At the Women’s Worlds congress in Ottawa, Canada, one of the July 4 sessions focused on marketing to the female demographic, looking at examples of marketing aimed at girls and women. While the presentations covered a broad spectrum, from Bratz dolls to “female friendly” businesses to Barbie and the pornification of society, they all came back to the idea that the marketers are grooming women and girls to choose oppression. The advertising industry in particular, and society in general, sends continuous messages to the female demographic, from infancy through to adulthood, about who they are, what they should desire, and who they should try to become.
Lauren Levesque from Ottawa, Canada spoke about her paper, Media Culture, Artifact, and Gender Identity: An Analysis of Bratz Dolls. Through interviews with mothers and daughters, she found that the mothers were concerned about the influence of the dolls on their daughters. They described the dolls as materialistic, trashy and hyper-sexualized. The girls, on the other hand, saw the dolls as nice, fashionable, and beautiful. They didn’t see the negative aspects of the dolls that their mothers saw. In her research, Ms. Levesque found that girls took pleasure in being objectified. She concluded that children should not be put in a position of making that type of choice and should instead just be able to enjoy being young without being pushed to identify with much older and damaging images of what a girl or a woman should be.
Nathalie Elaine Meza Garcia, a political scientist from Colombia, talked about Barbie. Her presentation, Imperceptible Fundamentalisms: The Perfect Woman and the Multiple Roles of Barbie, examined the ways in which Barbie tries to break away from the patriarchy while still leaving her oppressed. The Barbie slogan, “We Girls Can Do Anything” is intended to be a feminist slogan. However, there is a hidden inconsistency in this. Women are able to enter into new spaces and break glass ceilings, but they still have to be beautiful, nurturing mothers, good homemakers, and doting wives. Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so.
Joanne Baker from Flinders University examined the way that the color pink is being used to restate and refresh gender stereotypes of oppression in her presentation called Resisting Pink – Again. She gave examples of the way that pink is used to market to women, such as a “female friendly” accreditation that is given to brands in Australia that merit a “pink tick” for catering to women (e.g. a garage that doesn’t have nude photos of women and has client toilets). She also showed images from numerous other campaigns aimed at women, from products designed to support breast cancer to make-up to financial services. Ms. Baker characterizes this type of marketing as post-feminist pink because it appeals to women who not only reject and oppose feminism, but who also hold an attitude that feminism is no longer relevant (even though it did have a use in the past). Essentially, these marketers are using the convenient parts of feminism (e.g. empowerment, choice) to appeal to a progressive female audience and convince them to buy products and buy into concepts that further their oppression.
Some women are speaking out against this pink oppression. Ms. Baker told the audience about the sisters Abi Moore and Emma Moore who founded the Pink Stinks campaign in the United Kingdom.
What do you think? Is society putting too much pressure on girls and women to opt into choices (toys, products, services and lifestyles) that require them to be sexy, materialistic, and perfect, without really being feminists. Are girls and women being “empowered” to choose to further their oppression?
Image credit: MeL + on flickr