American media has come a long way in including a variety of races and genders in popular television shows and films. This is due to the fact that over the years, the country has become extremely diverse and many minority groups have gotten better footing in the industry when they were not able to seize those opportunities decades ago. However, as an effect of wanting to be represented more frequently, unrealistic and overemphasized images of minority groups and women continue to be perpetuated in the media. An increase in the amount of smaller groups is seen, but the way they are represented has not progressed in general. Media plays a role in forming stereotypes of certain groups and people have cultivated their perceptions of groups based on the information the media communicates to them. An exemplary model of a film that utilizes many stereotypes is the 2004 comedy film White Chicks starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans. The portrayal of white females in addition to how exactly these portrayals reflect the way society views females will be explored. Moreover, the prevalence of whiteness will be discussed and the connections it has with African Americans. Shawn and Marlon Wayans ‘white up’ and criticize the idea of whiteness and white privilege through the use of whiteface. Despite the fact that this film is exaggerated and absurd at some points, it satirizes the way gender and race are constructed in American society through the use of whiteface.
To begin, the concept of stereotyping must be fully understood. Stereotypes are generally beliefs that one has regarding the characteristics, attributes, and behavioral aspects of members from certain groups (Hilton & Von Hippel 240). That is, people have a fixed image of a particular individual based on their group membership. One way stereotypes are viewed is that they serve as a mental shortcut and allow us to quickly organize and categorize information effortlessly. There are many bits of information vying for our attention, but we only focus on the most salient features. We tend to be cognitive misers, so the easiest and least effortful way of making decisions and judgements is to pay attention to features that are considered higher priority for decision making. In this sense, stereotypes “allow us to simplify our world” (Khan 3).
However, stereotyping against an individual serves as inadequate because it leads to a person making generalizations about a person based on their group membership. Individual differences tend to be overlooked and a person may believe that all members from a particular group possess the same traits and characteristics, which is known as the out-group homogeneity effect (Khan 3). Some examples of stereotypes that continue to circulate are all Asians are bad drivers, African Americans are criminals and lazy, blondes tend to be unintelligent, or Muslims are terrorists. All these images are just generalizations based on the behaviors of only a fraction of members from those groups. In one study conducted by Punyanunt-Carter in 2008, the results showed that TV viewers perceived occupational roles and negative personality traits that African Americans portray on TV as true (Punyanunt-Carter 251). The cultivation theory can be an explanation as to why people perceive such stereotypes as true. It states that “our perceptions of reality are “cultivated” or developed by what we view in the media” (Punyanunt-Carter 244-45). Media plays a big role in how we perceive others that are part of an out-group. Cultivating stereotypes depends on how true an individual perceives TV portrayals to be. Basing judgements on media portrayals is insufficient because there is no guarantee that every individual from groups will fit stereotypical traits or behaviors. Believing every stereotype can lead to prejudices and in the worst case scenario, discrimination.
The next concept to discuss is gender roles and their relation to stereotypes. Gender roles are defined as the expectations that individuals, groups, and societies have on an individual based on a person’s sex and the characteristics that a society believes that each gender should possess (Blackstone 335). They are also “the product of the interactions between individuals and their environments” (335). People are given cues from their social contexts as to which behaviors they are expected to engage in and this is based on stereotypes associated with each sex. For example, women in comparison to their male counterparts, are viewed as weaker, submissive, clean, emotional, and less intelligent. Therefore, women are expected to be the homemaker and not only nurture their children, but also clean the house and prepare meals because they are perceived as the gentler sex. On the contrary, men are elevated to higher expectations and tend to be the breadwinner of the house due to the domineering stereotype. They are usually in managerial or executive positions in the workplace because they are seen as having more control over themselves and family, which is how they are able to hold more power in society (337). This is according to the feminist perspective of gender roles and the fact that females do not hold as much power as males proves to be true in most cases, especially in the workplace. According to the U.S. Census, out of the 4 million workers that worked as secretaries and administrative assistants from 2006 to 2010, 96% were women (“Why secretary is still the top job for women”). Most women rarely have a position where they take charge, especially in the television and film industry. Women make up approximately only 5% of television writers, executives, and producers in the media (Lichter & Rothman). This is a plausible explanation as to why there is a lack of women seen in media and how they are portrayed. If women were more dominant and given more opportunities to take charge in the film industry, there would be less negative representations of them.
On the subject of this, White Chicks consists of a plethora of exaggerated gender stereotypes. The films stars Shawn and Marlon Wayans, who are known for their comedic spoofs and one of their most well known parodies is Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), which parodies multiple African American hood films using a variety of ridiculous and absurd black stereotypes. Thus, it is no surprise that their representation of white women in White Chicks is caricatural in nature. The brothers dramatization of white female stereotypes exists to critique the way gender is constructed in America. In the beginning of the film, Kevin and Marcus Copeland (Shawn and Marlon Wayans) are undercover FBI agents that fail at an attempt to capture drug dealers. To redeem themselves, their chief decides to assign them the duty of protecting two rich heiresses named Brittany and Tiffany Wilson from being kidnapped. On their way to the Hamptons, they get into a car accident and the two sisters sustain minor injuries on their faces and refuse to show up in their state. To save their jobs, Kevin and Marcus disguise themselves as the two sisters and switch their behaviors into what is acceptable of a female.
Kevin and Marcus reinforce the idea of femininity by emphasizing certain features that are considered to be feminine. This is called essentialism which is “the set of fundamental attributes which are necessary and sufficient conditions for a thing to be considered a thing of that type” (Wong 274). In regards to females, essentialism makes an assumption that all women share the same characteristics that distinguish them from men. Kevin and Marcus transform themselves into the stereotypical white woman by wearing fake white skin and paint that resembles the complexion of a Caucasian. Their choice of hair is a long blonde wig, which is used in order to look more like the Wilson sisters. When in their female facade, the two men engage in a variety of behaviors such as talking in a high pitched voice and using Valley Girl language. As a result of this, the “dumb blonde” stereotype is reinforced. Their attire consists of short skirts, crop tops which are stuffed in order to give them large chests, and high heels, which contributes to the sexualization of females. This transformation not only suggests that this is how an American white woman looks like, but also implies that women need to resemble this model in some way in order to be considered womanly.
There is a lot of pressure society places on women to look a certain way because society “worships youth and beauty in women” (Wood 32). There are countless products available to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, shave body hair, or to dye unwanted grey hairs. Media persists on maintaining unrealistic standards of beauty. As a consequence, easily influenced women start to “perceive normal bodies and normal functions as problems” (37). Aging is a natural process of life and is something that cannot be avoided. Older women are deemed as less desirable and feel the need to get surgery in order to appear younger. In some cases, surgery can go wrong and lead to disfigurement, loss of feeling, and even death (38). One of the other main beauty standards glorified by society is being slim. Media constantly shows images of thin figures and by this excessive exposure, millions of average weight American women are convinced that their average body weight is not normal and severe dieting starts to occur in order to look skinnier (Wolf, 1991). Women feel inferior when they do not meet up with this unrealistic standard of thinness.
One scene in the film that deals with body image is the dressing room scene with Brittany (whom we know Kevin is disguised as) and Lisa, a friend of Brittany. Lisa tries on a black outfit and asks Brittany for her opinion, to which Brittany replies in favor of. However, despite the fact that Brittany says positive things, Lisa has a meltdown and starts shaming her body. Acting overly dramatic, she cries, “I can’t even wear a short skirt and a top without looking like a fat pig!” This scene calls for many laughs due to its over exaggeration and Brittany trying to reassure Lisa that she looks fine. This scene also adds to the fact that women are seen as the irrational and overly emotional sex. Yet, the most absurd part about this scene is the fact that Lisa is nowhere close to being overweight and would already be considered to have the ideal body of most women. Someone as slim as her feels inclined to “measure up to artificial standards” (Wood 37).
Another scene in the movie with Tiffany (whom Marcus is dressed as) and a male black character named Latrell Spencer, adds on to the expectation of thinness. Latrell and Tiffany are on a dinner date and the waiter asks for their orders. Latrell says what he wants but when Tiffany is asked for her order, Latrell automatically makes the assumption that a female would want to eat only a salad. But this ends up not being the case as Tiffany decides to order a large amount of food and eat it in a rather unattractive fashion, which makes Latrell look at her in disgust. From this scene, there is that connotation of women needing to be clean and eat a minimal amount of food. Devouring food in a repulsive manner conflicts with the gentle stereotype associated with females. The pressure of appearing socially desirable restricts most women from eating as they would, particularly in front of a man. Overly conscious and insecure women make the false assumption that everyone is fixated on their body and weight. With this pattern of thought, they further prove the message of a “woman’s power lies in her looks and conventional femininity” (Wood 35). They base their actions on what they think other people are saying about their appearance, which leads them to feeling pressure about looking a certain way.
Aside from body images, White Chicks stereotypes the way white women speak and what the topics of their conversations consist of. In relation to the dinner scene, Latrell asks Tiffany to attend one of his basketball games to which she easily refuses. Tiffany was able to accurately use terminology for basketball to describe how unimpressed she is with his play, which is not expected for a woman. Marcus goes out of character for that bit and there is dissonance between the stereotypical blonde white girl and knowledge of basketball. Throughout the film, most of the females are usually seen gossiping, talking about boys and physical appearance and this is apparent during the sleepover scene with Karen, Tori, and Lisa. One of the standout statements by Karen was, “You’ll even change your hairstyle just so he’ll take a second look.” By this statement, a woman’s worth lies solely in her looks and that looking attractive is the only way to gain the attention of a male. There is even sad instrumental music playing in the background while Lisa replies in regards to males is that “They never notice” when they change up their look. Based on that dialogue plus the music, it makes it seem that having a boy not notice you is one of the saddest things for a girl.
A scene in the movie that has an underlying theme of the expectation of submissiveness is when Marcus and Kevin (disguised as Brittany and Tiffany) arrive at the Royal Hamptons Hotel. Two white men whistle at ‘Brittany’ and ‘Tiffany’ and immediately Marcus and Kevin go out of their female character and confront the two men utilizing the tough and aggressive attitude associated mainly with African American males. They retaliate against the two white men by saying, “Ay, yo wassup! Y’all got a problem?” The two men are in utter disbelief and walk away with a confused expression. The reaction Marcus and Kevin received stems from the fact that their behavior clashes with their outer appearances. Marcus then exclaims, “He looking at me like I’m some kind of girl, man!” Women are not expected to be confrontational and be subordinates to men. One other scene in the film that relates to this is a bidding for a girl. Men who bid the most money on one of two girls (one which was Tiffany) wins a dinner date. This completely objectifies a woman and places monetary worth on her. Eventually, Latrell wins by bidding $50,000 on Tiffany. The other female, disappointed in not being chosen, tells Latrell to “claim his prize”, proving that women are no more than mere objects. This objectification can be explained by how sexualized females are in our society and the qualities they are expected to possess, such as beauty, passivity, and powerlessness, play a role in their victimization (Wood 36). As a result of trying to conform to society’s expectations, they are at risk of objectification and their worth is purely based on how well they are able to attract men.
White Chicks is also famous for utilizing whiteface, which is one the frequent topics of debate. Some movie critics did not find the film humorous in any way and a handful of them deemed it as offensive due to black men painting their faces white. Furthermore, people even went as far as claiming that whiteface is just as offensive as blackface. However, the use of blackface is much more severe in magnitude. African Americans have always been viewed as subhuman in comparison to Caucasians, which is why “nonwhites functioned as “things” to be exploited and used in the service of white people” (Yang & Ryser). African Americans went through a lot of physical and emotional pain as slaves centuries ago and those feelings still linger with them. When someone of the dominant race paints their face black and draws on extremely large lips, they are reducing black people to their skin colors and features and perform all the stereotypes associated with them. Although negative feelings towards blacks has reduced over the years, there are some people who still do not accept African Americans as their equal.
Blackface was used to make a caricature of the inferiority of African Americans. People of the dominant race that wear blackface have not gone through a fraction of what Blacks have experienced. By donning blackface, it is like saying, “I’m going to put on this costume for a day despite the fact that I don’t know anything about being black.” Whiteface does not carry the same negative connotation since white people have always been the dominant race in society and are given much more opportunities. This defines white privilege, “an institutional set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions” (Kendall 1). Just based on the complexion of their skin, they are automatically given higher positions in the workforce, and take up about 95% of American senior management positions while Blacks hold a meager 4-5% (2).
By using whiteface, Shawn and Marlon Wayans are able to accurately portray what it is like having white privilege and being an entitled rich white girl. Many scenes in this film prove the point that blacks are the objects of ridicule while whites remain dominant. In the scene where Marcus and Kevin introduce themselves to the Wilson sisters, they are immediately cut off by one them that says, “We already gave to the United Negro Funds”. Not only did the two women assume that the black males were poor, but they also prevented the two black males from speaking for themselves, an implication of the inferiority of blacks. The two sisters already assume that they are chauffeurs and that their job is to provide services for them, which parallels with the idea of slavery. They are then tasked with carrying their luggage and to clean Baby’s (the sisters’ dog) dirty bag. To add on top of that, instead of the the two black men sitting in the front seats, the dog takes their place and its “comfort trumps the comfort of the black body” (Yang & Ryser). Even a dog is more valuable than a human and despite the two mens’ positions in the FBI which comes with power, they are still treated as subhumans.
Another scene that deploys elements of whiteness is where the now disguised Marcus and Kevin arrive at the Hampton Hotel and are asked for their ID by the receptionist. The problem is that Marcus and Kevin cannot show their ID because it will blow up their cover. To handle this situation, they start deploying whiteness and erasing all traces of blackness in that they show displeasure and scoff at the fact that someone is asking for their ID. Kevin takes a sheet of paper and begins writing a fake letter that clearly states, “Dear Mr. Royal Hampton. I am a white woman in America.” When writing this letter, the two men “respond this threat with genuine trepidation because they recognize that this threat isn’t empty” (Yang & Ryser). Kevin and Marcus are well aware of the hegemonic power a white person has in America. They had the option of simply not stating the word ‘white’ but they use this now gained whiteness as an advantage to get what they want. The fact that it is a white woman will make it more likely that his complaint will be attended to as opposed to a non white individual. If the black skin was shown, they would be put at a disadvantage.
One of the main characters in which the relationship between white females and black males is explored is through Latrell Spencer. First and foremost, he embodies all the stereotypes of black males: he is of a large build, a professional athlete, and has an obsession with white women. He is one of the very few black characters seen in the Hamptons, which is a predominantly white area filled with wealthy people. The fact that he has to be a professional athlete to be considered wealthy further pushes the athletic stereotype. Black men are limited to their career paths and they feel that success is “only a dribble or dance step away” (Evans 10). They are expected to be good at only sports or dancing while more intellectual jobs are reserved for Whites. To further prove this point, one white male character told Latrell, “Great game last night, Latrell.” Latrell then replies very curtly, “That’s what I do, baby”. He seems to be very confident of his ability but there is also the “very essence of athleticism and hence the reduction of Latrell to the body” (Yang & Ryser). There is also a stereotype of black men being rough during sexual intercourse when Latrell says to Marcus, “Once you go black, you gonna need a wheelchair”. This quote shows how black men are “constructed as savage, uncivilized, barbaric, evil, lustful, different and deviant in comparison to whites” (Yang & Ryser). He refers to white women in the film as “white chocolate”, “snow”, “white meat”, emphasizing the word white which implies that he has an obsession with the white complexion. He places all his worth on a woman purely based on their race.
Latrell becomes attracted to Tiffany and takes her out on a fancy dinner after winning the bidding contest. Tiffany is clearly not attracted to Latrell and he performs a series of behaviors that would be deemed as inappropriate or disgusting during the date. Despite his efforts of repulsiveness, Latrell still has a strong attraction towards Tiffany and even goes as far as saying, “captivated by your beauty”. His fixation on white women never falters and he will even adjust his behaviors and attitudes to align with the white woman. He views white women as a trophy of some sort of accomplishment and this is seen when he spots Kevin talking with Tiffany. In a rude tone, he tells Kevin to “get your own” in reference to Tiffany. He sees her as a prized possession and gains his self-worth through being associated with whiteness.
One of the final scenes in the movie where Marcus reveals he is actually a man shows how much Latrell’s sense of self-worth is destroyed. The scene takes a surprising turn when Latrell says, “Are you telling me that you are not…white?” which leaves Marcus with a baffled expression. Latrell is not angered at the fact that Tiffany is not really a woman, but rather that he is really a black man. Usually, the outrage would come from deceivement by someone pretending to be a female and therefore having one’s manhood threatened. But Latrell “manifests a specific form of racialized homophobia” (Yang & Ryser) in which he is confronted by his own race and starts calling Marcus derogatory terms like “negro” and “jigaboo”. He has a deep hatred of blackness and felt that his only sense of self-worth was gone which was through Tiffany.
Latrell also expresses his like for all things white through his musical preference. When he was in his car with Tiffany, his interest in music is not what is expected of a black male. Tiffany puts on the song “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton, music that is targeted at the white female audience. She hoped that Latrell will be turned off by her taste in music but surprisingly, he says, “How did you know? I love this song!” and starts playfully moving his head to the beat of the song. This comes as a surprise to most viewers because black people are frequently associated with images and sounds of hip-hop and rap. Any black person who does not like those genres is seen as “too white” or “not black enough”. Rap music is one aspect of the schema people have of blacks. According to unwritten rules set by society, it is imperative that all blacks must listen to rap music or find it appealing. But there are African Americans that do not associate themselves with anything related to hip hop or rap and they should not be expected to.
In summary, White Chicks brings to light the way females are perceived in our society. First, women are pressured to look thin and there is an expectation of them dieting in order to conform to beauty standards. Next, the film shows how women are viewed as the less intelligent by having the focus of the women’s conversations on gossip, boys, and physical appearance. Lastly, the film manages to expose the objectification and sexualization of women and their expectation of submissiveness. The other main discussion was centered on the issue of whiteness and how whiteface serves as a way to put race relations in the forefront.
This film still remains relevant today despite being released over a decade ago because it focuses on stereotypes, which are harmless sometimes, but other times prove to be problematic. So many stereotypes can be picked out from this film and it says something about the way society believes each race or sex should act. Continuing to reinforce stereotypes on others leads to the target of that stereotype to experience the stereotype threat, which is “the anxiety felt by group members that their behavior or performance might be used as confirming evidence for existing negative stereotypes” (Steele & Aronson). When faced with a task at hand, they feel pressure to try and prove that stereotype against them wrong, but instead they become aroused by anxiety, which in turn hinders their performance. It is important that we view an individual for who they are and not base our opinions of them on what we believe they should be.
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