Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar: Affirming or Resisting Heteronormative Genders and Sexualities?

by Hannah Weise
2754 words



Intertextuality’s Role in Forming Subject Positions

Doing Gender

           The Protagonists’ Image
           Mulvey’s Gaze Theory

From the Ritualization of Subordination to the Hot Lesbian: Gender Advertising Codes

Doing Sexuality

           The Women
           Harry Styles

Watermelon Sugar: Reifying and Resisting Heteronormativity


From the Ritualization of Subordination to the Hot Lesbian: Gender Advertising Codes

            The actions of the protagonists and their relations to heteronormative discourses of gender roles can further be unravelled by considering the codes Goffman described to analyse gender in advertising. Each of Goffman's codes – ranging from the protagonists' relative size to the portrayal of the family – was frequently found in advertising and contributed to the depiction of hegemonic gender roles. Interestingly, almost none of these codes can be recognized in the present music video – except for the feminine touch, which describes women's light, caressing touch (Belknap & Leonard, 1991). The lack of Goffman's gender codes may point towards a less hegemonic conception of gender roles in the video. It could also be the result of the shift in the women’s representation of women  in advertising described by Gill (2008).

            Gill argues that there has been a move towards a more autonomous and sexually empowered woman, and describes three figures which can be recognized in contemporary advertising. The shift illustrated by Gill can be observed in Styles’ video, as two of the figures she describes can be recognized. Firstly, Gill outlines the “young, heterosexually desiring midriff”, which is fitting to the women of the video with the exception ofexcept for the emphasis on heterosexuality. Indeed, the women’s bodies are emphasised, as well as the notion of choice and autonomy, seeing that the women also please themselves without the help of the male figure’s help (Styles, 2020).     
Secondly, the figure of the “hot lesbian” can be recognized as in that the women are touching each other in sexually evocative ways, while at the same time portraying beauty in a very heteronormative way (Gill, 2008). Thus, while the figures in the video may, on the surface, seem to counter a hegemonic discourse by depicting autonomous and empowered women, these figures still operate within a heteronormative framework. The midriff must be heterosexual5, and though the hot lesbian may be queer, she plays into heteronormative beauty ideals as much as the midriff does.

5 Gill (2008) further describes other inherent contradictions of the midriff figure, including the fact that while the emphasis is on autonomy and independent choice, the woman remains as objectified as before – only now, she is choosing to submit herself to others' gaze.