It’s very easy as a society to accept the cultural norms surrounding the idea of family and the gender roles of women and men in terms of child care without realizing the very sexist and problematic nature of the societal division of labor. It is an undeniable fact that women are, by and large, expected to do the majority of the upkeep and childcare around the house. At the same time, our progressing society has seen a new rise of “career women” and an influx of women who are rising to the top of the ranks and co-existing alongside men in jobs that 50 years were solely reserved for those of the male gender.
And this is great, right? It’s so exciting that I, as a young woman, am able to look at female role models in every potential career path I could take (whether that be politics, business, etc.). What isn’t so enthralling is the new developing standard for women: now that we are free from the bonds of homemaking and sewing, we need to have high-ranking, impressive jobs. And have a husband. And kids. And be at home to take care of those kids. Instead of women losing the pressure to conform to a societal ideal of femininity in the home, now women are expected to “have it all.” Societally, women that can do everything perfectly are the new ideal.
As our society continues to progress, we can see a new wave of “shared parenting” and fairer divisions of labor within the modern-day household structure (this was discussed in Lisa Belkin’s article, “When Mom and Dad Share It All”). But will this idea of “having it all” disappear as we break down societal norms? My hope is that with a more societally pervasive practice of “shared parenting,” or at the very least, a fairer division of labor, that the conception of “having it all” could more realistically be attained instead of an inaccessible ideal. Women have a right to access and choices surrounding her own source of income and occupation, family life, and motherhood, and should feel free to choose one or any combination of the above and more to create for herself a fulfilling life. It is when societal pressure forces women to conform to an impossible ideal that the choices women have worked so hard to obtain become debilitating rather than freeing.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times 15 June 2008: 1-15. Print.
Here is yet another traditionally gendered commercial from the house cleaning industry (surprise, surprise). In this ad, a cute puppy, woman, and her vacuum are terrorized by the frightening dirt monster that arises from the woman’s carpet. By using Resolve deep clean carpet cleaning powder, the woman is able to persevere over her dirty carpet and is free to happily play with her puppy on the spotless shag.
The cleaning powder advertisement reflects cultural norms surrounding the gendered division of labor in the home, a division of labor that has not changed since the 1900s despite the numerous household technological advances described in Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940.” Naturally, it is a woman who is found cleaning the carpet; Resolve cleaning company feels no need to challenge the traditional belief that women are responsible for the upkeep of the household. But unlike most cleaning commercials, Resolve’s features a male presence (both the narrator and the dust monster are men). The husky quality of the narrator’s deeply rich and masculine voice conveys clear authority; of course a male authoritative figure would help market a product in an ad clearly directed towards women (because not even women listen to other women).
The portrayal of gender in the commercial is merely a mirror of societal norms, as the assumption of the female role of house organizer and caregiver is discussed in Lisa Belkin’s article “When Mom and Dad Share it All.” Perhaps by itself, the commercial is not so alarming; but when every household product advertised on TV is automatically marketed alongside traditional gender roles, there is some serious cause for alarm (which is much more worrying than Resolve’s dirt monsters).
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times 15 June 2008: 1-15. Print.
Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. New York: Basic Books, 1983. 151-247. Print.
“Shrinking Women,” a spoken word poem by Lily Myers, articulates the relationship between women, food, space, and voice. Myers compares her upbringing with her brother’s, and explains that while men are encouraged to speak out and raise their voices, women are told to become less than and belittle themselves. As Myers speaks, “I have been taught accommodation. My brother never thinks before he speaks; I have been taught to filter […] You [her brother] have been taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in.”
The inequity Myers discusses is cultural, and we’ve all experienced or seen the phenomenon of the “shrinking women.” Susan Bordo discusses the issue of “the slender body;” culturally, women are told to view and value themselves only in terms of their physical appearance, and can only be deemed valuable if they fit the image of beauty societally upheld: skinny. Men aren’t upheld to a similar definition of beauty, however, and, as Myers highlighted in her poem, are taught completely different standards of behavior. As John Berger wrote in “Ways of Seeing,” “men act and women appear.” It is very obvious that a large inequality exists between men and women in our society. This inequity can only be eliminated when women are no longer upheld to the skinny ideal and taught to shrink.
Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ed. Amelia Jones. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.
Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.
It’s almost mind-boggling how creative advertisers have become to enforce gender binaries and create sexist commercials in order to turn a quick profit. Al Rifai, a Lebanese nut company, managed to turn a poster for a seemingly innocuous food into yet another example of chauvinistic advertising. Who knew cashews and walnuts could be so offensive?
The advertisement consists of two pictures, one of a walnut and one of a cashew. The walnut picture bears the slogan “Because he’s got the brains,” while the cashew’s slogan reads, “Because she’s got the curves;” underneath these phrases are the words “Happy Valentine.”
According to Al Rifai, men are attractive because of their intelligence, while women are found valuable solely through their physical, not mental, attributes. This sexist message is particularly damaging because it reinforces the societal preoccupation with women’s physical appearance and conflates physical beauty with a woman’s worth. As Susan Bordo wrote in “Reading the Slender Body,” “women in our culture are more tyrannized by the contemporary slenderness ideal than men are, as they typically have been by beauty ideals in general.” Objectifying women by comparing them to cashews? That’s nuts.
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. “Reading the Slender Body.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the societal polarization of the word “feminist.” Whenever I tell people that I am a feminist, I get reactions such as “do you hate all guys then?,” or “so you’re one of those women.” While I understand the history of feminism is complex and various waves of radical feminism were isolating, at the root of feminism is the idea that men and women are equal. So what exactly is wrong with that?
Human beings have an inalienable right and responsibility to preserve for ourselves and for others equality. If I am a feminist, it means that I believe that everyone is created on the same terms, and that gender, which Judith Lorber describes as a social construct, does not define whether or not we’re entitled to equality.
The fact alone that feminism is often considered negative is indicative of the gendered hierarchy of our world, and as a feminist I feel an obligation to combat gender inequality. Most people will not identify as feminists, but I do believe that everyone is responsible for protecting and pursuing equal rights for all. Feminism is simply a label for people who openly acknowledge that this responsibility includes gender too.
This commercial aired during the 2012 Super Bowl, and is obviously targeting a male audience (the Doritos company seems to forget that there are women who like Doritos and football too).
A clear gender hierarchy is set from the beginning of the ad: even though the woman and the man have different objectives, the woman must submit to her boyfriend’s wish to watch the game and eat Doritos. The only way the woman can turn the tables on this chain of command is by sexualizing herself; she does this by removing her clothing and attempting to seduce her man by lying naked in a bed of Doritos.
As Simone Beauvoir wrote about in The Second Sex, women are often defined through men and exist only on men’s terms. This commercial features a woman who is solely defined by her sexual desire for her boyfriend. She wears very little clothing (a black corset and a man’s button down shirt), while her boyfriend is fully dressed. To add insult to injury, at the end of the commercial the only reason the boyfriend changes his mind about getting with his girl is not even because the woman is naked…it’s because she’s lying in Doritos.
de Beauvoir, Simone. “2. The Second Sex: Introduction.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Ed. McCann and Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003. 32-40. Print.