"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gendered Marketing Compare and Contrast

I just saw the Shake Weight for Men commercial for the first time, and I was sort of stunned (although not really surprised) by how different it is from the earlier commercial aimed at women. Everything in these ads -- from the background music and narration, to the types of bodies shown -- communicates messages about "proper" masculinity and femininity.

It's "Look how easy this is, ladies! Anyone can do it!" versus "It will kick! Your! Butt!"

It's "Be strong and build muscle, men!" versus "Get rid of those problem areas, so you can look pretty in clothes!".

But most of all, it's just annoying.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Massive Eyeroll Friday: Charlotte, NC Named "America's Manliest City"

(Warning: Out of sheer necessity, this post contains an unprecedented amount of snarky quotation marks.)

So, the Mars corporation (which owns about a million trademarked food brands) apparently just conducted its second annual study to determine the "manliest" city in the U.S. Aside from consumption of Mars' more "manly" snack foods (Get the hilarious promotional tie-in? Get it?!), the criteria to determine "manliness" included participation in sports and "manly occupations", along with a ton of other activities I sort of thought women were allowed to participate in, too. I guess I was wrong, though.

Just read for yourself. (Emphasis mine):
The COMBOS® “America’s Manliest Cities” study ranks 50 major metropolitan areas, using manly criteria like the number of home improvement stores, steak houses, pickup trucks and motorcycles per capita. “We’re excited to release the second installment of the COMBOS® ‘America’s Manliest Cities’ rankings,” said Craig Hall, general manager, Mars Chocolate North America. “Charlotte is NASCAR country so we’re not surprised that they’ve taken over the top spot. After all, COMBOS® has been the ‘Official Cheese-Filled Snack of NASCAR’ since 2002.”

Several cities made big jumps up the rankings this year – Chicago, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia all broke the top 10 after being in the lower half of last year’s rankings. In addition to cities improving or declining in returning categories, the change in rankings can also be attributed to a new category this year – manly occupations (fire fighters, police officers, construction workers and EMT personnel).

The manly occupations category was added this year to recognize the hard-working guys that make so many American cities great places to live.

Supporting the theme of manliness, COMBOS® also recently launched its Zone Sweet Home sweepstakes at www.COMBOS.com – an opportunity for guys to win an ultimate Home Theater Zone, Tailgating Zone or Gaming Zone, each worth up to $25,000.

Manly Study Highlights

  • Charlotte, N.C. now has chief bragging rights on manliness thanks to its top 10 rankings in the sports, manly lifestyle, manly retail stores, manly occupations and salty snack sales categories.
  • Chi-town natives have another reason to applaud local police officers and firefighters. Chicago moved up 39 spots in the rankings to No. 7 overall, partly thanks to a strong ranking (No. 3) in the manly occupations category.
  • Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Calif., Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore. failed to pull themselves out of the basement of manliness as they each remained in the bottom 10 spots of the rankings for a second consecutive year.
  • Tennessee men embrace a manly lifestyle as Memphis and Nashville finished first and second in the “manly lifestyle” category that tracks the number of pickup trucks and motorcycles registered in the city, sports TV viewing habits, fishing and home improvement.
  • Long known as a city for diehard sports fans, Boston backed up that claim by taking the No.1 spot in the sports category thanks not only to the number of professional sports teams, but the quality of professional sports in the city.
  • The men of Oklahoma City still know how to snack with gusto. For the second year in a row, their city owns the highest purchase rate of salty snacks, such as COMBOS®.

Glad to know that giant corporations are spreading the important message that salty snacks, steak houses, law enforcement, firefighting, construction work, emergency medical training, all sports and sports TV viewing, home improvement stores, fishing, motorcycles, and pickup trucks are the purview of men. Since my city happened to take second place in manliness, I guess that means I'll have to move to the girly west coast.

Vintage Ad of the Day

In another surprisingly gender-neutral ad from the 1960s, a woman is shown using a power tool right alongside a man. Gasp!



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Futurama Returns!

Catch the new episodes starting tonight at 10pm on Comedy Central.

Leela Turanga from Futurama Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vintage Ad of the Day: "Serious Feminine Derangement" Edition

From 1908:


Copy reads:

For she cannot help it. Women are often cross, irritable, hysteric, and declare they are driven to distraction at the slightest provocation.

Men cannot understand why this should be so. To them it is a mystery because in nine times out of ten this condition is caused by a serious feminine derangement. A remedy is necessary which acts directly upon the organs afflicted, restoring a healthy normal condition to the feminine system, which will quickly dispel all hysterical, nervous, and irritable conditions. Such is LYDIA E. PINKHAM'S VEGETABLE COMPOUND. The following letter serves to prove this fact.

Mrs. Mattie Copenhaver, 315 So. 21st St., Parsons, Kans. writes:
"For two years I suffered from the worst of feminine ills, until I was almost driven frantic. Nothing but morphine would relieve me. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound brought me health and happiness and made me a well woman."

For thirty years Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, made from roots and herbs, has been the standard remedy for female ills, and has positively cured thousands of women who have been troubled with displacements, inflammation, ulceration, fibroid tumors, irregularities, periodic pains, backache, that bearing down feeling, flatulency, indigestion, dizziness, or nervous prostration. Why don't you try it?

Mrs. Pinkham invites all sick women to write her for advice. She has guided thousands to health. Address, Lynn, Mass.


Photoshop: Behind the Scenes

One of my students dug up this video a couple of quarters back and showed it to class, and it's too good not to share here. If you ever need to demonstrate to skeptics just how out of control the retouching industry is, this pairs nicely with the Dove "Evolution of a Model" video and the Impossibly Beautiful series at Shakesville.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vintage Ad of the Day


Copy reads (emphasis mine):
See how much better they are...
Flint Gifts by Ecko

Anyone who loves to cook (male or female) is sure to love these wonderful Flint household gifts. They're beautiful, useful, lasting gifts that will be daily reminders of you and your thoughtfulness for years to come. See them and dozens of other Flint Gifts by Ecko wherever fine housewares are sold. See how much better they are!

Double-take! People who are male can love to cook?! And we can buy them cooking utensils and be considered thoughtful?! Whee!


Male Privilege: Making Women the Butt of Jokes Since the Beginning of Time

While I agree that the tea party folks are totally off their rockers, I'm not all that amused by this particular method of putting them in their place:


I realize that dissecting an image like this one is what earns me the "humorless" in "humorless feminist", but I can't help but notice when the humor in a joke depends entirely on a gendered power differential and our sexist history.

You see, this wouldn't be considered funny if women's suffrage had never been in question, and the fact that the 19th amendment isn't even 100 years old yet makes gags like these especially damaging to women. Not only does the phrase "men's suffrage" carry no similar meaning, but because men are considered the default and women are "other", individual men aren't considered as stand-ins for all men. They get a free pass on that burden.

Remember this?


It's the exact same principle at work.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

College Undergrads and the Future of Feminist Activism

So, I finished up school last week and now possess an MA in Women's Studies. In the two years I spent in my program, I taught Women's Studies 101 six times, which means I had the unique experience of getting to teach about 175 Midwestern undergraduate students some basic feminism.

Here are some observations about my students that shed some light on where they stand in relation to feminism. Don't take these as generalizations, as there were exceptions in every class. They're more like trends I noticed over the last couple of years about today's college undergrads who take Women's Studies. I also don't want some of the more pessimistic-sounding observations to come off as complaints. The vast majority of my students were learning about a feminist viewpoint for the first time, and some resistance to the ways in which it challenges what they have believed for most of their lives is totally natural. However, I think an understanding of where most students are when they first start thinking about these things can be illuminating:

  • They get outraged that their high school history classes never taught them who Alice Paul was or what women had to go through to get the right to vote.
  • They are highly invested in individual merit and personal responsibility and tend to ignore systemic causes and solutions to injustice and inequality.
  • They are quick to dismiss still-highly-relevant feminist theory written 10, 20, and 30 years ago on the grounds that "things have changed since then".
  • When they learn about the ERA, they show outrage that it never passed -- until they realize that it possibly could have meant requiring women to register for the draft.
  • When they read bell hooks' "Rethinking the Nature of Work", they shy away from engaging with her critique of capitalism and instead embrace her claim that women should stop devaluing housework.
  • They remain highly invested in male chivalry and often refuse to examine the power relations underlying the practice, arguing that it's important for men to be "gentlemen".
  • Despite being able to fully articulate the problems with blaming victims for rape and sexual assault, they still maintain that women should "know better" than to dress like whores and flirt with guys at bars.
  • They recognize the sexism in breast cancer awareness marketing that objectifies women, yet excuse it as long as the campaigns are making money that goes to a good cause.
  • They respond most positively to feminist arguments that don't single out men as the cause of women's oppression, and they seem eager to give equal attention to disadvantages experienced by men in our society.
  • After reading and hearing the words "people of color" and "women of color" in my class, some of them end up using the words "colored people" and "colored women" in their writing.
  • They often mix up the words "valorize" and "vilify" -- sometimes to hilarious effect.
  • They are quick to argue that gay, lesbian, and transgender folks deserve equal rights, but they rarely notice or point out when arguments are heterosexist.
  • When asked to list women they admire, many of them name Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Palin, but most of them name their mothers first.
  • They maintain, despite evidence that our bodies are constituted and shaped by the social, that women are naturally physically weaker than men.
  • With the exception of one "LOL" in two years, they don't write in text-speak, but they do tend toward a highly informal, conversational tone in their writing.
Has anyone who's taught before seen similar things or had a different experience? Does any of this surprise you? How do you think these trends affect the future of feminist activism?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Age and Fertility: A Slippery Slope


It's been in the news that the "world's oldest new mom" has just passed away.
MADRID - She devoted years to caring for her mother, who died at age 101. Then Maria del Carmen Bousada embarked on a quest to become a mom herself. She lied to a California fertility clinic to skirt its age limit, and later pointed to her mother’s longevity as a reason to expect she’d be around to care for her kids.

At age 66 she had twins, becoming the world’s oldest new mom — and raising questions about maternity so late in life. Now she is dead at age 69, leaving behind boys not yet 3.
Although I'm not surprised that stories like this "raise questions" about appropriate motherhood in our broader culture, it always catches me a bit off guard to hear vehement judgment passed on women for their choices. (If you read any of the comments on the story, or if you happened to catch The View yesterday morning, you know what I'm talking about.) There seems to be the general feeling that it's selfish or irresponsible for a woman to have children when there is a possibility that she will not live long enough to completely raise them. But there are a number of problems with using this rationale to support laws and policies that prohibit older women from seeking fertility treatment or becoming pregnant.

1. There's a double standard at work, here. When men die and leave behind small children, we generally don't blame them for fathering children at older ages, nor do we call them irresponsible for engaging in risky activities that may endanger their lives and cut short their time on earth with their offspring. (Instead, we usually just congratulate them on their virility.) The reason? As a society, we just don't hold men responsible for the physical or emotional work of childcare in the way we do women.

2. No matter how you look at it, prohibiting women of a certain age from pursuing their own reproductive decisions is inevitably political And I hate to use the fraught words "slippery slope", here, but passing judgment on some women really does open the door for all sorts of other restrictions on women's freedom. If there is to be a cut-off age for older women to be able to choose to have children, when should it be? Should it be based on average life expectancy for all women? Should race, region, or socioeconomic status be taken into account, even though these factors have been shown to have significant effects on life expectancy? Would having different standards for different women smack of uncomfortable -isms we would rather avoid, while not doing so would perhaps disadvantage women who are arguably better equipped live longer and raise their children? Why is age and not overall health the determining factor? Shouldn't women be given health screenings before they receive fertility treatment to make sure they're in tip top health (whatever that means) before they can proceed? And why stop at fertility treatments and in vitro fertilization? If it is so incredibly tragic and detrimental for young children to lose their mothers, why not prohibit older women from becoming pregnant on their own, as well? Why not enforce contraception for all female cancer patients? How about (re)enacting protectionist laws that keep women out of all sorts of dangerous situations that men are free to enter, just so that we can guarantee all children that their mothers will be kept safe from harm?

3. Life is unpredictable. Young mothers die, too. Bousada very well could have lived to be 101 years old, like her mother before her. The fact that she ended up passing away at the still rather early age of 66 does not prove anything.

4. Finally, and I hope I don't catch too much heat for this one, but since when is deciding to have children (at any age) not a selfish act? Generally, people become parents for totally self-interested reasons, but this selfishness only gets called out when people feel they have a reason to mount their high horses and act as if their parenting is pure and selfless because they did it right (in which "right" means "according to societal norms").

We need to trust women to make choices about their bodies and their lives. If IVF is going to be available to anyone, it should be available to everyone. When we blame and punish doctors for women's decisions, it infantilizes women by sending the message that they are unable to make intimate decisions for themselves and their families.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vintage Ad of the Day

While I'm not entirely sure what's going on in this picture, I can guess that you would NEVER see an image of a woman looking quite so uncomfortable holding a baby in an advertisement:


Copy reads:
Sero designs in DACRON
A poised performer -- the distinguished Bristol collar -- in an exclusive checkpoint pattern that swings with sophistication. The pink of perfection -- deftly tailored with Sero's distinctive "long-point" collar and neat, trim body lines. In no-iron Sero-press of 65% Dacron Polyester 35% combed cotton. Also available in blue and gold as shown.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Vintage Ad of the Day

Posted by Picasa

Get it? If you don't buy your man these products RIGHT NOW, he's going to cheat on you!

Copy reads:
Now, dare to give him what he really wants -- 007, the bold new grooming aids that make any man dangerous.
There's a 007 gift set for every assignment. The arsenal includes007 After Shave, Hair Tonic, Spray Deodorant, Cologne, Shave Cream, Talc and Soap. Each has a license to kil... women.
Give him as much as you dare. But hurry. If you don't, someone else will.