Feminism and advertising discussion

On Wednesday we had our monthly discussion group, on the topic of feminism and advertising.  I thought it would be interesting to write about a few of the ideas we discussed, so we can carry on the discussion here if we like.  The discussion ranged pretty broadly – from censorship to capitalism (of course) to complicity. [names have all been changed]

We started off by talking about the Leveson Enquiry and the submission by four women’s groups arguing that the enquiry should take into account the effect of media reporting of rape and sexual violence and objectification of women in the media.  While no-one seemed to think that Leveson would actually do this, it was interesting to hear Abigail’s view against censorship, arguing that we need to be able to see these images in order to engage critically with them.  This requires a really good critical education.  On the subject of education, Katherine asked about doing feminist education – there is in fact a group in Manchester who do education workshops on advertising literacy and critique, and it would be great to do this.  The only problem is capacity.  We keep talking about how we’d love to do more education work (we have got some pro-choice schools’ workshops on the diary) but we don’t currently have the resources (and I feel guilty whenever it comes up…).  If we got some funding, maybe… or if anyone wants to start setting this up, go for it!

Now that I’m writing this post I’m realising that I mostly only remember the things that I said.  This is always the case – you say something really brilliant or really embarrassing in a public forum, only to realise later that no-one has remembered what you said, they only remember what they themselves said.  It’s so true.  I don’t really want to give an account of what I said so I’ll have to rely on other people to add things in the comments.  For now, I’ll just highlight some of the more interesting points that came up in discussion.

The idea of creating an explicitly ad-free space – whiting-out ads – was suggested by Emily and we talked about whether white was in fact a ‘neutral’ colour, and Mia argued that subvertising would have more impact than whiting out, because you could then see the ‘conversation’ with the advertisement.  As Caroline mentioned, subvertising is more about having this conversation with other people who see the ad, rather than with the makers of the ad.  She said that seeing a sexist or offensive ad (or even any ad) which has someone’s response to it written or stuck on it was really powerful – it makes you feel like you’re not the only one reacting against it.  It’s a way of getting between people and the image – those in the group who had worked/do work in marketing brought up the point that marketers classify people in really broad, generic categories, and market things so aggressively because they themselves don’t necessarily feel that advertising works – they’re caught up in this same cultural system as well.

(By the way, while I was looking for a link that explained ‘feminist subvertising’ with some examples and maybe some history, I couldn’t find a good one quickly – does someone want to write a post on this?  We have a really good example to start with.  Maybe a how-to?)

I’ve only mentioned a few points from our discussion – there was loads more, but I’m going to finish here and let other people continue in the comments, if you like – maybe people have had further thoughts since Wednesday that you want to share.

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2 Comments on “Feminism and advertising discussion”

  1. KM says:

    I’m really sorry I missed this! The idea of “censorship” is a funny one – is censoring a person the same as censoring a corporation? I mean, if we were to consider, say, stopping corporations from showing images of very young, very thin models in order to sell fashion clothing, I wouldn’t think that’s the same as, say, the Chinese government arresting people for writing political blog posts.

    Also when we talk about “censorship” I think you could ask who is really being censored, when corporations control every bit of public visual space – every billboard, every advertising slot. Whereas I’m allowed to say “a wide variety of body shapes are beautiful and desirable” while I’m sitting in my flat, but if I wrote that on a sheet of paper and tried to put it up outside somewhere, I could get fined for flyposting, and at any rate it would be quickly taken down.

  2. […] our discussion last month on feminism and advertising, a few of us decided to plan an action to talk back to all the body fascism that we see around […]


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