Advertising, feminisms, Gender, Reclaiming spaces

I’m not sure where to start with this one. It is something that I have seen a few times and always prickled at but I think I have finally worked out what my issue is and I am going to attempt to articulate it here…it is not really research related and it will 100% come across as a rant so this is your chance to get out now – you’ve been warned.

What the hell is this???!!??

stupid 1


Statements such as this are prolific Facebook memes and go, in my opinion, far beyond faulty logic and venture into the somewhat offensive woodland beyond. *I am willing to accept that this may be particularly frustrating for me due to the context in which I encounter these messages (mostly amongst Facebook and Google’s ham-fisted brainwashing attempts to get me to get my head down and conform, that involves changing all online adverts to ones for Clear Blue Pregnancy tests – subtle). I see these images as just another extension of cultural reinforcement of outdated notions of women’s roles. It’s a good day to air this frustration thanks to the ongoing issues  the Tory leadership contest has thrown up.

The similarity between this and the ‘Facebook mothership challenge’ nonsense (more here) which has already been covered in detail, cannot be ignored. I’ve worked out my problem with this one specifically….

I take issue with the idea that giving your mother a grandchild is somehow a reflection of how good they are as a parent – err word up guys its not!

I’d counter the claim within the meme, by arguing that the best parents will love their children irrespective of their willingness (or ability) to procreate. Statements like the one contained in the meme not only shackles a woman’s decision to have kids to her own self-worth (which is a long standing issue – for our society to be a woman you simply must want children) but it also implies that it is a reflection on the parenting that a woman experienced herself. Again if we are getting into a debate about quality parenting I’m pretty sure making your daughter aware of her reproductive rights and ensuring she has the ability to make her own choices is pretty high up the list.

This link between an individual woman’s decision in relation to procreation and the idea that they must have had some terrible experience to make that decision is offensive and reinforced everywhere.

I feel like popping on a pair of sunglasses like the ones in John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live and revealing the truth.




It is part of what could be considered the ultimate guilt trip for women. I say women because there is not the same level of pressure placed upon males of a similar age and the male identity, under western capitalism, is not entwined with fatherhood in the same way.  Those deviating from the path of motherhood are often considered by society to be oddballs doomed to be repeatedly told what good mothers they would have been(see Kate Fox’s work on otherhood)

I’ll never forget the look of sheer confusion and bafflement on a male colleague’s face (years ago) when, upon enquiring if I wanted children, I told him I wasn’t going to answer that question because I didn’t think it had any bearing on me as a person. I believe my first response (before having to qualify it due to his inability to understand) was ‘nope don’t answer that, not relevant, next question’. He just couldn’t compute that I might not want to talk about this topic with someone I didn’t know and worked with. Worked with is the key thing here – we know that there continues to be discrimination in the workplace against women of a certain age who may become a liability to a company by going off on mat leave (see this here from The Guardian in 2015). So why, even if I had the sudden urge to discuss my reproductive abilities with a virtual stranger, would I make myself more vulnerable to workplace discrimination?

Yes some women are mothers, some women aren’t can we just get on board with that concept now. And can we stop pitting women with kids against those without them like this awful patronising piece of rubbish (here) from Kate Spicer in 2013 who uses the term ‘motherhood deniers’ and says she thinks that every woman who says she is happy without children must be lying! Wow for a writer she has a very small imagination, I don’t find it hard at all to think that within the 51% of people in the U.K that identify as women that there might be some that are happy without children. Just think if we freed up all the time we spend competing against other women, or beating ourselves up for our perceived failings, what we could achieve in terms of parity with men.

Today’s news only compounds this issue – why in 2016 are we not questioning why it is still ok for journalists to ask women ‘do you feel like a mum in politics?’ – this is just as problematic as Andrea Leadsom’s reply! (Again Kate Fox’s blog today is an excellent read)

I have plenty of friends with kids and I respect their decision to start families and vitally they respect my decisions too. They don’t see my current childlessness as a comment on their life choices and nor should they. So can we all just take a moment to consider what messages things like these memes sends out to women and respect everyone’s decisions – whether they match our own or not.


The harder sell

Advertising, commercial feminisms

I hate shopping. People who know me well are aware of the lengths I will go in order to avoid it, especially clothes shopping. When pressed and I have no other options (there is only so many times you can sew something up aparently), I conduct myself with assassin-like efficiency – in and out in seconds with minimal bloodshed.

The cold strip lighting and oppressive body fascism of the high street is not my comfort zone, but having made as many xmas presents as I have time for (and can get away with using my solid B- craft skills) there are certain things that will require action.

My 14 year old sister’s present is yet to click into place and as a result on my way home I made the spur of the moment decision to walk through H&M. Whereupon I stumbled upon this jumper….


I’m sorry what? Surely this should read ‘Feminism – a word now routinely used to sell things to women’. Thanks for reducing the radical fight for the emancipation of everyone from gender binary patriarchal control to a slogan on a jumper, that’s super helpful.

I’ve never read anything as accessible as Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman (2009) on why this kind of thing is problematic, (specifically the chapter Feminism(TM): Two Sides of the Same Con). Power makes the point that ‘stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover.’ (Power, 2009: 30).

I’m not adverse to putting the word feminism on things, go ahead, but (unfortunately) we can’t all be Kathleen Hanna. Watch The Punk Singer (2013) if you haven’t already – that woman is a genius.


So all my trip to H&M achieved was me contemplating the complexities of using both the word, and ideology, of feminism to get people to buy into a system that ultimately oppresses them. Selling/buying a T-shirt is the easy part, getting people to understand and identify as feminist AND live their feminism, that’s the harder sell.


…and onwards to plan B for Jenya’s Christmas present.




You cannot be serious?


This week I came across this advertisement on Twitter and I honestly thought it was a hoax. Having heard Jessica Milner-Davies discuss the difference between practical jokes and hoaxes at the 2014 International Humour Summer School, I was utterly convinced that someone would do the ‘big reveal’ at some point as it was such a textbook example.

I thought there was no way that this incredibly offensive caption could be real; someone’s photoshopped it in. This was one just of those traps that people set to enrage feminists online in order to laugh at their ire and then berate them for being so stupid to fall for it…..however this was not a drill.

This advert exists in print in the 2015 catalogue for American department store Bloomingdales. ‘SPIKE YOUR BEST FRIEND’S EGGNOG WHEN THEY’RE NOT LOOKING.’


This story has subsequently been heavily covered in the media (see here for the Guardian’s recap) with may questioning how the hell this ever got signed off. How did an advert for ‘holiday season’ clothing enter such dark territory and how is it possible in 2015 that someone didn’t spot that this caption was a problem?? In my own opinion it looks like it should have some kind of warning message underneath it (‘This festive season remember to watch your drinks everybody’ or ‘ 90% of rapes are committed by people previously known to the victim’ etc.), so stark is the connotation of date rape.

Once I had gotten over my initial shock that this image existed in the world, what I found particularly interesting was that the key thing about this advert that tipped it from a completely average shot of fashion models to highly offensive pro-date rape image was the text.

Surely if you are going to do a fashion shoot inspired by, or even remotely visually similar to, the highly controversial music video for Robin Thicke and Pharrell William’s Blurred Lines (as this is in its choices of colours, black, cream, white, red lipstick… see the image below), then you think long and hard about the caption you add to ensure the image is not read as a continuation of the problematic consent-related discourse of the song itself. The song and video were heavily criticised in the media (see here) and so it is no surprise that this advert has attracted similar levels of critique along the same lines.


Robin Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines (2013)


We are invited by this advert, irrespective of the text, to position ourselves as the man, as we are in the overwhelming majority of images, film, media etc. See, as always, Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) for her seminal articulation of this idea. His gaze is the one we follow and the woman, head thrown back and smiling is the subject of his (and therefore our) stare. This means that whatever caption was written in this space was more likely to be attributed to the male rather than the female model as he is the active protagonist of this scene. Again the fact that none of the designers or copy editors picked up on this is astonishing.

Today is conveniently International Men’s Day and, sidestepping the obvious discussion about why this day exists in the first place (See comedian Richard Herring’s work on this here), I think this advert provides an example of how patriarchy limits both men and women in its perpetuation of patriarchal gender roles.  This advert invites us to think that this man is about to, or maybe already has, spiked a woman’s drink. It normalises the idea that this is just something that men do, for a laugh. It reinforces the idea that men only think about sex and will stop at nothing to get it irrespective of the consent of their partner as so beautifully articulated in Blurred Lines‘ chorus ‘I know you want it’. Does knowing I want it mean you don’t have to ask me? This is patronising, constraining and offensive to men as much as it is women.

So how does this link to your work on humour and comedy studies then? Good question. Well, I’m particularly interested in this as my research sits within the wider realm of cultural studies. I’ll be looking at how Angela McRobbie’s work on the complexification of anti-feminist backlash often takes the form of irony in advertising, which is also explored in the work of Rosalind Gill (I’ll be looking at this in terms of the U.K comedy industry and advertising for comedy). An interview where McRobbie briefly talks about her work can be found here.

The Bloomingdales advert uses a tone that makes the suggestion of spiking someone’s drink seem a cheeky joke, in a ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ kind of way. The advert knows that what it is saying is not acceptable, invoking feminist scorn, but then diffuses the problematic content of the statement by falling back on the ‘this is a joke’ ironic tone. I’m sure they didn’t anticipate this level of backlash but they knew this statement was tongue in cheek at the very least. The issue here for me is that women’s everyday experiences and the jokey suggestion of this advert are not sufficiently different to be fertile territory for irony or humour.

I am also reminded of an excellent animation about sexual consent that uses humour to get the message across in a clear way. (click link below image).

I love this because I feel it demonstrates how comedy can be used to critique society and throw light on to issues by highlighting their faulty logic. There is something ridiculous about a stick figure pouring tea down someone’s throat, justifying it by saying ‘well you wanted tea last week’.

Most of the press around comedy and consent focuses on rape jokes but I think this provides just one example of how comedy can also be used to highlight inequalities and violence against marginalised groups too. Comedy is another weapon with which to smash patriarchal norms and this is a call to arms.