Tag Archives: Women

Is There Such a Thing As Free Choice?

There is such a thing as free choice—but free choice does not exist for all people.

For women in our modern society, free choice does not exist. This is true for many reasons. The first and foremost is that women, as Shulamith Firestone explains in her writing The Dialectic of Sex, are restrained by the “tyranny of their reproductive biology.” They are subject to their “biological destiny,” the family. The expectations placed on women, as well as the limitations, make free choice an impossible concept. While women’s freedom has increased over time, modern society places more expectations on women that limit their free choice. They are expected to have successful careers, maintain the household, and take care of children. These expectations are severe limitations on free choice. Almost any decision that a woman makes is guided by the fact that she is a woman and any choice can be limited by this fact—which makes it inherently unfree.

 

Firestone, Shulamith. “Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution.” The Dialectic of Sex ; the Case for Feminist Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1970. 233. Print.

Let’s talk about shoes

metroshoes

Earlier today, as I was browsing the internet, I ran into a blatantly sexist ad. The DC metro decided that they needed a new campaign to show how great they were and thus ended up producing this terrible piece of advertisement. The ad portrays women as mindless beings that only care about one thing:  shopping. Why exactly would the metro use shopping? Lorber would explain it as being part of society’s construction of gender expectations. Furthermore, if one were to look closely at the advertisement, the women’s body language displays a state of absentmindedness. Not only that, but based on the way they are dressed, they seem to be women with professional backgrounds. This begs the question as to whether it is also attacking the credentials of professional women in society. The ad encapsulates women in society as being unable to hold an intelligent conversation, one regarding the amount of miles a bus can last without breaking down. Due to the ad being placed on a bus, and it being in the DC area, one can expect that the audience is that of the lower class black community. Bell Hooks teachings might cause one to speculate whether this could reinforce the misogyny seen in the minority communities.

Hooks, Bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.

Judith Lorber, “The Social Construction of Gender”, 1990.

Get an Xbox One!

In attempt to advertise the Xbox One, Microsoft released an online letter that was meant to encourage non-gamers to buy the new consul. It was taken down after receiving criticism for being sexist. The letter was meant to be interactive allowing an individual to customize the underlined words. However, it’s the default setting that is a little shocking for our time. The very opening of the letter caused the most uproar. “I know, I know. You’d rather knit than watch me slay zombies, but hear me out on this.” Microsoft really couldn’t come up with a better choice for its default setting than to knit? Knitting is the quintessential stereotypical female hobby. That is the first indicator that lets you know this letter is directed to a woman; in other words, that only men play video games: first problem. Keeping in mind that this letter seems to be from a man to a woman, the fact that knitting is juxtaposed with slaying zombies in this instance also implies that women have no fun while their partners have all of it: second problem. It’s not comforting to know that women are still thought of as killjoys, as is implied by the desperately-sounding letter (there are three postscripts by the end). The header itself is a little bit questionable to me as well. “We got your back” sounds a lot like Microsoft is taking the man’s side. So basically, this ad says to me, “women need to stop sucking the fun out of everything, and let their partner have an Xbox One”—not very promising for a better society. But is any of this surprising? Video games are notorious for objectifying female characters, from body shapes to the clothing they wear. Regardless, if Microsoft wants to boast more female consumers, then it can’t send out these kinds of messages.

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: For What Are We Responsible?

In the essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women,” bell hooks confronts the problem of disjunction within feminist movements. She discusses how mainstream feminism has alienated women of color because of a perception that aspects of their culture are counter to feminist causes–for instance, that black women’s refusal to self-victimize excluded them from feminism. Different groups face different oppressions; yet, hooks points out, mainstream feminism struggles to realize that feminism looks different for different groups.

Last week, Politico Magazine published an article subtitled “How Michelle Obama became a feminist’s nightmare.” The author charged the First Lady with anti-feminist offenses including “gardening,” “tending to wounded soldiers” and “reading to children.” Michelle Obama, the author argued, should be a politically involved activist, not a “mom-in-chief.” She has an obligation to the women of America; she should represent all that feminism has achieved.

But to what extent is one woman obligated to act on behalf of a nation? Is Michelle Obama single-handedly responsible for defying all norms? The demand for a woman to embody a specified role, without room for choice in what she can accept or reject, is constricting and regressive. As bell hooks argues in “Sisterhood,” feminism must account for the complexity of individual experiences. Michelle Obama’s feminism may not be Hillary Clinton’s feminism, but their experiences are equally valid.

With that in mind, are we responsible for making choices with an eye towards what will most benefit women as a population? Or are we free to pick and choose which paths to follow? How much must we consider our individual choices in the context of society?

Cited:

hooks, bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.

Cottle, Michelle. “Leaning Out.” Politico Magazine, November 21, 2013. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/leaning-out-michelle-obama-100244.html?ml=m_a3_1

Big Question: Do Women Respect One Another’s Choices?

Big Question: Do Women Respect One Another’s Choices?

 

In her article, “When Mom and Dad Share it All,” Belkin explains that inequality persists inside the home as women still shoulder the bulk of domestic responsibilities (4). This topic triggered my thinking about the way that jobs were divided between my parents. While the housework was shared between the two, my mother (who is a working professional) was the main childcare provider.  I don’t think that she is unique since it seems that division of childcare has been the most resistant to change. It is unclear whether this responsibility continues to fall primarily on women by choice, default, or familiarity. Do women feel compelled to exercise control in this domestic sphere because the role of nurturer is so closely tied to their gender identity or biological makeup?  A recent study at University of Virginia suggests that women may end up with more of the parenting burden because they “like it more” than men and their “parenting skills are deeply rooted in biology” (infant.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/do-women-like-child-care-more-than-men/).

 

A guiding principle of the Women’s Movement is empowering women to make choices, and for some, this includes choosing not to change certain aspects of the status quo (such as childcare).  Bell Hooks asserts that solidarity between women is essential in transforming society as a whole (127). Can those who challenge the patriarchal system resist the tendency to criticize women who choose a traditional path or opt to embrace change in its modified form ? Do the differences (in cultural, racial, economics, and geographic backgrounds) which impact women’s choices pose a threat to solidarity, or is the failure to accommodate and accept these differences responsible for sidelining childcare and stalling out the Women’s Movement ? When we silence (and do not respect) voices that are different from our own, are we modeling equality or another form of social oppression?

 

Works Cited

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The New York Times 15 June 2008: 1-15. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women.” Feminist Review (1986): 125-38. Print.

Parker-Pope, Tara. “Do Women Like Child Care More Than Men?” The New York Times Magazine 25 Mar. 2012: n. pag. Web.

Ad Critique: NuvaRing

This video is of the updated NuvaRing advertisement. If you look closely, one of the older ads is playing in the background. This relates closely to the Angela Davis reading “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights.” The NuvaRing is a form of birth control that is advertised as being more convenient than the pill. However, it is quite expensive. While in the long term, as compared to the pill, it might save money, the thing about being poor is that you may have some money at a given time but maybe not enough to actually afford the one-time NuvaRing. This already puts up a class barrier as to who can actually get this form of birth control. Next, there is the definite race component. These ads, both the current and old ones have all white women except for the “token black woman.” There is little diversity, which also ties back in to the Davis reading. Their target audience is primarily white middle to upper class people. That is where they perceive the money to be. This ad is also noticeably full of cis women. As brought up in both of the Spade readings, bodies are not inherently gendered. There are people who are not cis women who also could benefit from this product (but are most likely going to be denied it or misgendered in order to get it). The gendering of certain bodies definitely influences the availability of medical care available and presented to them.