Issues, Resources & Lesson Plans
KEEP YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL: THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN 42ND STREETOriginal Broadway Cast, 1980 ©Martha Swope
WHAT IT TAKES TO GET ALONG: GENDER BIAS IN 42ND STREET
Students will examine how women are represented in 42nd Street, and how beauty and youth are portrayed and prioritized in song and society.
It is impossible to look at 42nd Street without calling into question the role youth and beauty play in the production--and asking ourselves about the role they play today. How much have we changed since the 1930s, or the 1980s? It is particularly worthwhile for students to question their own gender and age bias and begin to examine the ways in which society and personal history help to create, nurture and grow these constraints and/or freedoms.
- GENDER: refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.
- GENDER BIAS: Inclination towards or prejudice against one gender.
- GENDER GAP: The discrepancy in opportunities, status and attitudes between men and women.
- SEXISM: the cultural, institutional and individual; set of beliefs and practices that privilege men, subordinate women and denigrate values and practices associated with women.
- SYSTEMIC: affective or relating to a group or system as a whole, instead of its individual members or parts. A systemic problem is due to inherent issues within an overall structure rather than to a specific individual or isolated factor.
1. WATCH & LISTEN
Watch and listen to the tune “Young and Healthy” in he above clip from the 1933 film version of 42nd Street. How do the lyrics and intention of the song “Young and Healthy” play to our modern sensibilities? Let’s examine the lyrics:
I know a bundle of humanityShe’s about so highI’m nearly driven to insanityWhen she passes byShe’s a sunny little honeyBut oh so hard to kissI’ll try to overcome her vanityAnd then I’ll tell her this …
I’m young and healthyAnd you’ve got charmsIt would really be a sinNot to have you in my arms
- Do the lyrics seem dated, inappropriate, sexually charged or just belittling?
- Is this “just a love song,” not so different from today’s love songs?
- In what way is youth and physical beauty seen as a commodity? How are those attributes a commodity in your world and the world at large?
West End UK, 2017
In this exercise, students will compare the 1933 song “Dames” from 42nd Street to a more recent popular song, Jay-Z’s 2001 “Girls, Girls, Girls” (review in advance, given some adult themes and references). Listen to both songs:
Watch Jay-Z's "Girls, Girls, Girls"
EXCERPT, “DAMES”What do you go for,Go see a show for?Tell the truthYou go to see those beautiful dames.You spend your dough forBouquets that grow forAll those cute and cunning,Young and beautiful dames.Oh! Dames are temporary flames to you.Dames, you don't recall their names,Do you?But their caressesAnd home addresses,Linger in your mem'ry of those beautiful dames.
EXCERPT, “GIRLS, GIRLS. GIRLS”Yo put your number on this paper cause I would love to date yaHolla at ya when I come off tour(I love girls, girls, girls, girls)(Girls all over the globe)I come scoop you in that Coupe, sittin on deuce-zeroesFix your hair in the mirror, let's roll, c'monI got this young chick, she so immatureShe like, "Why you don't buy me Reeboks no more?"Like to show out in public, throw tantrums on the floorGotta toss a couple dollars, just to shut up her holla
- What are the similarities in the two songs? The differences? Does the language change the underlying meaning of either song?
- Is it disappointing to realize that these songs were written nearly 70 years apart? Why or why not? Can you name any songs from the last three years that explore the same topic? What does that say about gender bias and systemic sexism over time?
- Do you see progress in combating the objectification of women? Are men objectified in the same manner? How has the recent #MeToo movement changed the power dynamic for both sexes in popular culture?
4. WATCH & REFLECT
Feminist author and journalist Naomi Wolf offers an overview of the “The Beauty Myth” and what has traditionally been viewed as the “ideal.”
After watching the video, discuss the following questions, or ask students to journal about one of these topics.
- How does the media influence our definition and understanding of physical beauty and sex appeal? In what ways does Hollywood, the entertainment industry and various arts disciplines set the standard for physical perfection?
- Are these standards realistic and/or attainable for the average person? Are they truly necessary to achieve success in various artistic disciplines? Why?
- Do you believe that the pressure to achieve this physical standard has always been a necessity to achieve stardom? How are the standards different for men and women? What role does age and gender play in these standards?
YOUTH IS FLEETING: AGE IN POPULAR CULTURE
Students will explore the culture of youth, and analyze their own perceptions and bias about age and aging.
Throughout 42nd Street, there is an underlying suggestion that the star performer, Dorothy Brock, is past her prime. Dorothy says to the star-to-be Peggy: “The public wants youth, freshness, beauty and Peggy, that’s what you’ve got.” In this lesson, we examine the bias toward youth and against aging.
AGEISM: the stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination against people on the grounds of their age.
The World Health Organization further suggests:
Ageism is widespread and an insidious practice which has harmful effects on the health of older adults. For older people, ageism is an everyday challenge. Overlooked for employment, restricted from social services and stereotyped in the media, ageism marginalises and excludes older people in their communities. Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially “normalized” of any prejudice, and is not widely countered – like racism or sexism. These attitudes lead to the marginalisation of older people within our communities and have negative impacts on their health and well-being.
SOURCE: “Ageism.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 14 Mar. 2019, www.who.int/ageing/ageism/en/.
AARP is a leading advocacy association for older adults. In 2016, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins reminded studio executives to value veteran artists.
Watch the video and read: "This is What Being Old Looks Like in Hollywood"
- Ask students to make a list of their favorite actors and actresses.
- Once they are finished, ask them to identify the age of each of their choices. How many of their favorites are over 30 years old? 40 years old? 50 years old?
- Watch a brief video and read the associated article, about AARP’s efforts to highlight systemic ageism in Hollywood.
- Ask students if the video changed their perceptions about the contributions of older actors. What happens when an “it” performer (male or female) begins to fade? What role does age play in our obsession with celebrity?
- In general, is age is a greater factor for women or men losing their star appeal? What counts for the difference? At what age do you think women become invisible? What factors contribute to this unsettling, but very real phenomena? Does the same thing happen for men?
In 2016, AARP also conducted interviews to ask millennials about their perceptions of “old people.” This exercise will test students perceptions and bias about aging.
- Test out AARP’s questions on your own students, asking for a physical demonstration.
- Show me how an old person would cross the street.
- Show me how an old person would send a text message.
- How might an old person do a push up? Jumping jacks?
- Watch the video. Note and discuss any similarities in responses from your students.
- Explore the following questions with the entire class, or in small groups:
- When do you recall first noticing age differences?
- What beliefs about age/aging do you carry with you?
- Where do you notice ageism in your life?
- What is each of us personally willing to do to make a difference? =
- When I look at a fashion magazine, I feel …
- The most beautiful person I know …
- Authentic beauty lies …
- Old people …
- Youth is …
- The best age is …
- The thing I love best about (my grandmother, grandfather, great aunt …a cherished elder) is…
- When I grow old, I hope that …
- At 75, I see myself …
- When I look in the mirror, I wish …
SUPPLEMENTAL ACTIVITY: SCATTERGORIES ON BEAUTY AND AGE
To begin the exercise, have students gather in the middle of the room. This is neutral territory. The far left side of the room is designated as “STRONGLY AGREE” and the right side of the room will represent “STRONGLY DISAGREE” with the spaces in between “NEUTRAL” representing a gradation of strongly agree and disagree.
Have students move to the space in the room that best represents their belief regarding the following statements: Remind students that this is a non-verbal exercise. After each statement, pause for a second, and give students a chance to take note of where they and their classmates have moved in response to these gender preconceptions/assumptions.
- Beauty and physical attractiveness is more important for women than men.
- Women are more jealous than men
- Women do not have the same power as men
- Men know how to get women to do what they want
- Women know how to get men to do what they want
- Women will use their sexuality to get money and material things
- It is okay for a woman to date or marry a man who is younger than her
- It is okay for a woman to date or marry a man who is 5 years younger than her
- It is okay for a woman to date or marry a man who is 10 years younger than her
- It is okay for a woman to date or marry a man who is 20 years younger than her
- It is okay for a man to date or marry a woman who is younger than him
- It is okay for a man to date or marry a woman who is 5 years younger than him
- It is okay for a man to date or marry a woman who is 10 years younger than him
- It is okay for a man to date or marry a woman who is 20 years younger than him
- Women are the primary family care takers even when they hold a full time job
- Men should make their career a priority
- Women should make their careers priority
- Woman are evaluated based on their appearance
- Men are evaluated based on their athletic abilities
- Men are smarter than women
- Women are smarter than men
- Women are better caretakers
- A strong woman is threatening
- A tender man is weak
- There is a double standard concerning women and men’s sexual behavior
- In relationships, men are more interested in sex than in emotional connection
- In relationships, women are more interested in emotional connection than sex
- Women fall in love, men fall in lust
- Men are encouraged to have many sexual partners
- Sexual freedom and promiscuity hurts a women’s reputation
- Kindness is more important than physical beauty
- There is no such thing as gender inequality
- Feminism is scary
- A woman’s place is in the home
- Old age begins at 30
- Old age begins at 40
- Old age begins at 50
- Old age begins at 60
- Old age begins at 75
- Old age begins at 90
- Women should dye their hair
- Men look great with gray hair
- Cosmetic surgery provides a needed beauty boost for women, especially women of a “certain” age
- Cosmetic surgery is a woman thing, men don’t need it
- A chubby man is cute and cuddly, a chubby woman is unattractive
- Women look better in make-up and heels
- In order to be attractive, women should be thin and busty
- Blonde is beautiful
- Bald is sexy
- Women become less sexually attractive at age 30
- Women become less sexually attractive at age 40
- Women become less sexually attractive at age 50
- Women become less sexually attractive at age 60
- Men become less sexually attractive at age 30
- Men become less sexually attractive at age 40
- Men become less sexually attractive at age 50
- Men become less sexually attractive at age 60
After you have completed the exercise, have students engage in discussion surrounding gender, beauty and age assumptions.
- Who shapes our notion of gender roles, beauty standards and aging expectations?
- Have you ever felt limited or judged by a gender assumption/expectation that didn’t align with your individual sensibilities, abilities or desires?
- What are the differences between men and women? Is this difference due more to societal constructs or basic genetics or a combination of both?
- What gender, beauty and aging stereotypes do you find most frustrating?
- How do you achieve equality or balance among the sexes?
- What kinds of chauvinistic, misogynist, sexist or ageist behavior have you encountered?
- How did you respond? What can we do as a society to create gender equality?
- What – if any - is the societal and/or cultural model for aging gracefully and creatively that you most subscribe to?
- Who is your celebrity model for aging gracefully? Who is your personal model? What makes them so awesome? What can you learn from older generations?