Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Monday, October 29, 2012

Discussion of "Killing Us Softly" Talk by Jean Kilbourne

 (This is part of a general discussion at Hartmann's forum on the objectification of women.)

Zenzoe wrote:
I could have used the video in my conversation with D_NATURED.  She makes lots of points that are relevant to that conversation about "tight young ass," "pussy," and the entire subject of the sexual objectification of women and girls; and in particular the influence advertising and media have on shaping and creating female sexual objectification as if it's normal. Her point that sex is both more important and less important than the media suggests is something I'd like to discuss further, given more time. Also, how the objectification of women in advertising correlates with violence against women.  That's important too, obviously.
D_NATURED wrote:
The video is utterly irrelevant to our conversation, Z. First of all, I've never advocated violence against women.
Zenzoe wrote:
Of course you don’t, and never did, advocate violence against women. But that you, in particular, are not violent toward women, nor do you advocate it, nor do you even ignore it as an issue, does not mean that sexist advertising does not correlate with violence against women.
Still, because I mentioned you and the terms you have used in the same paragraph where, at the end, I mention how advertising correlates with VAW, perhaps you felt the sting of yourself being associated with such. I’m sorry if such clumsy juxtaposition of words and ideas set you against the video from the get-go. I think, if you could bring yourself to take a second look at it, you might come away with a different impression. To my mind, she manages to give us the forest despite the trees, if you will: She gives us an insight about our own culture, one that is only possible if you stand far back and think critically about the culture she's showing you.
Thus, I disagree that the video is “utterly irrelevant to our conversation.” And by “our conversation” I don’t mean you, D., personally. I’m talking about the objectification of women generally. It’s only coincidence that you happened to defend the use of A.’s term “tight young ass,” but I understand your defense, and your attitude, and I accept that you don’t see such objectification as toxic in any way.
We have simply used such verbiage to move on to a more general discussion about our culture and its objectification of women. Please don’t take it as a personal attack. What we see in advertising is who we are as a distinct culture, one with ideals and messages wholly specific to ourselves as a society. It’s important to look at that objectively, but I think you know that.
D_NATURED wrote:
Secondly, the desire to have sex with attractive women pre-existed advertising and rightfully so. Sex is a biological necessity, advertising is a capitalist one. The only question is whether or not any woman feels she needs to live up to the ideal. That's a struggle to which many women are immune. Advertising merely attempts to tell us WHAT is "attractive" (and I agree, by the way, that much of it is impossible to attain, for the average woman), and is often in contrast to what nature would require.
Zenzoe wrote:
Well, here I have to remind you that “the ideal” is our culture’s ideal, and not the multiple ideals of femininity as manifested in various cultures around the world historically. That’s the understanding one needs to adopt while viewing the video. Behind the discussion about advertising must be the recognition of, the knowledge of, other cultures, and even our own culture’s varied and evolving notions of the ideal feminine.

You may recall that in ancient China the ideal of femininity had women binding their feet to conform to that culture’s male preferences.  In other cultures, a long neck on a woman signifies the feminine ideal, and so the women wear neck rings to elongate their necks.  In European cultures, hairy armpits are feminine, but here they're not.  In Peter Paul Ruben’s day, the heftier female was the ideal, and in that culture and other cultures our skinny ideal would have provoked revulsion and concern.

Remember Marilyn Monroe? (how could we forget?) Simone Signoret, the author, said Marilyn, in her off-camera life, rarely dressed in what she described as her “Marilyn getup.” There’s an anecdote where once Marilyn and two friends were walking through the streets of New York and Marilyn turned to her friends and said, “Do you want me to be her?” and then she took on the M.M. personality, and suddenly strangers on the street started to recognize her.

So there you have what some people refer to as the “female impersonation” that women have had to adopt to conform to male preferences within our own patriarchal culture. And we are still a patriarchal culture, D., in case you haven’t noticed.

Recently, I watched a favorite movie of mine from the 60’s again, a French movie that received an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film: A Man and a Woman.  It was a bit of a shock, however, to notice in the observant eyes of my 2012 perspective what I hadn’t noticed back in the mid-60s when I didn’t have the distance required to see this clearly: Anouk Aimee’s (female lead) tamped-down, shy portrayal of a woman (not portrayal of a shy woman), that is, her female impersonation. In her own way, Anouk produced an act exactly comparable to the Marilyn act—a feminine ideal for her times, a lá French and not so funny, one designed not to threaten males with female self-assertion, or bold, overt intelligence or gumption.

You have to understand, though, I’ve had the exhilarating experience of being exposed to portrayals of a more liberated femininity by some of our current American actresses. For example, Mary McCormack’s portrayal of U.S. Federal Marshal, Mary Shannon, in the TV series In Plain Sight. There, you may see blond and gorgeous, but you’re also going to have to contend with a smart-mouth, feminist, dry-wit, mocking and utterly not inclined toward the use of feminine wiles as leverage, unless for conscious sarcastic or ironical effect. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to witness such a violation of the stereotype. 

D_NATURED wrote:
The vast majority of those ads appeared to be the kind found in women's magazines, though, which implies that women are equal consumers of and participants in their own objectification. Could that be because women need to know what IS attractive, so they can fulfill their own natural desire to be pursued by men for the same ultimate purpose as those pursuing? Is the assumption of mine that women want to be pursued a media suggestion? Can you blame men for what sells to everyone? If enough women object to what the ads are saying, will the market not respond?

During her speech, the camera panned out to an audience full of women in dresses and make up and jewelry. I suggest they weren't dressed by their husbands and boy friends that morning but, ultimately, by their mothers at childhood. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Zenzoe wrote:
Of course women are “equal consumers of and participants in their own objectification!” That’s the power of advertising. If it didn’t work on women, it wouldn’t be used by the men and women —advertisers— who consciously or unconsciously wish to demean women to sell products within this patriarchal, misogynistic culture.

And what IS attractive, again, is wholly determined by this culture at a very specific time and location within the history of human culture. What IS attractive, D., is determined by a vicious cycle of indoctrination and response, of wish, fantasy, and conformity.
The Barbie Doll didn’t evolve out of an empty context, after all. Barbie does not bear witness to a gender-neutral, liberated and equal society; just the opposite. It evolved not because of who and what we women really are, but who and what the chauvinist mind of capitalism and consumerism has projected as an ideal from its own perverted ideology. 

D_NATURED wrote:
I have no problem with recognizing the way we are manipulated by the media so that we can examine our own motivations and biases. Let us not ignore that some of our biases can not be intellectualized away or blamed on male oppression alone. I find it hard to believe that, even in Sweden, when a girl with an exceptional ass walks by, the men there do not care to look.
Zenzoe wrote:
I don’t know why you assume that (1) I think men are not biologically sexual and not sexually attracted to attractive women, and, (2), I blame all of this on male oppression, and, (3) that Sweden is not part of modern Western civilization, and (4) that I conflate men’s looking with men objectifying women. Sheesh, D., can you give me a break here? There’s a big difference between the two, and I wish you could see that. To look and enjoy is not necessarily to objectify. ;-)

D_NATURED wrote:
Besides, with all of these women on this planet that are not poreless size zeroes with perfect bone structure and giant tits, there is still an imperfect man who loves them. The fact that my wife, for instance, does not fit that ideal does not diminish my passion for her. She is still in possession of all of the things that make a woman sexually attractive as well as other intangibles. No ad can convince me that she does not deserve my love.

Zenzoe wrote:
Again, “poreless size zeroes with perfect bone structure and giant tits,” (and add to that unnaturally and dangerously thin), if it is an “ideal,” it is an ideal constructed within the context of a patriarchal, consumerist, sexist society; it is not an absolute, consistent-across-all-cultures ideal (thus, men and women are not wired biologically to love it). And furthermore, to address the issue of violence against women, it is an ideal that has dire consequences for girls and women. I first would suggest that even girls who starve themselves to the point of anorexia to live up to the ideal have had their self-esteem violated; the society that promotes the “ideal” of thinness also commits violence against women.

But let’s not pretend that consistent images in the media —and I absolutely disagree with the suggestion that the majority misogynistic advertising occurs in women’s magazines— of all the varied ways in which women can be degraded and even presented as prey, will not contribute to male violence against women. Consider Wrangler’s “We are Animals” ad campaign (Wrangler ads are found everywhere). 
So, there you see the notion of “we are animals,” not as a celebration of our mutual, erotic enjoyment within a context of sensuality and pleasure, but as a promotion of men as killers and women as prey; or men as killing animals and women as their dead prey. (and to think that ad campaign won all sorts of awards!) How much of this stuff, D., do you think springs naturally from the male psyche, rather than from the psyche of our deeply sick society?

And what makes you think images of that sort don’t register on the minds of less-ethical men than yourself, granting permission to them to violate women in the most horrific ways?

It’s wonderful that you’re able to rise above this crap. It’s great that you manage a fulfilling relationship with a real woman, that you’re not a superficial man who treats his wife as an object designed for his purposes alone. But your particular, individual case does not deny the truth the video presents, nor does it allow us to pretend that women and their objectification is not damaging to us all.

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