Two ways a woman can get hurt

Today we had our last lecture in one of the first phd courses, and I held my last presentation, this time about my field of research: sexist advertising. I presented a chapter: Two ways a woman can get hurt: Advertising and Violence,  from Kilbourne’s book Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising (1999). Here, Kilbourne speaks about sex in advertising and how this is similar to pornography since it is more about dehumanizing, objectifying and disconnecting than it is about reality. Violence is encouraged in many ads, men are shown to be in power, dominant, to take control, heck, take whatever they want, while women are portrayed as never saying no, or at least, not meaning no when they say it. Women are encouraged by ads to be attracted to the hostile and indifferent men, often the ones that in real life would be absolutely dangerous. Violence is also trivialized, and rape is glorified. Kilbourne argues about the objectification being different for women and men: when women are objectified they are so in a cultural context where this objectification is constant, and where there are serious consequences, from economic discrimination to violence. For men, the consequences are not the same since their bodies are generally not routinely judged and invaded, they are not as likely to get harassed, raped or beaten by women, as women are by men. This is eloquently described and summed up:

“When power is unequal, when one group is oppressed and discriminated against as a group, when there is a context of systemic and historical oppression, stereotypes and prejudice have different weight and meaning.”

Now, that is not to say that the objectification of men is any better, all objectification is bad of course. It is always bad to objectify a person. However, it is important to understand that the objectification looks very different when it comes to women and men. After all, we are not equal in the eyes of the ads.

After my presentation we had a very long discussion that was both interesting, fruitful and extremely frustrating and upsetting. At one point, I was boiling, it came after one of my male colleagues said that it is in the nature of women to want to be looked at by men, and it is in the men’s nature to want to look at women. Nature. Nature? Needless to say, this really heated up the debate with him on one side and practically the rest of us on the other with arguments about the social construction of reality. About the fact that women are not born with an innate desire to be ogled by men, that it is not something in our blood, but rather in the way we are brought up, taught by society to want to look pretty, to want to be wanted. It is something that we daily must think about, decide about. It is about the constant male gaze that is surrounding us all. Quietly, subtly.

It is not in our nature. It is in our heads.

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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?

The sad cynical guessing game

Small online quizzes seem to be very popular these days, some better than others, some darn right pointless (why would I want to take a quiz to find out what my favorite flavor of ice-cream is, or what mood I am in, I already know that damnit!).

However, this one about sexist ads I found quite interesting. I scored only 6 out of 16, and some of those ads I’d seen before so I already knew the answers. How sad is that? Of course, you can answer in different ways: You can go with the answer that you actually think it is, and due to the fact that you have grown up in a world full of such ads you are fairly cynical regarding these and know that they are not about what they seem to be about, so you would then of course get the right answer probably most of the time. OR: You can answer what you, based on the imagery, really think it should be about. This second way would of course be the most obvious one in a better world, but unfortunately, we live in a world where ads like these are thought up, designed, created and published:

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Now in the quiz I guessed it was for a hair product, even though I did not really get the point of it. I feared that the answer would be the night club and prepared myself to be upset. But not even in my wildest imagination would I have guessed this was an ad for organ donation. When the quiz revealed the text and logo, I think my heart just sunk.
Is this really the best way to make people become organ donors? Also, it seems that they are basically only looking for male donors, seeing as how I, at least as a straight woman, would not like to get anywhere inside that poor girl, so I guess my female kidneys aren’t good enough? Right then! Not only is this pure unadulterated sexism, which marginalizes, degrades and offends women, but it is also making organ donation feel extremely creepy. Who in their right mind would like to become organ donors after seeing this? I have absolutely nothing against organ donation, it’s wonderful that so many are given second chances because of it, but this ad is just making me sick and I cannot understand what the hell they were thinking. How about having some self respect for yourself and the organisation/company you work for, how about not stooping to others low levels and degrading women in this washed out, clichéd and tired way? How about having some faith in humanity and portraying the best we can be, instead of the most creepy, disgusting and objectifying bastards that we seem to be?

To be, or not to be, a feminist.

Last night I stumbled upon this video:

and it saddened me a bit.

It’s sad that people feel the need to object to feminism, because they believe it means that you basically hate men and don’t care about issues related to them. For me, feminism has always meant one thing: equality. Equality between genders, sexual preferences, heck even between “races” and cultures. Feminism for me is the ism that stands for, fights for, different groups of people that have been, and still are, in some ways, oppressed. I think it’s sad, and kind of ironic, that you (especially as a woman) would not want to be called a feminist, while living in a patriarchal society. I call myself a feminist, but at the same time I care about issues that are related to men as well. I think men should have the same parental rights as women, being able to go on parental leave just like women and stay home with their kids. I think men and boys should not be held to certain types of standards, always being the “strong” one, being asked to “act like a man”, cause really, what the heck is that supposed to mean? I think boys should be encouraged to play with dolls, or dress in pink or whatever else it is that we impose on girls, and they should be allowed to be caring, nurturing and show their emotions if they feel like it, without being called a pussy, or a sissy, or a pansy, or any other stupid word that degrades both genders in some way.

Now, regarding her video, I am pretty uncertain if all the statistics she presented are accurate, and also, where exactly they are accurate (is it only involving the United states or what? Cause I’m sorry all you Americans out there, but the world really does not revolve around you…yeah..). Nevertheless, I felt that some of the men’s issues she spoke about and tried to compare with women’s issues, were rather weird. For instance the rape thing. Hm…ok, so apparently there is a huge issue regarding men being raped in prison. Ok, I understand that it is an issue, and also acknowledge that it is a serious one and something should definitely be done about it. But. How can you even compare this to the amount of women that are being raped every day out in the “real” world? Men being raped in prison is men raping other men, in prison = the majority of all these men are criminals, albeit there are probably many that are innocent but that is a completely different issue that I will not discuss right now.. Anyhow. When talking about female rape, you are not talking about the amount of women being raped in prison by other women, you are talking about the amount of “non-incarcerated” women walking about freely in the world, being raped by men. Ergo, both issues have to do with men raping; men raping men, and men raping women. So hey, why not turn the issue around and make it about (certain) men raping? Why not trying to do something about the rape-culture that we seem to live in?

At the same time, of course, women’s issues do bother me “more” since I am a woman, and also, since the society I live in is still based on patriarchy, and has always been so. I do feel stronger towards women’s issues, since the majority of women have throughout our history, been referred to as the “second” gender, and been more oppressed than men. And sure, you can, as she does, say that men are also being objectified just like women, but really, really… I mean, really? How can you say that and honestly believe that it is true? I would not, nor can I, compare the objectification that is going on between the genders, especially when it comes to my field of research. Advertisements pretty much objectify everything, however, the objectification that is being done to women is not the same as for men. First of all, it is not the same amount of objectification between the genders, second of all women have been the target of objectification for a longer period of time, heck, women have basically started out as “objects”, while men started out as “subjects”, so how are you supposed to even start comparing? Sure, women have during the last century gotten more rights and “equality”, but still, what is a century, compared to the entire history of humans? Therefore, when talking about the objectification that is going on both for men and women, one must always remember the past and the present, one must remember what type of society the objectification is taking place in, one must remember to evaluate exactly how “equal” that society really is. Or as Kilbourne eloquently put it:

“When power is unequal, when one group is oppressed or discriminated against as a group, where there is a context of systematic and historical oppression, stereotypes and prejudice have different weight and meaning.”…”When men objectify women, they do so in a cultural context in which women are constantly objectified and in which there are consequences — from economic discrimination to violence — to that objectification.”

So yeah, is it really that strange that feminism is called feminism, when it all started with the “second” gender being tired of getting in second place? It could just as well have been called humanism, or peopleism or equalitism or whatever else that “represents” both genders, BUT, why does this even matter? It is just a word, after all. And just like all other words, all other isms, all other groups, not to mention religions; people will still interpret it in their own way, putting their own spin on it, reacting towards it in their own manner. So what can you do? Well, you can call yourself a feminist and fight for equality, or you can call yourself something else and fight for the same cause, as long as we are all working our ways, living our lives with equality in mind, it should really not matter what you call yourself. Cause really, we are all in this together.