Masculinity vs Feminism

Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. In today’s globalized and interconnected world, feminism advocates are gaining traction and popularity as their intended information are disseminated seamlessly and effectively via social media. Women are more involved in today’s society because they also contribute domestically as well as to the growth of the economy by the work they do. The advertisement was probably to exhibit gender equality between both sexes. Targeted audiences are probably modern white collar workers who may find it intriguing to see a man kneeling to a woman, as if submitting himself as a slave.

Bell Hook mentioned, “Domination is ‘natural’, that it is right for the strong to rule over the weak, the powerful over the powerless”. To this I concur as I paralleled it to the ‘Iron cage’ concept by Max Weber. His theory of rationalization refers to the process by which modern society has increasingly become concerned with: Efficiency: achieving the maximum results with a minimum amount of effort. In contrast, feminists strongly believe that women can break the stereotypical notion of being the powerless sex and can stand on equal footing as men. Instead of allowing men to achieve maximum results with least effort from them.

In conclusion, I find feminism being a topic that is controversial and yet paramount in today’s society. As any community progresses, more discourses related to feminism are going to enlarge the sphere of discussion. Hence, I postulate that each gender have their pivotal role to play in any society and should leverage on their own specialty to betterment.

Female empowerment?

The Professional Provident Society (PPS)’s Women Acknowledged campaign “aims to present a different viewpoint to the way professionally qualified women are viewed in society” (PPS, 2018), to empower South African women, and women in general, by tackling the negative stereotypes attached to them and their jobs.

As part of the campaign, this ad interrogates the traditional stereotype of women as homemakers. South African women are usually (re)presented as aid recipients, with women typically depicted as mothers with young children. The placing of a South African woman in a child’s bedroom in this ad alludes to the traditional gender role and depiction of women. However, by situating it in a modern context where women are professionally employed, the ad subverts the gender stereotype that “the kids are her job (as a homemaker)”. Her competence with children instead becomes a strength in her job as a paediatrician. The ad thus emphasizes women’s professional capabilities, legitimising their qualifications and employment, contesting Orientalising depictions of South African women.

Problematically, in its attempt to empower women, the ad reinforces patriarchal ideas. Empowerment is presented as enabling women to have the same opportunities and outcomes as men (ie career). Consequently, uneven power relations are insidiously reproduced as men are held as the ideal: female empowerment becomes dependent on them acquiring traditionally male roles, instead of judging them in and of themselves.

Despite that, the ad’s acknowledgement of a specific individual, Dr Nagar, as a paediatric cardiologist, does empower women as it reinserts individuality into representations of the female body. As Franklin et al (1991:180) pointed out, the reading of the female body as a text contributed to “objectification, whereby [it] becomes…devoid of subjectivity or personhood”. In depicting women as individuals, the ad inhibits the objectification of women, empowering them as different individuals.

The Singaporean Woman’s Checklist (or not…)

“Who is soft and feminine and also tough and gritty.”

In September 2017, NTUC Income released an advertisement titled “Times have changed.” hoping to dispel the gender stereotypes of Singaporean girls and women. The two minute long video takes viewers (potentially women in their mid 20’s to 30’s) on a journey through an expected version of what she should be — a ballerina that doesn’t play ball with the boys, a girl that sits with her legs together, who does the dishes, eats salads, is skinny, gets married before 30, becomes a working woman and a good mother.

“Before I was 20, I was told I was fat and nice ladies don’t dress like that”
Before I was 40, I was told I had to be the best mother,
do well at my job and focus on my daughter.”

These aspects are in line with McRobbie’s idea of “The Perfect” as it supports the idea of women “having it all” in the hetero-normative vector of competition for young women today. It also touches on how women have to be slim to gain social approval as the female body is now a social structure and a social collective, ruled not by oneself but by others.

“I’ll raise her to make her own rules, and be whoever she wants to be.”

The twist is revealed with 20 seconds to the end of the ad, after the gamut of stereotypes and gender roles. The mother accepts her daughter for being sporty, and they walk off happily ever after.

Income. Made Different.
Evolving with the needs of today’s women

This ad sells the notion of Income as a progressive brand that stays relevant to the changing values of society, specifically that of women. They even promote this in the ad’s tagline “Evolving with the needs of today’s women”.

However I am critical of the ad as it’s acceptance to a new form of femininity is backhanded and clumsy. Their message doesn’t shine through until the last 20 seconds, instead they circle around gender stereotypes of a woman, essentially, telling women what they already know and have been subject to in reality.

The ad also displays a typical Chinese Singaporean, middle class, heterosexual family life. We see this right from the beginning where the child’s family can afford to send her to ballet lessons, the woman in her 20’s can afford a ‘healthy’ salad lunch in a restaurant and attending fancy weddings. She is married to a man in her 30’s, living in a spacious home with an abundance of toys for their daughter. It only shows how Income addresses gender inequality of a specific profile of women in our society, and ignores a whole group of women who face not just gender discrimination but also racial and socio-economic inequality in our society.

Reference:

Angela McRobbie. 2015. Notes on the Perfect. Australian Feminist Studies 30:83, 3-20.

“Perfect” Body: Victoria’s (sharing her) Secret

In 2014 Victoria Secrets (VS) released an ad for its lingerie line with the tagline “The Perfect Body”. The ad was meant to be a word play indicating that their lingerie was a perfect fit to an individual’s body. However, it featured only one type of women – extremely skinny (lean limbs, visible ribs and hip-bones, etc.), fair/white skin and tall. This  marketing of a specific body type as “perfect” received extreme backlash. 

It is very common for women to have body hair, scars, pigmentation and stretch marks. But presenting bodies that are heavily airbrushed and photoshopped, rid of these “imperfections”, places pressure on women to emulate those impossible body standards. Further, it encourages a culture of shame, when they do not possess the “perfect” body (McRobbie, 2015). McRobbie (2015) explains that this shame culture is usually associated with the idea of appealing to men. These impossible standards of perfection are standards imposed by men to satisfy the male gaze. And when consumers try to comply to these demands, it reiterates that women exist to give men “visual pleasure” (McRobbie, p. 11, 2015). 

Also whose bodies are being represented must be observed. It is evident that most of the women in the ad are white women. This representation of a minuscule fraction of women by a huge global brand, firstly, portrays the idea that you have to look like white women to be “perfect”. Secondly, it must be noted that the models’ bodies are usually very lean except for voluptuous breasts and butts. In the US, these are prominently recognised as features of black women. This ad shows objectification of the Other. This selective adopting and commodifying of black woman’s body is the process of “eating, consuming and forgetting the Other” that hooks (2006) explains. Consumers of the ad, “consume” the black female features out of context and fail to associate it to the black woman herself. They “forget” that it has anything to do with the black woman at all. 

At this juncture, it is crucial to question the idea that women have to be “perfect” at all. Compared to ads targeted at men, women have more ads, like this, that emphasise perfection. VS is an expensive lingerie brand affordable mostly to upper middle class and upper class women. Selling the idea of perfect to these women who are probably working emphasises that looking sexy “has tradable value in a job market and economy” (McRobbie, 2015). The idea of perfect for these demographic of women demands they remain competent in successfully performing their sexuality and simultaneously exploring other regions of their life. Radical feminists may even argue seeing ads like this, targeting working women, plastered on billboards, against malls subconsciously reinforces that women have to look like this and work towards achieving this look. This distracts them from competing with men to achieve other goals, such as excelling at their jobs or building their careers. 

Jamil vs Kardashian(s): Who is the real feminist?

In this now-deleted Instagram ad, Hollywood reality star Khloe Kardashian was advertising a meal-replacement protein shake in a pink bra and chiselled body. As with everything else the Kardashians do, this ad received much backlash from the public.

One prominent critic was Jameela Jamil, an actress and activist who blasted Kardashian for projecting a false image of her appearance and influencing her large audience to do the same. Jamil also pointed out that the company sponsoring the post, Flat Tummy Co is not medically approved and is overall, dubious.

Jamil has also previously critiqued Khloe’s sister, Kim, for advertising appetite-suppressing lollies from the same company on her Instagram account and called out the family for unknowingly being “double agents of the patriarchy,” a woman still putting out the patriarchal narrative & benefitting from it financially. In this case, painting the perfect and exoticised image, particularly for women of colour in the US. (The family however, has an Armenian background) Both Kardashians have however, defended what is essentially their right and choice to advertise whatever it is they want to.

This was quite an interesting debacle which I thought framed the conflict presented by the divergence between feminist studies and cultural studies in “Feminism and Cultural Studies: Pasts, Presents, Futures” an even more relevant perspective, especially with regards to other intersecting factors like race/ethnicity as well as a massive media platform and following.

The reading points out that one main factor creating the divergence is the impact of poststructuralism and postmodernism on the 2 discourses of feminism and cultural studies. While these 2 schools of knowledge helped problematise the traditional understanding of truth, it has also introduced an overarching narrative of subjectivity and individuality.

The subjectivity thereby pits Kardashian’s “truth” against that of Jamil’s, with the mass audience of both personalities ultimately having the right to create and live their own truth as well.

 

Nominate Dad, a Faux-Feminist Ad

At first glance, we see a man as the centrepiece of this Huggies’ baby wipes advertisement. On one hand he carries a child and on the other, a diaper bag. His grin denotes a sense of pride and satisfaction, perhaps from fulfilling his ‘daddy duties’. Above his head lies a banner which reads ‘nominate a dad to prove our #1 wipes clean better‘. Coupled with the radiating background, it appears as if the subject has achieved an idealised status.

What do these signifiers mean? A feminist analysis would suggest a subversion of gendered norms in relation to care work. He is in his work attire, associated with waged labour in the public realm but yet also preoccupied with reproductive labour that lies within the private sphere. Such juxtaposition implies going beyond his line of duty and challenging the gender division of labour which presumes women’s responsibility for reproductive labour(McDowell, 1989). Does this advertisement offer a utopian kernel of gender justice and egalitarianism in a post-feminist world? In my opinion, no.

Critically, the advertisement’s subtext upholds patriarchy at the expense of women in a neoliberal world. While the advertisement depicts an idealised family man, it is actually interpelating the wives of the household (who nominate their husbands). This reaffirms her place in reproductive labour. Alluding to McRobbie’s (2015:8) the Perfect, the women in this neoliberal age is in ‘constant calculations’ and ‘her sense of being in control’ put her ‘in charge of her affairs’, including the household. What makes this advertisement disenfranchising is that, despite being in charge, she requires the validation from her husband whose voice hold weight in testifying the wipe’s value . Meanwhile, the man – a white, middle-class heterosexual male- is held on a pedestal for doing a ‘women’s job’, one that is often performed not only by women but women across intersections of class and ethnicity, thus buttressing patriarchal relations.


Question for Primary Post on Feminism and Cultural Studies

Identify and conduct a feminist cultural analysis of an advertisement of your choice. This can be any form of advertisement: append an image of it (if a print ad) or provide a link to your ad. What do you think this advertisement is trying to sell and why? Who are its target audience? What kinds of gender ideals and norms does the advertisement promote? (Do they also intersect with those of other vectors of difference, such as class, sexuality, and race/ethnicity?)

Your answer must draw from at least one of the following texts:

Gayatri Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Cultural Studies”; bell hooks’s “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”; Sarah Franklin, Celia Lury, and Jackie Stacey’s “Feminism and Cultural Studies: Pasts, Presents, Futures”; Angela McRobbie’s “Notes on the Perfect”; Meghan Morris’s “Things to Do with Shopping Centers”

Note: This question tests how you think and write critically. Think of a central argument to organize your answer in a concise and structured manner. You might also provide specific example(s) of mass culture to ground your ideas.

Word limit: between 250 and 300 words