by Jarrah Hodge
My latest episode of Feminism F.A.Q. is on the issue of objectification, specifically sexual objectification, and why this is an issue for feminists. Check out the video below and read my notes and the transcript after the jump.
Even with the scores of sexist advertising out there, I was seriously disturbed to come across a series of ads using depictions of domestic violence to promote an Edmonton salon.
From the Edmonton Sun:
Fluid Salon, located near Whyte Avenue, launched the ad series “Look good in all you do” more than one year ago.
But on Monday, the series took a public lashing from local social media users after a New York advertising copywriter featured one of the ads – depicting apparent domestic violence – in a blog.
“I was appalled,” Kasia Gawlak said in an interview. She’s a blogger who saw the ad Monday morning. “It’s like saying ‘at least you have good looking hair when your boyfriend abuses you.’ The women who have been abused with real pain, heartbreak and suffering – it’s not something that should be trivialized to sell a hair salon.”
It’s disgusting, to say the least, to imply that a woman who was being beaten by her male partner would feel better knowing at least her hair looked good.
Unfortunately, it’s not even just the one ad. Another in the series of the “Look good in all you do” shows a woman wearing tights and a bra while smoking a cigarette sitting on a dirty mattress in an alley (implying she’s a prostitute). If you look closely, it gets even worse. On their Facebook page, someone pointed out another ad showing a woman’s being dragged from a hearse by her legs features the “corpse” wearing the same shoes as the woman in the alley ad. Yes, That Jill also found a picture of them doing the woman model’s makeup for the first ad, with the caption: “hottest battered woman I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.”
In their other campaigns there’s a racist ad for Brazilian blow-outs, featuring white women in pseudo-tribal makeup, and another ad showing a woman coated with oil and wearing feathers to promote a portion of hair cut proceeds going to oil spill relief. The women-as-animals in distress is a frequent tactic of other sexist ad offender PETA.
Fluid Hair owner Sarah Cameron, yet again proving that women can be their own gender’s worst enemies, says she sees no problem with the ads: “It might strike a chord, but as the way our society and community is getting, we keep tailoring everything because everyone is getting so sensitive…Anyone who has a connection or a story behind anything can be upset or have an opinion. We are not trying to attack anyone,” Cameron told the Sun.
Tell Cameron & Fluid that trivializing violence against women isn’t acceptable under any circumstances. You can post on the image gallery on Fluid’s Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150395289750206.610405.713520205&type=1 or use the contact form on their site here: http://fluidhair.ca/?page_id=39. You can also complain to Advertising Standards Canada here.
So E. Cain’s post about American Apparel’s advertising strategies has broken a new record for most hits per day on this blog, and has generated a lot of interesting discussion. Should we assume the models are feeling empowered about their representations, or is the message the ads send of women’s sexual availability more important? Is it unfair to pick on American Apparel given their efforts to end sweatshop labour, or are they giving with one hand and taking with the other? Be sure to visit the post and add your thoughts!
In case you don’t have a chance to check out all the discussion so far, here’s one letter from Liz, which I particularly liked. For more about Liz, check out her MySpace.
(@ ZSMWISODM re: “Quit being so comfortable with your misogyny and male privilege.” LOVE that! :) I would love to see that on an AA t-shirt, rofl.)
I stumbled upon this, and decided to send a rather polite letter to AA. Thought I’d share:
Confused. . .
Hello there, American Apparel creators, consumers, and eye brow-raisers!
First, I’d like to start off by thanking the creators, employees, and supporters of American Apparel. I think that it is fantastic that you all are leading the movement towards responsible consumerism in efforts like taking care of your employees (paying a living wage PLUS bling bling-in medical benefits) and being a political symbol for immigration rights (WTF was that all about, Obama?). Not to mention your support of GLTG community, natural disaster relief, and organic products!! So, in short, w00t for 13 years strong in Los Angeles!
Another thing that I really appreciate about your company is the fact that you use “real” people for your advertisements! The natural, no touch-ups look of your ads is a welcome change to the unrealistic, Barbie-esque trend that our culture has leaned on for so long. You models are beautiful, natural, and <STRIKE>naked</STRIKE> wear your line well.
Ok, so this is where I am going with all the blither blather: it is great how socially and environmentally conscious you all are as a company. You are pioneers of our time, and show respect for many-a-cause. It is, therefore, striking to me that you all don’t seem to show such consideration for the F-word movement. (So sorry, that is Feminist Movement).
And I get it! Sex sells, without a doubt! Where most corporations exploit… well.. practically every marginalized group for the sake of profits, you all seem to have drawn the line at the sexualization of (mostly only) women in the media.
But that doesn’t make sense! Why would such a progressive, responsible company overlook a cause that affects such an enormous population? I’ve decided to consider the unlikely, preposterous idea that not everyone in the world (American Apparel, specifically) sees things exactly as I see them. Crazy, I know… but I’m really at the end of my rope here, so I’m putting my “the world revolved around me” mentality on hold for a moment to ask you this questions sincerely:
Whats up with that sh*t?
Now, be not intimidated by my use of the F-word (feminism…. in case you were thinking of the other, much less provocative F-word…). I know that we, as a group, have a bit of a bad reputation. After all, the radical notion of equality has never really been well received. But I promise that we, as a group, are not the man-hating crazy people that often come so readily to mind. In fact, we tend to err on the side of loving men, even if all of us don’t like to F-word them (er.. the other F-word)
Point being, in a culture where push up bra’s and thongs for 8 year old girls (who want to be.. sexy?) are almost acceptable and clothing ads look like porn (ahem…. I would just like to note that “How can I download photos from your ad archive” is in your top FAQ’s… just saying… ) it would be really great if us F-words had the support of such an awesome company!
Now, before you answer, I’d just like to squeeze in there the fact that women, myself included, enjoy feeling sexy, looking at women who are sexy (regardless of sexual orientation), and buying clothes that are comfy-a-la-sexy. But, for me at least (and remember, the world tends to revolve around me), there is a line in the sand!
On one side the sea-shell letters say something like “I feel like a sexually empowered Piranha ready to suck the stamina out of my lover(s).” Now, the other side is kind of blurry from so many corporate feet standing on it, but it says something like “hello underpaid bimbo’s– thanks for selling our sh*t and doing that thing you’re good at.. standing around looking pretty. Oh, and could you bed over a little more and turn this way, so we can see your nipples and ass? Thanks, doll.”
The allure of the provocative and taboo is great in our puritan-based culture, but then again so is the allure of cold, hard cash at the expense of everyone else.
So, my delectably brilliant and minority-friendly American Apparelers, why have you made such strong social-political stances on other major issues, but choose to “exploit” the sexuality of women (and men) in your advertisement? Clearly, there is a strong moral compass about your company, so what does it offer on the struggle of women in our culture and the ever-exhausting push to be perceived as something other than the playthings of (predominantly) men? I daresay the American Apparel sees the ads as provocative, sexy, but overall unharmful. Why?
Also, what color socks are you wearing? :)
All the best,
Trendy clothing company American Apparel has a lot going for it. For starters, it has a great concept – simple yet fashionable clothes, available in a wide variety of colours. Secondly, the brand practices corporate social responsibility, it produces sweatshop free clothes made in downtown LA. In addition, workers are paid well over minimum wage, given full benefits, subsidized English lessons are provided for immigrant employees (on company time) as well as year-round employment. This worker-friendly model is rare and distinguishes American Apparel from competitors.
With that being said, I feel compelled to write about American Apparel because I find it truly ironic that a company built on the principles of non-exploitation and social responsibility when it comes to workers rights, can be amongst the leaders in pushing the limits of social acceptability when it comes to depictions of women in consumer advertising.
American Apparel advertisements are easily recognizable based on their overtly sexual nature. They regularly feature women in provocative poses – lying in bed, legs spread, on all fours, from behind, bending over – trust me, they’ve done it all.
These racy advertisements render the company vulnerable to charges of exploitation and objectification of women. They epitomize the male gaze and are taken from the perspective of a heterosexual man looking at a woman who is (presumably) sexually available for him. In addition, the women depicted in the ads are selling themselves – body and sexuality – not clothes (hell, most of the time they are hardly wearing any clothes).
So I ask you, what distinguishes consumer advertising from pornography? Why are certain photographs – often described as explicit, raunchy and sexually charged – relegated to the dark corners of stores and the backs of the magazine racks when American Apparel advertising – often described using the same language – is blown up and plastered on billboards, buses and magazines?
What are the limits and when do we decide that a company has crossed them?
These are important questions and American Apparel –worker friendly policies, sexually explicit advertising and all – provides a very interesting case study.
If you’re interested in recent campaigns against American Apparel, here are some links: