Or… What have they been feeding you?
During the fall of 2005, a group of thoughtful young women took-on clothing giant, Abercrombie &Fitch for their degrading and offensive t-shirt slogans. Scaffolded by the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, the young women staged a “Girlcott” and their activism and ultimate success garnered national attention. Thus proving – retailers will listen when enough paying (or potentially paying) customers speak. Fortunately, their collective voice was heard. Unfortunately, there is more work to be done and we’ll all be needed if indeed there is to be true and lasting social change.
I’ve become recently obsessed with the media and the subliminal, subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle messages it conveys to an unsuspecting society. There are advertisements that depict domestic violence, sexual assault, gang rape – to identify only a few. And, they are selling handbags, hair products, or cars. I envision these images entering the mind – like food that fuels our thoughts and attitudes – and shapes our culture. Advertising “art” also shapes attitudes and beliefs about healthy body image and healthy relationships. If these ads are the food we’re feeding our minds, we are taking in a steady diet of fast food, corn chips, and instant pudding.
What, you may ask, does advertising and merchandising have to do with domestic violence? To answer, let’s begin with a brief history lesson. It is no coincidence that overwhelmingly women and children represent the largest number of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Since the dawn of time and in nearly all cultures, women and children were subordinated to the male. They were viewed as property and had no – or limited – rights, comparatively. The “spare the rod and spoil the child” mentality extended to all members of the family. The roots of these crimes lay deeply and firmly in societies in which patriarchy determine the worth of human beings. As stated in When Men Batter Women, John Gottman and Neil Jacobson indicate that “battering, and the values supporting it, cannot be understood apart from other aspects of the culture that sanction male superiority.” Although legislation has been enacted – aimed at the protection of women and children – domestic violence continues to occur in staggering numbers in this country. Traditional gender based roles in our society place men in positions of power over women in most all arenas (family, work, religion, recreation, etc.). Often, through the media and other forms of socialization, we encourage using violence as a means of gaining power and control. We place the most value on those individuals with the most power and control. Because this foundation is historically and currently held in our society, our belief systems are affected.
With the history lesson concluded, let’s look at advertising and the social norms it affects that perpetuate violence against women and the degradation of our women and girls. Dr. C. Kay Weaver, an associate professor in the Department of Management Communication at the University of Waikato, talks about violence and advertising and how it has become a mainstream phenomenon. Violence in advertisement is everywhere from main stream fashion to magazines. Weaver explains,
“Violence has always played a key role in marketing newspapers, films, television programs, and computer games. Violent imagery is now increasingly also used to advertise and market a diverse range of goods from sports apparel to cologne and perfume, computer games, cars, watches, jeans and even credit cards. The effect of this violent imagery is to make violent behavior appear normal and even acceptable rather than unusual.”
Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and numerous other corporations, flood the mainstream media with images that portray sexual violence against women in a way that prompts critical discussion. Fashion companies use excessive erotic imagery to push their products on the market, but have moved beyond erotic to violent imagery. These ads produce a much greater effect than intended.
“When violence is used to sell a product, it does not just sell the product; it condones violent attitudes and behavior and contributes to exaggerated fears of violence among those encouraged to see themselves as its potential victims.” – Dr. C. Kay Weaver
This is not to suggest that chaste media is a panacea for all this ills facing society – or that culturally competent advertising will end domestic and sexual violence. It is, however, a call to action for each of us.
Apparently, these companies consider violence and humiliation “sexy.” They promote the objectification of women and pass off their branding as “art” – in the hopes that ads shock the public opinion and further push the brands in front of the media for values that should probably not be promoted. I’ve chosen the following advertisements. They are mild – in comparison to some of the advertisements I’ve collected. Please look at them critically and carefully. Then, decide…
…. DO YOU FEEL INSPIRED TO BUY THESE PRODUCTS?
…Are these the messages you would feed to your own daughter or son?