Feminism, Postfeminism, and Ideologies of Femininity

“Feminism has fought no wars.  It has killed no opponents.  It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties.  Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety on the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.  If someone says ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ I ask ‘Why? What’s your problem?’

–Dale Spendor, Man Made Language

Our reading, “Feminism, Postfeminism, and Ideologies of Femininity,” began with the quote above.  Immediately after reading the quote by Splendor, I knew I would enjoy this article.  I found the quote to be empowering and brought up the crucial message that the idea of feminism has developed a “bad” name in the past.  Also, many men think of feminism as  “a girl’s thing” and something that doesn’t relate to them.

The reading defined the differences between sex and gender.  Gender is based on “cultural and social roles, behaviors, and personality traits that are deemed socially acceptable for men or women in relation to masculinity or femininity.” Sex is the “biological difference in genitalia, chromosomes, and hormones.”

There are also two main theories on gender development: genetic factors and social expectations.  The biological essentialist position argues that women are naturally more emotional and nurturing because they are designed to breed and care for children and men are more aggressive, smart, and competitive in order to protect their partner and offspring.  The social constructionist position “sees gender characteristics as a consequence of how people are socialized and raised.”  Social pressures and ‘norms’ construct our identity.  For example, Mary in The Donna Reed Show mimics her mother’s style in clothing, cleaning, and precise physical appearance.

There are three main waves of feminism:

First-wave feminism: 1880 and the 1920s; emphasis on legal advances attaining full citizenship, legal equity, the right to vote, and recognition that women should have the same right and opportunities enjoyed by other citizens; feminists raised questions about women’s rights, duties, and responsibilities.

Second-wave feminism: late 1960s; acknowledged the oppression of women in a patriarchal system also extended into the private sphere.  Focused on the exploitation of women through sex and on how women’s bodies and appearances are controlled and valued, objected strongly to media texts in which the female body was sexualized; negative connotations of feminists began, claiming that “feminists are hairy, unfeminine, butch lesbian separatists who aim to oppress men.”

“The personal is political” merged into the discussion of domestic violence, women’s reproductive rights, childcare, and sexuality.

Second wave feminists point out that, “make-up can be used as an instrument of power in relation to men, allowing women to assert their sexual attractiveness as power over men.”

I really enjoyed this quote; it made me think about the sexual power women really do have over men.  I hadn’t ever really thought of make-up as an instrument of authority until reading this article.  The advertisement in the article depicts a strong woman with her hands on her hips standing on top of a man.  The caption reads, “it’s not make-up, it’s ammunition.”  The advertisement portrays the female as tough and forceful, not weak and enticing.  The ad allows female viewers to take pleasure in objectifying the man compared to the usual opposite.(men sexually objectifying women in advertisements)

Third-wave feminism: 1980s; “new era” of thinking; it recognizes women’s desires do not necessarily revolve around men, marriage, and family; attention to difference and diversity; focus on youth movements and issues, and a critical resistance to earlier codes of feminist behavior or appearance; Example: Madonna

Women and Advertisements

The article mentions Ella Bache’s Every Body is Beautiful campaign.  Currently, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty advertisements offer a non-stereotypical image of female “models.”  The ads feature normal, everyday women that are not size 0 supermodels.  This advertising strategy aims to adjust the unrealistic way women look at themselves, models, and other women.

For my Marketing class, Promotion Strategy, we recently were assigned to analyze any advertisement of our choice.  I think this marketing assignment/advertisement relates to Bache’s and Dove’s strategy and represents a new wave of representing “real women” in advertisements.

The following is the advertisement I chose and my opinions/analysis.

“My Butt is Big”

The 2005 Nike print advertising campaign, “Real Women,” features confident athletic women with “real bodies” and descriptions of their “tomboy knees,” “strong shoulders,” and “big butts.”  Each of the ads focus on a body part that does not fit the current ideal of beauty and is narrated by a woman with a brief story about why she loves her body.  The ad does not show any other body part other than the body area being described.  The advertisement was featured in popular teen and women’s magazines such as Vogue, Glamour, Jane, Self, and Health.

The advertisement’s main objective is to raise women’s self-confidence and embrace an athletic image of a woman’s body, therefore encouraging women to purchase Nike brand athletic clothing and increase traffic to http://www.NikeWomen.com.  The media has trained men and women to idealize the bodies of size 0 supermodels and reject everyday women’s bodies as physically attractive, simply because they are larger than models.  The ad raises awareness to both men and women that even though women are all different shapes, sizes, and ethnicities each of them can still be considered beautiful.

The ad successfully conveys a message of women’s empowerment and intelligence.  Nike’s ad also encourages women to look past the advertisements that further you to dislike your figure and instead accept a more realistic version of a woman’s body.

Nike’s bold and authoritative text, “My Butt is Big,” combined with the zoomed in picture of a woman’s buttocks, and the colorful background grab the reader’s initial attention.   The advertisement keeps your attention throughout because it contains a series of text statements about the featured woman’s body.  Well-chosen jabs at the status quo include: “My butt is big, and ten-thousand lunges have made it rounder, but not smaller, and that’s just fine.”  The ad sticks in your memory due to its uniqueness in appearance and usage of self-assured, strong wording.  The Nike advertisement remains in the memory of many women because it is easy to relate to because most women have experienced some feelings of insecurity regarding their body image at some point.

The target market is female athletes ages 16-30.  The message strategy works exceptionally well because it works off of already existing brand themes.  For example, “beautiful” or “ideal” to Nike is a sweating runner pounding through the mud and rain; not a woman in seven-inch high heels.  The “real women” theme is a natural fit for Nike and complements its existing brand strategy.  The message strategy is very fitting and exceptionally successful for the target market because women, especially female athletes, struggle with balancing the idea of being a physically fit competitor and also appearing feminine.  This ad acknowledges female athletes’ struggle between being an athlete and conforming to society’s common norms in regards to body image.  Nike’s ad addresses the larger issue of self-critical female body image but still remains lighthearted and humorous by using phrases like, “My butt is big and that’s just fine.  And those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it.”

The ad conveys a feeling of self-confidence and power for athletic women.  The advertisement stretches the pre-conceived judgments of a “perfect woman’s body” by taking the opposite stance on women’s beauty and advocating an athletic woman’s body instead of the typical size 0 model.  In today’s media, female models are portrayed as overtly thin, which causes many young girls and women to believe in unattainable body images that can lead to insecurities, low self-esteem and for some, eating disorders.  The ad represents an average size woman that is not usually shown in magazines and encourages women to be comfortable in their own skin and embrace a realistic body.

The ad was featured in many teen and women’s magazines such as Glamour, Vogue, Health, Self, and Jane.  I think the ad was displayed in the correct media form and target audience because many young, active women read those magazines.  The ad takes advantage of its medium and target market by placing the ads in the magazines of young women that are easily susceptible to the media’s unrealistic representations of the “perfect body.”

The advertisements are full-page, in color, and are usually placed at the beginning of the magazine, where even the casual reader will notice it.  The bright pink, purple, and orange color droplets combined with the black and white photo create an eye-catching contrast.  The polished 10x zoom photograph of the featured body part is beautifully done, eye-catching and draws the reader in.   The text, wrapped seductively along the buttocks draws attention to its size.  It is sassy, feminine, and flirty.

The advertisement was exceptionally well done and made the reader forget that the company’s foremost intention is to get you to purchase their product.  Nike’s advertisement makes the reader feel good about their body and encourages them to embrace the athletic form.  The ad is very successful and there is currently a marketing trend of creating ads similar to this one.  It could be argued that Nike has not created an ad that is immediately brand recognizable as its main tagline, “Just Do It” is hidden with the Nike swoosh at the end of the ad, both in small text.