Advertising Awareness

Although it was all over my Facebook wall a month or so ago, I never forwarded the Always #LikeAGirl ad before today, nor did I choose to say anything on JALC about it.

My hesitation was similar* to that when Pantene urged women “Don’t let labels hold you back” several months ago, in an ad Sheryl Sandberg helped take epically viral, or when the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” ad went epically viral some months before that:

My feelings about these female empowerment campaigns ad campaigns are always pretty similar, one to the next. Basically, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, these ads do bring up aspects of my own lived experience, whether it’s the double standards I’ve faced around being “bossy” or “bitchy,” or my habit of being hyper-self-critical, around my physical appearance and, sometimes, pretty much everything else about me.

On the other hand, it’s a little bit galling — okay, a lot galling — to have these quasi-empowering “accept yourself” messages come from companies for whom a significant percentage of the profit margin is based on the proposition that women will feel bad enough about themselves to buy your product so that we can be groomed, tweezed, moisturized or shampooed in such a way as to overcome our innate debased female-ness and become more socially acceptable.

Quite frankly, my conflicted feelings about this trend have reached a high enough level that I never even bothered to watch the Always ad above, or Pantene’s went-viral-one-month-ago “Sorry Not Sorry” ad before tonight when I was preparing this post for JALC.

So, yeah, I’ve never been in the corner of Dr. Bernice Ledbetter, who writes over on HuffPo that these ads are “truly a banner in the battleground of the feminist movement.”

I actually find that perspective quite sincerely and incredibly baffling. Do you not see how the women in the Dove ad are mostly, white, thin, not-too-old, and conventionally attractive to such a degree that the deeper message of the piece can easily function as little more than “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today”? Can you explain to me how women getting shinier, bouncier hair is a viable solution for misogynist attitudes and prejudices against female intelligence, agency and ambition? As Emily Shire observes about the #LikeAGirl ad:

Yes, it’s far more appealing on the surface to have pads and tampons promoted as somehow part of a larger goal to change the meaning of “like a girl.” But the campaign is shamelessly emotionally exploitative. It demonstrates real problems—femaleness as a derogatory statement, decrease in self-confidence as women mature—in a beautiful and clear way, but then pretends a corporate manufacturer of panty liners meant to “help you feel fresh ever day” can solve them.

(And again, notice here how problems that are deeply-rooted and systemic, based in cultural norms, problems that are perpetuated and policed as much by external messages as by internalized ones — the very nature of what I call “the miasma of misogyny” — are presented as something to be solved by women’s policing of their femaleness and their female bodies.)

And yet, however much I’m able to see the problematics in these “short films,” their innate and even troubling limitations, I still admit I kind of like them. My affection hasn’t been strong enough for me to join in amplifying their viral distribution, or perhaps my awareness of the flaws has been too strong to allow me to join in the fun. But I don’t have it in me to work up the same kind of feminist outrage about these ads as I’ve displayed here on other occasions.

Which is why I so appreciate Natalie Baker over at Bitch Magazine for reminding me today that it’s possible to live in a yes/and rather than an either/or place.**

So here we are, once again, stuck in another good vs. not good enough debate: either these ads are radically tackling sexism through a historically appalling medium or it doesn’t matter what these ads say because corporations don’t actually care and will say anything to make a buck.

What if it’s both? That is to say, what if these companies are forwarding feminist messaging despite not actually caring about it? And what if that still helps us?

Like Jezebel said back when the Always ad was first released:

While all ad companies are bullshit liars to a point, willing to do or say whatever it takes to get your money, I would rather have empowerment cheese over shame-based guilt, which seems to be the two usual suspects in a capitalist economy.

That’s a sentiment I can get on board with, especially when I think back to Super Bowl Sunday’s usual dreck. To return to Baker:***

For those of us who surround ourselves with intersectional anti-oppressive ideology, what’s considered progress in the mainstream can feel like a joke. But that’s our piece of the jigsaw—to be progressive is by definition to be ahead of the curve. While we don’t need to be naively over-celebratory about billion-dollar conglomerates pandering to female consumers, I do get immense enjoyment from the fact that such companies are doing so, not because they want to, but because they have to. . . . I can get down with those messages, even when they’re being generated out of corporations’ self-interest.

In fact, I like that they’re doing it out of self-interest. I don’t want feminism to be charity. I want companies to consider supporting feminism to be necessary for their survival.

(Emphasis added.)

son-you-throw-like-a-girl-raised-in-a_12707Yeah, it’s all advertising, so at some core level it’s all inherently corporatized and bullshit on account of that perspective. On the other hand, if the growing prevalence of these ads indicates (and even encourages) movement towards the tipping point when the patriarchy/kyriarchy transmutes? I can get on board with that.

So, maybe less of a banner moment (sorry, Dr. Ledbetter!) and perhaps more of a weathervane. Showing the shifts in the cultural currents, a change in the wind of how people think and talk and feel.

* Okay, my hesitation was a little different because I hadn’t yet revived JALC, so I didn’t have to make the “blog or not to blog” call on it. Just the (arguably more public) “to Facebook or not to Facebook” call.

** Yes, this was posted 3 days ago, but I read it today. As such, she reminded me today. And I am grateful for that.

*** In case I haven’t said so clearly enough, please go read the entire post in its entirety. All of it.

———-

Image credit: http://www.funniestmemes.com/funniest-memes-son-you-throw-like-a-girl-raised-in-a/

Crowning Glory

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

~~ Henry IV, Part II, 3.1

I was on the search for something quick and whimsical today, and I think I may have found it:

Australian retailer BlackMilk just launched its Princess & Villains collection inspired by the ladies of Disney. To be clear, this is a line for adults. As in, adult humans are encouraged to wear this clothing on their bodies. (h/t Jezebel)

I’m pretty much in agreement with Jezebel’s Kara Brown about the ugly/tacky quotient on these. Seriously. This is a line of clothing I am not particularly upset doesn’t run into plus sizes. (I know: from a general fat activism perspective, it’s troubling when any high fashion line perpetuates thin-ness as the only body type worth draping in fashionable clothing. But speaking only for my own personal taste in clothing? I’m not real upset to have this particular line barred from me on account of the sizing and sourcing choices.)

But if nothing else, it’s a good excuse for a bit of a link-fest. (That turned into something more substantive than I originally expected. I quite literally cannot stop myself from pontificating, sometimes…)

———-

First off, some things I learned existed while Googling for this post: Disney wedding dresses. And haute couture adaptations of Disney Princess gowns. (Who knew?)

And then there’s this gallery on DeviantArt that presents Disney Princesses/Heroines garbed in “their” Princes’ outfits. True confession: There’s a number of these folks I don’t recognize at all. I used to keep up with Disney releases, but clearly I stopped doing so longer ago than I thought I had…

Anyhow. This Princess-to-Prince gallery I remember seeing back when it went viral last fall, but this one, which presents more historically accurate gowns for the characters, was new to me today.

———-

Princess-Culture-590x442“Princess Culture” is a bit of a tricky, problematic thing.

In one corner of the debate are those who point to its influence as another source for the misogynist miasma that helps reinforce the ways girls/women should be primarily focused on their attractiveness and marriageability. For example, Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella At My Daughter:

It’s part of this culture that encourages girls to define themselves through beauty and play-sexiness—and eventually, real sexiness—and I don’t think that’s the yardstick we want our daughters measuring themselves by.

Experts say femininity, identity and sexuality have become a performance for girls. Girls perform sexual confidence but they don’t connect it to erotic desire. It’s not about their own desire, their own self-determination.

As a parent, I didn’t realize how much of my job was going to be protecting my kid’s childhood from being a marketer’s land grab—companies telling her who she should be.

See also: Merida’s attempted Princess makeover.

Disney’s redesign of the character tamed her unruly hair, expanded her breasts, shrank her waist, enlarged her eyes, plastered on makeup, pulled her (now-glittering) dress off her shoulders, and morphed her defiant posture into a come-hither pose. The bow-wielding Merida of Brave — a character who explicitly fought against the princess world her mother tried to push her into in the film — was becoming what she hated, and inadvertently revealing the enormously problematic nature of Disney’s Princess line.

And yet, there are also those who see Disney Princesses in a different light. Possibly as a mild expression of societal — I would say “patriarchal” — values already embedded in the culture. Values more strongly caused and propagated by other sources:

It’s true that princess culture is complicit in keeping in place many of the troubling stressors women and girls suffer. But when you talk to me about impossible beauty standards and eating disorders, I’d point to Photoshop and the “obesity epidemic” before I’d point to stylized animation. When you talk to me about early sexualization of children, consider the retailers selling padded inch-thick push-up bras in the kid’s department before looking at Disney’s chaste kisses between adults. (Unless you think a kid shouldn’t see their parents kissing, in which case… I don’t think we’ll ever be on the same page.)

These are problems, sure, but they’re not problems Disney created, and Disney isn’t the primary villain here. At least not while my seven-year-old is walking by billboards for Victoria’s Secret the size of a school bus.

And then there’s even a more pointed critique of those wishing to critique Princess Culture:

Some say “Princess Culture” promotes materialism, patriarchy, and a sadistic need for long, shiny hair. Many moms worry a Snow White doll will turn their pre-K Amazons into simpering ninnies more concerned with looks than grades and goals. But they’re wrong—and I speak from personal experience. The truth is, Princess Culture helped me become more confident, more adventurous, and more okay with being different. It also helped me understand and embrace the concept of feminism at a very early age. Seriously. (Elle.)

I have enough passing nostalgia for my years loving Disney animation that I can definitely feel the pull to defend what may have been treasured bits of childhood. Still, I’m more on the side of those who remain troubled by Princess Culture. To quote Orenstein’s book (as excerpted here at NPR):

It is tempting, as a parent, to give the new pink-and-pretty a pass. There is already so much to be vigilant about, and the limits of our tolerance, along with our energy, slip a little with each child we have. So if a spa birthday party would make your six-year-old happy (and get her to leave you alone), really, what is the big deal? After all, girls will be girls, right? I agree, they will — and that is exactly why we need to pay more, rather than less, attention to what is happening in their world. According to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture’s emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior. In one study of eighth-grade girls, for instance, self-objectification — judging your body by how you think it looks to others — accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another linked the focus on appearance among girls that age to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. Even brief exposure to the typical, idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls’ opinion of themselves, both physically and academically. Nor, as they get older, does the new sexiness lead to greater sexual entitlement. According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College who studies teenage girls’ desire, “They respond to questions about how their bodies feel — questions about sexuality or arousal — by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.”

As such, I’m very glad to see signs of the Princess Counter-Culture. Like Orenstein’s media and activity suggestions for interested parents — including a Hiyao Miyazaki shout-out!! Or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor giving career advice on Sesame Street:

Or Goldieblox:

And yet. True confession #2: I have these on my desk at work:

pop-vinyl-queens

Plus a Cruella de Ville stapler.

cruella-stapler

So I’m as complicit in this commercialized mess as anyone….

———-

Image credits:

Replace the princesshttp://saraelyafi.com/2013/05/14/it-is-time-to-replace-the-princess-with-the-woman

Pop! Vinyl: http://www.toywiz.com/mini2packmalqueen.html?gclid=CjwKEAjwjN2eBRDbyPWl0JLY5lYSJACPo0Ui-tViTSQrsDJ_yiUBBT-KxYkbnS8F4leDh8iEbSD3eRoC8yXw_wcB

Cruella: http://whirlyjoy.com/2012/12/11/why-my-mascot-is-cruella-de-vil/