|The Thistle||Volume 13, Number 2: Dec., 2000/Jan., 2001.|
The Angry Feminist
Well, once again the Christmas season is upon us, and it seems like everywhere we turn there is some kind of advertisement trying to convince parents that this or that store sells the only thing that will make their children happy this year. Apart from the shameless consumerism of all this, there is a disturbing gendered undercurrent to this Madison Avenue tripe. An undercurrent that is all the more dangerous because we have become so used to it that many have begun to look upon it as if it were as inevitable as the sunrise. One doesn’t have to look too closely at toy ads to notice the standard color schemes of these advertisements and who is shown playing with what toys. Surrounded by blue backgrounds we find little boys playing with action figures, toy trucks, miniature tool kits, model airplanes, and plastic guns. Opposing this are pictures of young girls floating in a sea of pink quietly playing with Barbie dolls, makeup kits, Easy Bake ovens, and miniaturized kitchen utensils. I know, I know everyone always bashes the genderization of toys, but that’s just the way things are, right. Boys are naturally aggressive and war like, and girls are just naturally passive little home makers. It doesn’t sound so clear cut when you spell it out, does it? The roots of sexism and patriarchy run so deep in this culture that sometimes we are almost incapable of distinguishing cause from effect.
It is a given that what we are taught as children shapes the way we perceive the world as adults. I don’t mean that in any kind of Freudian sense, but merely that how we see the world is strongly biased by our socialization. Everything from the schools we attend, to our parents, right down to the clothes we wear and the toys we play with work together to create our concept of gender and the power dynamics that exists between them. When everything with in a child’s environment teaches him that it is unmanly to cry when he gets hurt, or that only girls play with dolls, then is it any wonder that he would internalize this concept and thus act out his culturally defined gender? Or, when a young girl is taught that her only goal in life is to stay thin, look pretty (and by pretty I mean pretty as defined through male-centered sexuality, which is by its very definition demeaning and one sided), and that her ultimate satisfaction can only come through being a mother and caring for a child, is it any wonder that women are leaving the workplace and returning to the home in higher numbers than ever seen in recent American history? These desires that are so often touted as natural and as inescapable as taxes and death, are thus seen to be nothing more than a small part in the giant, self-reinforcing network of socialization. To try and act in opposition to these artificial gender norms is to be cast out of the “normal” crowd and to be forever banished from the popular circles.
This network of gender socialization is not, however, only active for young children. In order to maintain the stark divide between the sexes these toy commercials help to create, popular culture must constantly reinforce these gender roles throughout the rest of our lives. If you look at advertisements aimed at teens and young adults, you will find the same gender bias and down right misogynistic attitudes as you can find in commercials aimed at little kids. The focus is now not exclusively toys, however, because adolescents is when the advertisements switch from exclusively defining gender roles, to defining “normal” sexuality as well. One merely has to look at a fashion magazine or turn on a television to be inundated by sexist imagery. One company that has been remarkably successful at both using and reinforcing a male centered sexuality to hock its goods is Candies, a perfume company. An example of their sexist advertising (which they pass off as racy and daring) is shown below.
This image was originally brought to my attention in the August/September 2000 issue of off our backs, the feminist news journal, and was first printed in Glamour magazine. The ad depicts a famous rock idol with a self satisfied smirk on his face pushing a button that causes a rocket to blast off right between the spread legs of a beautiful woman perched on the screen. The message of such an ad is clear, and in fact dominates over the intended message of “buy our fragrance”. In a startlingly clear manner, this ad depicts the cultural sexuality many take for granted, i.e. that a man can, at the push of a button, have any woman he wants and that she is just supposed to sit back and let him enjoy it. Now, some of you might think that I am reading too much into a simple ad, but just try looking critically at the advertisements assaulting us every day. Behind every car commercial or beer add you will find the not so hidden dictates of what defines a “man”, and behind every appliance, cleaning product, or make up add you will find the cultural definition of a “woman”. This is no accident or simple reflection of our collective desires. Until we realize that the gender roles we act out every day are NOT exclusively natural or biological and that they are in fact created by very specific and real environmental conditions starting from infancy, we can never hope to begin the process of tearing down the products of centuries of sexism and gender bias. As a people, we will never be truly free until each one of us is able to honestly and openly choose our own future without having artificial boundaries imposed upon us at every turn.
|The Thistle||Volume 13, Number 3: Dec., 2000/Jan., 2001.|