Buzzfeed recently posted an article about “The Representation Project” that is fighting to change the way women are represented in media. Included was a powerful three minute video that demonstrated how media failed women in 2013. A lot of the example were reminiscent of the ones we saw in “Dreamworlds” and “Killing Us Softly”, but the sexist excerpts from politicians, news anchors, and radio really left a lasting impression. Seeing women put down and objectified in advertisements and commercials is (unfortunately) not surprising anymore, but the comments from well respected and influential people is. Being at a university that advocates so much from women and equality has put me in a bubble, and now I am shocked by the ignorant and ridiculous comments from the rest of the world. Take a couple minutes and watch the video as well.
In this JC Penny ad, a homosexual couple is depicted playing with their two children of color. I appreciate JC Penny’s effort to include the gay community in their advertising. By targeting an ad towards gay men, and by featuring a gay family, JC Penny legitimizes gay men’s standing in American society and lets gay men know that they are important customers. However, it is also possible that JC Penny made a strategic decision to use gay men so that their advertisement would get free news coverage. This brings up an important question: how wrong is it to exploit a group of people for marketing needs if that exploitation does in fact help the group? JC Penny faced a lot of backlash from this ad and faced a drop in sales after its release, so it is unlikely that JC Penny was trying to strategically use gay couples to their advantage. These gay men are both white, are dressed nicely, and are shown in a modern, nice-looking home. One could claim that these factors are creating new stereotypes and that JC Penny is only accepting of upper-middle class, Caucasian gays. However, JC Penny purposefully chose a real life family to be featured in the ad and would understandably want them to be dressed nice since clothes are the ultimate product.
This advertisement for U by Kotex is not your typical tampon commercial. It challenges the safe and often unrealistic ideas found in ads and it also directly confronts the stigma and stereotypes associated with women’s menstruation. Typically, feminine hygiene ads feature young white women in white clothes just loving their period. They are often depicted dancing, twirling, and taking part in other quite feminine activities. The actress in this commercial however, is calling out these commercials for inaccurately depicting the reality of women’s lives, including their periods. Her frankness points out how obtuse tampon ad campaigns can be – as if buying a certain brand of tampon is allowing the actress to wear white and be active, because without the tampon a woman would be left to sulk on her couch craving chocolate and watching romantic comedies? Thus, she is addressing the misconception that women on their periods are completely incapacitated.
Overall, this commercial is not only tackling many of the (inaccurate) elements commonly found in the marketing campaigns for feminine hygiene products, but also combating the public notion that menstruation is pathological. The issues elicited in this Kotex commercial remind me of Ehrenreich and English’s, The Sexual Politics of Sickness, in which they show how throughout history, issues relating to women’s health were often interpreted by the medical profession as pathological, or attributing a negative connotation to any particularly feminine physical problem. Tampon companies today are taking advantage of this issue – as if tampons are a “cure” to a problem (i.e. periods). Hopefully by making more realistic, satirical commercials like this one, women (and men) will be more aware of the falsities relating to women’s bodies.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. Complaints and Disorders; the Sexual Politics of Sickness. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist, 1973. Print.
What role do women play in the objectification of women in the media?
We can examine women who participate in music videos or suggestive ads, female artists who literally mimic strippers in their own videos (here’s looking at alllll of you, Rihanna), and even the women who go see the chick flick of the month that reinforces every gendered stereotype in the book.
Most people blame “the industry”, a nameless faceless entity of shadowy characters in LA. But shouldn’t the cycle of objectification break if about half the population refuses to support it? Is this even possible? Do we want to?
If Rihanna’s video and song performed poorly and was largely ignored, would she be likely to have another similar video? Or would she go farther, and do more?
Finally, if the cycle continues, what is the future of the media? I’m not sure how much farther we can even go. I know I personally don’t want to find out.
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. The media’s images of women are often dramatically altered or even constructed. “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.”
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.  After all, society “confers” privilege according to one’s ability to achieve the ideal.
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?”
 Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, dir. Kilbourne Jean, Sut Jhally, and David Rabinovitz (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010), DVD.
 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.
 Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 186.
 Ibid., 208.
 Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.
The image above is part of an ad series that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women launched recently in order to spark a much needed dialogue on a very real issue. The ad series includes images of women whose mouths are covered by Google search options. It is appalling to think that after typing in “women need to…”, the options given were so degrading, such as to “be put in their place.” Now, according to UN Women, these search options were taken on March 9 of this year, which is still too recent to ignore. Although the options listed are different today (Oct. 31, 2013), one search option that Google provides based on popularity is “…shut up.” Women need to shut up? Really? This idea of having to control women is too ingrained in our society. We’ve seen, through Dreamworlds 3, that music videos—an incredibly popular media form—portray men as the aggressors and the ones with power over the submissive women; women are basically nothing without a man. This depiction is shared among other forms of media as well, such as print advertisement and television commercials, and is unarguably influencing the way society views a woman. Google search options are apparently a great way to see what society thinks on the subject! As UN Women put it, women don’t need to be controlled, they need to “be seen as equal.” Society needs to collectively change its opinion on women because we don’t deserve to constantly live in fear of being sexually abused or taken advantage of, which is merely one of the results of this sexism.
Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video. Dir. Sut Jhally. Media education foundation, 2007. Film.