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).

kendal jenner pepsi

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.

 

baltimore

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.

axe

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.

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!

e2809cyouhavetoactasifit0awerepossibletoradically0atransformtheworldand0ayouhavetodoitallthe0atimee2-default

 

 

What Happened to the “Working” in International Working Women’s Day?

Daniel Willey A post by staff member Daniel Willey

Wednesday, March 8th marked International Working Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike, or the Day Without Women. On that day, women were encouraged to not work or shop and wear red in solidarity as a way of protesting inequality and showing women’s economic impact.

Protest organizers Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez arrested at New York protest on Wednesday

 

But, International Working Women’s Day has always been a day for striking. The first time this day was observed in 1908, women marched in New York City against poor working conditions and low wages. The observance of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) spread quickly to other countries as a part of socialist movements and, eventually, as protests against WWI. In 1917, women, joined by female textile workers and eventually working men, gathered in the Russian capital to protest living and working conditions– a day which would spark the Russian revolution.

It is in honor of this history and this tradition that I write this blog.

There have been a lot of critiques of this year’s IWWD Women’s Strike. I’ve read about how only privileged women who can afford time off or have the job stability will participate. Prince George’s county schools closed on Wednesday because so many of their teachers requested the day off, leaving poor kids without school lunch and breakfast and working parents with nowhere to put their kids. Some just plain argue that the strike is a symbolic gesture and that it’s effectively useless as a strategy.

I’d like to make a different critique: when International Working Women’s Day becomes International Women’s Day, we lose the incredible power of the strike and deny the history paved by women in labor movements. Continue reading

Making Space for Faith in Feminism

michael-headshot A reflection by Michael Jalloh-Jamboria, Women’s Center student staff member

Saturday, February 12th was the 59th Grammy awards show. The show featured many musical performances and winners, most notably,Beyoncé. At the time of her performance, not only was she pregnant, but she delivered a kickass performance, defied gravity, all the while channeling some major West African, Latin American, and Christian spiritual imagery during her performance. 

In both Santeria and West African spirituality, the Goddess Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters–the embodiment of love, fertility, and sensuality. Her love and guidance were instrumental to the creation of the world, so much so that other Orisha (gods and goddesses) were unable to complete their work on earth without Oshun.  After Beyonce’s amazing performance, Twitter was going wild with the comparisons between Beyoncé and the goddess Oshun.

child-of-oshun

Beyoncé’s performance, her golden outfit, the fact that she was very pregnant, and the influx of Twitter comparisons reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about my journey of religion and its intersections with my identities. Growing up, my parents loved to tell me stories of the Orisha, or gods and goddesses, and how they created the earth. While I was raised Muslim, my parents never separated our West African spirituality from our Muslim religion. Beyoncé’s performance got me thinking about how different my religion is from my spirituality. While it can be a strange balance, both my religion and my spirituality are important aspects of my identity. But I realized, within the social spaces I occupy, I don’t really talk about those parts of my identity. From there, I began to think about whether or not religion has a place in feminism. Continue reading

Women in Politics Roundtable Round-Up

16665235_1240042186074587_3406555264375312519_oThe Women’s Center’s Spring Roundtable series has begun! On February 14th, we hosted the first of our three-part roundtable “Underrepresentation of Women in…” series. This roundtable was on “Women in Politics” and focused on the lack of women in the political sphere and the establishment.

For this discussion, our panelists were Political Science professor Lisa Vetter, Language Literacy and Culture student Colonel Ingrid Parker, and student staff member Kayla Smith.

The discussion opened with a question about gendered communication and how to express femininity in a workspace that’s male dominated. Kayla and Colonel Parker both agreed that being a “chameleon,” or being fluid in how they present themselves based on their audience, has worked for them in the past. 

The conversation then turned to Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss. The suggestion was made that the glass ceiling was now higher than it had previously been as a result of someone as qualified as Clinton losing to someone as seemingly unqualified as President Trump. People in politics may be more scared to back women running for office because women don’t seem to get the votes to take office. Therefore the goal of making a woman president is even more elusive. Furthermore, after learning that some women need to be asked more than five times to run for office, there was some concern that Clinton’s loss would discourage more women from entering the political sphere for fear of disappointment; however, Colonel Parker reminded everyone that the next step should be to stay hopeful and push forward no matter what happens. 

When Jess Myers asked about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kayla pointed out that the silencing of Elizabeth Warren was really the silencing of Coretta Scott King. Kayla went on to explain that, because her feminism is intrinsically connected to her race, it’s impossible for her to ignore the ramifications she faces in the establishment due to being a black woman. 

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, a student asked a question about coping with the effects of mental health when looking at barriers to women in politics. Colonel Parker spoke about the benefits of finding coping mechanisms like eating well, spending time with family, and working out. Kayla suggested finding supportive groups of women to help and uplift you in the face of adversity. Women’s Center Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams added that it isn’t always enough for their to be more women in a space but that they should also be supportive of women excelling instead of engaging in “mean girl” tactics.

Another audience member asked Kayla what her opinion was on changing the establishment to include women and people of color to which she responded, “It’s important for people to be educated. They need to learn that our government and political system is built on white supremacy, racism, and sexism. Nothing will change until people understand where we started and that those things still play a major role in our system.”

Overall, the subject of women’s underrepresentation in politics is vast and complicated and while we barely scratched the surface in this hour long discussion, we did our best to open the dialogue and get people talking and thinking.

Want more information? Below are some links further discussing women, the establishment, and politics.

So has this discussion fired you up? Are you interested in running for office (public, school, or otherwise)? Have you heard about Elect Her? Elect Her is a leadership program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office

There is an an Elect Her workshop on March 11th from 10:30-3:30 in Fine Arts 011. You will learn how to figure out what your message and platform is, how to craft a communication strategy that works, and you’ll hear from campus and community leaders about what it takes to win. It is going to be a great day!

If you have questions or want to RSVP, contact Dr. Kate. (drabinsk@umbc.edu.)

 

A Time to Resist + A Time to Take Care

amelia-meman-headshotA reflection written by Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman

So here we are. Another day in this brave new world.

Are you exhausted yet? Emotionally, physically, psychologically?

If you’re not–congratulations! That’s really good and you are a sweet glowing angel.

If you are, though, you’re not alone and you are also a sweet glowing angel.

deadI’m tired, too. For all of us feminists, social justice warriors, and snowflakes, this is a tough time. The stream of executive actions and questionable cabinet appointments have rocked our communities and have malignantly affected some of the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. The fights we’ve been engaging in throughout every administration have been exacerbated and fear is alive more than ever. 

Seeing the reaction from social justice activists has been heartening for me in many ways. The women’s march was awesome and huge (though not without its fair share of criticism from Black women, the trans community, and many others). Other demonstrations against the refugee ban and the massive uptick in people contacting their elected representatives to demand accountability has shown us that massive swathes of the public have been activated to resist in a great variety of ways.

This work is both vital and neverending. Making an impact is difficult, exhausting work. It involves massive amounts of human energy. What I’m ultimately getting to is this: are you taking care of yourself right now? 
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Women’s March on Washington: We Marched. What’s Next?

A sampling of “what’s next” from UMBC community members, curated by Jess Myers, Women’s Center Director 

Last week, I shared some of my hopes and desired outcomes from the Women’s March on Washington. While I was looking forward to marching and being in relationship with other women and people at the march, I was (and am) more invested in the what’s next. In my blog, I wrote, “I want the momentum and energy to continue after the march, especially for those who are new to the movement, new to activism, new to seeing things that are unfair and unjust. I want us to stay loud. To stay critical. To stay visible and demand what is right, what is necessary. I want you to volunteer. I want you to keep learning and growing. I want you to find your activism (if you haven’t already) and make a difference. I want all those things for myself as well. 

On Saturday night and Sunday morning, my entire Facebook timeline was filled with amazing photos of the March (and also really important critiques of the march which you should also take some time to read). What was even more exciting than the photos, was the plans people were committing to in their post-march glow. So many people are fired up!

In my last post, I also reflected on the mission of the Women’s Center and our commitment to advocating for and advancing the rights of women and marginalized people. While the Women’s Center is a space and the people who work in it are committed to putting in the work, YOU, our community, are a huge part of that mission. We need you to help us live and be our mission. So with that in mind, I put a call out to some Women’s Center friends and former staff and asked them to share what their post-plans march are so I could share them as inspiration and motivation to our larger community. What I share below isn’t necessarily the full list each person shared with me but I love the breadth of ideas and action items.

So, I’ll go first…

pawsoff

Continue reading