Co-Opting the Message: How Companies Are Not Our Friends

shira-spring-headshotA reflection by student staff member Shira Devorah 

 

By now, many of us have heard of that Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement.

Immediately after the ad debuted, the internet blew up in opposition to it. Activists were not complacent with the whitewashed, safe, and commercialized rip-off of Black Lives Matter. Pepsi eventually issued a half-baked apology to the public (but mostly to Kendall Jenner).

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I’m writing specifically about this advertisement as a sort of jumping-off point. I want to acknowledge, before moving forward into a broader discussion, the racism embedded in this ad. Kendall Jenner, a white woman, used black men (and the movement demanding justice for their lives) as props to support her image as an activist who could quell police brutality with a Pepsi. This is an example of overt racism in advertising.

 

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A real- life example from the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015. 

Racism in advertisements is not new.  Soda companies have had a lot to do with this brand of racism. While this blog post is not entirely about racism, I think it is important to point out its presence before discussing other issues I have with this kind of ad.

What issues, you ask?

Co-existing with the obvious racism we can see in this advertisement,  I want to talk about  a different problem that this ad also brings up. I’m sick of seeing the way companies twist activist and feminist messages to sell products.  

Companies appropriate feminist-ish narratives to make them seem like friendly, trustworthy, and progressive institutions.

Take the example of Dove’s body positivity campaign. Dove, the popular soap company, launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004. This campaign has portrayed models for Dove products as more “realistic” depictions of women, as opposed to over- photoshopped, thin white models.

On the surface, this campaign looks pretty awesome. A company that’s not buying into sexist beauty standards? It absolutely sounds like a step in the right direction.

Yet there is a certain cognitive dissonance that accompanies the message Dove is presenting. On one hand, they’re telling me, “I’m beautiful just the way I am.”  

On the other hand, I am being sold a beauty product specifically designed to make my body conform more to the beauty standards.

If Dove tells me I’m beautiful with my stretch marks while simultaneously selling me a skin-firming lotion, what message am I really supposed to be taking away from these advertisements?

Additionally, Dove is a company under the corporation Unilever- the same conglomerate that owns Axe.

Axe is another soap product, but it is marketed in the completely opposite direction. Axe’s body sprays and hair gels are aimed towards teenage boys, and tend to use women as hyper- sexualized props to sell their products.

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Screen capture from a recent Axe marketing campaign. 

How can one company that espouses the empowerment of women be so closely tied to a another that uses sexist tactics to sell their product?

At the end of the day, major corporations like Dove, Axe, and their parent company, Unilever, aren’t people. They aren’t your friend, and they aren’t a magical way to get girls to like you. They are marketing teams targeting your passions and weaknesses in order to get you to buy their products.

At least with (many) small businesses, the stances that they take are likely the real positions that the founders have.

Take, for example, feminist owned bookstores in Baltimore, like Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road and Red Emma’s on North Avenue. These are small, independent businesses that are locally owned and operated. They actively employ Baltimore-based activists and provide space for discussion and performance.

When I go to Red Emma’s, I feel like I can have a legitimate conversation about body positivity with an employee and not be sold an answer. These are actually my fellow community members making a living in a broken system, selling an item with an actual meaning attached. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. But I feel more comfortable buying from them, knowing that they aren’t faking their commitment to a cause I care about.

This, of course, comes with another layer of complication. Buying from businesses who aren’t faking the activist narrative isn’t always possible (we learned that from the recent issues happening over at Thinx). There is a certain privilege that comes along with purchasing power. I wish I had the money to buy all of my books at Red Emma’s or soap from small businesses, but the companies that can afford to make/sell cheaper products are usually the ones I can afford.

So what am I getting at with this?

More than anything, I just want to bring awareness to the ways we are being used as consumers. If we realize how much power we have in our wallets, we can begin to be more aware of how our money is being spent.

Companies will always pander to us, but we can work to change the culture that companies are trying to appropriate. Maybe if we work to build a world that doesn’t rely on racist imagery or women’s bodies to sell products, we’ll be sold to in a way that is more on our terms as consumers. At the very least, being woke to capitalist agendas running our lives may help us maneuver the ways that we are sold to into a more positive light.

Want to learn more?

The Representation Project: Using film and media as catalysts for cultural transformation, The Representation Project inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone – regardless of gender, race, class, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance – can fulfill their human potential.

Check out some documentaries exploring women in the media & advertising. Some recommendations include Miss Representation and Killing Me Softly (both available at the AOK Library!).   

Here is a list of Black-owned businesses in Maryland.

Here’s how you can use SNAP at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market and Bazaar.

Activist/Feminist Inspiration for the Weeks Ahead

IMG_3638 A brief reminder to take care of yourself, find your way to stay motivated, and shine on by student staff member Prachi Kochar. 

As we approach the end of the semester, it can be difficult to stay motivated and take care of ourselves while still prioritizing pursuing what is important to us. It has been a very difficult semester for me on multiple fronts, but reading the writings of feminist activists that I look up to has become something that helps me bolster my motivation and passion, even in hard times. While everyone’s goals, motivations, and needs look different, I hope that the following quotes will serve as inspiration for the dark times or as an extra push forward when it is needed. Feel free to save and share as much as you would like! 

Be sure to check out the following resources related to self-care, and remember, we’re all in this together. You can do it!

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What makes a Feminist Quote? Call for submissions!!!

Daniel Willey

A call for submissions by staff member Daniel Willey

 

 

One of my tasks at the Women’s Center is to make a Facebook post every Friday for Feminist Quote Friday. You’d think being surrounded by books written by feminists and activists would make it easy to come up with a quote to use each week, but I keep getting hung up on the question of what makes a feminist quote.

“Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival.” – Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Is it a quote by a feminist? Is it a statement which follows feminist principles? What if the person who said it isn’t a feminist? Should I be responsible for pulling out the receipts and making sure everyone I quote has never said or done anything problematic first? Does the quote have to be a feminist statement or can it simply be related to feminist issues?

And besides all that, there are SO MANY great feminist words to choose from!

That’s where you come in: I want to hear your favorite feminist quotes. I want to hear what words inspire you, lift you up, make you feel called to action. I want to hear what made you think, made you reevaluate, what steered you in a new direction.

Submit this google form to send me your feminist quote and tell me a little bit about why you chose it! I’ll be using submissions for Feminist Quote Fridays and you can submit anytime!

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Women in Activism: a Roundtable Round-Up

The Women’s Center ended our spring roundtable series on a high note last Thursday with Women in Activism. If you weren’t able to join us for our lively discussion, here’s a short round-up of what you missed!

This semester’s roundtable series focused on the ways that women are made invisible and silenced within certain spaces. For this discussion on activism, we began with a short visual presentation that illustrates how women often go unseen within the very movements they’ve worked to create.

Our three panelists shared their insights on the topic to help launch our discussion: Dr. Beverly Bickel from Language, Literacy and Culture (LLC); Iman Said, a junior Psychology major and Baltimore-based activist; and Jacki Stone, Community Health and Safety Specialist and a graduate student in LLC.

Activism Roundtable Panelists

from left to right: Panelists Jackie Stone, Beverly Bickel, and Iman Said

Important points of discussion are as follows:  Continue reading

Writing as a woman: A conversation

In recognition of the other month-long celebration that is April’s National Poetry Month, Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator Amelia Meman recorded a discussion on writing as a woman with her two best friends. Check out the video below, and join the conversation!

Writing as a woman.

It’s something I think about fairly often, because it brings up issues of worthiness, knowledge-making, developing identities, creating dialogues and rhetorical communities, and communicating experience. Writing is, in many ways, the convergence of the private becoming public–y’know, that old feminist maxim. Writing as an act and later as a product contains multitudes, especially in its intersections with identity.

That said, I was eager to talk with two of my best friends, Susie Hinz and Kerrin Smith, about their experiences as writers, as woman, and as women writers (or alternatively writerly women?). A video of our conversation is below. We talk about the intersections of identity and writing, getting over feelings of unworthiness, working through writer’s block, and many other writing-related things.

Susie is a UMBC alum who is working at Maryland Humanities and is also curating a fantastic blog (and possibly publishing a novel in the future). Kerrin is a poet in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program, and you can catch updates on her published work (and her life) on her Twitter.

BMO - I hope Im good at this

This is how we generally feel about writing. (Thanks to Susie for this picture.)

A note: Our discussion is extremely limited in terms of “what it means to be a woman writer,” and we want to acknowledge this. We all have particular aspects of privilege and oppression that affect our identities (gender, creative, and otherwise), and this conversation stems from a particular place of privilege. It’s my hope that this discussion, though limited in terms of perspective, is still insightful and helpful to those watching.

Take Back The Night 2017 Roundup!

On April 13th 2017, UMBC hosted Take Back the Night. The night began with an introduction by the emcees and march leaders, Kayla and Sarah, and Women’s Center staff member, Amelia.

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

We then moved on to the march portion of the night where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

After the march, community members got together for some craftivism! This portion of the program is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community building.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors and a special thank you to all the volunteers who made TBTN possible!

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Photo Credit: Amelia Meman

If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

Slaying on the Weekly: Affirmative consent + TBTN Re-cap

A weekly round-up curated by Women’s Center staff member, Michael Jalloh Jamboria

In the spirit of my friend, who gave us the glorious name ‘Slaying on the Weekly’, every week I will be bringing you some interesting, funny or thought-provoking content from the internet! Be sure to join us next week for more and continue to slay!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  “Every 107 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Approximately 4/5 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.  Survivors of sexual assault are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.”  The Women’s Center is dedicated to programming centered around sexual assault awareness. Be sure to check out the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Calendar. 

Take Back the Night was Thursday April 13th. If you came and shared your story, we are so proud of you. If you didn’t, we are still proud of you. Your story is valid. We believe you. The Women’s Center is dedicated to programming and events that center the voices of survivors. There are still events where you can share your story. Stay tuned for a photo re-cap of the TBTN event.

Check out this awesome comic on affirmative consent!

 

Want to stay informed on things that are happening with the presidential administration. Be sure to check out What the F**k Just Happened Today? This is a website that has specifics on the happenings of the Trump administration. Stay up to date!

What’s happening in Syria? Check out this BBC article on the happenings of Syria.

Al-Jazeera has the up to date news on the latest humanitarian crisis’ happening. Check them out, and let’s see what we can do to make the world a better place!

Are there any resources you want to see on next week’s slaying on the weekly? Drop a comment!

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Women’s Center staff members being goofy at the 2017 TBTN! 

Who ever you are, what ever your story, we are here to listen. We see you. You are home. You belong. You matter. See you next week!