Friday night, we had a discussion on the topic of ‘social constructs vs. essentialism.’ The calibre of the conversation was awesome and so was the fact that though the 7 of us have very different backgrounds and knowledge of the topic, everybody was really lit up by it. We discussed the way that certain constructs are used to control people and the way that second-wave and ‘subsequent-wave’ feminists react differently to using those constructs; whether a social construction framework is equally useful to ‘diverse’ feminists as it is to white, middle-class(, etc.) ones; the different definitions of essentialism that we operate with; which gendered attributes we each attribute to nature and whether that can compromise our feminism.
I wanted to talk a bit about an interesting challenge that came from the conversation. One of the assumptions underlying the discussion was that “It’s natural” is a common rationale for maintaining a lot of gender standards: from cooking, cleaning and babymaking to emotionality to math intelligence to physical strength to – well you get it. Valerie pointed out that a more omnipresent argument these days may be that women have the freedom to do what they want but they are choosing to behave in accordance with the old stereotypes nonetheless.
Do you feel that “It’s natural” is passe? What more nuanced versions of that same old argument are you hearing these days? And what other important anti-feminist arguments should we be steeling ourselves against now?
Again, thanks so much to everyone who came out and made it a wonderful and really enriching discussion:D
We agree that our ad is risqué, but we maintain that it is no more provocative than the other ads promoting unhealthy products, like beer and fast-food burgers, that are frequently shown during regular primetime television and on Super Bowl Sunday. Since our ad was rejected by NBC, you won’t be seeing it during the game broadcast, but you can see it at http://www.PETA.org/content/standalone/VeggieLove/Default.aspx.
We often do “sexy” or “shocking” things to get the word out about animal abuse, because sadly, the media usually do not consider the facts alone worth covering. Our purpose is to stop animal suffering, and we use all available opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. The situation is critical for billions of animals who are suffering on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Sometimes this requires tactics—like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns—that some people find outrageous or even “rude,” but part of our job is to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and of course, action.
We have found—and your message confirms—that people do pay more attention to our racier actions. As a result of our ad, PETA representatives have appeared on cable television talk shows with audiences numbering into the millions. This means that people across America are hearing about how animals suffer on factory farms, and judging by the spike in visits to our Web sites after we publicized our ad, this tactic is working—and more people than ever before are learning and thinking about going vegetarian.
As an organization staffed largely by feminist women, we would not do something that we felt exacerbated the very serious problems that women face. Our female—and male—demonstrators and models choose to participate in our actions because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention. We believe that people should have the choice to use their own bodies to make social statements—a tactic with a long history of success.
Medical evidence indicates that meat and dairy products can lead to impotence because they clog the arteries that go to all organs, not just the heart. Consuming meat and dairy products is also linked to numerous other health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Doctors and nutritionists will tell you that the best way to prevent artery blockage and other conditions that cause impotence is to avoid meat and dairy products and to eat a diet high in fiber, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—in other words, a healthy vegetarian diet. To learn more about the link between eating meat and impotence, please visit http://www.GoVeg.com/impotence.asp.
For more thoughts on our ad, please go to http://blog.PETA.org/archives/2009/01/veggie_love.php. To learn more about going vegetarian, to order a “Vegetarian Starter Kit,” or to browse meat-free recipes for Super Bowl Sunday and every day, visit http://www.GoVeg.com.
Carrie Edwards CarrieE@petaf.org
Unilever Head Office, Paul Polman CEO
Walton Court, Station Avenue,Suite 1500, 160 Bloor Street East, Toronto M4W 3R2
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey KT12 1UP http://www.unilever.com/resource/contact-form.aspx
Unilever Canada, Christopher Luxon, President and CEO
Suite 1500, 160 Bloor Street East, Toronto M4W 3R2
Spcl-ConsumerCentre.CA-LP-Tor@unilever.com Christopher.firstname.lastname@example.org 416-963-4781 Fax 416-963-5197
Dear Mr Polman and Mr Blanchard,
As a young woman, I am saddened by your decision to put your profits over the mental health of girls and women – you’ve demonstrated this clearly in your blatant advertising hypocrisy.
Ø I thought that Dove was a terrific organization trying to bring a lot of attention to the harmful stereotypes shoved in everybody’s faces – TV commercials, radio commercials, or billboards, you name it!
Ø I thought that the Dove advertisements were wonderful and a refreshing change to see plastered all over my Toronto Transit System.
Ø I thought that Dove actually had a conscience and had a shred of respect for its female customers.
I thought wrong.
Ø Unilever is throwing money to the self-esteem fund for young women and girls in order to promote a healthy and self-loving body image in today’s media – saturated with sexist stereotypes
Ø And simultaneously creating ads of women in degrading roles in which women are sex objects – to be consumed by your male viewer just like the product you’re trying to bribe him with – in this case, Axe products.
So you first contribute to women feeling badly about their bodies and sexuality, and THEN you promote the Dove Self-Esteem Fund to help reverse the problems that you helped produce in us to begin with.
Have some responsibility!
Ø Do you really want to alienate half of your market plus the many males who also resent your tired, worn-out images?
Ø We are sick and tired of seeing fake-breasted, under-nourished, fake hair-coloured women being shoved in our faces and sold to us as desirable. What does any of this have to do with Axe body spray, anyway?
Ø We don’t want to see sexist and exploitative ads anymore. Where have you been?
Your shameful tactics to make a profit are not lost on your consumers – and I’m well aware that I’m not the only person who’s fed up.
Response from Christopher Luxon:
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us. I’m sure you can appreciate that as individual brands, and as a company, Unilever takes its marketing responsibilities very seriously.
We have a wide portfolio of everyday consumer brands across both foods and home and personal care – offering products to consumers that address different needs. Each of our brands talks to its target consumers in a way that is relevant and that communicates its own unique proposition.
What unites all the products in the Unilever portfolio is our Vitality mission, which seeks to promote products that help our consumers look good, feel good, and get more out of life.
Unilever is a large, global company with many brands in its portfolio. Each brand’s efforts are tailored to reflect the unique interests and needs of its audience. The Dove brand is dedicated to making more women feel beautiful everyday by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves. As part of this commitment, the brand created the Dove Self Esteem Fund to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty. The brand is dedicated to reach 5 million girls by 2010 with self esteem programming (in addition to the million girls they have reached thus far).
The Axe campaign is a spoff, of the “mating game” and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally. This campaign is targeting guys 18-24. Axe regularly tests its campaign with men and women who have shared they see these ads as clever and funny.
Consumer comments are very important and evaluated on a regular basis. Thanks again for sharing your views with us.
Jan 1, 2009
By emphasizing how sexy you think a politician’s boots are, you diminished Gov Palin’s professional accomplishments.
There is an incredible double-standard that you have demonstrated against Sarah Palin. Women get scrutinized based on appearance far, far more than men. There has been plenty of talk and plenty written about Sarah Palin’s jackets, her hair and her looks. Sound familiar? There was plenty of talk and plenty written about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s looks, hair and pantsuits.
Compare that with the attention given to Sen. Barack Obama’s $1,500 suits or Sen. John McCain’s $520 Ferragamo shoes. There is no comparison. When a male newscast reporter wears a not-so-great tie, how much e-mail do you think he gets from viewers?
For women, the media makes a woman’s appearance part of her job – as did you against Palin by remarking on her boots rather than on her qualifications – would you have mentioned Obama’s shoes or clothes? I didn’t think so.
Let’s keep the focus on what really matters here.
These workshops that Toujours Rebelles provided really seem to fire us up. We talked for 3 hours again and only stopped because we had to!
In a nutshell, we rhymed off every oppression issue that we feel touches on our lives -fleshed them out, drew connections, relayed and imagined powerful responses.
Daniela commented that the broad scope was different from the more specific issues we usually tackle in our discussions. It is valuable to look at the bigger picture now and then. It reinforces our passion for feminism and solidarity and belief that it’s NEEDED.
I see the Canadian Context bit as being a bit wiggly. I mean, looking at the issues on that level hasn’t yet added a lot to my understanding or feeling for feminism. Yet, the surge of excitement imagining these issues taken up on a large scale – if we can expand our conversations, our ideas and support for one another across a freakin’ huge country – is where I see an immense value. In the last month, I haven’t seen much evidence of this coming together in the aftermath of the Toujours/Waves gathering but the fact that young women felt strongly enough about it to get themselves to it and the feeling that WAS present there really have me believing it’s possible.
Last night, we got together to play out a workshop designed and distributed by the people who brought you “Waves of Resistance” (see previous post). It was meant for girls with little or no experience or even interest in feminism and the great company that we had all were quite a bit more knowledgeable and engaged in feminism than it was really designed for. That was SO not holding us back though. It inspired us to build on the material, think critically about it, make it apply at the level we operate on and reimagine how it could be written.
Let’s say that we weren’t treading new ground but we were working important ideas that need to be exercised regularly. We talked a lot about ‘living it’ – being feminist as part of how you are, how you think/dress/walk, that our life choices are shaped to agree with our feminism. I don’t think one has a revelatory moment and just STARTS living it, nor are there wonderfeminists who are born that way. You have to take these ideas and start repeating them. Try them on for size. Adjust them to fit. Engage in discussions where you have to defend the ideas. Enter the fray and speak up. Every time you use an idea, it becomes more a part of you.
So what if our discussions aren’t always groundbreaking? I like to think that they were an important exercise that makes our feminism a little stronger.