’s a popular show that many people do not think of when discussing hetero- normativity especially gender stereotypes. This post relates to our course themes through gender in the case of intersectionality and how that affects our personhood. I was immediately drawn to this post because I have experienced the phrase “you belong in the kitchen” from individuals threatened by my confidence in being a female. It was interesting to see a post that relates much of my positive experiences with pop culture to my negative experiences with school boys that did not have a better comeback. Being a History Major and understanding that gender history and women’s history is still fairly new, articles like this certainly empowers me to continue to search for more voices in this growing field. By reading the article “How TV Is Teaching Us Toxic Monogamy” which you provide a link in this article, the author explains that “Love should be measured by the people involved making each other better than they would be apart, by mutual respect and understand, by shared values and goals, by trust, and not by proving that you can avoid the “temptation” of an attractive person, or by testing each other’s ‘faithfulness’”. Is there a TV series that you think is able to capture this concept well and is able to be used as an example for viewers as to what is an appropriate relationship? If the artist was to redo these replicated posters, how do you think they could have done a better job at “challenging all of the problems represented by the ‘everyday sex- ism’” as you mention in your article?


  2. Madison

    I was immediately intrigued by the photos, and what they stood for. What I enjoyed about it was how I went through most of the same reactions that you did, before and after looking through the posters that Eli recreated. An initial “hell yeah!” moment to a “theres something wrong here.” I appreciate how you were able to address a serious issue in an appropriate manner e.g. domestic violence, yet bring some playfulness and humour into the article (your joke on a certain “type” of spanking lol). After being in your anthropology class, I can definitely understand why these posters are problematic, and how they reinforce the issue of dominating heteronormativity. Truthfully, before taking this class I thought minority groups essentially only encompassed different ethnicities and gay or transgender people. Now I am much more aware of all the diversity around us, and how this includes various sexes, genders, and relationships outside of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships. Our society so badly wants to categorize everyone and everything because it makes us feel more comfortable, and growing up in a culture where heteronormativity is taught to be the norm, it’s common for people to believe that “normal” is “ideal.” Anyone that does not fit into this heterosexuality category is often misunderstood and is often seen as being less than. Heteronormativity also reinforces pre-existing gender stereotyping, gender roles, and gender ideologies, which causes issues for everyone in society. e.g. Caster Semenya the female olympic gold medalist who did not fit into the “typical” female gender ideology, because of her muscle mass, less prominent breasts, and race times that were on point with the men. She was subject to gender testing because she did not “fit the norm.” I fully support your argument on the issue of the poster reinforcing heteronormativity in our society, but I still gain a small sense of satisfaction from the artwork, as it is a small jab at our patriarchal history that continues to reinforce gender roles in society. Eli also fails to represent the many women of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and genders that have faced oppression and sexism, instead she only chooses to show the more privileged white women. Caucasian women faced oppression simply because they were women. Women of differing ethnic and cultural minority groups experienced more discrimination and oppression because of their ethnicities/culture on top of being women.


  3. Skye

    While the ads, like you had expressed, are funny at first, a realization hits you quite quickly that the original ads were real, and people back then probably didn’t see an issue with them like we do now. Your point about heteronormativity is a good one. However, if the artist would have recreated these pictures and used anything other than a heterosexual (probably cisgender) couple, it wouldn’t have as much as an impact- because the roles are reversed from a misogynistic point of view. Seeing these pictures showing a same-sex couple wouldn’t make sense from a “reversed roles” point of view because male/male and female/female relationships (and everything in between) don’t have the same societal “war” or power struggle happening between them. I also enjoyed the article you linked about F.R.I.E.N.D.S as there’s been more talk about the show and the heteronormativity presented as sexuality, number of partners, and the other things you listed as well, and as a result, how awful Ross and Joey are as people regarding these topics of sexuality and misogyny (which I don’t know to be true, not having seen all of the show myself). This article connects heavily with the topics we discussed about sex/gender and gender norms. This article caught my attention for those reasons exactly, and how many times I myself have dealt with the repercussions of people expressing their belief in gender norms and how negatively they’ve effected the points of view I see on a day to day basis. The comments in which you addressed the misrepresentation of BDSM was brought up strongly a few years ago when the first Fifty Shades of Grey movie came out. These books and the movie caused an uproar from people who take part in BDSM, and even those who don’t necessarily take part but who understand the basics surrounding these acts. It sparked a sense of even stronger dominance in some males, and unfortunately there were some cases in which females were harmed or even killed because of the impact this misrepresentation had on people. The joke in the one ad about hitting your partner gave me an uneasy feeling that it was not only something that was joked about, but it was used as an advertisement nonetheless. I felt immediately connected to this post as it reminded me of all the instances in which jokes that are represented in these reverse role ads have been said towards me or other females in my life. The “you belong in the kitchen” jokes are old and tiring, and it’s almost funny in a sad way when men my age or older use this as an insult, as if they are unaware that gender norms in our society have changed greatly and include “Mr. moms” quite regularly. What do you think the response would have been if the artist of the reverse role ads had included couples that were not heterosexual/cisgender?


  4. Janniene

    At first, I too thought the gender role reversal photographs by Eli Rezcalla were humorous. I appreciated your shedding light on the fact that they however also supported toxic heteronormativity. Before taking this course, this may not have been something I realized right away. I think in the context of the time when the ads were produced simply reversing the male and female genders was the first thought. But if she was also trying to relate the ad reversal to gender roles in the 21st century she could have included other types of non-heterosexual couples. Also, as discussed in class there is other non-binary sexes that could have been taken into consideration. I agree with your point on the “spanking” photo, as did most of the posted comments. The depiction of violence against women only perpetuates these unacceptable actions. Young people seeing adds that depict the violence of women at the hands of a man might foster ideas that this is acceptable behavior. Leading young women to end up in repetitively abusive relationships. As discusses in class it also further supports the divide of power between men and women. I was in a common-law relationship with a man who is of a Hispanic cultural background. These binary gender roles are especially prevalent in these types of cultures. I constantly felt the pressure to be the stereotypical “homemaker” not only from inside the relationship but from external forces such as family members. The pressure was increased as I was also expected to be a working mom while taking care of the home and my partner. Therefore, I could relate to these photos on a personal level. I wonder what Dr. Bittner’s ideas are on how Rezcalla could have avoided supporting toxic heteronormativity? Or what different genders or sexes could she have been inserted into the photos to still get her point across, but also combat this negative implication?


  5. Mohamed

    I liked this post because it showed that simply reversing gender roles in ads to show how these ads reinforce gender stereotypes can reinforce heteronormativity which is not something I noticed before because I not used to seeing gender role reversals in different sources of media like ads, TV shows and etc. I also liked how Friends was used as another example of how media tries to enforce heteronormativity in our society since like most people I watched the show for entertainment when I was younger and I never cared to look for flaws in the show. I also liked how you used that domestic violence ad and the comments that responded to the ad as another example of toxic heteronormativity because domestic violence is a serious problem in our society and the ad even when the genders are reversed helps to perpetuate domestic violence even more in our society despite the depiction of these unacceptable actions.

    This post is related to course themes because it uses themes like gender and sexuality and definitions of sex and gender in terms of gender roles to look at how media sources like ads and TV shows reinforce gender role stereotypes and heteronormativity. The post explains topics like sexuality and culture in terms of how sexual feelings and practices can be shaped by our culture in terms of the type of sex we can have, how many partners we can have etc. The post ties these ideas of what is appropriate or not in sexual relationships and practices into the concept of heteronormativity and how it dictates these ideas of what is appropriate or not in a sexual relationship. This post did not really introduce something that I never thought could be related to the course since a lot of topics and concepts discussed in the post like heteronormativity have been mentioned in the course already but never applied to something like gender role reversals. The main issue of this post is looked at from a holistic perspective because the post explores how the idea of heteronormativity is seen through our society of natural and normal and how biology and culture are a part of heteronormativity.

    The post did not spark anything for me. I did not really connect to the post because I never really noticed how heteronormativity can be reinforced by gender role reversals in real life before reading this post. I selected this blog because I was interesting in reading how heteronormativity was present outside the classroom in sources of media like ads and TV shows like Friends. This post reminded me of the many ways heteronormativity is still enforced in our society. That women do not leave the kitchen ad shown at the start of the post reminded me of the sexist joke men use against women were they tell them to go back into the kitchen. I have noticed people using this joke sometimes when replying to something a woman writes on internet forums I post on. One question I do have after reading this post is that are there other examples of gender role reversals besides vintage sexist ads where heteronormativity has been represented and reinforced. Also, are their examples on the web where gender role reversals have been done right?


  6. Merna

    When I read your post on “Gender Role “Reversal” Requires Revision” [by Dr. Biittner], I fully agree that the role reversal between men and women is a refresher but it has been taken a turn into “toxic heteronormativity”. I even see it today where people take it too far and are thinking that since things should change that it should be the complete opposite of what is was before. I don’t believe that should be the case. Yes I don’t believe that women should be stereotyped and be “forced” taking on the role of the house wife in the kitchen. But I also don’t believe that it should be reversed on men either, there shouldn’t be that restriction on what role you can/”have” to play. In my opinion gender roles shouldn’t be up to society and what they believe to be the right role for you. Just because we are born male or female does not mean that we should have the biological restriction to pursue who we actually are. In class we learned about two-spirited people, who were biologically male but took on the role of the women. Two-spirited people are given the choice of who they would like to be in the basket and bow ceremony. That is what society is restricting us on, choice. It’s our choice to be who we want, do what we want, and be in any type of relationship we want with no judgement. It saddens me to know that the beloved show F.R.I.E.N.D.S. has representations of toxic heteronormativity as it is one of my favourite shows that i’ve re-watched on multiple occasions. How we perceive and choose what path we would like to follow is taught, learned, and reinforced each day, so why would we not allow the expression of multiple genders making there to be multiple different roles to be pursued.
    This article got me thinking that we need to continue changing our we perceive new ideas of gender. Nowadays we should be more accepting of others and the roles they place without restricting anyone with societal rules that are being “forced” upon us. There’s that, what seems to be never ending, hover of society and how they’ll perceive us each time we try to explore outside of our given gender or just finding who we are in general. Why, in some aspects, are we still not able to accept other expressions of gender besides male and female and the specified roles for both? And is there anything that we can do to continue moving forward into a society that doesn’t tell us who to love, how many we can love, and especially who we are to be besides biology?


  7. Shaun J

    I was scrolling through the list of articles when I stumbled upon the vintage ads. The truth is that I couldn’t contain my laughter when I saw the ad reversed; the male standing in the kitchen is far too much. Oh how simply, yet ironically did Eli Rizcalla criticize these vintage sexist ads. This was a great intro to a strong article. As the article continued, it progressed away from the original humour used to capture the audience. It moved towards a more serious attitude addressing the effects of sexism in every day life. I think this is wrong. Although gender roles are culturally assigned, it’s simply wrong to enforce roles through ads. It is no different than saying that if you are not doing these things (being in the kitchen), you are not a good woman.

    Media should not be taking advantage of their platform and influence on society, instead we should spread a different message. Another thing I really enjoyed was the reference to Friends. I’m not joking when I say I know the dialogue from each episode since my family was crazy for it during the early 2000s. It’s ads like these that create stereotypes for genders in our society. The sooner we move away from creating roles for genders, the less of a gender-ascribed role we’ll see in males and females in the generations to come. The truth is, I am not sure what gender roles would be like if they were less culturally induced. However, I don’t yet think that’s the problem either. To me, the problem is the media using that kind of power to influence society and demonstrate how females or males should go about their day-to-day life.

    But what would would society look like without ascribed roles for genders from media influence or culturally ascribed? Will gender roles always be culturally-ascribed? The reason I ask is because I am entirely unsure. This was a good read and a topic worth participating in. Thanks.


  8. Fahima A

    When I initially saw the reversed vintage sexist ads I had a good laugh. As I read the article it was clear that you had a similar reaction, but it became negative as you viewed more. You explained how simply switching the role of the genders reinforced toxic heteronormativity. Although this thought did not occur to me when I saw the ads, after having read your post I agree with your observation. I liked that you explained your reasoning in a way that any reader, regardless of their background knowledge on the subject, would understand. I also liked that you linked this comparison to another blog that used F.R.I.E.N.D.S as another example that represents toxic heteronormativity.

    This post relates to the course theme of how gender is defined. In class we discussed how gender is the way members of the different sexes are perceived, evaluated and expected to behave. In society male and female are seen as the norm and that is exactly what these ads are reinforcing. It’s a classic case of nature versus nurture. Males being commonly associated with their “natural” roles of providing for the family while the female takes the “natural” role of taking care of the kids since she pushed them out. Although the ads reverse these natural roles created by society, they reinforce the idea that there are only two genders, as recognized by most westerners. This rigid structure of gender leaves out the possibility of the “third+” genders, like the Two Spirit people or a Hijra. Sticking with the theme of natural, the heteronormativity in the ads also assume that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation. None of the ads depict a marriage between same sex individuals, suggesting that heterosexuality is the default.

    After taking this course, I feel like I have gained another lens for looking at every day situations, and this post is a perfect example. Friends is one of my all time favourite shows and seeing it linked to heteronormativity in this post made me realize that we need to be more aware of the subliminal messages on television and media. Since I read this blog post I have been critically assessing everything else around me as well. I was reading through other articles in your blog, and this one spoke the most to me because I had seen these role reversal ads before but had thought of them in this light. I completely agree with your observations of these ads, but I also believe that the idea behind them was a step in the right direction. I feel like our society has come a long way from, not giving women basic human rights to legalizing same sex marriages. Yes, these ads may not be up to date with the new ideas of gender, but I feel like by the time another version of these ads is created to reflect that thinking, there will be a newer perspective that will find the new ads inappropriate as well. Do you agree? What are your thoughts?


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