Diversity and Democracy

Gentle People

“Stereotypes are powerful because they affect our expectations.”

—Sam Femiano and Mark Nickerson,
“How Do Media Images of Men Affect Our Lives?”

Within our society, gender stereotypes exist because of gender roles rigidly established by previous civilizations like ancient Greece and Rome or during periods like the Victorian era. These rigid gender roles led to a modern society dominated by men, with discrimination against women in the workplace and at home. Our passion for understanding modern gender roles led us to create the Gentle People art series as our social issues project in Professor Frazier’s art history class.

Throughout history, a highly respectable identity was that of a gentleman: a male figure who is overtly respectful and chivalrous. Today, such chivalry and deference to women often are considered sexist rather than flattering. We believe that respectful behavior should not be attached to any gender but embraced by all people.

In our art project, we referenced ancient Greek and Victorian images as well as the work of modern artists such as Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman. Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) challenges viewers to consider a highly reproduced celebrity photograph as art; in it, the idea is more important than the overall design. Cindy Sherman’s series of photographs Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980) communicates Sherman’s ideas about feminism. In Untitled Film Still #15 and Untitled Film Still #84, Sherman used herself as a model, challenging stereotypical gender roles by portraying strong female personas. References to these specific pieces of art are central to Gentle People. Posing as models, we used black-and-white imagery and natural lighting to convey chivalry in our photographs.

In Head of Household, we challenged the idea that the icon of a well-dressed, well-put-together man symbolizes the organization of his family. Poses were inspired by ancient Greece’s contrapposto, where the model’s pose suggests balance and controlled emotion. In this image, there is a palpable stage tension between the man and the woman. The man stands tall and strong behind the woman as though he wishes to help her, but his public display is for the viewer, not his wife. The woman is portrayed as submissive, suggesting representations from ancient Greek culture.

Throughout our work on the project, Professor Frazier challenged us to rethink our understanding of gender roles and to revise our photographs. We made a dozen recreations to capture a Victorian understanding of gender, illustrating the power dynamics between the male head of household and the traditional housewife. We dramatized the tension between the models by dressing the actors in formal, upper-class fashion.

Many in our millennial generation are pushing for gender equality, but there are still issues to be resolved in order to reach this goal. Our Gentle People series is a historical analysis of gender roles and the attempt to promote the promise of equality for all.


Head of Household (Photo courtesy of Christian Carmelino and Sabrina Mendoza)

Editor's note: To read more about John Frazier's class, see his article in this issue.

Christian Carmelino and Sabrina Mendoza are students at Miami Dade College.

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