I’ll See Your Feminist Ad, and Raise You a Make It Even Better

Greetings, RLB readers. Today we’re going to examine the controversial practice of Feminism in Advertising.

This post was inspired by (not to be confused with sponsored by), what Business Insider is calling an Overtly Feminist ad from Pantene. I agree with that assessment. This ad is overtly feminist.

It is in fact so overtly feminist that it won’t air in the United States. Okay, no one has said that’s why it won’t be airing here, but I think we can all agree that isn’t much of a leap. The ad is for Pantene in the Philippines (shout out, S!), so it also features a refreshing cast of non-white women. Yes, they almost all look like models. This is a shampoo commercial, after all. The beautiful shiny shine shine hair is unavoidable.

Unsurprisingly, there are feminists who want advertisers to “stop using feminism” to sell things. Which is a viewpoint I can understand – taking an ideology that means so much to so many people and turning it into a tool for selling beauty products is a contentious move.

Here’s where we come to my However.

However, as a lifelong student of feminism and media literacy, I can’t help but see the good in ads like these. So is it right to draw a line, to say feminism is okay if you’re advertising a school, but not if you’re advertising shampoo?* What if you’re advertising Catholic school, when Catholicism isn’t exactly known for its progressive views on women?

Sidebar: One of my favorite jokes as a feminist, Catholic child was “What’s the highest rank a woman can have in the Catholic church?” Answer: “Nun.”

cymbals

We live in a world that runs on capitalism. It isn’t my favorite thing about our world, and I will renounce corporate excess with the best of them. (Oh, look! Another However.) However, with this world of capitalism comes advertising. Quite often, with advertising comes raging sexism.

Challenging the negative and amplifying the positive.”

Capitalism is a flawed system, but it can’t be denied that women are the driving force behind the global economy. Yet for a very long time we have been marginalized by the companies trying to sell us things. And let’s be honest. All of us (yes, even you) like having our things. According to the Harvard Business Review, their 2008 study found that women as consumers felt vastly underserved:

Although women control spending in most categories of consumer goods, too many businesses behave as if they had no say over purchasing decisions. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes.

If that narrative is changing, and female stereotypes are being turned on their head by advertisers, why should it matter if the progress comes from advertising schools or shampoo or sports equipment or body lotion?

Advertising isn’t going away, and as Bloomberg contends:

The drum is beating ever-louder from economists, development experts and advocates who insist that women and girls are the key to nearly everything needed for a sustainable future, from global health to food security to economic growth.

Forbes is reporting, based on a McKinsey & Co. study, that “economies where women participate are more successful.” This is not a theory, but a reality supported by incontrovertible facts. The evidence is even hard to ignore in the eternal sausage-fest known as Hollywood.

So of course companies that are paying attention will be targeting women. If those companies can pander to us (and pander they will) with fewer of these ads and more of these ads, then I’m all for it.

My point of view isn’t new, and the naysayers provide a much-needed debate for how feminist ads can continue to improve. We will all benefit from more visible diversity in age, size, and color. (There are of course, the ones who do it really f*cking right.)

As advertisements continue to evolve and more of an effort is made to recognize the crucial role that women play in the international economy, I stand by the companies that shun this, and instead choose this or this or this.

Bey Bey

*ps, is shampoo really a “beauty product”? isn’t it more about hygiene?

Real Beauty in Advertising

By now most of you are probably aware of the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” videos that have been making their internet rounds. This is the video that I first saw. It’s a segment from the full version.

While the majority of reactions that I’ve seen involve words like “moving” and “so important” or “tears” and “thank you”, as with everything on the world wide web, there are naysayers as well.

Here’s my initial disclaimer: Yes, Obviously, this is an ad. It’s an ad that aims for the end result of you buying Dove products. And YES, Dove is owned by Unilever, the company that also owns hyper-sexist, patently absurd Axe body spray. Here’s what I have to say about those two things:

  • Almost everything we see and experience these days is some form of marketing, with the end goal being ‘buy this product, see this movie, read this book after you buy this fancy e-reader, etc. etc. etc.’ If you have a problem with marketing, you should probably move to Mongolia. Seriously. That documentary that followed babies for a year made it look like a really peaceful, uninfluenced place to live.
  • Dove Unilever Axe… If you really want to get up in arms about who owns what, then prepare to give up A Lot of your favorite things because guess what. There are about ten companies that own damn near everything, and when it comes to the people who control the money in those companies, that number gets even smaller.
  • Now let’s look at the number of women who have influence over what kind of media we see (including film, tv, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, communications jobs, video games, and the internet). For the 21st century, the numbers are still quite abysmal. The Women’s Media Center report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013, points out the finding that “At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.”

What does all of this mean? It means that every step counts. It means that there is nothing wrong with getting excited about a company choosing this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.20 AM

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.33.26 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.06 AM

Over this:

Kate-Upton-Guess-Ad-Campaign-Photo-Shoot-2011-Photos-6
Of all the naysaying, there is a key issue that is very elegantly addressed on this tumblr, and that (unsurprisingly) is the issue of race. I am in complete agreement that the Dove ‘real beauty’ ads consistently do not reflect the true diversity of the population. This video in particular features women of color for about 10 seconds in a video that is over 6 minutes long. The man drawing the women appears to be Hispanic, but he is not the target of the ad, he merely plays a role in it. I was hoping to see more from the women of color in the full version of the video, and I was disappointed to see that it was in fact more women who were white, most of whom were blonde.

I then read a comment on FB from my friend Anne who said she was on board with the video until her daughter, who is nearly seven, asked what she was watching. At that point Anne realized, “…as I explained it to her, it became clear to me that the video’s very narrow definition of what beauty looks like, as well as the idea of its supreme importance to a woman’s life, are actually antithetical to what I try so hard to pass on to her.”

Again, I agree. The idea of beauty’s ‘supreme importance’ must be turned on its head before women will be taken seriously as complex individuals with a great deal to offer the world beyond their looks. The unfortunate reality is that there is currently an intense amount of emphasis placed on a woman’s beauty, and this emphasis is Everywhere. Any instance of encouraging women to feel beautiful in their own skin should be built upon to challenge the current ideals even further. Celebrate and promote instances where you think media is doing it right, and call out the instances that aren’t. Go ahead and contact Dove and say “Your real beauty sketches ad had great intent behind it, but it’s a shame you didn’t see fit to be truer to your own message and feature a more diverse group of women. I’ll consider buying your products when I see genuine diversity in your ads.” Or something to that effect.

Anne then referenced a friend who questioned what the Dove ad means for women who “actually look like the photo on the left”…and honestly my first thought was, ‘but do you? Do you look like one of the photos on the left, or is that only your impression of yourself?’ I have to stand behind this campaign’s challenge to women to Be Aware of how you see yourself versus how others see you. This blog was started based on the frightening statistic that 97% of women, on average, have thirteen or more negative thoughts about themselves every day. Even more disturbing to me has been the number of women I know who hear that statistic and are entirely unfazed, because that sounds normal to them. It has become a personal ambition of mine to reverse that statistic, until 97% of women have an average of thirteen positive thoughts about themselves every day. In this endeavor, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Issues of gender and race are huge, complex, and deep-rooted. It is always important to question and challenge what we’re exposed to in this era of mass information, and to exercise our media literacy. When it comes to representations of women in the media that aim to be positive, I believe we need to acknowledge them and push for them to go even further. As I see it, the ultimate goal is to free women of the preoccupation with how we look. If in fact only 4% of the world’s women think they’re beautiful, and it’s certainly true that the vast majority of the world’s media is telling them that beautiful is what they should strive to be, that preoccupation is inevitable.

I’m compelled to quote the Contentious Ad Campaign here, because I think it’s a crucial point: Imagine a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. If we don’t even Begin to look deeper, to build confidence, to expand notions of a woman’s worth, we will never get to the point where girls and women value themselves beyond their beauty.

My final word is this – if nothing else, I am fucking thrilled that we are having these conversations. Any and all opinions are welcome here.

Now go forth, and be your amazing self.
Note: For above and beyond the messages of Dove, Beauty Redefined has a list of “doable strategies” to redefine and reclaim notions of beauty and health, encouraging all of us to push the boundaries and “promote real fitness, confidence, happiness and love for yourself and others.”

Women in Ads and Magazines: An RLB Chat

This morning S and I were chatting via gmail, as we are wont to do, and we decided that our conversation about how women are portrayed in magazines would make a pretty stellar blog post. Herein, a glimpse into the minds of the RLB creators…

(Note: Because I copied and pasted the chat, the “me” that appears is me, Elizabeth, and the “Sha” is S, because I have her listed in my email contacts as Sha Na Na Na. Naturally.)

me:  What I really want to do today is write a blog post about how this happened.

Sha: Hmm what do you think of it?

me: When I first read a quote from it I was pretty uppity, but then
1. I realized he was speaking at a Feminism in Media conference hosted by COSMOPOLITAN magazine and
2. He has some valid points. I won’t say, as many have, “at least he’s being honest” because being honest doesn’t equate integrity. If he followed up with “and I think this is a problem and we all need to work together to fix it,” well then sure. But he doesn’t. He’s all Shrug, this is the way the world works, which is the BS part for me.

Sha: I wouldn’t expect somebody in his position to recognize this as a problem

me: Right.

Sha: Because he sells these magazines

me:  mmhm

Sha: And they do sell. And I also agree with him that women’s magazines are much worse

me: See, I don’t know about Much Worse or The Root of the Problem. They are at fault, surely…

Sha: I see them as worse because they manipulate women directly

me: …but my Vogue doesn’t have ads of women in bikinis pouring milk on themselves. Or whatever.

Sha: Hahaha, unless it’s a new beauty treatment.

me: Haha.

Sha: Women’s magazines and men’s magazines are both guilty of objectifying women, totally. They just have different goals.

me: Exactly.

Sha: Women’s magazines want women to feel like shit so they buy stuff, and men’s magazines want to sell more magazines. And also stuff.

me: So they turn women into objects.

Sha: To sell objects

me: Yes.

Sha: So the images of women are presented differently in each. He’s right that the women in men’s magazines are more diverse, which is interesting, because a women’s magazine would have you think that all women look like 100 lb aliens with no pores, and that that’s what men want, lol.

me: Hahaha, right? When most men in fact prefer women who are human, and even (gasp) a little “flawed.” And he’s also generalizing, about women’s magazines. Glamour has taken leaps and bounds in this arena as of late,

Sha: Oh right I’ve heard about that.

me: whereas Cosmo is offensive just by existing.

Sha: Hahaha. The industry is just really fucked

me: Well yes. Women in media, in general, are not well represented.

Sha:  HENCE the blog. lol

me:  Haha huzzah! And I don’t think you get brownie points just for being “honest” about it.

Sha: No, he’s sleazy. But I would expect him to be, I guess? I don’t expect the editor in chief at Cosmo to be a good person either, or hollywood studio executives. They don’t want to upset the status quo, that’s how they make their money

me:  BUT THEY ARE CREATING THE STATUS QUO. Sorry for the shouty caps.

Sha: Hahaha. I think that we create it, by buying it. The collective we. If we stopped buying it they would stop making it that way.

me: True… I think it’s a cycle, because we are in a consumer culture, and we are desensitized. So yes, I agree with your point, but

Sha:  But we can make choices in what we consume. I don’t know if there’s like a male magazine equivalent to Bust Magazine? Is there?

me: I don’t think so. But let’s take Dove, as a for instance.

Sha:  yes

me: Great Real Beauty campaign, right, but so many women say

Sha:  right

me: “That corporation also owns Axe body spray, so they’re hypocrites, so I won’t buy Dove”

Sha:  ah

me: But by not supporting the campaign that’s great, aren’t we sending a message that it isn’t important to us? Unless you’re writing to them saying “I will not buy Dove until you stop making Axe,” then no one knows about your principled protest. And like you said, our dollars matter. So buy Dove, not Axe. Amiright?

Sha: Right, yeah that does make sense.

me: It’s not productive to say All Women’s Magazines are to blame, because they’re not all the same. We have to support the pieces that resonate with us. I subscribe to Glamour, not Cosmo. Bust is a women’s magazine, and it’s amazing.

Sha: It’s like the indie flick that gets great reviews and makes no money

me: Exactly! It’s why box office earnings are so important. Opening weekend, specifically. But I digress.

Sha: The thing about advertising and magazines, because most magazines are mostly about advertising, is that even if it seems good… like the dove campaign, for example, and even if good things come from it, like the dove campaign, we are still just being sold something (soap), but also a feeling…

me: Of course. I say better that feeling of positivity and acceptance than feelings of worthlessness and insignificance.

Sha: …and I’m sure that even though there are well-intentioned people who worked on the Dove campaign along the way, and they were glad to put it out there, it was backed by people who were like, “You know what women seem to want right now? Acceptance. Let’s sell that to them so they will buy this soap.”

me: Which again, in my opinion is a better message, and a result of what women want right now, what we are demanding, which speaks to your point that our dollars do our talking. So ultimately I think if more media responded that way – “this is what women want so let’s give it to them to sell our product” – that’s essentially a good thing! They’re going to try to sell us shit no matter what. That part isn’t going away.

Sha: Haha that’s true.

me: Personally I’d rather have diversity and acceptance selling me things than Rosie Huntington Whitley draped over a fur rug in her panties. (Added after chat: Omg I just said that off the cuff, but look! It’s almost an actual thing.)

Sha: Well we’re both from a demographic like that and plenty of companies use that on us. But not all. Many of them don’t need to use it. Like men’s magazines!

me: Way to bring it full circle! And I suppose my biggest issue there, is that the kind of objectification in men’s magazines is the sort that leads to perpetuating the treatment of women as objects.

Sha: Yep.

me: And in women’s magazines, the objectification makes women feel like they Should be treated as objects. So all around, things need to change, and if it’s one greedy corporation at a time, so be it.

Sha: It’s a gross business. I don’t know what it would take to change it but talking about it is definitely a start.

Elizabeth’s Summary: Talking about it is absolutely a great start. We can see the ripple effect that these conversations are having – there are countless grassroots campaigns that have set out to spark the necessary discourse, in order to change the way women are portrayed in the media and the way we see ourselves in everyday life.

Together, these campaigns have already had a powerful effect on representations of women in commercial media (as evidenced by the ads below, which were unheard of in popular culture before the body image movements of the last several years), but there is still a long way to go. Our voices, our insistence on respect and real representation, cannot be too loud or too prevalent. This is how we will change the story.

On that note, here are some steps in the right direction: 

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Yes! More women of color! More women who are curvy!

Dove-Campaign-for-Real-BeautyYes! Not all women are under 25!

nikethighsYes! Women’s bodies are strong, healthy sources of support for how we live our lives!

And if this:

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Leads to this:

real real women
Then let’s demand more of it!

This link is also posted in my summary above, but y’all should check out Beauty Redefined! It was pure coincidence that I stumbled upon these amazing ladies while doing my google search for diverse ads. Show them some love and support. And let’s plaster the world with their amazing post-it notes!

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