The Stereotyping of Race and Gender as Depicted in "What Do You Mean" Video by Justin Bieber

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1007 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1007|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

The media has an incredibly wide audience and a strong ability to influence change over these audiences. Yet, society still seems to be trapped in the same stereotypical ideas that feign a change never to come. We think racism has been eradicated and men and women have attained the equality they have struggled for, but then we see TV shows in which the criminal, coincidentally, is a man of color, and women are reduced to their physical appearances. Music videos like Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” reinforce and encourage these gender and racial stereotypes by characterizing femininity as fragile and reliant on the standard of beauty, displaying masculinity as heroic and concerned with control, and portraying people of color as characters associated with crime and a lower social status, all serving as a means by the media to stint social progress.

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Throughout Bieber’s video, femininity and masculinity are represented by the concept of women being sexual subjects, dependent on and controlled by heroic and dominant male figures. As often seen, women are narrowed down to their ability to be “eye candy,” while men exert the control and dominance continuously expected of them. Rosalind Gill, in her article “From Sexual Objectification to Sexual Subjectification: The Resexualization of Women’s Bodies in the Media,” elaborates on this notion, including that women deceive themselves into believing their sexuality is now in their own hands when it is still largely controlled by male expectations (197). This is displayed in Justin Bieber’s video as the female lead, Xenia Deli, is scantily clad and displayed as a mere object of desire. She displays the feebleness and concern of “typical” women as she waits worriedly late at night for her boyfriend to arrive back safely, embracing him immediately as he returns. This intimate behavior emphasizes how sexual appeal is a crucial component of femininity and a female’s importance. Bieber also relays his heroic, masculine character as he protects his weaker, dependent girlfriend from their kidnappers. As Bieber tries to get more intimate with Xenia, she attempts to refuse him but she ultimately caves into his desires, reinforcing Gill’s argument that women’s attempts to display their own sexual dominance are ineffective, and instead only satisfy male desires (196).

The music video manages to both affirm and also challenge certain aspects of gender stereotypes by reinforcing the expectation of beauty for women but also displaying a lack of authority and dominance for men. Even though power shifts between the sexes, gender is still mainly expressed in traditional forms. Fatema Mernissi explains this gender imbalance in “Size 6: The Western Women’s Harem,” by sharing that women in North America are forced to adhere to beauty standards that constrict them to a certain weight and appearance, largely reliant on male authority and pleasure (461). Xenia conforms to this standard as she is very thin and appealing in the eyes of the Western World, conveying to audiences that only this image can be classified as beautiful. Mernissi also mentions time in her article, stating that men exert dominance by constricting women to the idea that youth is equated with beauty (460). Justin Bieber does not fail to share this either, as a crucial lyric in his song is “Said We’re Running Out of Time,” and the ticking of a clock can constantly be heard in the background to emphasize how the longer Xenia resists Bieber, the less of her youth, beauty and worth remain (Bieber). The video also challenges traditional notions of male dominance as it instead begins with Xenia exerting power over their sexual relationship, pushing and controlling the weak, frustrated Bieber. A slight role reversal is seen at this moment, but as the video progresses Xenia is once more reduced to the submissive and powerless characterization of femininity.

Race plays a unique role in this video as well, as people of color are associated with a lower social class and a criminal identity, while White people are portrayed as helpless victims. This is used largely to convey a disparity in class between White people and people of color, insinuating that White people hold a privilege denied to people of color. Megan Vokey, Bruce Teft, and Chris Tysiaczny in their article “An Analysis of Hyper-Masculinity in Magazine Advertisements” explain how advertisements display overly masculine behaviors and tendencies that further stereotype men, especially in regards to race (447). In the video, John Leguizamo, a Latino man, is seen standing suspiciously in the dark of night with his palms in his pockets. He is shown to have a tattoo of a black spider on his hand as he takes money from Bieber, a situation implying Leguizamo is of a criminal background. His stance and the ease with which he acts portray hyper-masculine ideas, further emphasized by the fact that he is Latino and both Xenia and Bieber are White. The video highlights how race is falsely linked to social status and hyper-masculinity, as the man of color is connected with corruption and lawlessness, while both White characters are simply lured in his scandals (Vokey et al. 447). This further underscores how the disparity in racial identity is still used as a means to show a false connection between ethnicity and reputation, one skewed to favor White men and women.

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Although people are quick to emphasize the struggles our society has undergone to reach the point we are at today, we tend to overestimate these advancements. We have come a long way in making improvements to the racial and gender stereotypes that dominated our culture, but they still exist, and continue to do so, as Gill, Mernissi, Vokey, Teft, and Tysiaczny reveal in their works. The media persists to dominate our thinking, and music videos like Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” only serve to re-emphasize the racial and gender binaries that we believed we had relinquished. Nevertheless, change requires time, and despite these drawbacks, people’s resistance to adopting these traditional standards of gender and racial stereotyping promises future strides in social progress.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Stereotyping Of Race And Gender As Depicted In “What Do You Mean” Video By Justin Bieber. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from
“The Stereotyping Of Race And Gender As Depicted In “What Do You Mean” Video By Justin Bieber.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
The Stereotyping Of Race And Gender As Depicted In “What Do You Mean” Video By Justin Bieber. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 Jun. 2024].
The Stereotyping Of Race And Gender As Depicted In “What Do You Mean” Video By Justin Bieber [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2024 Jun 14]. Available from:
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