Blog of a Mature Graphic Design Student

Critical Studies – Representation Lecture

First lecture was discussing representation. How different groups in society are represented and who is behind these representations.

Still feeling a little shell shocked and I’m not entirely sure I’m on the right track with my understanding but this is my take on it/my ideas on representation.

Representation of a particular group (whether that group be based on gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation/class or another group) is done by those in power. Which, although things have moved on in regards to race, gender and sexual orientation, is still predominately white heterosexual males.

And what advantage would they have in creating and maintaining, often, very unfair stereotypes? There are two things which I can think of which really could be one as they tend to go hand in hand – money and power. Those in power do not want to lose their grip on society and repeating certain stereotypes helps to keep the rest of society in its place.

Working Class

In the UK the working class has been turned on by the working class. A popular idea peddled in certain media outlets, is that we are land full of benefits cheats yet the reality is people who cheat the system are in the minority. There are many working poor stuck in their situation because they are on zero-hours contracts and struggle to claim benefits. And because of their erratic working patterns they have difficulties budgeting properly and often get into debt. Some are being made to wrongly register as self-employed by their employers which reduces their rights and means they can legally receive less than minimum wage. Minimum wage only applies to employees or workers. Many people visiting food-banks are in work, the so called “working poor”.

But even with all that the struggles that come with low paid intermittent work these people are often vilified in the media and by the government. As someone who has tried to get help I can tell you that the thresholds for most financial help  is very low as I mentioned here. I have also claimed JSA and Income Support in the past. I can tell you that the money does not go far – I did not live a life of luxury.

Scapegoat – Somebody’s Agenda

Certain parts of society are used as a scapegoat to hid other problems. The poorest in society, the ones with the smallest voice get a “good kicking”. When people with money and power (like with the 2007 – 2008 banking crisis) make a royal fuck up which effects millions of people across the globe it is the poorest that suffer with low wages (rising inflation but wages have stagnated for many), reductions in benefits partly due to the changes in thresholds.

A good example (or bad if your are working class) of how the big problems within this country are deflected on to those with the least control of how the country is run. For those in power what is better than getting the working class to perpetuate the myth?

I couldn’t help but show a few headlines from the Daily Mail at this point, that well renowned journalistic masterpiece full of unbiased stories without any right wing agenda whatsoever.

“Mother-of-five who pockets £18,000 a year in benefits says she needs MORE handouts because she can’t afford to buy school uniforms for her children (but still manages to spend £20 a week on cigarettes)”

Mother of Five

Mother of Five. Very unflattering shot featuring lots of rubbish/general un-tidiness in the background

“Mother of 13 on £30,000 a year benefits who lives in a five bedroom house is branded a ‘scrounger’ by her OWN daughter because she’ll ‘keep having kids to get more handouts”

Mother of 13

Mother of Thirteen. Not looking her best is she?

Mother-of-five on benefits demands a bigger home because it’s ‘unfair’ that her 11-year-old daughter has to share a box room with her four little brothers”

Mother of 5 wants bigger home

Mother of 5 wants bigger home. Same pattern as the other two photos – no one ever looks happy.

A Pattern

The pattern here – lets vilify the mother especially is she has more than 3 kids because after all she should keep her legs shut – forgetting completely that it does take a man to have kids too. And also lets forget that most people don’t have 12 kids. It gets parts of society frothing at the mouth because they have worked hard all their life, they had to buy their own house with no help from anyone else, they can’t afford to smoke and so on… We now have a government that only gives Child Tax Credits for up to 2 children except in certain circumstances. It is worded quite nicely on their site;

A child born as a result of non-consensual conception

You can claim for this child if you get Child Tax Credit for 2 or more children and a child born on or after 6 April 2017 is likely to have been conceived either:

  • as a result of a sexual act which you didn’t or couldn’t consent to
  • at a time when you were in an abusive relationship, under ongoing control or coercion by the other biological parent of the child”


Non-consensual conception, no the word the government are looking for here is RAPE. And if you have been RAPED you have to fill a form in recount your story to an “approved professional” who they decides whether you are telling the truth.

But, if you believe what you read in some papers, making women who have already suffered at the hands of men suffer again might be a price your willing to make those women pay.

Gender Stereotypes from Birth+

Blue for boys and Pink for girls. Where does this come from? It is a modern 20th century invention and originally blue was for girls as it was considered more delicate and pink for boys as it was considered stronger.

What about the idea that girls wear dresses? Up until around the beginning of the 20th century both boys and girls wore dresses up until some time between 2-8 years old.

The reason was mainly to do with potty training plus dresses allowed for growth. There was other ways to tell the difference between boys and girls – for example the style of their hair. The dress alone was not an indicator that the wearer was female. Yet today in many peoples mind it is still entrenched that only girls and women can wear dresses.

John Lewis caused some people to be outraged when it adopted gender neutral clothing labels:

Genetically women do not need to wear dresses and genetically men do not need to wear trousers (kilt, anyone?). Boys wearing dresses in the past did not change their reproductive organs and wearing them today does not make them girls either and it does not make them transgender or gender fluid. Dressing in certain ways is to do with fashion rather than biological differences between women and men.

Men and Boys are strong, women and Girls are NURTURING

The stereotypes of females being nurturing, more delicate, more emotional and males being strong both physically and mentally, whilst also being aggressive is still prevalent today.

I was looking at the Smyths Toy Catalogue and saw a marked difference between the toys marketed towards boys and girls. There was some overlap – both boys and girls were shown playing with some toys. For example the toy kitchens were played with by both sexes along with some of the science toys like a telescope although there was some science toys clearly marketed to girls like the lipstick making kit. There was also outdoor toys like scooters which although they had the pink version for girls they at least had both sexes using the scooters.

But there is plenty examples of clear gender stereotyping.

Children's Dressing Up Outfits

Children’s Dressing Up Outfits

Apart from Owlette (the red PJ Masks character bottom right) there is a clear divide between the dress up outfits.

Girls – princesses, ballerinas and fairies. Princess and fairies are not generally known for the physical strength. The colours are all pastel and don’t the girls look pretty with their hair done and make-up on (not sure if you can see that in the image but it is there).

Boys – superheroes in the main. Know for their physical ability to over power their target with or without the use of weapons and their ability to outsmart their Nemesis using their intelligence. The predominate colour is black with dashes of red, blue and green – no pastels insight.

Take a look at these next few images, I could not find a girl using these violent toys. What message is this sending to young boys about how they should be?

And what about the message these are sending to girls? I could not find a single image of a boy pushing a pram or playing with a doll.

I wouldn’t recommend sewing like that as you likely to end up sewing your fingers. Always pay attention, needles are sharp! (even on those kids ones, I know I used to have one)

Many toys are based on TV series or films. Although I think there is more positive female and male roles on TV and in film aimed at children there are still many stereotypes which prevail. Even if a TV programme in itself contains non-stereotypical characters often the adverts between these programmes do.

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