Tag Archives: Feminism

The White Life Is The Right Life

As stated in the video above, popular American clothing brand, Abercrombie & Fitch, draws billions of dollars in profit annually, despite the fact that the clothier makes no qualms about its exclusionary branding, marketing, and selling practices. Abercrombie & Fitch has capitalized off of embodying sexism, classism and racism at its finest. Dwight McBride, author of Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality in America, states, “Abercrombie & Fitch has devised a very clear marketing and advertising strategy that celebrates whiteness – a particularly privileged and leisure-class whiteness – and makes use of it as a “lifestyle” that it commodifies to sell otherwise extremely dull, uninspiring, and ordinary clothing… The danger of such a marketing scheme is that it depends upon the racist thinking of its consumer population in order to thrive” (66).

Powerful words, indeed. Abercrombie CEO, Michael Jeffries, makes absolutely no effort to disguise his elitism and is unapologetically dismissive of any criticism or other backlash. He has been quoted as saying, “we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Our people in the store are an inspiration to the customer. The customer sees the natural Abercrombie style and wants to be like the Brand Representative… Our Brand is natural, classic and current, with an emphasis on style. This is what a Brand Representative must be; this is what a Brand Representative must represent in order to fulfill the conditions of employment.

Excerpts of the Abercrombie Look Book, as quoted in McBride

Exclusivity is not limited to the target consumer, but potential employees as well, as exemplified by the Abercrombie Look Book, their employee manual. Keywords is the handbook include “natural”, “classic” and “American”, of which McBride explains, “such words in the context not only of Abercrombie, but in the context of US culture more broadly, are often understood for the coded ways of delineating the whiteness that they represent. Indeed, most of us carry in our imagination a very specific image that we readily access when such monikers as “natural, classic, American” are used” (McBride 68).

It is true that when one hears “natural, classic, American” that a certain image comes to mind, however that does not constitute the actual image of a classic American. It is largely accepted what that term mean, but that term, nor related image is an accurate reflection of an American, as Americans come in endless varieties.

The creation of an “A&F Look,” which almost invariably functions to produce an exclusively white staff of brand representatives in Abercrombie’s stores, might be understood as an elaborately devised method by the company of forestalling the potential legal exposure of such an exclusionary employment policy. The formal workings of what we might call the “corporate culture” of A&F provide the infrastructure for maintaining and reproducing the discriminatory, virtually all-white A&F look

McBride, 80

It is one matter to blatantly propagate one’s individual ideals, as Jeffries does so infamously. However it is another shocking and sobering reality altogether to realize the potent accuracy of McBride’s words about a marketing scheme depending on the racist thinking of the consumer, and their relation to Jeffries’ irreverence. The fact is, Abercrombie is extremely successful, despite their widely disseminated discriminatory ideologies. Jeffries has no reason to feel bad or show any remorse because it is not his convictions (or lack thereof) that are making him repulsively rich, it is the fact that there are millions of people buying into those beliefs – and buying the clothes.

Ellen DeGeneres spoke about the latest Abercrombie scandal on her talk show, and although intermixed with her usual comedic nature, there was a distinct gravity in her remarks. “Beauty isn’t between a size 0 and a size 8; it is not a number at all. It is not physical… What you look like on the outside is not what makes you cool, at all.”

According to him anyone who’s a plus size isn’t cool enough to shop in Abercrombie & Fitch. You know what I say to that? Oh, Fitch please!

Ellen DeGeneres

Similar to the impractical and precluding ideologies put forth by Abercrombie, the the beauty industry comes under similar scrutiny for its unrealistic standards. Michelle M. Lazar says in, “Discover the Power of Femininity!”, “The beauty industry has long been criticized by some feminists as oppressive upon women for its promulgation of impossible beauty standards” (506). This ad for Dove is a perfect example of the impossible standards. Impossible and simply unreal.

Beyonce in a L’Oreal advert


Freida Pinto in a L’Oreal advert

An ongoing issue in various sectors of the beauty industry is “whitewashing“, a trend in which the skin of women of color appear much lighter in printed ads than in real life. This practice is another perpetuation of the false notion that “white is right”, in lifestyle and standards of beauty.

Lazar was focusing on the relationship between feminism and consumerism, a “global sisterhood”, however in studying this, she had no choice but to acknowledge factors such as class, culture and ethnicity, and their lack of representation in the  majority of beauty advertising. “I shall consider the dimension of female consumer identity and identification afforded by power femininity, which co-opts a modern global sisterhood of “women.” One way in which a globalized consumer sisterhood is construed in the as is, paradoxically, through erasure of difference among women from different geographical regions, cultures and ethnicites… In other words, the white models are not particularized; instead, they stand for the universal modern woman” (514).

When white women are used in ads, even those targeted to or intended to be inclusive of women of color, they are positioned as the ubiquitous, all-encompassing epitome of beauty. When an actual woman of color is used in an ad, like Beyonce and Freida Pinto, she is more often than not altered in her appearance, either digitally or by the use of wigs and other cosmetic aids, to resemble more of that “natural, classic American” that Abercrombie works so relentlessly to maintain as ideal.

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Sisters In Struggle

This week’s reading and discussion raise two critical points, the first being that women cannot and should not be analyzed as one entity, with no regard to key differences such as class, cultural, economics, etc. The second point being, Muslim and other Third World women are not all in need of the White Savior.

The encounter between the Sex And The City women and the Muslim women exemplified the erroneous generalization that not just all Muslim women, but all women are one homogeneous group united by the same reductive assumptions. In Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses, author Chandra Talpade Mohanty explains, “I am referring to the critical assumption that all of us of the same gender, across classes and cultures, are somehow socially constituted as a homogeneous group identified prior to the process of analysis… Thus, for instance, in any given piece of feminist analysis, women are characterized as a singular group on the basis of a shared oppression” (337).

When the Muslim women ripped off their religious wear to reveal the Western ideal of women’s fashion, the ‘spring collection’, it demonstrates the flawed ideology that no matter where we (women) are in the world and what struggles we must overcome, underneath it all, we are all the same. That ‘same’ being the Western ideal, of course. And let us (Westerners, or white people) show you that you are like us – let us liberate you! This is a light, more pop cultural example of what Myra Macdonald referred to in, Muslim Women and the Veil, as the victim narrative. However, I believe that scene also, albeit unintentionally, showed that in actuality, underneath it all Muslim women do not need to be rescued. Yes, some Muslim women may have the same fashion access, interests, etc., as Westerners but choosing to respect their culture/religion does not mean they are being oppressed or need to be ‘saved’.

The image of a veiled Muslim woman seems to be one of the most popular Western ways of representing the ‘problems of Islam…The metaphoric desire to “unveil” alien cultures, by “laying them bare” and bringing them into conformity with the ideological norms of the dominating power has a long discursive history amongst Western colonialists and imperialists… missions to rescue women from the brutality and oppression signified by the veil” (Macdonald 8, 9).

Additionally, I believe the scene illustrated how the West has the potential to embrace the “other” only so far as the benefits will extend, and then abandon the culture as soon as it is no longer of use. For example, the SATC women gladly welcomed the local culture and wore the veils to ‘escape their male oppressors’ after liberating their ‘sisters in struggle’, but any reverence for the garb was disregarded when Carrie exposed her leg to catch the cab. They are no longer sisters in struggle, Carrie must revert back to her Western roots to save herself and the girls.

Although Third World women are not necessarily in need of rescue, they do face adversity when it comes to overcoming socially constructed gender roles within their culture – which is equally true of Western women. Women as a whole do not belong barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, as the saying goes – unless, of course, that is their choice!

Below is an interesting video about Palestenian race car drivers – that happen to be women. They do not fit the stereotype of what most would envision a Middle Eastern woman to be. In fact, one driver, Mouna Ennab, says, “They were telling us ‘you should be at the home, not racing with the boys, you should be at the home, cooking and cleaning’, something like that.”

Paula Slier, the reporter in the story, commented, “In some small way, using the power at their fingertips, these drivers are challenging the way women are seen and treated in this part of the Middle East.”

This quote from Mohanty sums up the discussion nicely –

Instead of analytically demonstrating the production of women as socio-economic political groups within particular local contexts, this move limits the definition of the female subject to gender identity, completely bypassing social class and ethnic identities. What characterizes women as a group is their gender (sociologically not necessarily biologically defined) over and above everything else, indicating a monolithic notion of sexual difference. Because women are thus constituted as a coherent group, sexual difference becomes coterminus with female subordination, and power is automatically defined in binary terms: people who have it (read: men), and people who do not (read: women)… Such simplistic formulations are both reductive and ineffectual in designing strategies to combat oppressions. All they do is reinforce binary divisions between men and women.

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Gendered Genres

Both Ien Ang in Gender and/in Media consumption and Helen Thornham in  It’s a Boy Thing, explore the gendering of certain genres, Ang with soap operas and Thornham with video games. Both authors assert that gender-based narratives are highly situational and that gendered subjectivity is a constant renegotiation, which is to say that as individual experiences evolve, so will the perspectives and interpretations of media interactions.

Ang explains how differing gender definitions are the result of discourse, using the example of Catholic discourse in which ‘woman’ is defined as either a whore, a virgin, or a mother; in contrast to radical feminist discourse that establish women as victims and oppressed humans. Two completely different definitions for the same group. Discourse, according to Ang, also produces gender positioning by assigning different, “roles, opportunities, ideals, duties and vulnerabilities to ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are classified as normal and are very difficult to break out of” (120).

After making this distinction between gender positioning and gender definition, Ang then goes on to ask the important question: if gender identification is not a mechanical or passive process, why do men and women seem to continue to identify with gender-based positions?

Ang goes on to answer his own question with the Henriques explanation of ‘investment’ – that persons choose to assume their gender-differentiated positioning to ultimately received a reward from their emotional commitment. This was illustrated in Thornam’s article by two of her interviewees, Sara and Rach.Gamer-Girls

Sara said she gamed as a way of bonding, which is a gender neutral ideology and an emotional commitment (investment) however she did not attempt to better her skills because she felt that it was her role, or position,  to be inferior at gaming. When she relocated from the co-ed house, to the all-female house, Sara was compelled to get better –  or was at least no longer stifled in her pursuit of improvement, with the absence of the unspoken obligation to stay in her place – what Ang referred to as ‘social subordination’.

I wouldn’t take it very seriously. I’d clown about and mess about and pretend I couldn’t work out what to do. And I didn’t bother to try to improve as a gamer because that was my role. Whereas now I’m gaming and I’m looking at the map to try and see where the symbol is and where I’m going. There, they would just be amused that I was so rubbish. They’d always be telling me what to do. But that’s boys isn’t it? (…) Gaming is just another way to play out roles. It doesn’t give you a space where you can do what you want or be who you want. It’s how I chose to bond with people in Brighton, but it didn’t change how I interacted with them. I was still “the Girl” and didn’t know what I was doing. Here, though I don’t have to do that any more.  – Thornham 133, 141

Rach also ‘played her role’ while gaming, to stimulate interaction with her boyfriend, Rob, by downplaying her above average ability to play the game. By constantly asking questions about how to work the buttons and other gaming related questions, Rach kept Rob present and engaged, while reinforcing his sense of authority in the subject.

A similar obligation to role responsibility was displayed in the video we viewed in class – the wife/mother felt a certain inadequacy due to not having time to play the game enough to advance her character, and essentially play her role, that she paid money to have her character ‘power-leveled’ so she could feel that she was contributing to her team at a level equal to her male counterparts, including her husband.

It is likely that most women having similar responsibilities as a wife and mother, would simply play the game less and not give it a second thought, dismissing it like many other luxuries they’ve had to relinquish to their familial duties. However, this woman (I do not remember her name) expanded the dynamic of their household to include the game, thus evoking a similar sense of obligation to the game as to her other responsibilities.

Side note: I did not know that the first game to make a conscious effort to attract both male and female players was Pac-Man. According to the young woman in the video below, Pac-Man’s creator realized that women talk about food a lot (ahem – he was listening to women at a café, hmmmm) so that’s why he incorporated the food-like elements such a pizza, fruit and ice cream. There was an immediate increase in female players, which provided valuable insight as to the limited marketing of video games.

She gives further commentary about gaming from a female perspective here

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Feminist Media and Culture

In Feminist Perspectives on the Media, author Liesbet van Zoonen discusses three general trends of feminism: liberal, radical, and socialist – and how the increasingly blurred lines between activism and academic critique are jeopardizing the relevance of feminist media studies.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Liberal feminism attributes “irrational prejudice and stereotypes about the supposedly natural role of women as wives and mothers” (27), to women’s unequal place in society. The solution offered by liberal feminists is that women should enter male-dominated fields and acquire power, and media can support the shift by minimizing, if not eliminating, sexist language and portraying men and women in more non-traditional roles. This, “we can do it all” mentality has resulted in the Superwoman stereotype, which of course, few, if any, women can achieve and sustain.

Radical feminism credits the subordinate position of women to patriarchy, “men’s innately wicked inclination to dominate women” (28). The radical perspective on media is that it will

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

operate to the benefit of patriarchy because mass media is owned and produced by men.  This ideology is problematic as well because hierarchy, regardless of sex or gender, is human nature. “Power differences, difference of opinion and interests appear to exist among women also, and are not a male preserve” (28).

Socialist feminism differentiates from both radical and liberal currents in that it does not only consider gender, but class and economic conditions as well to account for women’s position in society. The overall concern is the way media portrays women and femininity, and how gender roles and stereotypes are perpetuated.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Although there are flaws and contradictions in each feminist theory, they all share an important and fundamental perspective that media are the, “main instruments in conveying respectively stereotypical, patriarchal and hegemonic values about women and femininity. They serve as mechanisms of social control” (31).

Rosalind Gill adds to the discussion her critique on postfeminism, in the article Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.  Gill tells us that a crucial element of postfeminism is the shift from unassuming sexual object, to active participant. “It represents a shift in the way that power operates: from an external, male judging gaze to a self-policing, narcissistic gaze. It can be argued that this represents a higher or deeper form of exploitation than objectification – one in which the objectifying male gaze is internalized to form a new disciplinary regime” (139).

 “The sexually liberated modern woman turns out to resemble – what do you know! – the pneumatic, take-me-now-big-boy f**k-puppet of male fantasy after all.” – Janice Turner

The media targets young girls, baiting them with provocative clothing such as super-short shorts and cropped tops; branding notebooks, backpacks and clothing with the Playboy bunny symbol encourages girls to grow up quickly and socializes them into putting an unrealistic and age-inappropriate value on their bodies and appearance. However adult women are subjected to ‘girlification’ which promotes young girls as the desirable sexual icons. It’s one big mind game, and women are not in a position to win.

Gill also addresses the postfeminist sensibilities of individualism and ‘pleasing oneself’ that has become prominent in Western media culture. She gives the examples of the increase of women choosing to wax off their pubic hair (Brazilian wax) to, “reinstate a prepubescent version of their genitalia” and the surge in young women, even teenagers, getting breast augmentation; all in the name of  using beauty as a tool to make them ‘feel good’ – but are we not right back to the girlification, fuck-puppets and internalized male gaze? “The body is presented simultaneously as women’s source of power and as always unruly, requiring constant monitoring, surveillance, discipline and remodeling (and consumer spending) in order to conform to ever-narrower judgments of female attractiveness. Indeed, surveillance of women’s bodies constitutes perhaps the largest type of media content across al genres and media forms. Women’s bodies are evaluated, scrutinized and dissected by women as well as men, and are always at risk of ‘failing’” (137).

“Scant attention is paid to the pressures that might lead a teenager to decide that major surgery will solve her problems, and even less to the commercial interests that are underpinning this staggering trend” – Rosalind Gill



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