Empowerment – the long winding road

Happy women’s day to us all!

For me, today is a day that inspires me to keep fighting, keep moving forward, keep striving for empowerment and equality. Today is also a day with sad and frustrating undertones since it reminds us that we still have such a long way to go. The road ahead is never ending, or so it seems..

For the last months I have been working with several papers for my doctoral thesis, mostly I have been gathering empirical material in the form of interviews and focus group discussions for a particular paper that will be about female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. I will not go into too much detail, but needless to say there is an ambivalence towards this shift in advertising where the idea, the message is that women + sex = power. As always, women’s bodies, their appearance, is at the core of this subject, and sadly it is still and will still be up for many discussions in years, decades to come, I’m afraid. Personally, I am a bit torn between thinking: “women should be able to display themselves any which way they want”, and “hm, yes sure that does sound lovely, but we cannot ignore the fact that the social construction of women and their bodies/appearance is not the same as for men, and women are unfortunately much more sexualized, still, so trying to gain power by being sexy is kind of another side of the male-gaze coin. Is this really the way to empowerment?”. I do not really think there is a correct answer or solution to this conundrum, but getting to study what other women  think about it has provided me with different perspectives and inspirations. This work is for me so thrilling, frustrating, eye-opening and tough, I am truly blessed to have gotten this opportunity to delve into such issues that I am so passionate about.

On another note.. in a couple of days it will be the 20th anniversary of one of the best tv-shows ever: Buffy, the vampire slayer, first airing on the 10th of March 1997. For me, growing up in the 90’s/00’s, Buffy was such an inspirational, kick-arse feminist character that inspired in so many different ways to be yourself, to be strong, to take place and claim space, to be brave, to be ok with being sad, afraid, thinking that you may not be good enough, but realizing that you are. I feel a bit sad for generations that have come after me, who instead got to grow up with Twilight or whatnot instead of Buffy, because Buffy is a fighter, not a push-over, she is not obsessed with guys all the time, since she is a bit too damn busy saving the world.

In her own words:
buffy
Truer words were never spoken..

So happy 20th anniversary Buffy, and thank you for inspiring me and other young girls to be empowered.

So what else is new, well, I recently got the lovely news that one of my papers was accepted to the Macromarketing conference held in New Zealand, yay me! And today, of all days, I also got the news that another short paper was accepted for another conference, in Paris. So double-yay for me, on this wonderful, women’s day.

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Victoria’s real secret

A recent photo from the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret has received some negative attention due to it’s tasteless and poor photoshopping. Finally. How nice to see all those comments highlighting one of the problems with such ads: too damn much photoshopping. My heart literally swelled while reading many of the comments cause it tells me that there is still hope. One day we might even be rid of all these flawless, objectifying and unreal portrayals of women altogether. How lovely that would be..

But as of now, we are not quite there, and just for the heck of it I’ll jump in the discussion and review the ad in question:

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Wanna know Victoria’s real secret? Well here it is: Photoshop! The model used in this image was no question already skinny on the verge of anorectic, otherwise they would most likely not even had used her. But still, skinny is not skinny enough. Beautiful is not beautiful enough. Nice skin is not nice enough, not until it looks absolutely flawless and “perfect”, not until all the hairs, cracks, pores, wrinkles and everything else that makes skin, well, skin, is retouched into looking like plastic. As some of the negative comments already suggested, her exposed arm has lost some meat/muscle, and her poor butt cheek has been photoshopped into oblivion. I can’t imagine how a woman that actually had that body (ps. there is no such woman so don’t even try looking for her) would manage to sit down properly, but maybe she doesn’t sit. Maybe she just always stands against a dark mysterious wall with her hands up and her legs spread.
How awful for her.

The problem with this image is not just that it is exaggeratedly photoshopped, it is also the way they portray her: Passive, anonymous, just waiting for someone to grab her from behind. She is sexualized in a very disturbing and suggestively violent way. I would even go so far as to saying that she kind of looks like a soon-to-be-rape-victim. And all this just to sell panties. Really?

It’s time to grow up and smell the cracks, pores, wrinkles and natural “flaws” that all people have Victoria’s secret, time to take some damned responsibility and stop objectifying and distorting women just to sell underwear (!). Trust me that can be done without putting down women and contributing to the sexist male gaze and the objectification of women. If you want women to like your underwear and buy them, how about not first making them feel like shit cause they cannot possibly ever achieve the same kind of unnatural and photoshopped “flawlessness” that you are cramming down their throats? How about not trying to fool them into thinking that your panties are magic and can make them look like this, cause seriously, come on. It’s panties. Just panties. It won’t change you, it won’t make you feel better about who you really are, it won’t erase your “flaws”, or even your butt cheeks. It’s just plain old panties. And photoshop.

So now that your secret is out “Victoria”, how about instead making women feel beautiful for who they are, flaws and all?

Let’s do this

OK then, so this is my new blog devoted to my PhD studies, most importantly my research of sexism in ads. For all of you who don’t already know, I am pretty passionate about this subject, and relentless when it comes to sexist ads. It all started some four years ago when I stumbled upon a video on Youtube with Jean Kilbourne talking about sexism in advertising, how it has developed over the years, how it has only gotten worse, how it is a real issue that concerns all of us. I knew then and there that this was something I had to get involved in, so I decided to start studying business and marketing, just so I could write a bachelor thesis about this. And well, long story short, two years later I did.

For all of you who are interested, or have nothing better to do, have a go at it why don’t you:

Fuckable:
The objectification of women in advertising through a female perspective

Also, here’s a little video of Jean Kilbourne speaking at TEDx. It’s not the same as the one I saw all those years ago, but it will give you a glimpse of this incredible woman and her journey through this vast field of sexist, offensive and demoralizing imagery we call advertisements: