In this ad, which ran in the Los Angeles Times on January 20, 1910 (and uncovered by Larry at The Daily Mirror), the Woman’s Home Companion markets itself to potential advertisers by playing on the women’s suffrage movement, depicting female readers as “voters”:
It’s a reminder of a still-relevant fact: while we often think of magazines, newspapers, TV stations, and so on as primarily selling themselves to us, they are doing so in order to then sell us (especially if we’re part of the 18-to-34 demographic) to advertisers.
Amy R. sent in the commercial below for Disney Princess bikes. In the ad, two girls save the stranded prince (a teddy bear) and then go off to have “another adventure.” It concludes, “With Disney Princess bikes, trikes, and scooters, every girl’s a princess!”
Is “princess” being redefined?
One of the compliments aimed at the new Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, is that the heroine isn’t just a pretty face, but in fact an entrepreneur who wants to open her own restaurant and is uninterested in catching a man. This observation was made to me, for example, when I was interviewed for a story by CNN reporter Breenana Hare, who suggested that this new princess was making a break with the old princesses in more than one way.
I replied that this “new” kind of princess had been on the scene for a while. Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, according to imdb, was “a bookworm who dream[t] of life outside her provincial village,” not of a prince charming. That was 20 years ago. Both Pocohantas and Mulan were adventurous and brave. Most princesses, these days, are not perfect embodiments of femininity, they balance their femininity with a bit of masculinity. It’s ‘cess + sass as a rule.
But, to be fair, these princesses aren’t radical. They aren’t pushing the envelope of femininity. They are only reflecting the fact that ideal femininity in the West has changed such that the perfect woman now incorporates some masculine character traits. “Some” is the operative word here. Today’s ideal woman is still feminine, but she works, wears pants, and plays sports. She may even be a sports fan and drink beer. But she also preserves her femininity, especially those aspects of femininity that mark her as “for” a (just barely and totally benevolently of course) dominant male. She still doesn’t disagree too vigorously or laugh too loud. She marries a man who is slightly older, more educated, larger, taller, and makes a bit more money at his job that is just slightly higher prestige. And, no matter what, she looks, dresses, and moves in pretty, feminine ways. Barbie and the Three Musketeers is another, non-Disney example of this phenomenon:
Not a man in sight! But damn do they look good in those boots!
Simon O. also sent in a Barbie website that fits this theme nicely. It asks “What Should Barbie Be Next?” and let’s us vote on her next profession: pet vet, race car driver, ballerina, baby sitter, “kid doctor,” rock star, pediatric dentist, or wedding stylist.
Barbie can be anything she wants, as long as she looks great doing it. Or maybe it’s that Barbie can be anything she wants because she looks good doing it.
The new rule is: a girl can be anything, as long as she’s hot (and deferent when push comes to shove). Whether she likes it or not, she always gets the guy in the end because, well, she’s so damn sweet and adorable (and, yes, those words are totally coded with gendered meaning). This fact, the fact that she always still ends up with the guy in the end, is a really important part of this story… it reminds us that getting the guy is still the happy ending… even the little girls in the bike commercial came away with a “prince.”
So, yeah, we can debate about whether these princesses are a qualitative and substantial break from previous princesses. I’m not sure they are. Or, if they are, I’m not sure the difference is all that fantastic, given that the ideal is still incredibly rigid and damn difficult to live up to. And I’m not even sure I like this new (impossible) ideal any better than the old (impossible) ideal. What we see today is a couple generations of women who are expected to be both masculine and feminine. As if staying fit, looking lovely, smelling great, volunteering, and having a clean house, a sexually satiated husband, and behaved, brilliant, well-adjusted children wasn’t enough of a job… women now have to be go-getters at the law firm and ass-kickers on the court. It’s called The Second Shift and women work more and relax less than men.
In this video, Brenda Laurel discusses her successful computer game for girls. Detailing extensive research on what girls want, Laurel then shows us a some interviews with girls and a bit of the resulting video game, Rocket, which seems to focus heavily on navigating complicated high school relationships. Laurel says that all critics love her game except the “male gamer who thinks he knows what games ought to be” and “a certain flavor of feminists who thinks they know what little girls ought to be.”
Laurel clearly sees herself as an advocate for girls and, at the very end of the video, mocks (that certain flavor of) feminist objection to the game.
In general, the video is a fascinating peek into the thinking of video game producers. And it certainly raises the question of what a feminist video game could look like.
Start at 6:28 if you want to skip the details as to her companies and data collection:
Last week Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a scorching critique of the uproar over pushing regular mammography back till 50-years-old, in light of the muted response to the Stupak amendment excluding abortion from both state and public health insurance programs.
“So welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0,” she writes “pink-ribbon culture has replaced feminism”:
While we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk “for the cure.” And while we once sought full “consciousness” of all that oppresses us, now we’re content to achieve “awareness,” which has come to mean one thing — dutifully baring our breasts for the annual mammogram.
Once upon a time, grassroots women challenged the establishment by figuratively burning their bras. Now, in some masochistic perversion of feminism, they are raising their voices to yell, “Squeeze our tits!”
Well, I suppose we finally have a women’s movement that men will get behind. At least this commercial for Men For Women Now, sent in by Gwen H., which turned out not to be a men’s auxilliary to the National Organization for Women. It turns out it isn’t really about women’s rights or anything, it’s just about boobs:
I spent a day in Salzburg this September with a man from Dubai. We had a wonderful time comparing perspectives.
Dubai, he explained, was a wildly modern, multicultural city. The default language in public was English due to the international population. He was a stockbroker who had gone to college in London and gone part way through an MBA.
He interacted with veiled, Middle Eastern women and non-veiled Western European women daily. He seemed to have no qualms with the two styles of presentation, considering them simple choices; they were unpoliticized and carried no deeper meaning. To him, women who veiled were simply religious, like the men he knew who would not drink alcohol, and himself when he would not eat meat improperly slaughtered.
In any case, women in Dubai, he felt, were liberated. As an example, he explained how there was now a woman’s taxi service.
“A woman’s taxi service?”
“Yes, with women drivers.”
You see, it is not proper for women to be alone with a non-relative male and, so long as all taxis were driven by men, women (who also do not drive) could not run errands or visit friends. They were largely neighborhood-bound. To my friend, a woman’s taxi service was liberation. And, indeed, from the perspective of their rules, it must have seemed like freedom indeed.
I was reminded of this chat when Happy A. sent in a link to a story about a new women’s taxi service in Mexico. The taxis, painted pink, are driven by women and only women can hire them:
In this case, the taxi service isn’t designed to allow women to travel, but to allow them to travel without the threat of harassment and assault.
Women’s groups, however, have called the taxis insulting. They suggest that the girly pink, the protectionism, and the make-up mirrors in the back seats seem to encourage the very objectification that makes women targets in the first place.
Pink Ladies, in the U.K., rationalizes its service with the same protectionism:
I think these examples, considered together, do a really good job of undermining any absolutist ideas about what is good for women.
The situations in the different countries are dramatically different. Women’s taxis improve the quality of life for women in Dubai (who can afford them) much more significantly than the taxis in, say, the U.K.
A radical feminist bent on destroying the system altogether may say that such taxis reinforce a gender binary and are easily co-opted by patriarchy (I wonder whose errands women are doing in those pink taxis?), a reformist feminist may say that the move is a good option for women both there and elsewhere, if not actually an end to male domination.
I think both are good points.
Does the fact that the Mexico service is run by the city and the U.K. service by a private company make a difference? In the first case it is driven by concern for women’s safety, in the second case it is driven, at least partially, by profit. Should people be profiting from women’s vulnerability?
Is a woman’s taxi service inherently feminist and liberating? Or is it always sexist and demeaning?
I’m not sure what I think about women’s taxis, but I like how cross-cultural comparisons like these remind us that context matters.
Click here for another sociologist’s take on the extent to which the pink taxis should be seen as liberating for women.
Larry Harnisch at the Daily Mirror dug up this gem, a 1909 story from the Los Angeles Times about prominent Chicago-area women’s rights advocates pushing back the time they served Thanksgiving dinner in order to go see the British suffragist Emiline Pankhurst:
“…one of the women voiced the sentiment that ‘every suffragist is a militant suffragist at heart’.” Well, obviously, if you’re willing to postpone Thanksgiving dinner, no matter what this woman says:
Those British suffragists must have been something if stoning legislators was part of the discussion.
[I posted this a couple of days ago but accidentally deleted it last night, so I'm reposting it. I apologize for the confusion, and for the loss of all the comments. I'm going to see if I can recover the comments, but I don't know how it'll go. Thanks to Dangerous Minds I was able to save my original commentary.]
Our tech wizard, Jon S., and reader Katie C. sent in a link to a Danish campaign by the organization Children Exposed to Violence at Home to raise awareness of domestic violence. The campaign is called “Hit the Bitch!” and features a game where you can smack a woman around using either a mouse or your own hand if you have a web cam:
The game has now been limited to Danish users only.
The woman gets increasingly bruised and bloodied as you hit her. I forced myself to try the site and hit her twice, and it was honestly sickening to watch her head jerk backward or to the side and hear the sound of the slap and her reacting. At the top, a counter keeps track; you start out as 100% Pussy, 0% Gangsta, but your Gangsta rating goes up every time you hit her:
Apparently, though, when you get up to where you’d be at 100% Gangsta, it instead says 100% Idiot, as though this is a real put-down that is going to make you think really seriously about domestic violence. I am trying to think of any context that would make this seem like a good idea, or an effective way to combat domestic violence. I mean, ok, yeah, I guess people might be made more aware of it after hearing about or playing the game, but is it likely to have any positive effect?
It seems more likely that people who don’t already take domestic violence seriously would either be uncomfortable, leave the site, and never think about it again, or find it funny to play for a few minutes just to see what would happen…and somehow encouraging people to slap around an image of a woman for fun seems like a really weird way to get people to think more seriously about domestic violence.