I have always found it bizarre that lipstick is supposed to make a woman’s lips more irresistible, yet kissing a woman with lipstick gets sticky red or pink smudge all over both faces. So women dress up and look all gorgeous and then their dates can’t kiss them. Or, it’s the end of the night and a woman wants her date to kiss her, does she put on lipstick or go for the chapstick? Gah, being a woman is hard. And I supposed it can’t be that easy being the person who wants to kiss her in that situation either.
It’s odd to me that this kiss-ability paradox is never addressed in lipstick advertising. So I was intrigued to see it in this vintage ad:
Now water cannot mar your lipstick… it’s protected by a coat of clear Lip-Stae. Just brush on its liquid lustre… lips stay brillint, alluring for hours. And clothes, cigarettes, glasses and the man in your life can’t carry lipstick’s tell-tale marks! Safe, economical, and easy to use. At cosmetic counters everywhere. (my emphasis)
There is so much to unpack here, but I think it all revolves around the fact that women are supposed to wear makeup, but pretend that the face that they put on is their real face. As the copy reads, lipstick leaves “tell-tale marks.” Those marks reveal a degree of deception regarding her true attractiveness and, in fact, this is exactly how makeup was characterized in the Victorian era. This is why a woman’s lipstick must remain on her lips (and be left nowhere else) even when swimming or kissing. Because, in principle, she’s not wearing lipstick at all.
From Reddit comes the story of an assignment given to high school students in a sex education unit of health class in Columbus, Ohio (as reported in theDispatch). The introduction reads (typos included):
Appreciating Gender Differences: Often there are many stereotypes attached to being male or female. Yet male and female together keep our species alive! Through knowing and appreciating the many differences in brain development and psychological processes of males vs. female one learn to accept and appreciate the differences.”
Then there’s this graphic: Yes, boys and girls in the class all got the same handout, with the normal human described as “you” and the one in the dress labeled “she.” After the graphic is a list of questions for the students to ponder in an essay, such as, “How might knowing these differences influence and impact an intimate relationship you might currently have or develop in the future?”
In her defense, the teacher naturally told the Dispatch that the point was to just “stimulate conversation.” But nothing in the assignment suggests the stereotypes might not be anything but true. None of the essay questions cast doubt on the facts presented. Consider revising the text like this:
Appreciating Gender Similarities: Often there are many stereotypes attached to being male or female. Yet male and female together keep our species alive! Through knowing and appreciating the many similarities in brain development and psychological processes of males vs. female one learn to accept and appreciate the similarities.”
That could be a useful opening to a unit on gender and development for high school sex education (without the graphic). Where did this come from? The teacher said it came from “an outdated book.”
With the power of Google image search, you can follow this image around the Internet, where it has been used by a lot of people to illustrate supposedly funny-but-oh-so-true stereotypes, like “Hilarious differences between men and women,” and on pages with sexist aphorisms such as, “A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband; a man never worries about the future until he gets a wife,” and on relationship advice pages, with conclusions such as, “If we understand this basic fundamental, there will be better relationships … steadier !!,” and even “Real, Honest Female Advice” for men who want to “start having unbelievable success with women.” It always has the same typo (“Figure Our Her Needs”).
I can’t find an original use, or any serious attempt at educational use, but I’d love to know who came up with it.
Perusing my Facebook feed, I came across a photo proudly posted by a former student — now a hair and makeup artist — of two brides at a wedding. It was beautiful and the young, conventionally attractive brides were leaning in for a kiss. Like these:
When I saw the image, my mind immediately pulled up similar images it has in storage — frequently described as girl-on-girl action — and I was struck by the similarity of the images and their powerfully different messages.
Until recently, “hot girl-on-girl action” was the primary visual that involved women kissing. In mainstream culture, genuine and open female same-sex attraction was almost entirely invisible, hidden and denied. Today, the proliferation of same-sex marriages offer a new visual landscape for framing what it means for two women to kiss each other.
The meaning, moreover, could not be more different. Though often women with same-sex desire use this assumption to explore real attraction, girl-on-girl action shots are ostensibly between two heterosexually-oriented women who are kissing for male attention. These brides are presumably doing the opposite of that. They are displaying love and commitment to one another. The kiss is for them and no one else and they are, implicitly if not actually, openly committing to making themselves sexually unavailable to anyone else, male or female. This is far from the notion that they are just kissing a girl to get guys to think they’re sexy.
I wonder how these images — ones that depict sexual intimacy between women who love one another and do not seek male attention — will ultimately change how we think about “girl-on-girl” action in the U.S. As they proliferate, will they push back against the male-centrism and heterocentrism of our society? I think they very well might.
Congrats to the newlyweds! Their wedding photos can be found here, here, and here.
Heterosexuality in the U.S. is gendered: women are expected to attract, men are supposed to be attracted. Men want, women want to be wanted. Metaphorically, this is a predator/prey type relationship. Women are subject to the hunt whether they like it or not, so men’s attention can be pleasing, annoying, or frightening. It all depends.
Accordingly, women know what it feels like to be prey. Not all men make us feel this way, of course, but some certainly do. The leering guy on the street, the heavy hitter in the bar, the frotteurist on the subway, the molesting uncle, the aggressive fraternity brother, etc. It doesn’t matter if we’re interested in men or not, interested in that guy or not, there are men that — with their eyes, mouths, hands, and more — apparently can’t help but get their “sexual energy slime” all over us.
So what’s homophobia? Sometimes I think it’s the moment that men feel what it’s like to be prey. See, women are used to it. It’s a familiar feeling we have to modulate all the time. We’re used to constantly judging whether it means danger or not. But when it happens to men for the first time, I bet it’s shocking as all hell. It’s like they’ve been treated like a human being their whole life and then, POW, they’re a piece of ass and nothing more. It must feel just crazy bad.
Of course, all that’s happened is that they’ve been demoted in the food chain. No longer the predator, they’re the prey. The dynamic between two men is the same as the one between men and women, except now they know what it feels like to be slimed.
In her now-classic books The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat, Carol Adams analyzes similarities in the presentation of meat products (or the animals they come from) and women’s bodies.
She particularly draws attention to sexualized fragmentation — the presentation of body parts of animals in ways similar to sexualized poses of women — and what she terms “anthropornography,” or connecting the eating of animals to the sex industry. For an example of anthropornography, Adams presents this “turkey hooker” cooking utensil:
Adams also discusses the conflation of meat/animals and women–while women are often treated as “pieces of meat,” meat products are often posed in sexualized ways or in clothing associated with women. The next eleven images come from Adams’s website:
For a more in-depth, theoretical discussion of the connections between patriarchy, gender inequality, and literal consumption of meat and symbolic consumption of women, we highly encourage you to check out Adams’s website.
This type of imagery has by no means disappeared, so we’ve amassed quite a collection of our own here at Sociological Images.
IndianFeminist sent in this example from India for a Mango flavored drink called Slice. “The brand ambassador,” our reader writes, “is Katrina Kaif, undoubtedly India’s most popular actress.” The ad puts her inside the bottle and merges her with the liquid, then offers her as a date.
An ad I found for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter turns Spraychel into a female politician:
Blanca pointed us to Skinny Cow ice cream, which uses this sexualized image of a cow (who also has a measuring tape around her waist to emphasize that she’s skinny):
Mustard and ketchup make up a “sexy” woman (from Las Vegas Living):
Are you hungry for some lovin’, er, lunchin’? Do you have an all-American appetite for chick(en)s? Or are you secretly ravenous for pig? We think we might have just the thing to satisfy your lust for breast, thigh, and rump:
Amanda C. sent in this sign seen at Taste of Chicago:
Dmitiriy T.M. sent us this perplexing Hardee’s French Dip “commercial.” It’s basically three minutes of models pretending like dressing up as French maids for Hardees and pouting at the camera while holding a sandwich is a good gig:
Dmitriy also sent us this photo of Sweet Taters in New Orleans:
Jacqueline R. sent in this commercial for Birds Eye salmon fish sticks:
Crystal J. pointed out that a Vegas restaurant is using these images from the 1968 No More Miss America protest in advertisements currently running in the UNLV campus newspaper, the Rebel Yell. Here’s a photo from the protest:
My sister-in-law Charlotte was recently loudly admonished by a flight attendant on an international flight for allowing her “breast to fall out” after she fell asleep while nursing her baby. A strong advocate for breastfeeding, Charlotte has shared with me her own discomfort with public breastfeeding because it is considered gross, matronly, and “unsexy.”
I heard this over and over again from women I have interviewed for my research: Women who breastfed often feel they have to cover and hide while breastfeeding at family functions. As one mom noted, “Family members might be uncomfortable so I leave room to nurse—but miss out on socializing.” This brings on feelings of isolation and alienation. Because of the “dirty looks” and clear discomfort by others, women reported not wanting to breastfeed in any situation that could be considered “public.”
Meanwhile, I flip through the June 2012 issue of Vanity Fair and see this ad:
We capitalize on the sexualization of the breast to raise awareness about breast cancer. Yet, we cringe at the idea of a woman nursing her child on an overnight flight.
What’s happening here? These campaigns send contradictory messages to women about their breasts and the way women should use them, but they have something in common as well: both breastfeeding advocacy and breast cancer awareness-raising campaigns tend to reduce women to body parts that reflect the social construction of gender and sexuality.
Breast cancer awareness campaigns explicitly adopt a sexual stance, focusing on men’s desire for breasts and women’s desire to have breasts to make them attractive to men. Breast milk advocates focus on the breast as essential for good motherhood. Breastfeeding mothers sit at the crossroads: Their breasts are both sexualized and essential for their babies, so they can either breastfeed and invoke disgust, or feed their child formula and attract the stigma of being a bad mother.
Both breastfeeding advocacy programs and breast cancer awareness-raising campaigns demonstrate how socially constructed notions of ownership and power converge with the sexualization and objectification of women’s breasts. And, indeed, whether breast feeding or suffering breast cancer, women report feeling helpless and not in control of their bodies. As Jazmine Walker has written, efforts to “help” women actually “[pit] women against their own bodies.”
Instead, we need to shift away from a breast-centered approach to a women-centered approach for both types of campaigns. We need to, as Jazmine Walker advocates, “teach women and girls how to navigate and control their experiences with health care professionals,” instead of pushing pink garb and products and sexualizing attempts to raise awareness like “save the ta-tas.” Likewise, we need to support women’s efforts to breastfeed, if they choose to, instead of labeling “bad moms” if they do not or cannot. Equipped with information and bolstered by real sources of support, women will be best able to empower themselves.
Sally R. sent in this two-page Tropicana ad she found in her morning newspaper. The ad features, as Sally puts it, a “hard (bad) surly girl in pants and [an] easy (nice) girl in a dress with a flowery gift and passive smile…” The first is labeled “hard to handle” and the second “easy to handle.” The new orange juice container is supposed to be more like the “easy” girl.
On the face of it, this ad is about parenting. But there is so much more going on that makes the ad work.
Notice how easyness is communicated with symbols of femininity. The message is that girls are, ideally, accommodating and passive. Girls should be like objects, easy to “handle.” Would the ad work quite the same way if the child was a boy? Do we hope/expect that our boys will be completely passive and convenient to handle?
Sally also notes the “double meaning of easy” which, combined with the girl’s coy pose and smile, sends a sexual message. The sexual promise that the ad makes (it/she is “easy to handle”) works despite (or because of?) her age. Consider how similar the image is to these examples in which women and girls are simultaneously sexualized and infantilized with the use of passiveposes and symbols of youth.
This conflation of object status, femininity, being female, and being well-behaved is obnoxious. It’s insulting to both boys and girls and affirms the false gender binary. It’s dangerous, too. It contributes to the idea that girls are objects to take advantage of who are misbehaving if they assert themselves. It’s disturbing to see it reproduced for something as trivial as an orange juice carton.
In her provocative book, The Technology of Orgasm, Rachel Maines discusses a classic medical treatment for the historical diagnosis of “hysteria”: orgasm administered by a physician.
Maines explains that manual stimulation of the clitoris was, for some time, a matter-of-fact part of medical treatment and a routine source of revenue for doctors. By the 19th century, people understood that it was an orgasm, but they argued that it was “nothing sexual.” It couldn’t “be anything sexual,” Maines explains, “because there’s no penetration and, so, no sex.”
So, what ended this practice? Maines argues that it was the appearance of the vibrator in early pornographic movies in the 1920s. At which point, she says, doctors “drop it like a hot rock.” Meanwhile, vibrators become household appliances, allowing women to treat their “hysteria” at home. It wasn’t dropped from diagnostic manuals until 1957.
Listen to it straight from Maines in the following 7 minutes from Big Think:
Bonus: Freud was bad at this treatment, so he had to come up with some other cause of hysteria. After all, she says, “this was the guy who didn’t know what women wanted.” No surprise there, she jokes.