Within the first chapter of Feminist Media Studies, author Liesbet van Zoonen provides insight into the enormous heterogeneity of feminist media theory and media research that has been produced within the past decades. She also wishes to articulate that the purpose of this book will be used to aid groups who are working toward creating a more varied portrayal of women and sexual minorities in the media. Through this text, she then begins to describe how feminism and cultural studies influence the media, specifically how power is viewed as a key element of feminist thought. For instance, poststructuralist feminist thinkers argue that “power is not a monolithic ‘thing’ that some groups have and others have not” (4). Women’s oppression cannot simply be defined by a loss of or a need to gain power to combat one specific group (ie men), but instead be viewed as subordination in many facets (ie through the media, social constructs, sex roles). According to theorist Michel Foucault, he argues that power is not something a person has, but instead is a battle between freedom and subjection. It limits individual’s freedoms because people must adhere to the norms set by society and if they attempt to digress from the norm, they will receive a backlash and feel a pull to return to the “normal.”
Upon discussing men and women within the media, they are constantly policed to look, act, and behave in a certain manner that adheres to their sex role (5). When either sex attempts to transgress their gender boundary, they feel the pull to return to the norm, as discussed by Foucault, through forms of control and punishment. Judith Halberstam discusses in her piece Female Masculinity, how specifically women who appear more masculine than feminine are policed by members of their own sex upon entering a female-only restroom. Women view their restroom as a sacred, extremely feminine zone that is dominated by gender codes. Women’s restrooms tend to operate as an arena of gender conformity and as a sanctuary of enhanced femininity to which one retreats to powder one’s nose or fix one’s hair. When an androgynous or masculine woman enters this private sphere, gender-conforming women feel threatened that their space is being compromised. This notion of adhering to what a proper woman should look like is also discussed within Feminist Media Studies through the willingness to conform to stereotypes. Women are expected to be the epitome of feminine when appearing in the media, only reinforcing the need to remain in one’s binary and never blurring the gender lines.