FAC takes our anti-objectification message to H&MPosted: 11 February 2012
After 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 us. (This is partly why we originally decided to call the group Feminist ACTION Cambridge – so that we would remember that we want to do actions, not just talk about everything that’s feministly wrong with the world).
We decided to target H&M because of the recent scandal about their use of computer generated models for their ads… actual women’s bodies obviously aren’t perfect enough for them. (and also because it was easy to get into their store window). So, three of us (with a fourth filming and taking photos) met up for coffee and placard-making, before traipsing into town for a bit of Saturday morning feministing:
You can also see a video of a couple of minutes of the action here.
We got a lot of interest from passers-by, which you don’t really see from the video footage as most of them were too polite to get between the camera and the window – this being Cambridge, after all. We got a few thumbs-ups from women passing by, a few people taking photos, and lots and lots of people doing double takes as they walked past the store. We were in there for probably a bit under 15 minutes in total. What I particularly like about this picture is the way that our bodies contrast with the models on the picture above our heads. It’s a whole conversation going on just there.
But as well as talking about what a great action it was (and it’s a really great feeling doing this kind of action; we came away with a real buzz and a great sense of solidarity between the four of us), I wanted to write a bit about the politics behind it. While we’d planned this action in the pub after the discussion group, my current policy being that we aren’t allowed to leave the pub until we have an action in the diary, there were also some serious considerations expressed among us as to whether we were adding to the objectification by putting our own bodies in an objectifying space – the store window – thus contributing to what we were trying to denounce; we were displaying our bodies in a space normally inhabited by mannequins, a space which by its nature objectifies female bodies. So one interpretation of the action is that we are then objectifying ourselves.
We talked through this before the action. My first thought was that there is never the perfect action – in order to act politically it’s always going to be a compromise in some way. But the question here was whether objectifying our own bodies by putting them in this space diminished our political message to the point of working against the point we want to make. My own conclusion was that I didn’t see the objectifying element as being overwhelming because we were actually confusing the objectification by using anti-objectification slogans. Yes, we used our bodies to do this, but we were using our bodies as a vehicle for protest rather than a vehicle for capitalism/patriarchy.
As a post-script, I just want to mention briefly the idea of creating a safe space for actions, as this was also something we discussed afterwards. For me, it was really important to allow everyone to find their own levels of comfort and avoid creating some hierarchy of being ‘more radical than thou’ and therefore superior. We’ve all been in the place of being terrified of putting our bodies in the line of action, be this on a demo, or for standing up for our feminist values in conversation, or for an action such as this. So what was particularly good about this action is that all of us felt that we had been able to raise concerns openly and honestly, and that this openness had given us the freedom to feel that we could make a decision for ourselves whether we felt comfortable in participating; this kind of direct action isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s great – we have a wonderful diversity of abilities in Feminist Action Cambridge which never ceases to astound me.
So finally, as your take-home learning, fellow feminists, I’d just like to point out how easy it is to plan an action like this. It’s useful to have someone on board who has done legal observer training, as we did, but there’s really no risk of getting arrested if you leave in a timely fashion. And although I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… feminist direct action feels great.