gender: feminism/activism

Nevada is a battleground state, and the state elections have gotten nasty (on both sides); the mailers I get every day don’t even pretend to be about issues any more, they’re just attack ads. I got this one, against a Democratic candidate, a couple of days ago:

I thought the photo they chose to illustrate “radical groups” was interesting. There were no specifics about what type of “radical” groups, or what they are radical about. To me, this image seemed like it was supposed to bring up the threat of radical (angry) feminists, but I don’t know if that was the specific type of radical this was meant to evoke or if that’s just what it makes me think of.

Anyway, it might be useful for a discussion of political discourses (for instance, how groups selectively use words like “radical,” “progressive,” “traditional,” “regressive,” and so on to depict change as either good or threatening), as well as what types of political agendas even appearances have become associated with “radical” politics (for instance, a woman wearing multiple necklaces and dreadlocks symbolizes radicalism).

Muriel M. M. went to a Palin rally and sent us her pictures and thoughts.  She says that she waited three and a half hours to hear Palin speak and then left in frustration; so there will be no pictures of Palin.  She did, however, make some observations about how people were showing support for Palin.

First, she thought the pins were interesting.   Notice the gender binary and heteronormativity in this first pin (the “hero” and the “mom”):

Muriel noted that in the “Read my Lipstick” pin (below), Palin is looking at the viewer, not where she is aiming.  It also reads “Change is Coming.”  I hope it’s not coming down the barrell of a gun.  Just saying.

The other pin (also below) reads “You Go Girl,” playing on the shallow when-women-do-what-men-do-we-should-be-proud-of-their-cute-adorable-selves version of feminism that actually trivializes women.

Second, Muriel reports that there was A LOT of pink at the event–“hats, ribbons, Tshirts… pins”–and that this is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton events, which downplayed the femininity thing.

Finally, Muriel explains that women, often ones wearing no make-up at all, would hold “…lipsticks high in the air like you would do if you were at a concert and holding up a lighter.”

Fascinating.  Thanks Muriel!

More pins (found here):

This New York Times article discusses the cigarette industries co-optation of nascent feminism.  Hat tip to Jezebel, where Sadie writes:

In the early 20th century, smoking was regarded as unladylike. In the 1920[s], realizing they were missing out on millions of potential customers PR expert Edward Bernays encouraged the American Tobacco Company to play on women’s nascent sense of modern independence… and the smoking feminist was born!

Also in co-opting feminism: make-upmore make-up and, of course, botox; cars and bras; more cigarettes; cleaning products, eyeglasses, and pants; diamond rings; credit cards, cigarettes, and cars; easing kitchen duty; and fashion (I think).

Why are people of color included in advertising aimed at mostly white people?

1.   To associate the product with a racial stereotype.
2.  To give a product “color” or “flavor.”
3.  To invoke ideas of “hipness,” “modernity,” “progressive” politics and other related ideas.
4.  To trigger the idea of human variation itself.

And, 5., as these ads show, to make you think that the company cares about diversity and racial/ethnic equality (whether they do or not).

(found here)

Text: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  (found here)

Next up:  How people of color are included, starting with “white-washing.”


Many believe that all women involved in prostitution are desperate for rescue and that being rescued always and inevitably leads to a better life for women and their families.  Myra M. F. sent us a link to this poster, made by brothel workers in Thailand, begs for an end to attempts to rescue them. Laura Agustin, who took this picture (and blogged about it here), writes:

This poster comes from the EMPOWER centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where brothel workers gathered to discuss recent raids and rescue operations. On the left they have written a list of reasons why they do not wish to be rescued by police, ngo or charity workers.

The text (as transcribed by Agustin):

• We lose our savings and our belongings.
• We are locked up.
• We are interrogated by many people.
• They force us to be witnesses.
• We are held until the court case.
• We are held till deportation.
• We are forced re-training.
• We are not given compensation by anybody.
• Our family must borrow money to survive while we wait.
• Our family is in a panic.
• We are anxious for our family.
• Strangers visit our village telling people about us.
• The village and the soldiers cause our family problems.
• Our family has to pay ‘fines’ or bribes to the soldiers.
• We are sent home.
• Military abuses and no work continues at home.
• My family has a debt.
• We must find a way back to Thailand to start again.

Many activists in the U.S. similarly argue that the policing of prostitution, ostensibly to “protect” women,” serves to criminalize them (and not so much their johns) and ultimately makes their lives more difficult and dangerous than they would be otherwise. (See, for example, Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics or COYOTE.)

See also posters against the criminalization of prostitution.

This man, Donny Deutsch, host of CNBC’s Big Idea, helpfully tells the rest of us what the “new feminist ideal” is. Hillary Clinton’s problem, he explains, is that she “didn’t put [on] a skirt.” Enjoy:

Also in women can be anything they want as long as they’re hot: The Nerd Girls.

Found at Feministing.

Z. (of It’s the Thought that Counts) sent in this image (found at Andrew Sullivan’s blog on The Atlantic magazine’s website):

According to Sullivan, the text says, “You won’t be able to stop them (i.e. guys), but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what’s best for you!”

Neither Z. nor I have been able to track down the origin of this image, which is supposedly a pro-hijab PSA, beyond what Sullivan provides as a source–I can’t find any evidence online of any first-hand accounts of people seeing it displayed anywhere or of what groups might be displaying it (the online references I’ve found make vague statements about it being from Egypt). I was really hesitant to post it, but it is available on the website of a major U.S. magazine, and I’m hoping maybe some of our readers might have information about the image–who put it out, if it’s actually on display anywhere, etc. If it is a real pro-hijab PSA (or even just a proposed one), it’s a great example of the way women are often portrayed as having responsibility for controlling and preventing men’s sexual advances, since men are believed to be incapable of controlling their own sexual desires. Whoever made it clearly uses that discourse about men, women, and sexual attraction; the question is, who created it?

While I was doing some online searching for it, I came upon the site Protect Hijab, a site dedicated to “the protection of every Muslim woman’s right to wear the Hijab in accordance with her beliefs and for the protection of every woman’s right to dress as modestly and as comfortably as she pleases.” Among other things, the site provides links to news stories about laws regarding hijab, including the interesting situations that come up when, say, the city of Antwerp (in Belgium) outlaws employees from wearing hijab (or any other symbol of religious or political affiliation) but then allows them to wear bandannas.

Then I came upon this video, which has the description, “A PSA Parody/Satire intended to protest the use of the veil by women. Ban the veil and ban the berqa. A Hijab is okay, however. Free Arab and Muslim women from male religious oppression.”

I’m always interested in things like this video because there is a tendency for groups with no connection to Islam to protest the hijab as a symbol of women’s oppression. This often occurs while the voices of Muslim women who argue that they don’t find the practice of hijab to be oppressive OR they have many other issues that are higher priorities are ignored or silenced. The statement “Ban the veil and ban the berqa. A Hijab is okay, however” also brings up some of the interesting aspects of attitudes toward hijab–who gets to decide what is oppressive? Why would, say, a veil be immediately and always oppressive but hijab (however the author was defining hijab) is “okay”?

Finally, I ran across this video, called “Top 10 Funniest Things a Muslim Woman Hears,” which presents 10 questions Muslim women often get about hijab/veils/scarves/etc.:

I like some aspects of this video–I’ve had Muslim students tell me they are asked these types of questions, some of which are clearly due to simply curiosity and lack of knowledge and others of which are rude. On the other hand, just like the previous video, this video is also constructing the practice of hijab, and the women who wear it, in a particular way–as something “obligatory” for Muslim women once they hit puberty. Clearly not all Muslims agree with this interpretation.

These could be really useful for a discussion of attitudes (both pro and con) toward the practice of hijab and the way it (or the version different groups portray of it) has become a symbol of Muslim (often defined as the equivalent of Arab) women’s oppression to some and of religious freedom and devout Muslim faith to others.

It could also be useful for a general discussion of whose voices are powerful in cultural conflicts. Who is speaking out against the presumed oppression of “Arab and Muslim women”? What is their interest in the issue–that is, is there a genuine concern about sexism and gender inequality, or is the issue of hijab a convenient avenue to express anti-Islamic sentiments? Which Arab/Muslim women are they claiming to speak for? Similarly, who is behind the pro-hijab activism? Are the voices of actual Muslim women represented? Do they play a role in the content of the message? To what degree do they represent the voices of (some groups of) Muslim women expressing their personal preferences and interests and to what degree is it an effort to pressure women to adopt hijab? Again, which Muslim women are they speaking for/to?

For other posts about hijab and other issues concerning Muslim women’s clothing, see here, here, here, here, and here. Also see these images of advice on modest clothing at Brigham Young University for a comparison.

Thanks, Z.!

In the contemporary U.S., the feminist movement has been so thoroughly intertwined with the pro-choice movement that the rhetoric of choice has become a common way to talk, more generally, about women’s liberation.  And women’s liberation, as we have demonstrated (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), is frequently co-opted for the purposes of selling women all sorts of products (including those in decided conflict with mainstream feminism, like this one and this one).

A reader, Tracy in Canada, saw these ads at Sears.  In them, the phrase “the right to choose” is used to invoke feminist ideals and applied to the right to select a “gift adapted to your beauty concerns.”

NEW! (Nov. ’09): Kristyn G. sent in this commercial for a cable company in India that also co-opts the right to choose…in this case, the right to choose her own husband:


Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.