Author Archives: jordand93

Ad Critique: The Sexist Swiffer

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Image Courtesy of Business Insider

This advertisement for a Swiffer mop offensively uses a powerful image of American feminism to sell a product associated with centuries of female oppression. Although the racist and patriarchal elements of Rosie the Riveter make her a problematic icon to begin with, Swiffer’s equation of housework productivity with female empowerment is contrary to current feminist goals. This advertisement is reminiscent of pre-second-wave feminism—a time in which technological improvements like the washing machine were viewed “as liberating, rather than as oppressive, agents.”[1]

In addition to misusing Rosie the Riveter, Swiffer also employs the common advertising tactic of the alluring female glance. This Rosie’s seductive glance portrays womanhood as sexual and compliant rather than direct and assertive, which negates her authoritative arm-cross. This ad is also unrealistic. The actor’s appearance is significantly modified by makeup and editing, and the kitchen undoubtedly belongs to an upper-middle class family, inaccurately representing Americans’ real economic conditions.

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Image Courtesy of Ad Forum (text refers to celebrating a quiet vacuum)

The possibility of a different advertising culture has been proven in Sweden, where “ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers.”[2] Below, is one such ad for a vacuum. While this image suggests Sweden may have an problem with race variability in its advertising, it notably does not portray an adult woman. This is representative of the gender-neutral shared housework responsibilities existent in Swedish families.

Although there are significant differences in the racial, economic, and governmental conditions between the US and Sweden, this ad provides hope for alternatives. Perhaps nonsexist American advertising will only appear widely when an expansion of the social welfare system in the US creates more support for families. Until then, American consumers should demand advertising changes from the companies they buy from through investment strategy and product boycotts.


[1] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 191.

[2] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Big Question: What is motherhood?

As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. [1],[2] Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.

With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men.[3] Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.

The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common.[4] Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.

Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”

 


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.

[3] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Global Woman,” in Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, by Estelle Disch, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 445.

Ad Critique: Get Fit or Get Perfect?

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Image courtesy of Equinox.

This Equinox ad above utilizes many of the common advertising tactics employed by the media today. The female model in this advertisement projects the image of the ideal woman with her lengthy body, glistening hair, sizable breasts, and slender limbs. A major problem with this image, however, is that it “offer[s] help, while presenting a nearly impossible standard,”[1] considering the substantial editing that undoubtedly went into this advertisement’s completion. In addition, the man holding the camera is focusing on the model’s upper body, dehumanizing and objectifying her by separating her body parts from her complete self. Other blatantly offensive aspects of this advertisement include the woman’s subservient positioning underneath the man and her glance that invites sexual advances.

The fact that this ad is for a gym exemplifies the ambiguous messaging implied by female representations. Women are taught to seek healthfulness, but also slenderness. However, as Marilyn Wann notes in her discussion of fat studies, these two characteristics are not always connected. The result is a female population that is obsessed with “compulsive dieting,” but also “body-building.” [2]

Perhaps one of the most startling elements of this advertisement is that it appeals to the young generation—to the people who will shape the future. We as mainstream consumers must cease to accept this sort of advertising in the name of capitalism. Rather, we must ask ourselves, “what can and should we do to eradicate this type of advertising?”Through collective action, consumers have power to influence the companies that project these damaging images. We must stop buying their products, encourage stockholders to demand tactical redirection, and promote activism in our communities.


[1] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 63.

[2] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 191.

Big Question: What is Oppression?

One mechanism of oppression that produces highly pervasive damage and is difficult to eradicate is that of self-censorship. Every day, the entire population of American women uses it, usually unintentionally.

Over the last half century, the image of the ideal woman has morphed into one of genetic impossibility for 95% of the female population.[1] The media’s images of women are often dramatically altered or even constructed.[2] “But how does this negatively affect women?” you may wonder. The answer lies in how women respond to these images. Just think of how many times you, or a woman you know, steps on the scale each week, hoping that the number is lower than at the previous weigh-in. As Susan Bordo explains, obsessing over one’s appearance is a “powerful normalizing mechanism” that ensures “self-monitoring” and “self-disciplining.”[3]

Self-censorship deflects from the reality that propagating one, unattainable version of normal oppresses the entire female sex by limiting expression of individuality and promoting harmful objectification. Moreover, for those who will never come close to the ideal image, like women of racial or ethnic minorities, the oppressive nature of these depictions is especially detrimental. Minorities are continually pushed further from the point of acceptance for who they naturally are. While some argue that the increasingly idealized slender body, “symbolize[s] freedom from rigid femininity,” the reality is that our oppressive image of female idealness serves the purposes of a patriarchal, oppressive world. [4]  After all, society “confers” privilege according to one’s ability to achieve the ideal.[5]

To overcome the adverse nature of oppression and discontinue self-censorship requires identifying and combating the oppressor, which in this case, is the media. Just think, “how would the media respond to mass consumer refusal to purchase or consume products that insist upon the unrealistic ideal woman?” More specifically, “what personal choices can you make to help mass action become a reality?”


[1] Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, dir. Kilbourne Jean, Sut Jhally, and David Rabinovitz (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010), DVD.

[2] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

[3] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 186.

[4] Ibid., 208.

[5] Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.

Ad Critique: Dr. Pepper’s Guide to Gender Equality

Often, we are offended by ads that objectify women. This Dr. Pepper commercial does not do so and thus probably incites less outrage than one depicting almost-naked women. This sort of commercial, however, is similarly detrimental to gender equality. Certainly, the burly man in the commercial is, as Judith Lorber refers to it, “doing gender,” as he ruggedly carries a tree, sports a manly flannel, calls to nature with a forceful posture, and travels fearlessly through the wilderness.1 By contributing to gender as the process that teaches young boys acceptable traits and how to act, the character is reinforcing “the social differences that define ‘woman’ and ‘man.’”

Perhaps more importantly, however, in promoting the idea of manliness, the commercial is helping to perpetuate the male sex’s domination. The first line of the commercial is a perfect example as it states, “There is no such thing as a no man’s land to me.”2 In essence, everywhere belongs to man. Christine Delphy illustrates the underlying issue with this commercial when she writes, “[Sex] serves to allow social recognition and identification of those who are dominants and those who are dominated.” Dr. Pepper is implicitly reminding men that its product will help to ensure their male superiority.

Low-calorie items are usually marketed towards women. While embracing man’s dominance is an excellent marketing strategy, it should be interpreted as offensively as commercials objectifying women.

1. Lorber, Judith. “The Social Construction of Gender (1990).” In Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, edited by Estelle Disch, 113-120. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006, 113.

2. Delphy, Christine. “Rethinking Sex and Gender.” In Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, by Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim, 57-67. New York: Routledge, 2003, 62.

Big Question: What is Freedom?

Americans rally behind freedom. But I must ask, do we really make our own choices? This question is especially relevant to intersex children and those with genital “abnormalities.” In today’s medical culture, intersex newborns are conventionally assigned as males or females and those with “atypical” genitalia receive operations. These individuals (or their parents) are given a “choice,” but that “choice” must fall into our constricting binary system of sex. Realistically, freedom is severely restricted by social pressure to conform.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, author of “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?,” highlights the dangers associated with yielding to conformity: “…Social imperative is so strong that doctors have come to accept [infant genital surgery] as a medical imperative, despite strong evidence that early genital surgery doesn’t work: it causes extensive scarring, … and often obliterates the possibility of orgasm.”1 In the case of Bruce Reimer, a boy raised as a girl after a circumcision accident, his parents made the decision out of “kindness and… desperation.”2 For these children, “freedom” is so limiting that it actually results in the harming of infants.

Freedom, especially American freedom, is extensive in so many ways. In the world of gender and sex, however, it is seriously lacking. We must strive for a day where “desperation” to conform does not command our choices.

For an opposing take on Fausto-Sterling visit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12476264.

  

1. Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Should There Be Only Two Sexes? New York: Basic Books, 2000. 80.

2. Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000. Xvii.