Women Through the Eras, An Influence Through Pop Culture:

Examining two significant females during specific eras, and determining the influence of pop culture within the sex and gender parameters.

Mae West
Mae West


Mae West

Basic Information & Biography

crofts-bile-beans-advertisement-positional-1.jpgMae west was born during August in Brooklyn, New York in 1893. West's entrance into the acting industry started when she was a little girl performing Vaudeville (comedy) acts and plays in her neighborhood. When she became a young women she began seeking professional acting as a career and starred as a bit role in the film "Night After Night." Since West was unhappy with the small role she landed in "Night After Night," she was given power to rewrite all of her dialogue and thus became one of the largest stars of that film. Due to censorship laws and an arrest made in 1926, West stopped persuing acting as a creative outlet because of her baudy comedy being diluted. Instead she turned to playwriting and literature but returned to film briefly later on in her life, with her last film, "Sextette" in 1978 when she was 85 years old. Afterwards, West died of nautral causes.

Sex Stereotypes During Era

Compared to women in the Great Depression era, West was considered an extremely influential sex icon. At one time she was considered one of the highest paid women in the USA. Most of West's roles were those of a very powerful, glamorous, and a sexually predatory female which promoted the use of women using their bodies as manipulation. Many women in contrast to West, were subdued and plain partly due to financial reasons and partly due to prudery. Despite the Great Depression, however, West showed women around the world that they could be in control of their future as seen in Wests roles. For instance, Wests notorious interest in diamonds and jewelry showed that because she had those valubales she had no reason to walk the streets or do many things for money as many women were forced to do during that era. West comfortable with her body and sexuality and because of these things seemed set apart from her women counterparts. West freed herself from many burdens that other women in that era were burdened with and became a well known figure and inspiration. What woman wouldnt want to be like West with her diamonds, freedom, and confidence in an era that was depressing and censoring of all things?(Rothman, Rothman, Powers, 1993).

Influence on Pop Culture &Women

On February 9, 1927 the New York police raided a theatre in Manhattan intending to arrest the actors and actresses involved with the playing of "Sex." The police allowed all of the actors and actresses to put on their street clothes directly after the last scene in the play so they could all be escorted out of the theatre and into the courtroom. The charge that the city had placed against West and her fellow thespians was the "unlawfully preparing, advertising, giving, presenting, and participating in an obscene immoral, impure drama, play, exhibition, show, and entertainment." In the courtroom West demanded a trial by jury and bail was set at 1,000 dollars which West promptly paid and she was set free. Later, West was quoted as saying, "Censorship made me." After the tabloid frenzy following the trial, the 33 year old West was instantly made into a star and her career took off (Carlson, 2011).

Some Mae West quotes: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/mae_west.htm


Basic information & Biography
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan in August 1958. She began her musical career in 1983 with her debut album “Madonna”. Since then, she has produced 11 albums along with 8 tours. Along with her new musical career,
vanityfairbighqdw8.jpgMadonna also tried her hand in cinema. She acted in such movies as “A League of Their Own” and “Evita”. She holds a record in Guinness World Records as the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time and according to the Recording Industry Association of America she is the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century and the second top-selling female artist in the United States. She is ranked number 2 in Billboard magazine’s top 100 All-Time Top Artists. She has been married to well known entertainers such as Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. She has two biological children and one adopted son from Malawi (Madonna, 2011).

Sex Stereotypes During Era

Madonna has been considered a very influential sex icon. She is well known for pushing the limits on sex appeal with her music, movies, and especially her book, "Sex". "Sex" was published October 21, 1992 with much controversy. Many considered the book to be timed in a way to boost sales of her new CD, "Erotica". Several organizations tried to boycott the sale of the book and many stores refused to sell it. After the release came a "Madonna backlash", where many of her fans thought she had finally gone too far. The book is still the most successful coffee table book published.

Her Influence on Pop Culture and Women

Madonna is thought to be one of the most influential women of her time. With her ability to assimilate herself into the changing musical genres, Madonna has been able to continue to reinvent both herself and her music in order to cater to newer generation’s musical taste. She could be considered responsible for redefining feminism along with making sexual content and innuendos a necessity in pop music. She is one of the first performers to be accused of being controversial in music with religion. Her song “Like A Prayer” and its coinciding video stirred the religious community with her burning crosses and lewd behavior. One of her most well known performance costumes would be the cone shaped bras. This is a recognizable symbol of her career.

Madonna's, which she used in the book

Packaging of her CD

Positive Influence from the Media to Women

    • Studies show that children (ages eight to eighteen) uses types of media like computer usage and television watching almost eight hours per day. Of those eight hours, two to three hours are for television watching alone(Ward, Day, Epstien, 2006).
    • Sexual conent is in 83% in popular adolescent programming(Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).
    • Because of the sexual content in media, in a study, 60% of adolescents said that they knew how to say no effectively to intimate situations(Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).
    • Also, 43% of adoelscents said that they felt more comfortable talking to their sexual partners about contraceptives because of television(Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).
    • Sexual Health content in magazines, websites, televisions(Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).
    • Through media there are several options to be sexually diverse(Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).
    • There are dating norms that the media can provide to instill in young people.
    • Also, the media can be seen as a healthy outlet for people to use for creative and self expression purposes. For example, online magazines, known as "zines." (Ward, Day, Epstein, 2006).

How the Women DID Help Other Females During Their Fame

For Mae West, she influenced or at least gave women an option during the Great Depression. The option to set themselves apart from all of the prudery and etiquette that they had been religiously taught their entire lives. West bared her cleavage, made bawdy humor, dressed herself in diamonds and jewels and was an icon of her time for being so different from those females around her. It is true that West seemed free from the constraints of societys beliefs on sex, gender roles, etc. West placed herself above her male counterparts by using the greatest resource available to her-- her body and her mind. These traits set the standard for future women, actresses and homemakers alike to change the way they think about the progression of women and sex.


Negative Influence from the Media to Women

    • The media greatly emphasizes "thin" as being the beauty ideal (Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • Women's magazines more often contain "body-oriented" material than men's (Nemeroff et al. as cited in Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • One study found that women's magazines promote improving one's life by altering appearances (Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • The same study also found that magazines are sending women "mixed messages": telling them to diet, exercise, and lose weight while still being able to eat, or prepare, delicious, fattening, non-diet food (Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • The mixed signals are leaving women to take harsher measures to obtain their thin ideal (Wadden et al. as cited in Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • These extreme measures can have serious or fatal consequences (Ciliska as cited in Malkin & Wornian, 1999) or can lead to serious eating disorders ( Polivy & Herman as cited in Malkin & Wornian, 1999)
    • Women often have distorted perceptions of what men want them to look like due to the images of women they see (Fallon & Rozin, 1985)
    • Caucasion women typically experience lower self-esteem and lower body satisfaction (Demarest & Allen, 2000)
    • One study found that women's body satisfaction was significantly decreased after viewing "ideal" women in the media, specifically commercials and music videos (Quigg & Want, 2011)

How the Women DID NOT Help Other Females During Their Fame

Both women were considered ideal beauties and sex icons of their day. While they positively influenced many women during their respective "reigns", the data suggests that women like Mae West and Madonna also made "ordinary" women feel significantly worse about themselves because of the beautiful, flamboyant, rich, and confident personas they portray. In reality, most women feel as though they could never achieve such status and so they feel inadequate in comparison, leading to the women taking extreme and dangerous measures to achieve their idealized self.


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Deveny, K., Kelley, R., Reno, J., Springen, K., Meadows, S., Underwood, A., & Scelfo, J. (2007). Girls Gone Bad? (Cover story). Newsweek, 149(7), 40-47.

Fallon, A. E., & Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 102-105.

Holly, B. (1996). Heroine Worship: The Age of the female icon. New York Times Magazine, 55.

Madonna. (2011). Biography.com. Retrieved 10:01, Nov 06, 2011 from [[/people/madonna-9394994|http://www.biography.com/people/madonna-9394994]]

Mae West's Secret of Success. (2011). American History, 46(5), 54-59.

Malkin, A. R., & Wornian, K. (1999). Women and Weight: Gendered Messages on Magazine Covers. Sex Roles, 40(7/8), 647-655.

Markey, C., & Markey, P. (2009). Correlates of Young Women’s Interest in Obtaining Cosmetic Surgery. Sex Roles, 61(3/4), 158-166. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9625-5

Muise, A., Herold, E., & Gillis, M. (2010). Bare’ing it all for the Camera: Women’s Experience of Having Erotic Photographs Taken. Sexuality & Culture, 14(2), 126-143. doi:10.1007/s12119-010-9069-7

Rothman, S., Powers, S., & Rothman, D. (1993). Feminism in films. Society, 30(3), 66-72.

Quigg, S. L., & Want, S. C. (2011). Highlighting media modifications: Can a television commercial mitigate the effects of music videos on female appearance satisfaction?. Body Image, 8, 135-142. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.11.008.

Ward, L., Day, K. M., & Epstein, M. (2006). Uncommonly good: Exploring how mass media may be a positive influence on young women's sexual health and development. New Directions For Child & Adolescent Development, 2006(112), 57-70. doi:10.1002/cd.162