Sunday, June 28, 2009

Girlhood in America

In Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, Friedan analyzes women's magazines from before and after World War II. In the 1930s, magazine stories pictured the female heroine in the cockpit of a plane, with her adoring man beside her. She was portrayed as passionate, independent, and strong; and their relationship was equal and dynamic. Yet media and advertising depictions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s stepped away from this New Woman and the gains of the first feminist movement. They put women back in the kitchen and back in the home, which as part of a woman's life is healthy and good, but when it becomes a national obsession and cultural ideal, can be limiting. Journal articles and ads went from female empowerment (what women have and can give to the world) to female subjugation (what women need).

Now the emphasis is not as much on the perfect 50s housewife, but the perfect body: the perfect weight, boobs, and butt. Women feel enormous pressure from the barrage of these ideals. See articles on anorexia and bulimia, plastic surgery, weight-loss programs; and the movie clips below.

Dove Evolution

Beauty Pressure

Killing Us Softly

I lived a fairly sheltered childhood in terms of media. I did not have cable TV, and the only shows I watched during the week were "Wishbone" and "Arthur." I did not know the members of the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC until sixth grade when a friend took it upon herself to tutor me. I was largely disconnected from popular culture and all that it entails.

A year or so ago, I did an experiment. I bought some magazines like "In Style" and "Lucky" and ripped out all of the advertisements which showed idealized or sexualized portrayals of the body. I hung them in my dining room, so that any time I was passing through, or sitting down to eat, I would see them. An interesting thing happened: I found myself desensitized to the images. The ads became normal to me, as they have to many women and girls in America.

This brings me to the following questions: are we fighting this at all? And what are our options? Could advertisers be prevented from objectifying the body, just as Camel had to remove the Joe Camel icon from its ads? Could policymakers restrict the amount of money (and in effect, the volume) of ads a company can put out? Could we create a publicity campaign about the healthier and more functional portrayals of the body in countries less hyped on the consumerism drug? What is our duty and role? Where is our voice?

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting question. The Dove campaign has also come under fire from some rhetoric critics for using its focus on "natural" beauty to sell. . . consumption goods. In addition, their "natural" beauties are still carefully chosen and certain elements are carefully emphasized. For example, one of the ads features a very attractive woman with larger-than-Barbie hips, while another features an elderly woman with photography carefully engineered to emphasize her textured skin.

    Ultimately, Dove is still selling (a) beauty products and (b) selling an image of beauty. Does making it atypical and potentially more realistic make it better, or is it just a campaign carefully designed to fly under our finely-tuned twenty-first century marketing radars? If women with "curves" were idealized, would naturally thin women or those with a different body shape still feel marginalized? This has been a source of contention, at least in the rhetoric world.