Feminist Perspectives on Advertising: What's the Big Idea? 1498528325, 9781498528320

This volume, edited by Kim Golombisky, applies an intersectional lens to advertising, focusing on gender, race, ethnicit

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Feminist Perspectives on Advertising: What's the Big Idea?
 1498528325, 9781498528320

Table of contents :
Foreword • Jean Kilbourne
1 An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies • Kim Golombisky
2 From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé: Twitter, Consumer Agency, and the Transformation of the Black Female Image in Advertising • Patricia G. Davis
3 Black Women’s Hair Politics in Advertising • Natalie A. Mitchell and Angelica Morris
4 Driving Her to Distraction: Women, Modernity, and the Disciplinary Discourse of 1920s Automobile Advertising • Roseann M. Mandziuk
5 Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market • Gillian W. Oakenfull
6 Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising Representations of Women with Depression: A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective • Ella Houston
7 Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics of the Unmarked • Kim Golombisky
8 Corporeal Commodification: Chinese Women’s Bodies as Advertisements • Carol M. Liebler, Li Chen, and Anqi Peng
9 Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power in 1,084 Prime-time TV Commercials from 2005 • Janice Marie Collins
10 The Modern Man in Ghanaian Radio Adverts: A Reproduction of or a Challenge to Traditional Gender Practices? • Grace Diabah
11 Woman as Product Stand-In: Branding Straight Metrosexuality in Men’s Magazine Fashion Advertising • Jennifer Ford Stamps and Kim Golombisky
12 Beyond the Fringe? Market Desirability and Alternative Sexuality in Advertising News • Angela T. Ragusa
13 We’re Way “Beyond Birth Control”: Women’s Reproductive Health, Gendered Consumption, and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising • Whitney Peoples
14 “Thank You, Mom”: Mothers, Olympic Athletes, and Procter & Gamble’s Global Brand • Dunja Antunovic and Michelle Rodino-Colocino
15 The Limits of Women’s Environmentalism in Seventh Generation’s Digital Advertising • Cara Okopny
About the Contributors

Citation preview

Feminist Perspectives on Advertising

Feminist Perspectives on Advertising What’s the Big Idea?

Edited by Kim Golombisky


Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www.rowman.com 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom Copyright © 2019 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Golombisky, Kim, editor. Title: Feminist perspectives on advertising : what’s the big idea? / edited by Kim Golombisky. Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, [2019] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018042614 (print) | LCCN 2018044251 (ebook) | ISBN 9781498528337 (electronic) | ISBN 9781498528320 (cloth : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Advertising—Social aspects. | Advertising and women. | Feminist theory. Classification: LCC HF5821 (ebook) | LCC HF5821 .F44 2019 (print) | DDC 659.101—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018042614 ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America

To our feminist mentees.


Acknowledgmentsix Forewordxi Jean Kilbourne PART I: HISTORICIZE THIS!


1 An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies Kim Golombisky 2 From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé: Twitter, Consumer Agency, and the Transformation of the Black Female Image in Advertising Patricia G. Davis 3 Black Women’s Hair Politics in Advertising Natalie A. Mitchell and Angelica Morris 4 Driving Her to Distraction: Women, Modernity, and the Disciplinary Discourse of 1920s Automobile Advertising Roseann M. Mandziuk PART II: ADVERTISING BODY POLITICS


37 61

83 101

5 Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market 103 Gillian W. Oakenfull 6 Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising Representations of Women with Depression: A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective 123 Ella Houston vii



7 Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics of the Unmarked Kim Golombisky


8 Corporeal Commodification: Chinese Women’s Bodies as Advertisements165 Carol M. Liebler, Li Chen, and Anqi Peng PART III: MEDIA REPS 9 Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power in 1,084 Prime-time TV Commercials from 2005 Janice Marie Collins

189 191

10 The Modern Man in Ghanaian Radio Adverts: A Reproduction of or a Challenge to Traditional Gender Practices? 217 Grace Diabah 11 Woman as Product Stand-In: Branding Straight Metrosexuality in Men’s Magazine Fashion Advertising 239 Jennifer Ford Stamps and Kim Golombisky 12 Beyond the Fringe? Market Desirability and Alternative Sexuality in Advertising News 257 Angela T. Ragusa PART IV: REPRODUCTION AND POSTFEMINIST EMPOWERMENT285 13 We’re Way “Beyond Birth Control”: Women’s Reproductive Health, Gendered Consumption, and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising287 Whitney Peoples 14 “Thank You, Mom”: Mothers, Olympic Athletes, and Procter & Gamble’s Global Brand Dunja Antunovic and Michelle Rodino-Colocino


15 The Limits of Women’s Environmentalism in Seventh Generation’s Digital Advertising Cara Okopny


Index355 About the Contributors



Peggy J. Kreshel was instrumental in launching this project with me. Once again, thank you to copyeditor Noelle Barrick and Lexington acquisitions editor Nicolette Amstutz for their expertise and forbearance. I also am grateful to Rebecca Hagen for another inventive cover design. This time, however, I must acknowledge the extraordinary patience of this volume’s brilliant contributors. The result was worth the wait.


Foreword Jean Kilbourne

For over forty years I have been lecturing on images of women in advertising and other topics related to advertising. I have lectured at over half the colleges and universities in North America. To my delight, this book advances and updates the feminist mission of my life’s work—in several ways. The most important update is the contributors’ careful attention to intersectional identities. In this book, women of color take center stage as feminist scholars and theorists and as the subjects of advertising research in discussions of advertising representation and misrepresentation. Contributors also attend to lesbians and to sex, gender, and queer minorities, as well as to aging women and women with disabilities. Just as important, the contributors all work from an intersectional approach to all identities. Intersectional analysis demands always parsing claims about gender through race, ethnicity, nationality, ability, age, gender identity and expression, education, income level, and more. This book also discusses twenty-first-century forms of advertising from social media and viral campaigns to “postfeminism” and “greenwashing” that water down progressive feminist politics in the service of neoliberal consumption. Critiquing commodity feminism-fetishism (Goldman, Heath, and Smith 1991) and postfeminist discourses, the contributors expand the canon of feminist theoretical, methodological, and philosophical approaches useful for evaluating the ubiquity of advertising messages, images, and rhetoric. Back in 1968 I saw an ad that changed my life. That year I worked placing ads in the Lancet, a medical journal. This particular ad, for a birth control pill called Ovulen 21, featured a headshot of a smiling woman. The caption read, “Ovulen 21 works the way a woman thinks—by weekdays, not by cycle days.”




Inside the woman's head were seven boxes, each one a day of the week. And inside each box was a picture of that day’s activity. Sunday had a roast, Monday a laundry basket, Tuesday an iron, and so on. I realized that the ad was basically saying that women were too stupid to remember their cycles but could remember days of the week. And the days of their weeks were an endless rotation of domestic chores. I remember thinking to myself, “This is atrocious, and it is not trivial.” I took the ad home and put it on my refrigerator. For the next few months, I kept noticing ads that debased and denigrated women in popular magazines as well as in the Lancet. Many of them ended up on my refrigerator. Some of them were outrageous: “My boyfriend told me he loved me for my mind. I was never so insulted in my life,” said a woman with a cigarette. Many were demeaning, such as the ad for a “feminine hygiene” spray that said, “Feminine odor is everyone’s problem.” Some were shockingly violent. I began to notice patterns. I saw that in ads women's bodies were often dismembered—just legs or breasts or torsos. I saw that women were often infantilized and that little girls were sexualized. (“You're a Halston woman from the very beginning,” said one ad featuring a girl of about five.) I bought a camera and a macro-lens and turned the ads into slides. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them, but I knew I wanted to preserve them. I had begun my life’s work. In 1979 I made “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women,” a film based on my lecture of the same subject. In today’s language, the film “went viral,” even though it was a very simple one-camera, one-take film with virtually no marketing. I’ve since remade it three times, most recently in 2010 as “Killing Us Softly 4” (Jhally and Kilbourne 2000; Jhally, Kilbourne, and Rabinovitz 2010; Kilbourne 1987, 2000 [1979]). One version or another has been seen by millions of people around the world. People often ask me what has changed since I began this work. Have images of women gotten better? In some ways, they have gotten much worse. The ideal image of beauty is more tyrannical and unattainable than ever, primarily because inhumanly perfect images are now possible through the use of photo manipulation applications. The obsession with thinness continues to devastate many women and girls (Kilbourne and Jhally 2002). The sexualization of children has increased, as have images of violence against women and girls. But there are ways in which things are better. The primary one is that I am no longer alone, as this book, its contributors, and their genealogies of citations demonstrate. When I started out, hardly anyone else was talking about these issues, and my ideas were often seen as radical or, worse, trivial. Most people felt that advertising wasn’t worth taking seriously. Even some feminists criticized me for focusing on a “soft” issue when there were serious



problems to address, such as violence against women. I argued—and continue to argue—that the objectification of women in advertising and popular culture creates a climate that increases the likelihood of violence and abuse. But I had no proof. I simply felt in my heart that this was true, just as I felt that the images deeply and negatively affected the self-esteem of women and girls. A decade or so after I began collecting ads, I got a grant to study images of women and men in television commercials. I went back to school to get a doctorate. My dissertation, based on my study of thousands of commercials, was primarily about how advertising, and capitalism in general, coopts movements for radical change. The most notorious example at the time was the Virginia Slims “You’ve come a long way, Baby” campaign that linked women’s liberation to addiction. The rise of the Superwoman stereotype in the 1980s was another example (Shaevitz 1984). As an ad for Enjoli perfume said, “You can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man.” More recently “Girl Power” has become a primary example of this cooptation, as has the rise in “femvertizing.” In 1999 I published my first book, Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. Among other topics, this book is about how advertising encourages us to fetishize products and consumption in general and to feel that our most important relationships are with brands and products. “You lips look so lonely,” proclaims an ad for Oreos. “Can I keep them company?” The tagline is “The most seductive cookie ever.” I focused especially on ads for addictive products, since most addicts feel that they are in a relationship with whatever they are addicted to (Kilbourne 1999b). Alcoholics can feel that the bottle is their lover, just as smokers feel that cigarettes are their best friends, whereas in truth they are assassins. Over the decades, feminist researchers, scholars, advocates, and activists gradually have begun to speak out. Today scores of organizations, films, and books, such as this one, deal with these persistent issues as well as with concerns arising in the context of new media platforms and new uses of those platforms. This volume makes the explicit connections between academic advertising and feminist scholars, as did its predecessor Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy Kreshel (2017). That is what makes these two books special. The current volume is especially close to my heart because it unpacks advertising messages in new and exciting scholarship. I sometimes think of what I do as a kind of judo. The advertisers have an enormous amount of money and power. But we can use their weight against them. We can use their very images to educate ourselves and others about advertising’s real messages. We can redefine the crucial concepts—love, rebellion, sexuality, friendship, freedom, feminism—that advertising has



corrupted and take them back for our own health, power, and fulfillment. The authors of the scholarship in this book take a quantum leap toward this redefinition. —Jean Kilbourne

REFERENCES Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. 1991. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8: 333–351. Golombisky, Kim, and Peggy J. Kreshel. 2017. Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Jhally, Sut, and Jean Kilbourne. 2000. Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Jhally, Sut, Jean Kilbourne, and David Rabinovitz. 2010. Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Kilbourne, Jean. 2000 [1979]. Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Documentary Films. ———. 1987. Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Documentary Films. ———. 1999a. Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. New York: Simon and Schuster. ———. 1999b. Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising. New York: Free Press. Kilbourne, Jean, and Sut Jhally. 2002. Slim Hopes: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Shaevitz, Marjorie Hansen. 1984. The Superwoman Syndrome. New York: Warner Books.

Part I


Chapter 1

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies Kim Golombisky

When I teach feminist media studies, undergraduate and graduate students alike get hung up on representation—the politics of negative, distorted, or missing media depictions of identity groups, as well as who has the power to represent whom (Hall, Evans, and Nixon 2013; hooks 1992a; Kellner and Durham 2006; Rakow and Wackwitz 2004). “It’s about so much more than that,” I keep repeating. But no matter where we start, somehow the discussion always comes back to representation. In many ways, representation is the concern of this volume of Feminist Perspectives on Advertising. The previous volume, Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising (Golombisky and Kreshel 2017), examined relationships between women’s movements and advertising as an industry, including professional practices. There I laid out a bare-bones feminist education for advertising students, beginning with making the ordinariness of gender strange and accounting for intersectionality before pointing to shared US histories of advertising and feminisms and offering a primer on brands of feminist philosophies (Golombisky 2017). The current volume picks up where the first left off. Here the focus is feminist analysis of advertising as messaging. So representation is important. But it’s about so much more, too. I wish to use my opportunity to editorialize in this introduction by suggesting a rough outline of critical feminist advertising studies. In addition to the last volume’s foundational big ideas regarding gender as performative (Golombisky 2017) and Crenshaw’s (1989, 1991) intersectionality as interlocking identifications, here I want to suggest some big ideas useful for critical feminist advertising studies as well as for reading the work of this volume’s contributors. I concede to representation’s importance to the work collected here and to the project of critical feminist advertising studies. But, as Rakow and Wackwitz (2004, 171–72) write, documenting “the litany” of 3


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ideological concerns with varieties of media images is “easy compared to the task of theorizing them.” I recommend an approach that accounts for not just representation but also the whole circuit of culture, communication models, and political economy; visual regimes from surveillance to scopophilia; audiencing and reception studies; postfeminism; and even pranking and culture jamming. Most of these big ideas show up in the contributed chapters. And still there is so much more that we don’t cover. Advertising folks are not simply professional communicators, or business people, or (as the really disingenuous accounts of what we do go) the source of consumer product information, or the people who underwrite the financial mechanism supporting a free press in a democratic society. Advertising folks are very much part of the “culture industry” (Horkheimer and Adorno [1944] 2006). We manufacture the problems that feminist media studies address in the “circuit of culture”: production, consumption, regulation, identity, and, yes, representation (du Gay et al. 1997). bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Kimberlé Crenshaw, the holy trinity of US black feminist thought in communication studies, make clear the circuit’s intersectional politics of race, gender, class, sexuality, and more, in a structural matrix of domination maintaining institutional power to produce controlling images that produce and enforce social inequities in the white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy (Collins [1990] 2000; Crenshaw 1989, 1991; hooks 1992a, [1994] 2006, [1996] 2009). These and other key ideas that I cite here in the introduction and those that the contributing scholars so cogently investigate in their chapters thereafter represent profound but mostly unloved ways of thinking about advertising beyond strictly utilitarian approaches to effective advertising delivered efficiently. These ideas inspire me as an ex ad industry worker who couldn’t stomach the sexism anymore; as a once-upon-a-time advertising professor who questioned the ethics of training young people to enter an unrepentantly classist, sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic industry; and now as graduate faculty in women’s and gender studies trying to inspire feminists to think about advertising beyond representation. Our hope for this collection is to introduce a critical feminist edge to the analysis of advertising for students of advertising. To begin at the beginning is to start with communication models. Most students of advertising can draw a picture of Shannon and Weaver’s Bell Telephone transmission schematic of a sender encoding a message via a channel competing with noise for a receiver decoding (Shannon 1948; Shannon and Weaver 1949), with the Osgood-Schramm feedback loop added later (Schramm 1954). Of the same period, Lasswell’s (1948) model also sums up ways to parse the study of advertising: “Who says what in which channel to whom for what effect.” Meanwhile, networking theories blow to bits all that linear communication modeling based on metaphors of twentieth-century

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


technology, anyway. So where are the critical feminist networking theorists in advertising? Really. I’m asking. For critical feminist advertising studies, however, Hall’s (1980) “encoding/decoding” politicized transmission by accounting for power and resistance. Hall pointed out, first, that professional encoders (ad pros and all cultural elites) speak a professional language (which many learn from their postsecondary education). They speak this language with one another but at audiences who are assumed to “get it” unless they don’t “get it” due to some unforeseen “miscommunication.” Advertisers interpellate us into the social order with “Hey, You!” (Althusser 1972). But what if we don’t recognize ourselves as the “you” in “Hey, You!”? Second, Hall suggested the problem actually might be audiences resisting the “get it” part. We might push back at “Hey, You!” with “Not me, Comrade!” Hall posed three interpretive stances to decoding mediated messages: a “dominant” reader position accepting and reproducing the hegemonic intent, a “negotiated” reader resisting the dominant message but without the critical skill to effectively oppose such a message, and an “oppositional” reader possessing the wherewithal to resist effectively. Hall was mostly thinking as a Marxist about labor. But the premise of resistant decoding travels to any marginalized group or identification, and Gramsci’s (1971) hegemony is a big idea, too. Angela T. Ragusa in chapter 12 writes that hegemony “refers to the social order that we take for granted or fail to realize exists,” such as heteronormativity. Dr. Ragusa asks advertising scholars to consider the ways we create cultural hegemony simply by failing to reject it. I tell students that hegemony works because we unwittingly sign up for it. To return to Hall’s “encoding/decoding,” a critical feminist advertising studies perspective asks who isn’t hailed in the first place. Who isn’t even addressed in advertising’s “Hey, You!”? Meanwhile, perhaps they are being hailed unfairly in the police state’s “Hey, You!” Advertising or police state, each is part of the ideological state apparatus (Althusser 1972). As Riordan (2002) argues, feminist political economy intersects and expands socialist feminist thought and cultural studies in communication. Riordan also argues that feminist political economy in media studies needs to account for women’s own interpretations of their experiences, as well as the material circumstances that shape their gendered experiences in the cycle of production and consumption, and, I would add, reproduction. Furthermore, once we ask questions that trouble our assumptions about women and gender, then feminist thought is morally bound to consider all socially marginalized groups and identifications and to account for intersectional identifications such that one’s experiences of gender are always dependent on one’s race, class, ability, sexuality, and nationality, among other identifications. Feminist


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disability studies scholar Ella Houston asks questions about women’s intersectional experience in chapter 6 when she interviews women with experiences of depression as they critique advertising on the subject of women with depression. In chapter 8, Carol M. Liebler, Li Chen, and Anqi Peng interview Chinese women working as “promoter girls” whose bodies are commodified into human advertisements. But Carey’s (1988, 1992) ritual model of communication makes the universe-altering shift to thinking about communication as ritualized culturemaking. The ritual model explores how we manage collectively to produce and radically change shared meaning over time: We construct reality, we maintain it, we repair it, and over time we transform it. The ritual model is a big idea requiring really different thinking. For example, Gillian W. Oakenfull in chapter 5 credits the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement, a grassroots political alliance, with achieving political gains by changing—literally transforming—a majority of peoples’ minds in the United States regarding, for example, marriage equality. At the same time, she points out that the advertising industry “created” an LGBT market segment of consumers in which lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people have very little in common other than nonheterosexuality, although transgender women and men are not necessarily nonheterosexual. Indeed transgender women and men retain the binary of gender opposites thus represent very different consumer groups per advertising’s own segmentation conventions. Moreover, as Dr. Oakenfull points out, in advertising everyone but gay men goes missing. In the meantime, the LGBT market became quite real for encoders by virtue of professional practices, while the market remains all but nonexistent for decoders. As a whole, the culture still mostly swims in heteronormativity like fish swim in water, to riff on a Carey-ism. We don’t recognize that heterosexism is there unless we’re not a beneficiary of it. Still, even when hetero people are confronted with their heterosexism, they tend to accept it since that’s the way it’s always been. That is the hegemony Dr. Ragusa calls us to stop repairing and instead transform. In the classroom, after establishing the limits of varieties of communication models, I turn students’ attention back to the 1970s and some foundational “must-reads” for big ideas that continue to influence scholars and should be part of critical feminist advertising studies. Goffman’s Gender Advertisements (1976) and Kilbourne’s (1979) Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women gave us critical frameworks for analyzing gendered formulae of advertising representation. Jean Kilbourne, who wrote the foreword for this book, made connections between the advertising practice of dismembering women’s bodies into sexualized body parts and a culture nonchalantly swimming in violence against women. As Dr. Kilbourne says, it’s a small step from turning women into sexual objects that dehumanizes them to treating women

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


as undeserving of human rights. Tuchman’s (1978, 8) “symbolic annihilation” refers to the ways media “announce to audience members” a social order in which women may be regularly condemned, trivialized, or utterly absent. In chapter 9, Janice Marie Collins extends Tuchman beyond gender to include race, ethnicity, class, and power in what she describes as “numerical underrepresentation, ideological misrepresentation, and symbolic annihilation by omission.” Dr. Houston in chapter 6 extends symbolic annihilation to the representation of disability in advertising, and in chapter 7, I write about the symbolic annihilation of aging women in advertising. In our chapters, Dr. Houston and I both also refer to Goffman’s (1976) Gender Advertisements, which remains influential. Jennifer Ford Stamps and I in chapter 11 also rely on Goffman’s observations about gender in advertising. In Gender Advertisements, Goffman cracked what Jhally (2009) thirty years later would call the “codes of gender.” Dishearteningly apt today, Goffman’s typology of women in advertising catalogues the visual tropes of women’s smaller relative size, precious feminine touch, subordinate social function ranking, heteronormative role in the family, ritualized symbolic subordination, and licensed withdrawal from social interaction. Goffman wondered why we don’t find such gendered artificial poses in advertising bizarre for we certainly would if we saw them in everyday life. We still don’t find them bizarre. Feminine touch, ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal are apparent in the nude models over age fifty in Dove’s 2007 “Pro-Age” campaign photographed by Annie Leibovitz, as I note in chapter 7. Cara Okopny in chapter 15 finds “Goffman-esque mother-daughter unity” in Seventh Generation brand’s contemporary green digital advertising. Also foundational, Williamson’s (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning employed semiotic analysis to reveal ideology and its role in political economy. Advertising sells us our sense of ourselves, said Williamson, which in turn perpetuates but obscures the system of production and consumption defining social relations. Thus, as I suggest in chapter 7, Williamson described postfeminist logic wherein we consume to produce ourselves before we named the postfeminist moment, which, Jess Butler (2013) writes, originated in the early 1980s. Like Dr. Kilbourne, Williamson (1978, 169) worried about advertising’s dehumanizing tendencies: “When people become symbols they need not be treated as human beings.” In the present volume, Williamson’s description of the way advertising “cooks nature” to improve it is cited in several chapters. In chapter 3, Natalie A. Mitchell and Angelica Morris’s essay on the politics of black women’s hair describes black hair care advertising telling black women they can’t achieve “natural” hair without purchasing and applying the oxymoron of a natural product. Dr. Okopny in chapter 15 describes the way Seventh Generation idealizes an impossibly clean and sanitized nature preserved for white


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babies. In chapter 7, I argue that twenty-first-century antiaging advertising doesn’t cook nature to improve it so much as enlist technology to discipline nature. The Western urge to tame nature relates to problematic arguments about women as naturally closer to nature, which, as Dr. Okopny points out, can be a problem in some varieties of eco feminisms. Additionally, closer to nature thus primitive and perhaps uncivilized is how we construct nonwhite race in the white supremacist racial hierarchy, which results in Beal’s (1970) double jeopardy of nonwhite racialized gender and gendered race for African-American women. Patricia G. Davis in chapter 2 and Drs. Mitchell and Morris in chapter 3 trace advertising constructions of US black women as unruly and unrefined in their “natural” state, a strategy that created and maintains myths about the racial superiority of white femininity. Such discussions bring us to Said’s (1978) Orientalism tracing the West’s practice of rationalizing colonization and enslavement of so-called primitive Others, while idealizing and exoticizing an idea of an Other, specifically, an Oriental Other in Said’s argument. The Oriental Other, like all constructs of race and ethnicity including and especially whiteness, does not exist outside of the West’s imagination and power to materialize what it imagines. In feminist advertising studies, when I teach Orientalism as a big idea from the 1970s, my pedagogical intent is not just dialing in to representation and race, important as that is. Said also sets up students for thinking in terms of postcolonial and transnational feminist critiques that contextualize our understanding of advertising as part of the West’s and Global North’s global imperialism. As Grace Diabah explains in chapter 10, idealized discursive constructions of masculinity and femininity in Ghana, and in Ghanaian advertising, are specific to the Ghanaian sociocultural context, despite gender’s fluidity and despite citations to and from the flow of advertising from across Africa and its global colonizers, both geopolitical and corporate. Western economic and cultural neocolonialism and neoimperialism also segue to advertising’s bad habit of cultural appropriation—especially coopting and exploiting indigeneity around the world and at home in North America (Rogers 2006; Shugart 1997; Torgovnik 1996; Ziff and Rao 1997). Cultural appropriation is another big idea for critical feminist advertising studies. Dr. Ragusa in chapter 12 describes an Intel advertising campaign that appropriates flamboyant gay male camp imagery to position the Intel brand as modern and relevant. Dunja Antunovic and Michelle Rodino-Colocino, in chapter 14, apply a transnational feminist lens to Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” international Olympics advertising campaigns. Drs. Antunovic and Rodino-Colocino find the “Thank You, Mom” campaign exports a Western and commodified view of intensive all-consuming mothering supported not by culturally specific practices of extended family and community but

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


instead by a paternalistic P&G and its branded products. In chapter 8, Dr. Liebler with Li Chen and Anqi Peng write that in China’s success in the global economy, it has imported, indigenized, and finally hybridized Western beauty ideals with traditional Chinese femininity. Bhabha (1990, 211) argued that the significance of hybridity is not tracing genealogies or origins, but rather that the hybrid moment “displaces the histories that constitute it and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom.” Thus hybridity offers another big idea from postcolonial and transnational feminist thought for critical feminist advertising studies. In chapter 2, Dr. Davis explains that “Beyoncé’s appeal as an advertising icon” derives in part from her ability to reappropriate and exploit a hybrid embodiment of unruly black womanhood combined with assimilationist respectability politics mimicking white femininity. (See also Molina-Guzmán and Valdivia 2004 on cultural hybridity and celebrity iconicity.) Finally, Said’s Orientalism also segues to visual regimes and some last stops on our tour of big ideas from the 1970s. Evans and Gammon (1995), while revisiting the queer gaze, compared Said’s (1978) fetishizing gaze of the Oriental Other with Berger’s (1972) Ways of Seeing. I like to line up students’ entré into surveillance and scopophilia with Ways of Seeing because Berger situates visuality within pre–mass media European art conventions, an endeavor that, ironically, Berger originally broadcast on UK TV. Berger succinctly identifies relations of (heteronormative white) gender and Western notions of ownership in the ways the West constructs, maintains, repairs, and transforms—and represents—ideological habits of looking and seeing. He dates contemporary Western visuality to Enlightenment, the European scientific and capitalist colonizing urge to exploration and discovery, and feudal-turned-capitalist systems of property and ownership, including slavery. Mirzoeff (2009, 2011) elaborates the way this formula for seeing rationalized and enabled US slave trade and slavery. I believe it is no coincidence that the diagram of Bentham’s 1791 Panopticon, taken up by Foucault (1977) in Discipline and Punish, is terrifyingly similar to diagrams of slaver ship holds from that period. I’m not smart enough to be the first to observe this similarity. Browne’s (2015) Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness supports this view. Both of those diagrams and the surveillance-as-control practices they represent are what Foucault called panopticism. Today we might also ask questions about surveillance, big data, and advertising practices in what we should treat as the “digital panopticon” (Poole 2013). Selfies and other social media practices, platforms, applications, and spaces beg questions about privacy, agency, and surveillance, in conjunction with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, age, class, nationality, religion, geography, and other factors (Losh 2015; Mirzoeff 2016). Whitney


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Peoples in chapter 13 uses the reproductive justice framework (Nelson 2003; Richie 2012; Roberts 1997; Ross and Solinger 2017; Silliman et al. 2004) to describe how US direct-to-consumer advertising, the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex, and the US Food and Drug Administration as an agent of the state surveil and control women’s reproductive health and choices, including access to contraception and abortion, sorted by age, race, disability, and class, such that privileged able-bodied white women have more choices, want more choices not to reproduce, and are encouraged to reproduce; women of color, less privileged women, and women with disability, in contrast, have fewer choices, want more choices to reproduce, and often have been forced into less desirable forms of contraception, including sterilization. So there is an important role for “feminist surveillance studies” (Dubrofsy and Magnet 2015) in critical feminist advertising studies. In chapter 7, I wonder about our contemporary immersion in surveillance technologies and whether it is possible and perhaps worthwhile to embrace the privilege to disappear in a culture obsessed with visibility and celebrity. Dr. Davis in chapter 2 and Drs. Mitchell and Morris in chapter 3 write about black women in the US appropriating the digital technology on which twenty-first-century advertising depends, enabling black women to surveil and reward or punish advertisers in a kind of black oppositional gaze (hooks 1992b) realized interactively. Berger’s 1972 Ways of Seeing is still fresh here in the twenty-first century regarding—and explaining a lot about—advertising as practice and visual convention. Debord’s ([1977] 2006, 121) 1977 observation remains fresh, too: “The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.” But wait. There’s more. On gender, Berger (1972, 47) said, “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” So we also arrive at Mulvey’s (1975) (straight white) male gaze, which she revisited in 1981 in “Afterthoughts” because she was so thoroughly criticized for gender essentialism and heterosexism, not to mention white racial myopia. Mulvey’s conception of the (straight white) male gaze is the cinematic mechanical of Berger’s gender relations. Mulvey’s (straight white) male gaze, as a genderproducing technology, is just as apt for advertising as cinema. Indeed, de Lauretis (1987), in Technologies of Gender, described mediated representation itself as a technology that constructs gender as sexual difference. In the schematics of Mulvey’s (straight white) male gaze, the camera’s eye, focused by the director, is a masculine subject position because of its active power not only to survey and surveil, and thus own what it sees, but also to make Others visible or invisible. Those who are seen in the scene are also gendered because the men or masculine position, as the director’s projected proxy via identification, initiate and engage in the narrative onscreen action.

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


The onscreen women or feminine position can only be seen as objects apart from the action because the masculine position of the director is otherwise actively engaged in agentic subjectivity and will not identify with feminized passive objectification. Meanwhile, as the director’s onscreen proxy, the onscreen active masculine subject position also reproduces the (straight white) male gaze upon the onscreen passive feminine object position. The truth of this blueprint resonates even as it raises many still-unsettled questions and controversies, including theorizing the audience’s position. If the audience views with the director’s eyes, is the audience therefore always already positioned as straight white men? Can the audience gaze back? Can an onscreen object of the gaze also gaze back? Hence, conjecture regarding the possibilities for racialized womanly, lesbian, and queer gazes, along with “ways of seeing” as directors/lenses, as feminized objects/ subjects onscreen and off, and as consuming and now prosuming audiences. hooks (1992b) explicated black women’s audiencing, contextualized within a history of colonization and violent subjugation, in an oppositional gaze that dares not only to examine looking relations the but also to look back. Halberstam (2001) identified a fleeting onscreen transgender gaze that gazed back at itself in a shot/reverse shot. I like to ask students to try to diagram all this. Their mind-blowing ideas don’t disappoint. Scopophilia—pleasure in looking—as we currently theorize it is an unstable mechanism slipping between identification and fetish. “Oscillating,” as Mulvey (1981) puts it. The proprietary landscape gaze visually owns what it can see, like gazing into a mirror: This belongs to me/This reflects me. Williamson (1978) described how this mirroring works in advertising: The ad shows me a new and improved picture of my postconsumption self. However, the Peeping Tom voyeur does not wish to be what it desires to possess as a fetish, like gazing through a keyhole or camera lens: That is not me/I want that. This is Dr. Kilbourne’s advertising setup: all sexy body parts. The classic (straight white) male gaze is a dithering both/and identification and fetish. Yet neither is quite the same as the industrial-strength surveilling management of panopticism. Or are they? Dr. Liebler and her colleagues describe Chinese promotion girls whose job it is to lure the heteronormative Chinese male gaze: “The young women are gorgeous, and often scantily clad. They pose smilingly and provocatively, next to the latest-model automobiles or video games, their beauty a tool to encourage the male gaze, to solicit customers, to sell wares.” All these relations then are reproduced in advertising. As Jennifer Ford Stamps and I explain in chapter 11: Masculine power is enacted by colonizing space external to man as independent agent. As a visual logic, viewing man is positioned as owner of all that he surveys. In the representational landscape, man is visually positioned as master


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of the material world he has conquered. Under capitalism, controlling nature evolved to include a formula that equates what can be seen with what can be purchased (Berger 1972). This gendered way of seeing drives Western visual logics (Berger 1972; Mulvey 1975; Rose 2007). Under this regime, women become objects to be seen and possessed (Berger 1972; Mulvey 1975).

Exceptions are exciting to track down, and examples are not necessarily contemporary. Roseann M. Mandziuk in chapter 4 describes 1920s era magazine ads persuading white women to purchase automobiles by featuring “tableaux” of economically privileged smart capable white women as “active agents who pursue their own interests rather than display their modern style as passive objects of the male gaze.” Visual regimes—spectacle, surveillance, scopophilia—do offer big ideas for critical feminist advertising studies. Although a lot of foundational theory for critical feminist advertising studies comes from the 1970s, the 1980s brought big ideas for active, resistant, content co-opting audiences. Ang (1985, 1991), Morley (1980), and Radway (1984) pioneered new approaches to studying audiences in situ, ethnographically, and participatively, beyond industry nomenclatures that organize statistical data into phantom human collectives (Allor 1988; Bird 1992)—such as “ratings” or an “LBGT” target audience, for example. In the 1980s, scholars were optimistic, crediting audiences for interpreting actively and even resistively as Hall’s (1980) “oppositional” decoders. By the end of the decade, Condit (1989) argued the limits of actively resisting audiences who need critical skills to resist, competence to apply such skills, and incentive to do so since the hard work of resisting hegemonic content is a killjoy. hooks (1992b, 122) describes black women’s viewing practices as always already resistant, even when the resistance is a refusal to view critically or at all what excludes or demeans them. Historically, for black women looking is always already dangerous, tempting disconfirmation and violence. Pleasure in looking for black women comes from rebelling against and interrogating the racialized gender relations in media cultures. During the same period, the idea of like-minded, similarly situated audiences, such as black women as cultural readers (Bobo 1995), presaged social networking in concepts such as “interpretive communities” (Fish 1980; Lindlof 1988), “imagined communities” (Anderson 1983), “virtual communities” (Rheingold 1993), and “ritual communities” (Golombisky 1999). Dr. Okopny in chapter 15 writes of Seventh Generation’s attempt to create an online community of mothers interested in protecting the environment as a kind of imagined community called “Generation Good,” although the effort looked more like commercial Internet slacktivism and greenwashing than bona fide eco-activism. Dr. Peoples describes Bayer Pharmaceuticals trying to enlist women to sign up for a contraception-drug-related program

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


of commodified community based on emails and texts about “fashion, music, and style.” Lewis’s (1992), Jenkins’s (1992), and Penley’s (1997) groundbreaking work in fandom, textual poaching, and slash fiction still provide giant ideas for critical feminist advertising studies, even as most of today’s fandom plays out online on tiny screens. (See also Bennett 2014; Lingling 2018; Pearson 2010.) Delmar, Hernández-Santaolalla, and Ramos (2013) coined the term fanadvertising for when avid consuming fans at the invitation of the brand become avid producing fans virally drawing in new fans. Citing Toffler’s (1980) prescient term prosumer, they define fanadvertising as the information-immersed individual engaged in consuming and producing information. Bourdaa and Delmar (2016) argue the need for more scholarship and research on contemporary relations between fan cultures and advertising, particularly in relation to social networks. So why don’t we read more feminist advertising scholarship on decoders, poachers, and prosumers? I suspect it goes beyond breaking with prevailing commodified advertising audience research. Fieldwork is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, particularly with a tenure clock ticking. But advertising is nothing if not about audiences—er, users. Even on Madison Avenue ethnographic research is chic. At the same time, Rodino-Colocino (2012) describes scholarly corporate “participant activism.” After audience reception studies and fandom, pranking and culture jamming also fall within the purview of critical feminist advertising studies (see Bing 2013; Harold 2004; Penney 2015). The origins of pranking, culture jamming, and Lievrouw’s (2011) “hacktivism” lie in audiences actively challenging and even sabotaging advertisers, sometimes in the form of civil disobedience and guerilla activism. For example, in the 1970s, the Australian group Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions—BUGA UP—employed a well-organized and illegal graffiti campaign to deface Australian tobacco billboards (Deitz 2014). The feminist culturejamming Guerrilla Girls started in 1985. Ad Busters, founded in Canada by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in 1989, gave us “subvertising” (Deitz 2014). Reminding the industry of its social responsibility failures, Ad Busters mocks consumer culture and advertising with parody using the advertising industry’s own creative tools. Michael Wilke’s 1996 Commercial Closet project, now known as AdRespect, went on online in 2001 with its searchable archives and a rating system of LGBT advertising representations. More about activism than archiving, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) remains “censorious” when it comes to calling out negative media representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals (Penney 2015). GLAAD’s Media Institute, however, as an advocacy arm works within the media establishment to effect change, such as working with editors of the


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Associated Press Stylebook on entries about, coverage of, and language describing the LGBTQ+ community. (I prefer the LGBTQ Stylebook of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association [NLGJA, pronounced playfully as “negligee”].) Dr. Davis in chapter 2 writes that black women in their early-adopter facility with technology are effectively calling out racist and sexist advertisers while also rewarding advertisers who engage more respectfully and creatively. Neologisms like fanadvertising and subvertising bring us to femvertising. Commodity feminism, postfemism, and femvertising describe co-opting and recuperating feminist politics to sell products. Virginia Slims’s “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” cigarette campaign, which began in 1968, might be the most famous US advertising example of unabashed coopted feminist commodification. In the advertising literature, Goldman, Heath, and Smith (1991) described “commodity feminism/fetishism” as advertising discourse that turns women’s movement into commodified style choices in the same year that Clark (1991) described “commodity lesbianism” the commercial appropriation of lesbian culture. Dr. Mandziuk in chapter 4 finds an early version of commodity feminism in her rhetorical analysis of 1920s car ads in Good Housekeeping “that coopt feminist ideas about personal autonomy and invest these in the sign of the automobile.” Dr. Ragusa in chapter 12 writes, “The popularity of lesbian imagery in mainstream advertising, however, is less indicative of growing acceptance of homosexuality than commodification of lesbianism and appropriation of ‘styles’ (Clark 1991).” Contemporary femvertising represents the ad industry’s enthusiastic twenty-first-century form of commodified feminism. Lambiase, Bronstein, and Coleman (2017, 29–30) define femvertising as “pinkwashing” that “reflects corporations’ desires to connect with women as consumers and access their considerable spending power, probably more than desire to deliver authentic feminist messages.” Today brands such as Dove, Nike, Yoplait, Always, Under Armour, Mattel, and many more have tried femvertising with more or less success and backlash. Not limited to advertising, much of this pop culture discourse appropriates the language of “empowerment” from the women’s movement to contain it within individualized permission to shop, purchase, and consume in the marketplace in a highly racialized feminized heterosexuality (Gill 2008; Lazar 2006; Meehan 2002; Nicolosi 2017). “Girl power” is a variation for younger audiences (Hains 2014; Kearney 2015; McRobbie 2009a; Riordan 2001). Dr. Peoples in chapter 13 describes how Bayer “empowers” women to fight against their own menstrual periods by using a pharmaceutical contraceptive not to prevent pregnancy but to avoid menstrual inconvenience that interferes with work production and leisure consumption. In chapter 14, Drs. Antunovic and Rodino-Colocino describe Procter & Gamble “empowering” women to

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


be self-sacrificing mothers. Dr. Okopny in chapter 15 also finds an advertising discourse of “empowerment” constricting mothers’ rights down to making eco-friendly purchasing decisions on behalf of their progeny. Femvertising, commodity feminism, girl power, and empowerment all represent the cooptation and recuperation of potentially disruptive feminist politics made acceptable once brought into capitalist enterprise (Lazar 2014). Cooptation and recuperation as push and pull in ritual communication are also big ideas, especially but not exclusively as they have played out between feminism and media culture (Dow 1996; Friedman 1991; Rushing 1989; Stabile 1995). All social movements are subject to cooptation and recuperation. Drs. Mitchell and Morris in chapter 3 describe how advertisers coopted US black nationalism in the early twentieth century and then Black Power in the mid-twentieth century in order to sell hair care products to black women. Nevertheless, as long as there is appropriation there will be re-appropriation and subversion. Feminist media scholars’ articulations of postfeminism, perhaps the biggest contemporary idea, have provided a more complex accounting of these forces of monetizing feminism while discrediting its politics (Butler 2013; Gill 2007, 2008, 2016; Gill and Scharff 2013; McRobbie 2004, 2009a, 2009b; Tasker and Negra 2006, 2007). Tasker and Negra (2006, 171) point out the “double address” of postfeminist rhetoric that simultaneously grants that the achievement of women’s rights was a good thing while positing that a women’s rights political movement is no longer necessary since women have already been empowered to participate in the workforce, make shopping an avocation, and enjoy copious hetero sex. McRobbie (2004, 256) writes that “dismantling” and “discrediting” feminism works because feminism has already become hegemonic “Gramscian common sense.” My interpretation runs this way: “Well, of course, the bitter medicine of feminism was for our own good, but we have recovered and the prescription has expired.” This logic predicts manifestations of “I’m not a feminist, but. . . .” Critiques of the ways advertising highjacks feminism must account for McRobbie’s (2004) “double entanglements” of neoconservatism and neoliberalism dating from the 1980s. Neoconservatism might be summarized as white supremacist, capitalist, homophobic patriarchy’s family values. Neoliberalism describes the state’s increasing privatization and deferral to the marketplace while also increasing its panoptic governmentality to surveil individuals who are required to be self-policing, self-sufficient workerconsumers as a condition of citizenship. In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising, Báez (2017) records US Latina advertising audiences equating citizenship with recognition as a target market in “Engaging in Consumer Citizenship.” In the feminist advertising literatures, Michelle M. Lazar (2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2014), writing from National University of Singapore, is the


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expert on postfeminism in advertising, with the added bonus of offering us a standpoint outside the US perspective. In the present volume, only Dr. Diabah and I cite her. Dr. Diabah cites Lazar (2007) because Dr. Diabah and Lazar are both linguists interested in the discursive construction of gender in advertising. I cite Lazar (2009) in my essay about antiaging advertising because of her description of postfeminist “entitled femininity” as a culture of required perpetual youthfulness, even for aging women. Summarizing the literature, Jess Butler (2013, 44) writes: [A postfeminist] narrative, performance, and/or text: 1. implies that gender equality has been achieved and feminist activism is thus no longer necessary; 2. defines femininity as a bodily property and revives notions of natural sexual difference; 3. marks a shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification; 4. encourages self-surveillance, self-discipline, and a makeover paradigm; 5. emphasizes individualism, choice, and empowerment as the primary routes to women’s independence and freedom; and 6. promotes consumerism and the commodification of difference. Moving from review to critique, however, Butler (2013) argues that, despite qualifying the subject of postfeminist consumer logics as young, white, and hetero, feminist scholars err by centering the postfeminist canon on white women and thereby failing to notice the ways women of color, differently abled women, and queer women not only engage with and enact postfeminist logics but also sometimes “rupture” them. Touché. Nearly every chapter in this volume waxes intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989, 1991). That includes contributors who take up postfeminist critiques. Yet Butler’s argument holds, as well. In this volume, the postfeminist feminine subject tends to be white. Thus we arrive at representation. Here I offer only the most superficial of overviews on stereotypes, tropes, and frames relevant to critical feminist advertising studies because I want to reduce its primacy in feminist advertising studies. As I noted at the beginning, I wish to interrupt representation as the place where students want to begin and always end up. By deprioritizing representation and then focusing mostly on US nonwhite race, ethnicity, and nonheterosexuality, I risk reinscribing the violence such advertising representations do, a phenomenon Dr. Ragusa describes in chapter 12. However, as I have tried to argue, I wish to move past students’ cataloging insults to contextualizing and theorizing them intersectionally. Additionally, instead of leaving off any discussion of representation here, I wish to name names and cite their work out of what Tompkins (1987, 174) once described as “a pleasure of appreciation.”

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


Since the 1960s, documenting tropes and stereotypes has continued to be important work—as is sharing this work with the advertising industry. In the classroom, I like to introduce “representation” with the Bechdel-Wallace test, from a cartoon in Alison Bechdel’s 1986 Dykes to Watch Out For. The cartoon features Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace trying to find a movie to see. Acceptable choices would pass a three-part test: Does the film have at least two women in it—who talk to each other—about something besides a man? The choices narrow to nothing. Almost thirty years later, with not a lot of improvement in Hollywood or elsewhere, The Representation Project (2014) devised “TheRepTest,” which is scoreable and includes the original Bechdel-Wallace test. But TheRepTest also accounts for new identity categories, including race (“of color”), gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, disability, diverse body types, and age, as well as gender. Other dimensions include such things as authorship and measures of physical and emotional violence. Although TheRepTest is billed as “a media literacy tool” for the entertainment industries, the application for advertising should be obvious. Now I also will use Dr. Collins’s chapter 9 arguments about representation, including not only the problems with how we define such things as race and ethnicity when scoring advertising representations but also, as she writes, accounting for such things as social power in terms of cognitive attributes (displays of knowledge and intelligence), familial connections (represented as a member of a single-race or single-ethnicity couple or family), social rank (giving orders to others and making decisions on behalf of others), high- or low-status occupations (whiteor blue-collar), upward accomplishment (upward economic mobility by job, accomplishment, or enterprise), purchasing power (high- or low-end product category), and character positioning (centrality of character’s role in the commercial narrative as primary, secondary, tertiary, or quaternary).

Dr. Collins notes, “These categories are no less artificial or problematic than the ones for representations of race/ethnicity and gender, and in fact play important roles in constructing race, ethnicity, and gender, as intersectional analysis tells us.” Moving on to the scholarly literature, then, prioritizing women of color remains a key tenant of contemporary feminist academic practice. Yet to begin a conversation with students about representation and race requires both unpacking race as a social construction with material consequence and understanding whiteness as category of representation. Dyer’s (1997) White does both with advertising examples. Dr. Okopny in chapter 15 summarizes “Dyer’s (1997) three cultural senses of whiteness: white ‘hue’ invoking a conveniently neutral lack of color; white ‘skin’ invoking the group of people


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who benefit from not being ‘colored’; and white as a ‘symbol’ of everything good, including moral superiority and aesthetic beauty.” These representations of whiteness establish white race as always already at the top of a racial hierarchy, and yet transcendent whiteness remains removed from race altogether. All advertising students must be able to identify and then work against the hegemony of white supremacy. In this volume, Dr. Collins, Dr. Davis, and Drs. Mitchell and Morris review and then engage the literatures on US advertising representations of black women, including citing the work of bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins. I still defer to Kern-Foxworth (1994) and Cortese (2016) for their insights and commitments to this subject in advertising. Likewise, Plous and Neptune (1997), who found black women in magazine advertising 1985–1994 as exoticized, animalized, eroticized, and sexualized. West (2008) provides a tight introduction for students regarding tropes of “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and their homegirls.” Dr. Oakenfull and Dr. Ragusa take up the literature on US advertising and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, including their own important work, as well as Sender’s (2004) and Peñaloza’s (1996). For an introductory encapsulation of advertising stereotypes and tropes, I assign Tsai (2010), who documents the confluence of heterosexism and sexism in “affluent gay men,” “lipstick lesbians,” “have-it-all bisexual” women, “Surprise! She is a he” trans women, and “the symbolic annihilation of butch lesbians, bisexual men, and female-to-male trans men.” Yet, like establishing whiteness as race, the study of nonheterosexuality requires establishing heteronormativity, compulsory heterosexuality, heterosexism, and homophobia, as explained by Dr. Oakenfull in chapter 5 and Dr. Ragusa in chapter 12. Dr. Houston in chapter 6 cites English language typologies on representations of disability, such as Bolt’s (2014) media imagery of visual disability, Garland-Thomson’s (2005) summary of narrative scripts, and Haller and Ralph’s (2006) work looking specifically at disability in advertising. Dr. Houston also cites the supercrip who overcomes the odds spectacularly (Barnes 1992). In chapter 14, Drs. Antunovic and Rodino-Colocino cite Silva and Howe (2012) on supercrips in the Paralympics. In chapter 7, I share a rather thin literature on US advertising representations of aging and middle-aged women. Citing Connell (2005), Dr. Diabah in chapter 10 as well as Jennifer Ford Stamps and I in chapter 11 look at advertising representations of masculinities, although Dr. Diabah’s discussion features Ghanaian advertising representations of Ghanaian masculinity. While Dr. Liebler and coauthors in chapter 8 write about the Chinese advertising context, the present volume is missing coverage on representations of Asian, South Asian, Asian-American, and Middle-Eastern women, although that language is problematic, too. In demystifying and problematizing the

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


way researchers operationally define race and ethnicity, Dr. Collins writes, “As the expression goes, ‘In Asia, there are no Asians.” Dr. Collins notes that the convention in US television advertising research has been not to count “South Asians” from India and Pakistan. Building on Said’s (1978) Orientalism, Prasso (2005) describes Western mediated gender tropes of “the Exotic Orient,” including “dragon ladies” and “geisha girls.” Shimizu (2007) compellingly argues how “Asian/American” women reappropriate hypersexualized screen images of Asian women. There is no discussion of Indigenous, Native American or American Indian, or First Nation peoples in this volume. Bird (1999) reported on “Gendered Representations of American Indians in Popular Media.” I especially like Merskin’s (2014) ethical framework for reviewing tropes of American Indian representations couched in a representational ethics. Nor is there explicit discussion of US Latina, Chicana, or Hispanic advertising representation in this volume outside of Dr. Collins’ chapter 9 explanation of problematic operational definitions for visually coding ethnicity, “given the range of cultures, languages, skin tones, and histories, including colonization and genocide, of peoples descended from indigenous, enslaved, trafficked, and colonial peoples in the Americas.” In the previous volume, Báez (2017) and Hernández (2017) contributed audience reception studies about US advertising audiences of Latinas and women of color. Molina-Guzmán’s (2010) book-length work on representations—and reappropriations—of commodified and resistant Latina bodies picks up where Molina-Guzmán and Valdivia’s (2004) study of Latina hybridity and iconicity left off. They encapsulate typical racialized gender tropes of Latina tropicalism—“the spitfire female Latina characterized by redcolored lips, bright seductive clothing, curvaceous hips and breasts, long brunette hair, and extravagant jewelry” (Molina-Guzmán and Valdivia, 2004, 211). And still there is so much more to say and cite. So much more work to do. Finally, I would like to suggest framing and frame analysis (Entman 1993; Gamson 1989; Goffman 1974; Iyengar 1994; Pan and Kosicki 1993) as useful in critical feminist advertising studies, even though framing is more typically associated with news analysis, including feminist news analysis. (See Curnalia and Mermer 2014; Danner and Walsh 1999; Joseph 2011; Liebler, Schwartz, and Harper 2009; Lind and Salo 2002; Nielsen 2013; Vavrus 1998.) Dr. Ragusa’s study of New York Times advertising news coverage of nonheterosexuality in chapter 12, while not specifically a frame analysis, easily could have been, as Dr. Ragusa describes nonheterosexuality as stigmatized yet marketized. Moreover, the same principles of framing apply to any narrative form, text or visual, including advertising, as Dr. Okopny’s discussion of frames and tropes demonstrates in chapter 13.


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Dr. Collins in chapter 9 writes that one of her goals is “dispelling perceptions that the feminist study of advertising representations is passé.” She challenges the advertising industry’s commitment to social responsibility: “advertisers have an ethical obligation to act responsibly and fairly with regard to the representation of people.” Elsewhere in this volume, Dr. Davis in chapter 2, Drs. Mitchell and Morris in chapter 3, and Dr. Collins in chapter 9 all cite Patricia Hill Collins ([1990] 2000) on the media’s “controlling images” of black women. Dr. Janice Marie Collins writes in chapter 9, “Controlling images, from the ‘angry black woman’ to the ‘Asian model minority,’ function to rationalize such groups’ subordination in the matrix of domination.” When we are surprised to find ourselves on the receiving end of misrepresentation, we might think, “Hey, what’s the big idea?” When we teach advertising, we tell students that a creative concept is “the big idea.” In theory classes, I tell students we’re covering the “big ideas” that stimulate productive thinking and problem-solving. When I teach new graduate students to read dense academic work, I tell them to locate the author’s big idea. The feminist contributors of this volume offer up some big ideas for critical feminist advertising studies as tools to recognize, theorize, and ultimately undermine inequities and injustices in the study and practice of advertising. PREVIEW OF CHAPTERS The first section is titled “Historicize This!” and groups work dealing with historicized analyses of advertising from more than a century of stereotypes about black women to early twentieth-century white women purchasing automobiles, all contextualized with women’s complex relations with technologies from cars to Twitter. The second section, “Advertising Body Politics,” groups work on topics related to body politics in advertising, including lesbians, disabled women, aging women, and Chinese “promotion girls.” The third section, “Media Reps,” revisits advertising representation in novel ways from operational definitions of race and advertising news about gay men to advertising twenty-first-century masculinities in Ghana and the United States. The last section, “Reproduction and Postfeminist Empowerment,” ends the book with a selection of case studies on the advertising industry’s cooptation and commodification of feminism, particularly in regressive postfeminist ideologies about women’s reproductive health and mothering. Yet every chapter easily could have appeared in other sections, demonstrating a depth and breadth of this anthology. Before turning these pages over to the work of our brilliant and generous collaborating authors, I offer a preview of the chapters.

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


Historicize This! In chapter 2, Patricia G. Davis employs black feminist thought to set up the rest of the book in terms of advertising histories, bodies, representations, and postfeminist commodification. From white antebellum nostalgia through black respectability politics and on to Black Power, Dr. Davis covers more than a century of US advertising representations of black women’s bodies as unruly. Dr. Davis balances her critique with qualified optimism, however, as the title of her essay indicates: “From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé: Twitter, Consumer Agency, and the Transformation of the Black Female Image in Advertising.” In the early twenty-first century, black women’s socially networked power demonstrates limited contemporary control of their own representations as well as the ability to respond publicly to advertisers they find objectionable. Dr. Davis argues that recent history proves an expanded and, to a degree, improved range of black women’s portrayals in advertising, but those portrayals continue to convey remnants of earlier ideologies of racism, sexism, and classism. In chapter 3, Natalie A. Mitchell and Angelica Morris also write through a black feminist lens to build on Dr. Davis’s work in chapter 2. But Drs. Mitchell and Morris narrow the focus in their chapter specifically to “Black Women’s Hair Politics in Advertising” over the same historical period to demonstrate how the tropes Dr. Davis describes also manifest in US black hair care advertising. Drs. Mitchell and Morris’s essay invites the advertising academy to take seriously the intersectional social politics of race, gender, and class and the industry’s “controlling images” (Collins [1990] 2000) of US black women. The politics that drive black women’s hair care advertising in the United States communicate that untreated black hair for women is unattractive, unhealthy, and unprofessional. Drs. Mitchell and Morris outline variations on this advertising theme from the pre–Civil Rights era of hair straightening to the Civil Rights era of politicized “natural Afros” to post– Civil Rights era Jheri curls. Like Dr. Davis, Drs. Mitchell and Morris find a more optimistic twenty-first-century scenario and are also optimistic about Madison Avenue’s prospects for evolving beyond its history of gendered racisms. In the early twentieth century, advertisers told African-American women to straighten their hair to be upwardly mobile, at the same time racist brands like Aunt Jemima told upwardly mobile white women to aspire to leisure beyond domestic drudgery. During the same era, Good Housekeeping magazine advertisers began selling the idea that post-suffrage upwardly mobile white women needed a second family car to enact their new independence, according to Roseann M. Mandziuk in chapter 4, “Driving Her to Distraction: Women, Modernity, and the Disciplinary Discourse of 1920s Automobile


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Advertising.” Dr. Mandziuk analyzes Good Housekeeping car ads between 1920 and 1929 using feminist rhetorical analysis threaded through commodity feminism. She finds rhetorical strategies that co-opted the period’s feminist politics to redirect them back into traditional ideas about white, middle-class, domestic femininity: Consumption is appropriate leisure to indicate one’s style and status, as well as one’s money and technology sense. But such leisure should be in the service of the family and never undermine the lady driver’s white femininity. Like Dr. Davis in chapter 2, along with Drs. Mitchell and Morris in chapter 3, Dr. Mandziuk in chapter 4 documents raced, gendered, and classed advertising rhetorics that continue today. Advertising Body Politics The scholars in the next group of chapters all examine gendered body politics employed in advertising contexts such that gay men take precedence over lesbians as target audiences, women with disability are framed as medically ill, aging women learn to wage war on their own faces, and Chinese promoter girls embody walking advertisements linking youthful sexuality with contemporary brands. In chapter 5, “Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market,” Gillian W. Oakenfull writes “at the intersection of sexual orientation, gender, and feminism” to take advertisers to task for jumping on the LGBT chic bandwagon without doing their target audience homework in general and for the invisibility of lesbian consumers specifically. Dr. Oakenfull distinguishes between using the label “LGBT” to advance a civil rights movement and “LGBT” as a marketing segmentation strategy. Grouping lesbians, gay men, bisexual individuals, and transgender individuals as a single “LGBT” market segment makes little sense if the people variously lumped under L, G, B, and T have little in common when it comes to media habits, consumption needs and wants, or purchasing habits. Asking the feminist question regarding the absence of women and bias for men, Dr. Oakenfull explains that the advertising industry has operated based on numbers of incorrect assumptions about a so-called affluent gay market. One such assumption is that gay men are a more lucrative group of consumers than lesbians. Another is that lesbians, along with everyone else subsumed under LGBT, identify with advertising images of gay men as some kind of universal sign of queerness. Yet another assumption is that people make purchasing decisions wholly based on their sexual orientation. Dr. Oakenfull argues that if there were more—any—lesbians in creative departments, the advertising picture, literally, would be different. The next chapter is about the gendered stigma of depression advertising. Ella Houston’s title is self-explanatory: “Women who Experience Depression

An Introduction to Some Big Ideas for Critical Feminist Advertising Studies


Interpret Advertising Representations of Women with Depression: A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective.” Feminist disability studies is interested in political, social, linguistic, and too often medical constructions of gendered disabled bodies. In this essay, Dr. Houston educates us on invisible impairments, including depression, which is more likely to be diagnosed for women on the basis of gender stereotypes. Advocating a social rather than medical model of disability, Dr. Houston enlists UK women with experiences of depression to critique the ways advertising messages about depression cast women with mental health issues as too ill to lead fulfilling lives. The UK participants objected to copywriting that suggested that women who experience depression must seek a cure to regain lives somehow put on hold. At the same time, Dr. Houston’s participants praised public service messages calling for social support to destigmatize depression and all disability. Part of Dr. Houston’s contribution here is to demonstrate how feminist disability studies research can speak with, not for, people with disability. In chapter 7, “Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics of the Unmarked,” I consider the trouble with representing middle-aged women in beauty advertising for an antiaging skincare industry that focuses on erasing the visible signs of aging. I indulge in a little reverie about “a deliberate and conscious refusal to take the payoff of visibility,” to quote Phelan (1993, 19). In examining antiaging advertising for skincare regimens, I also find that one can’t show a picture of an aging woman’s face and at the same time prove the efficacy of the product. I find advertisers telling women to wage a high-tech war on “visible signs of aging,” casting women’s own faces as the alien Other, echoing wider contemporary political discourses designed to raise fears of infection, invasion, and infiltration. Whereas lesbians, disabled women, and aging women in advertising are too often invisible or stigmatized, the problem with Chinese liyi xiaojie, a Chinese-specific variation on the promotion or tradeshow model, is their hypersexualized visibility and the sexual, emotional, aesthetic, and physical labor required to earn a living this way. Chapter 8, “Corporeal Commodification: Chinese Women’s Bodies as Advertisements,” introduces a different kind of body politics, which Carol M. Liebler, Li Chen, and Anqi Peng describe as “corporeal commodification,” meaning the ways beautiful young Chinese women, held to standardized body sizes and aesthetics, are hired to use their bodies as advertisements. Employing feminist ethnography based on fieldwork in Macau and Shanghai, Dr. Liebler and her colleagues argue that contemporary liyi xiaojie, “translated as ‘Miss Etiquette,’ ‘showgirl,’ or ‘promotion girl,’” decorating casinos, restaurants, and tradeshows in China combine traditional heteronormative ideals of Chinese feminine virtues like grace and subservience with contemporary Western ideals of commodified beauty and sexualized appearance to attract the gaze of heterosexual male


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consumers. Such work requires bearing the scrutiny of, first, employers screening for conformity to narrow standards of beauty and, second, the target audience of men who might want more than to look. Media Reps The third grouping of chapters does cover representation, beginning with Janice Marie Collins’s tour de force, “Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power in 1,084 Prime-time TV Commercials from 2005” in chapter 9. Returning us to black feminist thought, Dr. Collins’s study not only encapsulates the continuing importance of representation for feminist advertising studies, but also makes compelling arguments about the myriad problems with operational definitions of race and ethnicity in advertising studies. How does one define and count “black,” “Asian,” and “Latina” in TV commercials? Dr. Collins also reminds us that feminists do and should practice quantitative research. Additionally, she holds the advertising industry accountable ethically and morally to its social responsibilities with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, class, and social power. This study documenting appallingly low numbers of Asian, Latina, and black women in prime-time TV commercials simultaneously provides a critical feminist advertising education on so much more. Shifting from television to radio advertising, chapter 10 by Grace Diabah analyzes “The Modern Man in Ghanaian Radio Adverts” to ask if said representations are “A Reproduction of or a Challenge to Traditional Gender Practices?” Writing through the lens of African feminisms and employing poststructural feminist discourse analysis, Dr. Diabah introduces feminist approaches to masculinity studies. She wishes to understand changes in Ghanaian manhood in relation to Ghana’s contemporary media scape. She wonders what changing masculinity scripts might mean for Ghanaian men and women. Gender enactments in Ghana, as in the United Kingdom and in China, might be difficult to interpret from a US perspective, and issues of language translation are only part of the problem. Dr. Diabah analyzed radio commercials aired on stations broadcasting in English and Akan, Ghana’s dominant indigenous language. Optimistically, Dr. Diabah suggests radio advertising in Ghana is constructing a “modern masculinity” wherein it is manly to consider women’s opinions and to participate in familial childcare and housekeeping responsibilities, while also remaining sexually virile and capably employed. Chapter 11 continues the exploration of masculinity, but this time back in the United States and as advertised in men’s magazines. “Woman as Product Stand-In: Branding Straight Metrosexuality in Men’s Magazine Fashion Advertising,” coauthored by Jennifer Ford Stamps and me, is the

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only reprinted work in the book. All the other chapters are original to this project. In “Woman as Product Stand-In” we interrogate a specific kind of masculinity virtually invented by advertising: “metrosexuality,” a young, notnecessarily heterosexual, consumption-lifestyle masculinity. Whereas Janice Marie Collins successfully argues that quantitative research is a must-have in the feminist advertising scholar’s toolbox, my coauthor and I cite an equally valid qualitative argument by Jacqueline Lambiase and Tom Reichert, the contemporary sex-in-advertising researchers. Adept at counting methods, too, they argue that sometimes there are significant rhetorical elements in advertising that warrant examination but would not show up in traditional content analysis. This chapter also pays homage to Sonja Foss’s uniquely US and feminist “visual rhetoric,” an under-utilized method we find especially useful in the visual world of advertising. (See Foss 1994, 2004, 2005; Foss and Kanengieter 1992; Mullen and Fisher 2004). Chapter 11 evaluates sexualized representations of women in men’s fashion advertisements in men’s magazines. Because the metrosexual consumer may be gay or straight, the ads scrutinized here as visual rhetoric suggest that the presence of a sexually aroused woman is required to signify heterosexuality. While Dr. Diabah credits Ghanaian radio ads with hopeful signs of evolving heterosexual masculinity, the straight metrosexuality of this visual rhetoric sold to US men in their twenties is alarming. In chapter 12, “Beyond the Fringe? Market Desirability and Alternative Sexuality in Advertising News,” Angela T. Ragusa analyzes advertising news in the New York Times for the ways it represents nonheterosexuality. Dr. Ragusa increases the range of feminist advertising studies’ subject matter to include news analysis. She sorted three main themes: First, heterosexuality is the hegemonic social position so that nonheterosexuality must be linguistically marked. She uses the example of reporting about “parents” versus reporting about marked “gay parents.” Second, in the rare cases that nonheterosexuality was covered in advertising news, it by far referred to gay men, relative to lesbians and other identifications including intersex, queer, and transgender. The third theme shows advertising news simultaneously marketizing and stigmatizing nonheterosexuality; advertisers reported interest in capitalizing on so-called gay markets but expressed concerns about alienating their heterosexual markets in doing so. Dr. Ragusa notes that the Times is a powerful media institution, itself an internationally recognized brand. Moreover, advertisers place their messages in the Times to capitalize on its reach and quality readership in addition to the prestige and political power of the Times brand. Hence, the Times, along with other advertising institutions with editorial and content power, such as Google for instance, have a social responsibility to attend to the inequities and injustices they enable.


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Reproduction and Postfeminist Empowerment The last group of chapters drills down on some of the problematic claims of postfeminist advertising touched on in earlier chapters, including a productively consuming neoliberal citizen, the marketization of identity categories, and the cooptation and commodification of political movements, including feminism. Chapters 13, 14, and 15 examine postfeminist logics posed in advertising by specific brands. In “empowering” mostly white heterosexual women with postfeminist logics, these brands also promote problematic ideologies about women’s reproduction and mothering. In the case of women’s reproductive health choices, Whitney Peoples in chapter 13 takes postfeminist advertising to task for co-opting women’s sexual and reproductive politics. In “We’re Way ‘Beyond Birth Control’: Women’s Reproductive Health, Gendered Consumption, and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising,” Dr. Peoples critiques the advertising of Bayer’s YAZ family of contraceptives. In these commercials and their collateral marketing messages, “independence” provided to women because of women’s movement is no longer about the US political history of contraception, abortion rights, or even the continuum of sexual violence, let alone the right to bear children in a supportive social climate. Bayer’s YAZ contraceptive advertising becomes a case study on how women’s independence is rerouted into freedom from menstrual cramps, bloating, irritability, and even depression. The “fight” for reproductive choice is constrained into “fighting” one’s own bodily symptoms. Contraception is positioned as a fashion accessory, which reduces women to shoppers instead of stakeholders in the healthcare system. Reproductive “choice” regarding pregnancy is posed as equivalent to the “choice” of a trip to Paris or attending graduate school. Dr. Peoples introduces readers to the reproductive justice framework, which asks pointed questions about the reproductive options afforded to women based on race, class, sexuality, and disability. What is elided, occluded, and obscured here is the real politics of reproductive justice that severely limit all women’s choices in the United States, but in particular, poor women of color who are not privileged when it comes to reproductive choices and access to healthcare, contraception, prenatal care, abortion, and postnatal social support (Nelson 2003; Richie 2012; Roberts 1997; Ross and Solinger 2017; Silliman et al. 2004). In YAZ’s postfeminist urban cityscapes, affluence affords choices to shop that seem to have little to do with reproduction. In chapter 14, Dunja Antunovic and Michelle Rodino-Colocino employ transnational feminism to tease out the politics of Procter & Gamble’s tribute to the mothers of Olympians around the world. In, “‘Thank You, Mom’: Mothers, Olympic Athletes, and Procter & Gamble’s Global Brand,” Drs. Antunovic and Rodino-Colocino acknowledge the emotional power of

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P&G’s campaign to recognize the role that mothers play in the success of Olympic athletes. But these scholars question the maternal postfeminism wherein good mothers devote themselves single-mindedly and single-handedly to rearing super kids with the help of branded shopping lists. Neoliberal mothers do it all and on their own. This mothering sacrifices everything for her offspring. In P&G’s “Thank You, Mom” messaging, mothering around the world is the same, erasing all cultural, social, and political variation, and, in this particular mothering, there is no other familial, community, or social support. This is a peculiarly US Western, mostly global North version of motherhood. Conspicuously absent are mothers and Olympians from Africa and the Middle East, observe Drs. Antunovic and Rodino-Colocino. As they see it, the P&G campaign seems to recognize and appreciate women’s mothering labor, but actually it elevates and exports a US version of neoliberal motherhood for which P&G becomes the paternal provider. In chapter 15, “The Limits of Women’s Environmentalism in Seventh Generation’s Digital Advertising,” Cara Okopny also interrogates postfeminist mothering, but her analysis uses eco feminisms to look at Seventh Generation’s digital advertising. Dr. Okopny addresses ideologies in environmental advertising aimed at US mothers. Eco feminisms have long been concerned, often controversially so, with connections between women and the environment. Advertisers, however, continue to naturalize links between women, especially reproductive women, and the environment in formulae that suggest that by virtue of their reproductive abilities, women are closer to nature, and thus have greater concern for protecting both children and the environment. As Dr. Okopny notes, however, little of this work accounts for race, class, and sexualities. Good mothers protect the environment, thereby protecting their families. These good moms are part of a community of women entrusted with safeguarding the world on behalf of their children by having the financial resources to purchase and consume green products. The world envisioned in this community of environmentally conscious mothers is racially gendered white, thus pure. Dr. Okopny ends by asking if so-called activist brands such as Seventh Generation can be progressive if they engage in postfeminist, postracist discourses. I left the advertising industry when the best student intern I ever had the honor to work with came back to interview me for a class paper. During the interview the former intern asked me how I was contributing to the betterment of society. I couldn’t answer the question, and it made me ashamed. That was when I decided on graduate school. The former intern graduated and went on to have a successful advertising career. Twenty years after that fateful interview, my younger son became an advertising creative in a global digital agency. I did not see that coming, and neither his feminist mother nor his most excellent mass communications education prepared him with an


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introductory feminist education or a theoretical introduction to critical feminist media or advertising studies. I believe that if the advertising academy has better critical feminist analytic skills, then eventually those skills will show up among the professionals who might realize the kinds of changes critical feminist advertising scholars can endorse. We must work to make it so. REFERENCES Allor, Martin. 1988. “Relocating the Site of the Audience.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 5 (3): 217–33. Althusser, Louis. 1972. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” In Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, translated by Ben Brewster, 121–76. New York: Monthly Review. Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities. London: Verso. Ang, Ien. 1985. Watching Dallas. London: Methuen. ———. 1991. Desperately Seeking the Audience. London: Routledge. Báez, Jillian M. 2017. “Engaging in Consumer Citizenship: Latina Audiences and Advertising in Women’s Ethnic Magazines.” Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy J. Kreshel, 231–49. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Barnes, Colin. 1992. Disabling Imagery and the Media. Halifax: Ryburn. Beal, Frances. 1970. “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female.” In Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement, edited by R. Morgan, 340–53. New York: Random House. Bechdel, Alison. 1986. Dykes to Watch Out For. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books. Bennett, Lucy. 2014. “Tracing Textual Poachers: Reflections on the Development of Fan Studies and Digital Fandom.” The Journal of Fandom Studies 2 (1): 5–20. Bentham, Jeremy. 1791. Panopticon: Or, The Inspection-House. Containing the Idea of a New Principle of Construction Applicable to Any Sort of Establishment, in Which Persons of Any Description are to Be Kept Under Inspection, Etc. Dublin: Thomas Byrne. Berger, John. 1972. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin. Bhabha, Homi. 1990. “The Third Space.” In Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, edited by Jonathan Rutherford, 207–21. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Bing, Janet. 2013. “Gotcha: What Social Activists Can Learn from Pranksters.” Women and Language 36 (2): 97–105. Bird, S. Elizabeth. 1992. “Travels in Nowhere Land: Ethnography and the ‘Impossible’ Audience.” Critical Studies in Mass Communications 9 (3): 250–60. ———. 1999. “Gendered Representations of American Indians in Popular Media.” Journal of Communication 49 (3): 61–83. Bobo, Jacqueline. 1995. Black Women as Cultural Readers. New York: Columbia University. Bolt, David. 2014. “An Advertising Aesthetic: Real Beauty and Visual Impairment.” British Journal of Visual Impairment 32: 25–32.

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Dubrofsky, Rachel E. and Shoshana A. Magnet. 2015. Feminist Surveillance Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Du Gay, Paul, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes, Hugh Mckay, and Keith Negus. 1997. Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman. London: Sage. Dyer, Richard. 1997. White. London: Routledge. Entman, Robert M. 1993. “Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm.” Journal of Communication 43 (4): 51–58. Evans, Caroline and Larraine Gamman. 1995. “The Gaze Revisited, or Reviewing Queer Viewing.” In A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Popular Culture, edited by Paul Burston and Colin Richardson, 12–61. New York: Routledge. Fish, Stanley E. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Foss, Sonja. 1994. “A Rhetorical Schema for the Evaluation of Visual Imagery.” Communication Studies 45 (3–4): 213–24. ———. 2004. “Framing the Study of Visual Rhetoric: Toward a Transformation of Rhetorical Theory.” In Defining Visual Rhetorics, edited by Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers, 303–13. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. ———. 2005. “Theory of Visual Rhetoric.” In Handbook of Visual Communication, edited by Kenneth L. Smith, Sandra Moriarty, and Keith Kenney, 521–38. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum. Foss, Sonja and Marla Kanengieter. 1992. “Visual Communication in the Basic Course.” Communication Education 41 (3): 312–23. Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon. Friedman, Susan Stanford. 1991. “Post/Poststructuralist Feminist Criticism: The Politics of Recuperation and Negotiation.” New Literary History 22 (2): 465–90. Gamson, William A. 1989. “News as Framing.” American Behavioral Scientist 33: 157–61. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2005. “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs 30 (2): 1557–87. Gill, Rosalind. 2007. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10: 147–66. ———. 2008. “Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising.” Feminism and Psychology 18 (1): 35–60. ———. 2016. “Post-Postfeminism: New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (4): 610–30. Gill, Rosalind and Christina Scharff. 2013. New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper and Row. ———. 1976. “Gender Advertisements.” Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication 3: 69–l54. Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. 1991. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8: 333–51. Golombisky, Kim. 1999. “Spatial Concepts of TV: Toward a Critical Phenomenology of Mediated Human Geography.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the

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Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, New Orleans, August. ———. 2017. “Closing Arguments: A Feminist Education for Advertising Students.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy J. Kreshel, 337–68. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Golombisky, Kim and Peggy J. Kreshel, eds. 2017. Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, translated and edited by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International. Hains, Rebecca C. 2014. “The Significance of Chronology in Commodity Feminism: Audience Interpretations of Girl Power in Music.” Popular Music and Society 37 (1): 33–47. Halberstam, Judith. 2001. “The Transgender Gaze in Boys Don’t Cry.” Screen 42 (3): 294–98. Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Encoding/Decoding.” In Culture, Media, Language, edited by Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, A. Lowe, and Paul Wills, 128–38. London: Hutchinson. Hall, Stuart, Jessica Evans, and Sean Nixon, eds. 2013. Representation, 2nd ed. London: Sage. Haller, Beth A. and Sue Ralph. 2006. “Are Disability Images in Advertising Becoming Bold and Daring? An Analysis of Prominent Themes in US and UK Campaigns.” Disability Studies Quarterly 26 (3). Harold, Christine. 2004. “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21 (3): 189–211. Hernández, Leandra H. 2017. “You Get a Very Conflicting View: Postfeminsim, Contradiction, and Women of Color’s Responses to Representations of Women in Advertisements.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy J. Kreshel, 251–70. Lanham, MD: Lexington. hooks, bell. 1992a. Black Looks: Race and Representation, 115–31. Boston: South End. ———. 1992b. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation, 115–31. Boston: South End. ———. (1994) 2006. Outlaw Cultures: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge. ———. (1996) 2009. Reel to Real: Race, Class, and Sex at the Movies. New York: Routledge. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. (1944) 2006. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, edited by Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, 41–72. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Iyengar, Shanto. 1994. Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.


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Jhally, Sut. 2009. The Codes of Gender. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Joseph, Ralina L. 2011. “‘Hope is Finally Making a Comeback’: First Lady Reframed.” Communication, Culture and Critique 4: 56–77. Kearney, Mary C. 2015. “Sparkle: Luminosity and Post-Girl Power Media.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 29 (2): 263–73. Kellner, Douglas M. and Meenakshi Gigi Durham. 2006. “Adventures in Media and Cultural Studies: Introducing the KeyWorks.” In Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, revised edition, edited by Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, i–xxxviii. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Kern-Foxworth, Marilyn. 1994. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Black in Advertising Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Kilbourne, Jean. (2000) 1979. Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Documentary Films. Lambiase, Jacqueline, Carolyn Bronstein, and Catherine A. Coleman. 2017. “Women versus Brands: Sexist Advertising and Gender Stereotypes Motivate Transgenerational Feminist Critique.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy J. Kreshel, 29–59. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Lasswell, Harold. 1948. “The Structure and Function of Communication in Society.” In The Communication of Ideas: A Series of Addresses, edited by L. Bryson, 37–51. New York: Harper. Lazar, Michelle M. January 2004. “(Post-)Feminism in Contemporary Advertising: A Global Discourse in a Local Context.” Paper presented at the Discourse, Globalisation and Gender Identities Conference, Cardiff, UK. ———. 2006. “‘Discover the Power of Femininity!’: Analyzing Global ‘Power Femininity’ in Local Advertising.” Feminist Media Studies 6 (4): 505–17. ———. 2007. “Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis: Articulating a Feminist Discourse Praxis.” Critical Discourse Studies 4 (2): 141–64. ———. 2009. “Entitled to Consume: Postfeminist Femininity and a Culture of PostCritique.” Discourse and Communication 3 (4): 371–400. ———. 2014. “Recuperating Feminism, Reclaiming Femininity: Hybrid Postfeminist I-dentity in Consumer Advertisements.” Gender and Language 8 (2): 205–224 Lewis, Lisa A. 1992. The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. London: Routledge. Liebler, Carol M., Joseph Schwartz, and Todd Harper. 2009. “Queer Tales of Morality: The Press, Same-sex Marriage, and Hegemonic Framing.” Journal of Communication 59: 653–75. Lievrouw, Leah. 2011. Alternative and Activist New Media. Cambridge: Polity. Lind, Rebecca Ann and Colleen Salo. 2002. “The Framing of Feminists and Feminism in News and Public Affairs Programs in US Electronic Media.” Journal of Communication 52 (1): 211–28. Lindlof, Thomas R. 1988. “Media Audiences as Interpretive Communities.” Communication Yearbook 11 (1): 81–107. Lingling, Miao. 2018. “Is Fantasy Just Fantasy? An Ethnography of Female Fanship: Viewing Sex and the City.” Feminist Media Studies 18 (3): 475–88.

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Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon. Schramm, Wilbur, ed. 1954. The Processes and Effects of Mass Communication. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Sender, Katherine. 2004. “Neither Fish nor Fowl: Feminism, Desire, and the Lesbian Consumer Market.” The Communication Review 7: 407–32. Shannon, Claud E. 1948. “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” Bell System Technical Journal 27: 379–423, 623–56. Shannon, Claude E. and Warren Weaver. 1949. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. 2007. The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/ American Women on Screen and Scene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Shugart, Helene A. 1997. “Counterhegemonic Acts: Appropriation as a Feminist Rhetorical Strategy.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (2): 210–29. Silliman, Jael, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutierrez. 2004. Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. Cambridge, MA: South End. Silva, Carla Filomena and P. David Howe. 2012. “The (In)validity of Supercrip Representation of Paralympian Athletes.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 36 (2): 174–94. Stabile, Carole A. 1995. “Resistance, Recuperation, and Reflexivity: The Limits of a Paradigm.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12: 403–22. Tasker, Yvonne and Diane Negra. 2006. “Postfeminsim and the Archive for the Future.” Camera Obscura 21 (2): 171–76. ———, eds. 2007. Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press. The Representation Project. 2014, February 28. “#TheRepTest.” Accessed June 24, 2018: http:​//the​repre​senta​tionp​rojec​t.org​/wp-c​onten​t/upl​oads/​The-R​ep-Te​st-2.​ 01.pd​f. Toffler, Alvin. 1980. The Third Wave. New York: Bantam. Tompkins, Jane. 1987. “Me and My Shadow.” New Literary History: Feminist Directions 19 (1): 169–78. Torgovnick, Marianna. 1991. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives. University of Chicago Press. Tsai, Wanhsui Sunny. 2010. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising and Society Review 11(1). Tuchman, Gaye. 1978. “Introduction: The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the Mass Media.” In Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, edited by Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet, 3–38. New York: Oxford University Press. Vavrus, Mary. 1998. “Working the Senate from the Outside In: The Mediated Construction of a Feminist Political Campaign.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 15 (3): 213–35. West, Carolyn M. 2008. “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an ‘Oppositional Gaze’ Toward the Images of Black Women.” In Lectures


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on the Psychology of Women, 4th ed., edited by Joan Chrisler, Carla Golden, and Patricia Rozee, 286–99. New York: McGraw Hill. Williamson, Judith. 1978. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars. Ziff, Bruce H. and Pratima V. Rao, ed. 1997. Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation. Rutgers University Press.

Chapter 2

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé Twitter, Consumer Agency, and the Transformation of the Black Female Image in Advertising Patricia G. Davis

The ubiquity and power of social networking technologies have transformed the advertising and marketing industries in ways that have profound implications for discussions foregrounding the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. In empowering consumers with greater agency to shape the contours of dominant representations, these technologies have upended conventional top-down models of mass media influence. With respect to advertising and brand marketing, a significant aspect of this new media environment involves the ways in which social media promote a “bottom-up” chain of influence over the range of images constituted as “marketable.” Aunt Jemima and Beyoncé—two remarkable icons used to sell products—are representative of this shift. For black women’s representations in particular, this transformation presents significant implications. Advertising messages have traditionally served as a particularly powerful conduit for the advancement of ideologies, as much of their meanings are culturally coded in signs, symbols, and icons (Bristor, Gravois, and Hunt 1995). This role has meant that iconic advertising images of African Americans are “integral components of American culture,” influencing the ways blacks perceive themselves, as well as the ways in which they are perceived (Kern-Foxworth 1994, 44). Additionally, women’s bodies have generally and traditionally been used as powerful media through which societal ideals—particularly notions of worth—have been linked to consumer products and brands. Mainstream advertising images thus serve as reflections of a society’s dominant values, including the culturally sanctioned ideals of femininity to which black women have not historically had access. Indeed, 37


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advertising messages have featured carefully constrained images of black women that have functioned, along with other popular cultural texts, to circumscribe the political and social rights of all African Americans. At the same time, Pollay and Gallagher (1990) have argued that the cultural values discerned from print advertisements neither reflected those of heavy viewers nor those of the population at large. Their impact, therefore, has come from influential top-down media producers. Social networking technologies have destabilized this equation, affording African Americans greater agency over the representations of black women in the public sphere. Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking sites have provided minority groups a powerful platform to offer critiques of dominant advertising images in ways that have the potential to lead to meaningful changes. More importantly, because African Americans constitute one of the more influential demographic groups using many of these sites (Ferguson 2016; Mahoney 2016; Manjoo 2010), the increasing importance of these technologies to advertising and marketing campaigns has initiated a corresponding growth in the influence of black consumers. Although this has led to a greater array of black women’s images used to sell products, there are limits to the transformations enabled through this agency: Twitter and other social networking sites often work in conjunction with more traditional media forms to constrain the range of these images, thereby reproducing the hegemony of more classical notions of femininity. Nevertheless, these limitations provide further illustration of the complexities implicated in representation while opening up a robust space for scholarly inquiry into the factors—social, historical, economic, and political, as well as technological—complicit in advertising from a standpoint focused on black women. In this chapter, I analyze images of African-American women in advertising. I begin by mapping out the conceptual terrain of black women’s representation in advertising with a focus on the relevant historical and industrial factors involved in its dominant images. In the second section, I foreground the new media environment and analyze the implications through a discussion of a contemporary advertising icon, the international popular music superstar Beyoncé. I conclude with a summary of my arguments. UNRULY BODIES: THE DISCURSIVE CONTOURS OF BLACK WOMEN’S BRAND REPRESENTATION In constructing an analysis of the contours of black women’s representation in advertising, it is important to combine a critical approach centered on gender, race, and sexuality with the historical, political, and economic forces that have made these categories salient. Many black feminist scholars have

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focused on the ways in which the body has constituted an important site through which social constructions of difference are mapped onto human beings, and they have offered critiques of the various media texts through which they are advanced. As Young (1999, 68) contends, “Black women have been historically imagined and represented through their bodies, which bear their markers of deviance from white norms of femininity and attractiveness.” Moreover, these representations of difference have, historically, served specific ends, as mass-mediated images of black women have historically operated as a form of social control, beginning in the postslavery era and continuing today (hooks, 1992). Significantly, the representation of black female bodies as antithetical to dominant norms highlights assumptions of black female bodies as not merely deviant but inherently unruly. Rowe (1995) has defined the unruly woman as noisy, funny, rebellious, and often voluptuous, all in ways that disrupt social hierarchies. She is, essentially, a model of female outrageousness and carnivalesque transgression whose presence evokes a multitude of responses: disgust, revulsion, fear, delight. With respect to black women, the corporeal features that signify racial difference may be situated as unruly in the sense that they defy dominant ideals of beauty and femininity, and in the case of advertising, do so in a way that is public and provocative. Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, is the most notable personification of this conception. With her large buttocks and imagined “disproportionate genitalia,” Baartman was put on display in early nineteenth-century Europe as part of a “human menagerie” designed to appeal to consumers’ fascination with unusual bodily features. Her commercial presentation as a “sexual oddity” provides a productive framework for examining advertising’s exploitation of presumed difference as a means of selling products. Baartman’s ghost looms in black women’s representation in advertising, whether the images are measured in terms of similarities to or distance from her visage, depicted as subservient mammies or objectified Jezebels, featured in advertising targeted to “mainstream” or African-American consumers, or received as retrograde or transgressive. Keeping this framework in mind, I sketch out a genealogy of the dominant images in the history of black women’s representation in advertising, along with an analysis of the conditions from which they emerged. I divide this history into two categories that I refer to as the eras of nostalgia and transformation. The first, nostalgia, encompasses the years 1893 to 1940, from the year “Aunt Jemima” made her debut up to the World War II era, the prime period during which the brand enjoyed its greatest popularity. The second era, transformation, beginning in 1940, saw the emergence of a strong AfricanAmerican consumer market that not coincidentally developed in tandem with the push for civil rights and continued throughout the rest of the twentieth


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century. Each era may be characterized as situating black female bodies as “unruly” and using this unruliness as the basis for selling consumer products. Furthermore, each era is distinct in terms of the details of this characterization, as well as the uses that various social actors—including African Americans—have made of it. Both eras together provide the historical and discursive foundations for the contemporary era. The Nostalgia Era, 1893–1940 I locate the historical beginning of my analysis in 1893, the year Nancy Green made her debut as Aunt Jemima at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. By the time she first appeared as a commercial icon, her progenitor, the mammy figure, had long labored as a popular symbol of the plantation-era Old South. Her primary appeal as a branded icon thus rested on the evocation of a romantic antebellum nostalgia that had long been in production, even before the commencement of the Civil War. These sentimental narratives gained greater currency during the period of North-South reconciliation following the demise of Reconstruction and proved useful in positioning consumerism as a means of relieving anxieties tied to increasing industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. As Manring (1998) has argued, such plantation fantasies held a “mythological power” that proved valuable in advertising to white consumers. The faithful slave motif was central to these mythologies, and no other plantation archetype loomed as significantly in the national imagery as that of the mammy. Although black women had served as nursemaids to white children for some time, McElya (2007) traces Mammy’s production as a literary figure to the 1830s amid growing abolitionist sentiment, as proslavery white southerners sought to reassure northerners that slavery was a benevolent, even noble institution. Mammy performed a significant amount of this cultural work, serving as a figure on which assertions that the enslaved were content with their condition could be projected. She also performed important political work: The necessity of spreading these “faithful slave” myths became even more apparent with the production of first-hand slave narratives detailing the brutality, sexual violence, and emotional trauma of familial separation endemic to slavery. According to McElya (2007, 7), the construction of these counternarratives, in which a loving mammy was the central figure, “became a cornerstone of paternalist defenses of slavery and a rationale for elite southern patterns of domesticity.” One of the most ironic events in Mammy’s ascendance as a national icon occurred with the 1852 publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as the antislavery novel’s popularity brought its faithful slave characters to even larger audiences. During the post-Reconstruction era, Mammy became a central figure

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in the white southern project of revising the memory of the Civil War, as well as its causes and consequences. The Lost Cause vision of the war that emerged from these efforts painted a picture of antebellum life in which the grandeur and idyllic racial and gender relations of the Old South replaced the brutal realities of the labor exploitation that enabled them (McElya 2007). Mammy’s role as the embodiment of white northern and southern reconciliation made her a popular figure in minstrel shows, and it was after attending one such production in 1889 that newspaper editor Chris Rutt, along with his business partner Charles Underwood, came up with the recipe and trademark for Aunt Jemima pancakes. The two had purchased an abandoned mill to manufacture what they hoped would be a flour product that could be easily made. In 1890, R. T. Davis, of the R. T. Davis Mill and Manufacturing Company, bought out Rutt’s and Underwood’s interests in their fledgling company, and with the assistance of Purd Wright, his advertising manager, devised a promotional strategy in which he mixed “the mammy and the mass market”—and Aunt Jemima was born. After conducting a search for a “living trademark,” Davis and Wright found her in a Chicago woman named Nancy Green. The company commissioned a song, “Aunt Jemima’s Lullaby,” to be played at the fair and during promotional tours, and distributed souvenir buttons to deliver the signature catchphrase, “I’se in town, Honey.” Moreover, Green was directed to sing and tell plantation stories while greeting guests and cooking pancakes (Manring 1998). These images relied on a plantation mythos as a means of suggesting the authenticity of the product, with the assumption that consumers would take “Aunt Jemima’s” word that it was good. The image of Aunt Jemima herself was one of comfort—suggesting to (white) consumers that they could “appropriate the leisure, beauty, and racial and class status of the plantation South by purchasing a box of pancake flour” (Manring 1998, 111). A significant aspect of Jemima’s brand appeal involved her life story as a former slave, parts of which came from Green’s own recollections of having been born into slavery and part invented by Wright. The major theme of this story, which involved Jemima rescuing her owner (or, in alternative versions, another man) from Union soldiers, became integrated into advertisements throughout the first half of the twentieth century, with a string of women portraying her in countrywide promotional tours after Green’s death in 1923 (Manring 1998; Kern-Foxworth 1994). However, it was the combination of two phenomena characteristic of the post-World War I era that produced the necessary market conditions for Aunt Jemima’s popularity as a commercial icon: the preoccupation with modernity and the rise of professional advertising. The advent and mass distribution of labor-saving devices within the home had assisted in the decline in the numbers of servants working in all but the most affluent homes, and the newly professionalized advertising industry was well positioned to take advantage


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of this development. In response to these changes, James Webb Young of the J. Walter Thompson agency created an advertising strategy in which the Old South came to be associated with white leisure and promised consumers that they could attain the lifestyle of a plantation mistress by purchasing the creation of a former slave. Manring suggests that this strategy was contingent on racial, gender, and class nostalgia represented by Old South images that brought “white men and white women together through the labors of a black woman” (Manring 1998, 141). We can situate this racial, gender, and class nostalgia in terms of the ways in which it responds to assumptions of black women’s bodies as unruly and how this unruliness contributed to Aunt Jemima’s commercial appeal. Both Aunt Jemima and her ideological ancestor, the mammy, were positioned as nurturers, with other aspects of their womanhood assumed to be nonexistent. Always seen strictly in terms of their relationship to whites, whether the care was focused on children or pancake consumers, Mammy-Jemima never could have been seen as meeting the prevailing standards constitutive of a “lady.” As was the case with Sarah Baartman, Aunt Jemima’s physical characteristics, which emphasized her corporeal difference from white women, were a significant aspect of her image as a nurturer, and therefore crucial to her success as a brand icon. Her old age, dark skin, full lips, and wide girth were crucial to her construction as the antithesis of ideal womanhood, with a “sturdy” body that rendered her suitable for the hard work associated with unending domestic labor rather than the more delicate countenance associated with feminine leisure. The fact that she wore a bandana or kerchief (which became and remains a visual marker of black female subservience) on her head contributed to her unruliness, as hair—in terms of color, texture, and length—is discursively connected to beauty and femininity. Jemima’s kerchief and her unseen presumably unkempt hair represent the beginning of a set of cultural and political discourses surrounding black women’s hair that would later become even more prominent. Jemima’s unruliness was merely the commercial iteration of Mammy’s unruliness, which illustrates the ideological underpinnings of her appearance. As abolitionists began to circulate stories of planters’ sexual exploitation of their female slaves, proponents of slavery responded with narratives with more elaborate descriptions of Mammy’s physical features, which emphasized her advanced age and corpulent frame. As McElya (2007, 8) has argued, “Mammy was endearing in her very gruff demeanor and unrefined features, but she was the antithesis of desirable white femininity, an answer to charges of rampant, violent sexuality and fathering of black women’s children that were promoted by abolitionists and the accounts of runaway slaves.” The production of dominant images of black women from the era, in which their corporeal difference from white norms of beauty was established and reified,

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were thus crucial not only to the antebellum discourses in support of slavery but also to the perpetuation of the Lost Cause mythology critical to Jemima’s nurturing, asexual appeal. Moreover, Aunt Jemima’s image was particularly meaningful in an era in which social Darwinism prevailed as an underlying ideology of white supremacy. This set of discourses situated bodily features—hair texture, skin color, and body shape—as markers not just of refinement, but of human evolutionary development itself, with these characteristics being the primary signifiers of racial difference and essential racial hierarchies. At the same time, public discourse positioned women as the assumed keepers of morality and implicitly—or explicitly—equated womanly virtue with physical features. In fact, before Green became Aunt Jemima’s most famous face, earlier depictions of Aunt Jemima had exaggerated her features even more, lending a carnivalesque quality to her appearance that emphasized her corporeal distance from the idealized white southern belle. Aunt Jemima pancake mix and other products were aimed at a market composed primarily of white consumers who, it was assumed, would be offended by more positive presentations of African Americans and would not buy products associated with images suggestive of racial equality. At the same time, to the extent that white-owned businesses did market products to African Americans in general and black female consumers in particular, they often operated from these same beliefs, selling skin lighteners and hair straighteners as means to help them achieve “whiteness” (Weems 1998). Many of these ads, which juxtaposed “before” and “after” photographs of the models, even implied that the use of such products was necessary for shedding any physical vestiges of slavery, which, it was suggested, was necessary for the achievement of modernity and ultimately the advancement of the race (Lindsey 2011; Rooks 1996). These concerns reflected the respectability politics of the era, which suggested that African-American social and political equality—indeed, full citizenship—was contingent on the adoption and display of dominant values.1 Generally, however, advertisers realized the need to market directly to blacks to sell them products but nonetheless operated from the assumption—true in some respects—that blacks lacked not only the economic power to constitute a significant consumer group but also the social, political, and cultural influence necessary to transform their images in media (Chambers 2008; Weems 1998). Nevertheless, an awareness of the racial agendas underlying the portrayal of such controlling images of black women—at the height of Jim Crow— informed African-American criticism of Aunt Jemima, as cultural critics pointed to the implications such depictions held for black aspirations for social equality. This was the argument of journalist Cyril V. Briggs, editor


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and publisher of The Crusader, while urging a boycott of the pancake flour in one of his columns in September of 1918: You have noticed them, advertisements that insult and caricature the Race. Aunt somebody or other with her midnight black, wrinkled face, thick red lips, and totally ugly and repulsive expression? And other advertisements that use the Race to represent ugliness, depravity, and subservience. You have seen them in the subway and ‘L’ and have burned red hot with impotent rage, no doubt. They are part of the white man’s propaganda to demean, ridicule, and insult the Race. They are malicious targets aimed at what he considers a powerless people. (Manring 1998, 153)

In 1925, the Quaker Oats Company bought the Aunt Jemima logo and eventually trademarked it; to this day, Aunt Jemima remains one of the longest continually running and most recognizable brand logos, although in 1989 her headscarf was removed. She was certainly not the sole advertising image of black women of the period, but she remains the most prominent. In describing Jemima’s iconicity, Wallace-Sanders (2008, 59) has written, “Her presence is made so pervasive by commercial media that she seems to block out other representations of African-American womanhood.” The Era of Transformation, 1940–2000 In locating the era of transformation during the World War II years, I do not suggest any lack of resistance to Aunt Jemima and other brand icons during the previous period. In fact, as Briggs’s editorializing against Aunt Jemima demonstrates, African Americans had long engaged in various forms of protest against the stereotypical images of themselves used in advertising. Moreover, major white-led firms had begun to recognize the significance of the black consumer market as early as the 1930s (Manring 1998). However, it was during this postwar era that African Americans began more actively to reject their status as second-class citizens, as well as the media-fed assumptions of otherness underlying their political, social, and economic subjugation. This included using the various means at their disposal to contest their representation in advertising, including boycotts and selective purchasing campaigns (Chambers 2008). These efforts were assisted by a cultural shift; the faithful slave motif was becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile with burgeoning black demands for civil rights. Thus, although Aunt Jemima remained popular as a logo during this transformational era (as she is today), her cultural power as a comforting symbol of normative black female unruliness was declining as a wider array of images became available in both dominant and black-oriented advertising media. It is in her decline as a symbol of

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


normative black womanhood that we may see the difference between the two eras: The transformation era is characterized by discourses of beauty, and specifically poses questions about whose aesthetic standards should govern the selection of and response to advertising images of black women. Two interrelated developments occurred during this era that precipitated this transformation. The first concerned the significant migratory wave of African Americans from the South to the North. Although the first “Great Migration” of black southerners from rural areas to northern urban centers in the years immediately after World War I had led businesses to begin taking the idea of a “Negro market” more seriously, it wasn’t until the 1940s that a significant number of American corporations began to appreciate the profits to be mined from black consumers (Weems 1998). At this time, federal legislation outlawing racial discrimination in governmental employment prompted a second wave of migration from the South to the North and from rural areas to urban centers throughout the country, affording African-American men and women opportunities to leave behind low-wage agricultural work in search of better-paying governmental and industrial jobs. These developments led to greater African-American employment and better-paying positions in both skilled and unskilled labor, as well as in the professions. The resultant increase in black economic power led the business community to the recognition of a substantial untapped consumer market. Black consumers, in turn, realized their growing economic clout and used it to intensify demands for greater dignity with respect to advertising images (Weems 1998). This growing influence led to another development: the emergence of black pioneers in the advertising industry. Building on the earlier work of a small coterie of black and white marketing and publishing entrepreneurs who had long realized the value of the black consumer market, an increasing number of advertising professionals were able to continue and intensify this work. Newly produced market research statistics on increasing black economic power and consumption habits eventually resulted in a shift in the focus of the black consumer advocates’ agenda. In his history of African Americans in the advertising industry, Chambers (2008, 3) has noted that these advocates of the black consumer market “gradually shifted away from emphasizing the presence of black consumers to white business leaders to stressing the pressure those consumers could create on a company when they acted as a cohesive force.” A significant aspect of this work involved contesting the images of blacks used in advertising, as these advocates worked to convince businesses of the economic advantages of presenting more positive images of African Americans, including women. For example, David J. Sullivan, a prominent black pioneer in market research, published an essay, “Don’t Do This—If You Want to Sell Your Products to Negroes” in the March 1,


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1943, issue of Sales Management, in which he advised advertisers on their representation of black women: Don’t picture colored women as buxom, broad-faced, grinning mammies and Aunt Jemimas. Negroes have no monopoly on size. Neither are they all laundresses, cooks, and domestic servants. By no means color them black. Use brown-skinned girls for illustrations; then you satisfy all. Don’t refer to Negro women as “Negresses.” (Weems 1998, 33)

With respect to this discursive environment, advertising portrayals of black women during the era may be characterized by two trends. The first, which I call citizenship, occurred during its earlier, precivil rights years and beyond. Consumption has traditionally been linked to citizenship, and an important aspect of belonging to the national community involves the presentation of advertising images suggestive of inclusion rather than denigration and marginalization (McGovern 2006). In many cases, this involved an assimilationist approach to representation, in which advertisements featured black women whose appearance was similar to that of white women. Thus Aunt Jemima’s unruliness was countered through the circulation of images of black women whose corporeality corresponded to a broader discourse of respectability tied to white aesthetic norms. Although these images offered resistance to the status quo, they did so within the limits imposed by a social order steeped in white supremacy (Dyer 1997; Rooks 1996). The second trend, differentiation, occurred during the latter years of the transformation era, beginning with the black consciousness movement and its “black is beautiful” campaign in the 1960s. The advertising images that corresponded to this trend emphasized corporeal difference from white mainstream standards of beauty, adopting an advertising aesthetic centered on an embrace of unruliness. It is notable that these two trends often overlapped, as there are many ads featuring darkerskinned black women with “natural” hairstyles and “ethnic” facial features during the early years of the era, during the 1940s and 1950s, and there are many lighter-skinned, more ethnically ambiguous women featured in ads during its later years, near the end of the twentieth century. Both trends suggest a scholarly intervention emphasizing the politics of beauty, particularly those politics implicated in skin color, facial features, body shape, and hair texture, as well as the ways in which “mainstream” feminist analyses have come up short in addressing the often divergent standpoint of black women. In addition to its significance within gendered discourses, beauty is an indelible aspect of racial categorization. Africans’ and African Americans’ perceived ugliness has historically been assumed to be central to their differentiation from other humans, as well as the proclaimed basis for their subordination. As Camp (2015, 690) has argued, “Whether in the

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


service of racism or antiracism, beauty was and is a constitutive element in the meaning of race in the United States.” Advertising is representative of the commercialization of feminine beauty standards, typically linking consumer desires to particular bodily features. In this way, advertising images, perhaps more powerfully than other media texts, “teach” us not only which physical characteristics are associated with purity, virtue, success, wealth, and other desirable qualities, but also—by either omission or misrepresentation— which physical features are not. Advertising thus performs the cultural work of naturalizing a set of socially constructed aesthetic values. In more general terms, the imposition of beauty ideals has been seen as objectifying women and reinforcing patriarchal domination, and much feminist scholarship has detailed the various ways in which these controlling images have contributed to women’s subjugation in society (Bartky 1990; Callaghan 1994; Chapkis 1986; Dworkin 1974; Lakoff and Scherr 1984; Wolf 1991). Yet historically, beauty and femininity have been deeply racialized, with depictions of Aunt Jemima assisting in the construction of idealized white womanhood through the circulation in the public sphere of her polar opposite, the ugly, unruly black woman. As Collins ([1990] 2000, 89) has written, “Race, gender, and sexuality converge on this issue of evaluating beauty. . . . Judging white women by their physical appearance and attractiveness to men objectifies them. But their white skin and straight hair privilege them in a system that elevates whiteness over blackness.” Citizenship Given this context, the production of advertising images of black women deemed attractive by dominant standards may, on the one hand, be situated as acts of resistance. In this sense, it was not only important to feature black women in ads, but to present them in ways that their beauty and femininity—and, by definition, the affirmative qualities associated with them—were assumed. As Craig (2002, 5) suggested in her study of black beauty pageants, “In response to the exclusion of black women from dominant representations of beauty, African American women’s beauty became part of the symbolic repertoire with which champions of the race sought to assert pride.” On the other hand, such images may also be situated as a reification of white standards of beauty, as well as a capitulation to market demands for the commoditization of particular corporeal features. Although these depictions of black women represent a departure from the narrow image represented by Aunt Jemima, and thus may be seen as a positive change, Byerly and Ross (2006, 32) caution us that the increase in diversity of images remains “severely compromised by their mediated construction within the boundaries of existing patriarchal relations.” The presentation of light-skinned, straight-haired


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black women in advertising, in other words, far from challenging constructions of the feminine ideal as white and thin, tends to reinforce such assumptions. Nevertheless, when situated within the social and political constraints imposed on African Americans during the early to mid-twentieth century, the pragmatic value of an integrationist frame is noteworthy. Unable to effectively challenge hegemonic ideals of femininity, black journalists, entrepreneurs, multicultural marketers, activists, and cultural critics had to navigate a cultural terrain that linked skin color and hair texture—particularly that of women—with purchasing power. Lighter skin and straighter hair were seen as markers of feminine beauty, as well as signifiers of middleclass status (Leeds 1994). Much has been written on the internal hierarchies of skin tone and their associated politics among African Americans (Hunter 2002, 2005; Norwood 2013; Russell, Wilson, and Hall 2013). Advertising images present fertile terrain on which these politics are tied to gender and consumption. The results were advertising images in both mainstream and black-oriented publications featuring black women who were often described as “exotic,” and implicitly linked these features with decency and middleclass respectability. The production of African American–oriented publications during this period, such as Johnson Publishing Company’s Negro Digest (1942, later renamed Black World), Ebony (1945), and Jet (1951), as well as Negro Achievements (1947, later renamed Sepia), offered an increased number of black women featured in advertisements and specifically pursued an agenda of presenting counterimages to the stereotypical representations (Hall 1992). In accordance with the goal to “mobilize and maximize class desire,” these publications sought to produce a black consumer whose socially mobile aspirations could be realized through purchasing the magazines and, more importantly, the products advertised therein (Meyer 2012). A majority of the ads featured in these magazines conformed to citizenship discourses in privileging thin, lighter-skinned, straight-haired beauty ideals that linked these features to class mobility and eschewed the transgressive possibilities of embracing notions of black female unruliness as a corporeal mode of resistance to the social order. Differentiation The second trend that marked the era of transformation—differentiation— developed during the civil rights and black power years. The subject of beauty became even more important to black public discourse during this period, as the movement for political and economic rights was accompanied by a new consciousness with respect to cultural expression (Camp 2015). This movement explicitly rejected assumptions equating blackness with ugliness and offered a marked contrast to the citizenship trend in that it seemed

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


to concede the assumptions of racial difference implicit in the notion of an “authentic” blackness. However, the movement also represented an evolution in that it embraced this notion of difference, particularly those corporeal signifiers evocative of a noble African ancestry that predated enslavement. This trend thus represents an important shift in black women’s representation in advertising because it reflects the emergence of a new aesthetic paradigm in which what once was understood as unruliness—natural, unstraightened hair; dark skin; ethnic facial features—was linked to the cultivation of consumer desires. It was during this era, in which “black is beautiful” became a political statement, that the discourses associated with women’s hair became paramount within a broader politics of beauty. Hair, unlike skin color and other racial signifiers, can be relatively easily changed to conform to dominant standards; therefore, the refusal to do so revalorizes it as a marker of difference (Mercer 1994; Thompson 2009). The result of this was the proliferation of advertisements, primarily in black-oriented media, featuring darker-skinned women with afros, braids, and other natural hairstyles deemed “authentically” black. Indeed, a content analysis of the advertisements in Ebony magazine demonstrates a decline in the number of ads promoting skin lightening creams and hair straighteners, with the most significant drop occurring from 1968 to 1972; ads promoting natural afro hairstyles composed the dominant images in the magazine by 1972 (Weems 2000). Both trends resulted in a broader range of black women’s images in print advertisements and, coupled with the proliferation of black and other minority models in mainstream print media beginning in the 1980s, constitute the historical conditions for representation in the contemporary era. Although this certainly represents an evolution in representation, as sociologist Anthony J. Cortese (2016) has argued, many controlling images remain. The nature and content of these images reflect another shift, from depictions of women in traditional roles as housewives and mothers to overt and ubiquitous objectification, which occurred during the latter years of the differentiation era and began to characterize the dominant representation of all women during the 1970s and beyond. In the next section, I detail this era in terms of black women’s representation in advertising in the present. TECHNOLOGY, CONSUMER AGENCY, AND BLACK WOMEN’S IMAGES IN THE CONTEMPORARY ERA I refer to the contemporary era as the era of agency and suggest its beginning as the year 2000, when social media usage reached one hundred million users.2 This period is distinguished by three interrelated developments in the 1990s and early years of the twenty-first century that would produce


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the conditions for its emergence. The first involves the social mobility and enhanced economic influence African Americans acquired as a result of the gains of the civil rights movement, which contributed to a dramatic increase in their consumer power. These gains have rendered blacks an even more powerful consumer market compared with the two previous eras. The second concerns the rise of the black culture industry, which positioned black popular culture as a commodity to be heavily mined for its marketability. The now-global commodification of black culture, as Collins (2004, 122) has argued, has constructed mass-mediated images of African-American women (and men) as “increasingly important sites of struggle” over representation. The third involves the widespread use and influence of social media, which enhanced the domestic and global influence both of black popular culture itself and of the consumers to whom it is marketed. The technology-enabled shift in influence over representation from producers to consumers relocates agency over the nature of advertising images. All three developments have combined to reassign some degree of agency to African-American cultural producers and consumers and to construct advertising images as a location for reconceptualizing contemporary black womanhood. In this section, I examine the ways in which these developments have come together in the figure of singer Beyoncé Knowles, who is not only one of the most powerful popular cultural icons, but also a highly visible and influential marketing brand (Celeste 2015). I suggest that her iconicity demonstrates the cultural power implicated in the turn toward a modern form of black female unruliness in advertising images: hypersexuality. The rise in black consumer influence, initiated during the citizenship era, increased exponentially during the post–civil rights era as its social, economic, and political gains began to take shape, and has grown at an even faster pace during the early years of the new millennium. According to the Nielsen Report and other consumer-measurement sources (Baker 2013; Burrell 2012; Nielsen Report 2015), the black consumer market is more affluent, educated, and diverse than it has ever been, and at approximately forty-three million in number with an estimated buying power of $1.1 trillion, constitutes a lucrative buying market. The Nielsen and Burrell reports further suggest that blacks, as “voracious media consumers” and “powerful cultural influencers,” engage in consumption behaviors reflective of a distinct cultural lens in comparison to the total market: In addition to skewing younger than the general population, black consumers make more shopping trips, spend more money on beauty products, and define themselves by their style and image (Burrell 2012). These statistics suggest that African-American consumers have even greater economic power to shape both their own representation within a general media landscape largely dependent on advertising revenues, and the form and content of the ways in which their images are used in advertising. It is

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


also notable that the Nielsen Report (2015) attributes much of this influence to the digital acumen of African Americans. At the same time, the commodification of black culture has spread the influence of African-American artistic expressions and the artists who produce them to general populations, both domestically and globally. Although recent years have seen a proliferation of popular cultural productions centered on the multitude of experiences, perspectives, narratives, and entanglements that constitute contemporary blackness, by far the most influential genre is music. Beginning with the founding of Motown in 1959, black popular music has been institutionalized as “a viable and profitable fixture” in America (Neal 1997, 117). The 1990s explosion in popularity of rap music, along with the hip-hop culture of which it is an integral part, helped accelerate the global popularity of black cultural products during the decade and beyond. Thus, the global influence of black musical artists has been, during the early decades of the twenty-first century, a significant element of modern advanced capitalism. Marketers have positioned themselves to exploit this influence (Nielsen Report 2015). Nevertheless, the commercial appeal of commodified blackness, as always, is contained within the parameters maintained by the global capitalistic structures composing the culture industry. As Neal (1997, 20) has suggested, blackness has become “largely mediated and thus determined by the mechanisms of mass consumer culture.” Moreover, even though the commodification of blackness has worked to position black celebrities as highly valuable players in a global celebrity-industrial complex, this power is not without its tensions. Drawing on hooks, Stovall (2005) describes contemporary black performance as the interplay between the display of blackness as a consumer product for larger nonblack audiences and a set of liberatory practices complicit in the construction and articulation of identity. Overall, because they embody qualities that are both aspirational and relatable, celebrities are valuable to marketers as endorsers of consumer products, particularly for building consumer trust and brand loyalty. African-American celebrities, such as Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and Beyoncé are among the most influential marketable personalities and trendsetters, according to the Nielsen Report (2015). The tremendous growth and influence of social media also has had a significant influence on black women’s representation in advertising. Although social media have given all consumers greater power in shaping dominant images, social media have been particularly instrumental in enabling African Americans a greater voice over their own representation. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 concluded that, in spite of the persistence of a digital divide affecting older African Americans, younger college-educated blacks with higher incomes adopt broadband services at home at similar rates to whites (Smith 2014). The proliferation of smartphones has further


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expanded access, enabling a relatively inexpensive means to go online. Most notably, the Pew study found that 73 percent of African-American Internet users, and 96 percent of those ages 18 to 29, use a social networking site of some kind. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, in particular, are popular sites among African Americans (Brock 2012; Pew 2014). Marketers recognize the opportunities social media afford to advertise to African Americans of all ages. In a report prepared jointly by the Nielsen Report and the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2013, the research group reported: Known as early adopters of new technologies and communication tools, young African Americans go beyond merely providing a strong base for brands—they are also key influencers. Other demographics have identified blacks as a driving force for popular culture, with 73% of whites and 67% of Hispanics who believe Blacks influence mainstream American culture. (Nielsen Report and National Newspapers Association 2013)

Twitter has been particularly useful for marketers targeting African-American consumers, as the sheer volume of users, combined with the tendency of blacks to be uniquely socially active, has enabled black culture to become prominent on the site (Manjoo 2010). “Black” Twitter is a term used to describe “a large network of African American users and their loosely coordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics” (Ramsey 2015). Black Twitter has been a particularly rich data source for marketers. Advertising agencies have been paying close attention to the memes and hashtags created by the culture in fashioning their ad campaigns. In fact, Nielsen and other marketing companies monitor the viewing and buying habits of black Twitter, a development that led Callahan (2014) to refer to the site as “Money Twitter.” At the same time, multicultural agencies have cautioned the broader marketing community about the importance that black consumers attach to seeing themselves portrayed accurately (Williams 2015). The social media revolution has thus enabled black consumers to exercise more control in determining which advertising images become prominent by combining their purchasing power with technological savvy. The sense of agency constructed through these developments is embodied in one of the most significant advertising icons of the contemporary era, pop star Beyoncé. Although her iconicity exists within a cultural context featuring a proliferation of black female advertising images in both ethnic and mainstream advertising, Beyoncé is, by far, the most influential in terms of commercial appeal. In 2014, Forbes magazine named her its “Most Powerful Celebrity” (Pomerantz 2014). More recently, a social media analytics firm rated her the most valuable celebrity on social media (Lang 2017). In 2012,

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


the singer inked a $50 million, multiyear, multipronged deal with Pepsi that included a fund to support her “chosen creative projects,” in addition to standard advertising formats, such as print and television commercials (Casserly 2012). The partnership included the placement of her image on a limited-edition line of soda cans. Besides Pepsi, Beyoncé has appeared in ads for, among other brands, H&M clothing, and most notably, the cosmetics company L’Oréal. Named one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2014, she has positioned herself as among the most marketable female icons in recent memory (Sandberg 2014). A significant aspect of Beyoncé’s appeal as an advertising icon springs from her following on social media. In locating market influence away from more traditional channels, social media have initiated a gradual shift away from conventional advertising images featuring professional models toward celebrity icons. Thus the traditional role of these images in connecting consumer desires with products has been advanced through the associations these same consumers assign to celebrities. Indeed, marketing research suggests that the value of celebrity endorsements lies in pop stars’ role in building online traffic, securing access to new market segments, generating advertising revenue, and constructing an “interconnected set of meanings” associated with products that can be passed on to consumers (Hackley and Hackley 2015, 462; see also Banister and Crocker 2014; McCracken 1989). This influence is magnified with respect to those celebrities who have attained iconic status, for, as Fleetwood (2015, 56) observes, the connection between a celebrity icon and consumers “largely takes place through the realms of desire, fantasy, and aspiration.” With her remarkably strong following on Facebook and Instagram, Beyoncé represents a valuable marketing resource whose appeal rests significantly on the “bottom-up” influence of her social media followers. As such, her appeal is rooted in a black female corporeality that combines an adherence to more traditional beauty standards with unruliness. This “hybrid corporeality” represents the possibilities as well as the limits of agency in the contemporary era: The ability to define their own images and profit from them constitutes a significant development in the representation of black women in advertising, but the location of this capacity in commodity culture emphasizes the constraints to which any act of black women’s self-determination is subject. Beyoncé’s influence, as well as that of her social media publics, is exercised within a set of parameters imposed on black female bodies by the dominant culture. Her light skin, straightened flowing often “blondish” hair, and not “strongly ethnic” facial features are key to her appeal, as has traditionally been the case with black female celebrities. In fact, she has been accused in the entertainment press of having allowed her skin to be lightened even further when she appears in ads, most


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notably when she appeared in the L’Oréal Féria hair color campaign (Sweney 2008). Therefore, on the one hand, Beyoncé’s iconicity has served to further advance assumptions equating consumer aspirations with Eurocentric beauty standards. The singer herself contributes to these assumptions by emphasizing her Creole ancestry in interviews. These actions evoke the discourse of “exoticness” that characterized the prevailing definition of black beauty during the citizenship era and enact a corporeal script in which visible African ancestry continues to be read as antithetical to social and economic mobility and aspiration. At the same time, Beyoncé’s corporeality is also evocative of Sarah Baartman, albeit in a manner that is subsumed within dominant beauty standards. Much of the public discourse about Beyoncé is centered on her “thickness,” as well as the fullness of her buttocks, which in popular parlance—and the title of one of her songs—have been positioned as “bootylicious.” These features serve to construct her as the embodiment of black female unruliness. However, in an era in which objectified images of all women proliferate in the media, sexualization is not a homogenous process (Collins 2004; Gill 2009). It is, rather, as Gill (2009, 138) suggests, a “process in which different people are sexualized in different ways and with different meanings.” Thus, intersectional analysis underscores racialized gender and gendered racialization to the extent that race and gender, along with class, cannot be understood separately. Indeed, contemporary advertising images have demonstrated a degree of heterogeneity in objectification, depicting black women in particular in ways suggestive of a “predatory” and “animal-like” sexuality (Plous and Neptune 1997, 638). In contrast to Aunt Jemima’s asexual appeal evocative of nostalgia for Mammy, Beyoncé’s unruliness is hypersexualized and suggestive of Jezebel, another controlling image of black women. Like Mammy, Jezebel emerged from the desire to mask the violent and oppressive nature of plantation sexual relations. Unlike Mammy, however, she was used to rationalize the sexual atrocities of slaveholders, their male relatives, and overseers by presenting an image of black womanhood as immoral and promiscuous (West 2008). As her most recognizable contemporary incarnation, Beyoncé projects an unruliness in which sexualized bodily characteristics are even further objectified. The sexualized focus on her behind is based in part on what Wallace-Sanders and Cooper (2008, 76) refer to as corporeal fragmentation, in which black women’s representation in popular media is reduced and linked to specific commoditized body parts, which “deters acknowledging and accepting black women’s sexual agency and by extension their existence as whole human beings.” It is thus that Beyoncé’s appeal as an advertising icon is contingent on a set of corporeal logics representing a mixture of unruliness and conformity.

From Aunt Jemima to Beyoncé


However, it is possible to see the representation of hypersexuality among women of color in terms of what Shimizu (2007) calls “productive perversity,” in which both models and consumers lay claim to their own desires as producers and spectators. Similarly, as West (2008) has cautioned us, while it may be difficult to distinguish between representations of black women who are sexually liberated and those who are sex objects, we may position such images as means of reclaiming and reasserting sexual subjectivity. “Some artists,” she writes, “have created alternative beauty standards and a self-possessed sexuality to counter negative images” (West 2008, 295). This conceptual framework enables us to imagine the ways in which Beyoncé exercises a significant degree of control over her image. After all, it is she who defines the terms of her own iconicity as a result of her social media savvy, popularity, and economic power, and it is she who derives a significant amount of the benefits from that representation, although she does so within a cultural environment that evaluates all celebrity women in terms of their sexual desirability. Combined with the narrow constraints black women have historically had to endure in terms of their representation in advertising, it also enables us to see how the capacity to engage in sexualized performances seen as profitable, rather than debased and dangerous, may also be read as a form of agency. As an iconic image of black womanhood in the contemporary era, Beyoncé thus represents the complexities of this new agency. In a cultural environment in which sex is routinely exploited to sell products, she is able to express black female beauty and sexuality in a way that is viewed as appealing rather than threatening. However, at the same time, these expressions are policed in terms of the degree to which they may deviate from Eurocentric norms of femininity. The constraints placed on black female unruliness thus limit the agency of the producers of the images, as well as that of the technology-adept consumers who influence them. Nevertheless, if we situate these images within a broader historical context that begins with Aunt Jemima, we can see the influence of an agentic power that is circumscribed by a mixture of cultural, social, and economic factors. CONCLUSION Advertising constitutes a visual language, a way of expressing societal ideals through the representation of images designed to stimulate desire and encourage consumption. With respect to black women’s representation, a particular corporeal logic governs the images that have performed this work. The concept of unruliness presents a particularly compelling framework for analysis, as assumptions about black women’s deviation from conventional


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norms of beauty and femininity have historically been at the center of their representation in advertising. This unruliness may be seen in Aunt Jemima, whose rotund, nurturing asexuality made her a figure in whom loyal consumers could place their trust, as well as in the Quaker Oats brand. It may also be seen in the nameless black models whose images, during the citizenship era, represented either a rejection of unruliness in the interest of assimilation or an embracing of it as a means of asserting their pride. Finally, the complexities of unruliness may be seen in the contemporary figure of Beyoncé, whose visage represents a combination of unruliness and conformity, and whose hypersexual performance as a marketable celebrity icon reifies the intricacies implicated in advertising images of black women. The evolution of these images demonstrates the combination of changing economic, political, and sociocultural relationships underlying advertising images of women more generally, and of black women in particular. The democratizing potential of new media technologies has become a significant factor in this equation, enabling consumers to exercise greater control over the representations that become dominant in popular culture. The present analysis represents an early discussion of what consumers do with this agency. As African Americans continue to gain influence—in terms of economics, popular culture, and technological savvy—perhaps even more nuanced discussions of black female unruliness in advertising, and representation more broadly, will become the norm. NOTES 1. Although the basic assumptions and prescriptions underlying respectability politics have existed for more than a century, the term itself—phrased as “the politics of respectability”—is credited to Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her 1993 book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. 2. For a more detailed timeline of the history of social media, please see http:​//his​ toryc​ooper​ative​.org/​the-h​istor​y-of-​socia​l-med​ia/.

REFERENCES Baker, C. Daniel. 2013. “African Americans’ Buying Power Projected to Be $1.1 Trillion by 2015.” Black Enterprise, November 28. Accessed February 16, 2015, from http:​//www​.blac​kente​rpris​e.com​/smal​l-bus​iness​/afri​can-a​meric​an-bu​ying-​ power​-proj​ected​-tril​lions​. Banister, Emma N. and Hayley L. Crocker. 2014. “A Cultural Exploration of Consumers’ Interactions and Relationships with Celebrities.” Journal of Marketing Management 30 (1–2): 2.

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Bartky, Sandra Lee. 1990. Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression. New York: Routledge. Bristor, Julia, Renee Gravois Lee, and Michelle R. Hunt. 1995. “Race and Ideology: African American Images in Television Advertising.” Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 14(1): 48–59. Brock, Andre. 2012. “From the Blackhand Side: Twitter as a Cultural Conversation.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 56 (4): 529–49. Burrell Communications. 2012. “In Plain Sight: The Black Consumer Opportunity.” Advertising Age (supplement). Accessed February 17, 2016, from http:​//bra​ndedc​ onten​t.ada​ge.co​m/pdf​/CABb​lackc​onsum​er.pd​f. Byerly, Carolyn M. and Karen Ross. 2006. Women and Media: A Critical Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Callaghan, Karen A. 1994. “Introduction.” In Ideals of Feminine Beauty: Philosophical, Social, and Cultural Dimensions, ix–xv. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Callahan, Yesha. 2014. “USC’s Black Twitter Study Draws Criticism.” The Root, September 3. Accessed February 16, 2016, from http:​//the​grape​vine.​thero​ot.co​m/ usc​-s-bl​ack-t​witte​r-stu​dy-dr​aws-c​ritic​ism-1​79088​5678.​ Camp, Stephanie. 2015. “Black Is Beautiful: An American History.” The Journal of Southern History 81 (3): 675–90. Casserly, Meghan. 2012. “Beyoncé’s $50 Million Pepsi Deal Takes Creative Cues from Jay Z.” Forbes, December 10. Accessed February 17, 2016, from http:​//www​. forb​es.co​m/sit​es/me​ghanc​asser​ly/20​12/12​/10/b​eyonc​e-kno​wles-​50-mi​llion​-peps​idea​l-tak​es-cr​eativ​e-cue​s-fro​m-jay​-z/#2​ad264​83bf8​b. Celeste, Manoucheka. 2015. “Black Women and U.S. Pop Culture in the Postidentity Era: The Case of Beyoncé Knowles.” In Transatlantic Feminisms: Women and Gender Studies in Africa and the African Diaspora, edited by Cheryl Rodriguez, Dzodzi Tsikata, and Akosua Adomako Ampofo, 137–58. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Chambers, Jason. 2008. Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Chapkis, Wendy. 1986. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press. Collins, Patricia Hill. (1990) 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Power. New York: Routledge. ———. 2004. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Routledge. Cortese, Anthony J. 2016. Provocateur: Images of Minorities and Women in Advertising, Lanham. MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Craig, Maxine Leeds. 2002. Ain’t I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race. New York: Oxford University Press. Dworkin, Andrea. 1974. Woman Hating. New York: E. P. Dutton. Dyer, Richard. 1997. White. London: Routledge. Ferguson, Katie. 2016. “The Influence and Limitations of Black Twitter.” Columbia Journalism Review. Accessed July 12, 2018, from https​://ww​w.cjr​.org/​analy​sis/b​ lack_​twitt​er.ph​p.


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Fleetwood, Nicole R. 2015. On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Gill, Rosalind. 2009. “Beyond the ‘Sexualization of Culture’ Thesis: An Intersectional Analysis of ‘Sixpacks,’ ‘Midriffs,’ and ‘Hot Lesbians’ in Advertising.” Sexualities 12 (2): 138. Hackley, Chris and Rungpaka Amy Hackley. 2015. “Marketing and the Cultural Production of Celebrity in the Era of Media Convergence.” Journal of Marketing Management 31 (5–6): 462. Hall, James C. 1992. “‘On Sale at Your Favorite Newsstand’: Negro Digest/Black World and the 1960s.” Ebony Magazine, November: 50–55. Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1993. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press. ———. 1995. “Performance Practice as a Site of Opposition.” In Let’s Get it On: The Politics of Black Performance, edited by Catherine Ugwu, 210–221. Seattle: Bay Press. Hunter, Margaret L. 2002. “If You’re Light, You’re Alright: Light Skin Color as Social Capital for Women of Color.” Gender and Society 16 (2): 175–93. ———. 2005. Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone. New York: Routledge. Kern-Foxworth, Marilyn. 1994. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Black in Advertising Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Westport: CT: Greenwood Press. Lakoff, Robin and Raquel Scherr. 1984. Face Value: The Politics of Beauty. London, Routledge. Lang, Cady. 2017. “Apparently Beyoncé’s Social Media Posts are Worth More than a Million Bucks.” Time, April 4. Accessed July 12, 2018, from http:​//tim​e.com​/4725​ 106/b​eyonc​e-mos​t-val​uable​-cele​brity​-soci​al-me​dia/.​ Leeds, Maxine. 1994. “Young African American Women and the Language of Beauty.” In Ideals of Feminine Beauty: Philosophical, Social, and Cultural Dimensions, edited by Karen A. Callaghan, 147–60. Westport, CN: Greenwood. Lindsey, Treva. 2011. “Black No More: Skin Bleaching and the Emergence of New Negro Womanhood Beauty Culture.” The Journal of Pan-African Studies 4 (4): 97–116. Mahoney, Sarah. 2016. “Black Millenials: Social Media Influence Goes Mainstream.” Media Post, Marketing Daily. Accessed July 12, 2018, from https​://ww​w.med​iapos​t. com​/publ​icati​ons/a​rticl​e/286​956/b​lack-​mille​nnial​s-soc​ial-m​edia-​influ​ence-​goes-​ mai.h​tml. Manjoo, Farhad. 2010. “How Black People Use Twitter.” Slate, August 10. Accessed February 10, 2016, from http:​//www​.slat​e.com​/arti​cles/​techn​ology​/tech​nolog​y/201​0/ 08/​how_b​lack_​peopl​e_use​_twit​ter.h​tml. Manring, M. M. 1998. Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. McCracken, Grant. 1989. “Who is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process.” Journal of Consumer Research 16 (3): 310–21. McElya, Micki. 2007. Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth Century America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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McGovern, Charles. 2006. Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890–1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Mercer, Kobena. 1994. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge. Meyer, Leisa D. 2012. “‘Strange Love’: Searching for Sexual Subjectivities in Black Print Popular Culture During the 1950s.” Feminist Studies 38 (3): 625–57. Neal, Mark Anthony. 1997. “Sold Out on Soul: The Corporate Annexation of Black Poplar Music.” Popular Music and Society 21 (3): 117–35. Nielsen, Inc. 2015. “Increasingly Affluent, Educated, and Diverse: African American Consumers: The Untold Story” (trade report). New York: The Nielsen Company. Accessed February 12, 2016, from http:​//www​.niel​sen.c​om/us​/en/i​nsigh​ts/re​ports​ /2015​/incr​easin​gly-a​fflue​nt-ed​ucate​d-and​-dive​rse--​afric​an-am​erica​n-con​sumer​s. htm​l. Nielsen, Inc. and The National Newspapers Association. 2013. “Resilient, Receptive, and Relevant: The African American Consumer” (joint trade report). Accessed February 12, 2016, from http:​//www​.niel​sen.c​om/us​/en/i​nsigh​ts/re​ports​/2013​/resi​ lient​--rec​eptiv​e-and​-rele​vant.​html.​ Norwood, Kimberly Jade. 2013. Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America. New York: Routledge. Orth, Maureen. 2004. The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex. New York: Henry Holt and Co. Plous, S. and Dominique Neptune. 1997. “Racial and Gender Biases in Magazine Advertising: A Content-Analytic Study.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21: 627–44. Pollay, Richard W. and Katherine Gallagher. 1990. “Advertising and Cultural Values: Reflections in the Distorted Mirror.” International Journal of Advertising 9 (4): 359–72. Pomerantz, Dorothy. 2014. “Beyoncé Knowles Tops the Forbes Celebrity 100 List.” Forbes, June 30. Accessed July 12, 2018, from https​ ://ww​ w.for​ bes.c​ om/si​ tes/ d​oroth​ypome​rantz​/2014​/06/3​0/bey​once-​knowl​es-to​ps-th​e-for​bes-c​elebr​ity-1​00-li​ st/#5​8df66​507c0​5. Ramsey, Donovan X. 2015. “The Truth about Black Twitter.” Atlantic, April 10. Accessed February 10, 2016, from http:​//www​.thea​tlant​ic.co​m/tec​hnolo​gy/ar​chive​ /2015​/04/t​he-tr​uth-a​bout-​black​-twit​ter/3​90120​/. Rooks, Noliwe. 1996. Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Rowe, Kathleen. 1995. The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin: University of Texas Press. Russell, Kathy, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall. 2013. The Color Complex (Revised): The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium. New York: Anchor. Sandberg, Sheryl. 2014. “Beyoncé.” Time, April 23. Accessed on February 17, 2016, from http:​//tim​e.com​/7071​6/bey​once-​2014-​time-​100/.​ Shimizu, Celine Parrenas. 2007. The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/ American Women on Screen and Scene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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Smith, Aaron. 2014. “African Americans and Technology Use: A Demographic Portrait.” Pew Research Center Report. Accessed July 12, 2018, from http:​//www​ .pewi​ntern​et.or​g/201​4/01/​06/af​rican​-amer​icans​-and-​techn​ology​-use/. Stovall, Tyler. 2005. “Black Community, Black Spectacle: Performance and Race in Transatlantic Perspective.” In Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture, edited by Harry Justin Elam, 221–41. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Sweney, Mark. 2008. “Beyoncé Knowles: L’Oréal Accused of ‘Whitening’ Singer in Cosmetics Ad.” The Guardian, August 8. Accessed February 19, 2016, from http:​// www​.theg​uardi​an.co​m/med​ia/20​08/au​g/08/​adver​tisin​g.usa​. Thompson, Cheryl. 2009. “Black Women, Beauty, and Hair as a Matter of Being.” Women’s Studies 38: 831–56. Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. 2008. Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly and Brittney Cooper. 2008. “NippleMania: Black Feminism, Corporeal Fragmentation, and the Politics of Public Consumption.” In Women in Popular Culture: Representations and Meaning, edited by Marian Meyers, 73–84. Cresskill, NY: Hampton. Weems, Robert E. 2000. “Consumerism and the Construction of Black Female Identity in Twentieth-Century America.” In The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, edited by Jennifer Scanlon, 166–78. New York: New York University Press. ———. 1998. Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press. West, Carolyn M. 2008. “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an ‘Oppositional Gaze’ Toward the Images of Black Women.” In Lectures on the Psychology of Women (4th ed.), edited by Joan Chrisler, Carla Golden, and Patricia Rozee, 286–99. New York: McGraw Hill. Williams, Stereo. 2015. “The Power of Black Twitter.” The Daily Beast, July 6. Accessed February 16, 2016, from http:​//www​.thed​ailyb​east.​com/a​rticl​es/20​15/07​ /06/t​he-po​wer-o​f-bla​ck-tw​itter​.html​. Wolf, Naomi. 1991. The Beauty Myth. New York: William Morrow. Young, Lola. 1999. “Racializing Femininity.” In Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression, edited by Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw, 67–90. New York: Cassell.

Chapter 3

Black Women’s Hair Politics in Advertising Natalie A. Mitchell and Angelica Morris

During the April 2016 Black Girls Rock! Awards on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network, SheaMoisture beauty brand aired a sixty-second spot featuring the internal monologues of black women as they shop for beauty products. The spot opens with a woman walking down a store aisle as a woman’s voiceover intones, “We just have been conditioned to go to the corner and find our spot where we’ve been placed.” As the onscreen woman arrives at the aisle’s black hair care section to peruse products with two other women, a second woman’s voiceover says, “There’s a section called ‘ethnic,’ and there is an aisle called ‘beauty.’” As an onscreen woman hesitantly turns the corner from the “ethnic” section to walk down the predominantly white “beauty” aisle, the voiceover continues, “Is ethnic not beautiful?” The commercial concludes with the wall of shelving between the “beauty” aisle and “ethnic” section collapsing to reveal SheaMoisture products displayed on the shelves among the other beauty brands and products. A final woman’s voiceover proclaims, “We’re SheaMoisture, and now we can be found in the beauty aisle—where we all belong.” The commercial, developed by Droga5 of New York, launched SheaMoisture’s #BreakTheWalls campaign, which interrogates traditional beauty standards that favor Eurocentric features as it simultaneously advocates to improve the shopping experience for women of color seeking beauty products. Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of SheaMoisture’s parent company Sundial Brands, which was acquired by Unilever in 2017 (Hazelwood 2017), is quoted as saying, “I have often said over the last 20 years that the beauty aisle is the last place in America where segregation is still legal. . . . Separating ‘beauty’ from ‘ethnic’ has only served to further perpetuate narrow standards of what is considered beautiful in our industry and our society—which 61


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is why we began leading the efforts to break down those walls” (Monllos 2016). Women across all racial and ethnic groups feel pressure to conform to the fashion moment’s idealizations of hair beauty, and thus often consume hair products to achieve them. Black women, however, are especially vulnerable to these pressures as depicted in advertising because European features continue to determine normative understandings of feminine beauty. Patricia Hill Collins ([1990] 2000, 90) writes, “African-American women experience the pain of never being able to live up to prevailing standards of beauty—standards used by White men, White women, Black men, and, most painfully, one another.” In Chapter 2 of this volume, Patricia Davis outlined historical relationships among race, gender, class, and beauty advertising in the United States, which construct black women’s bodies and hair as unruly, unattractive, and unfeminine. In this chapter, we narrow the focus more specifically to the politics of US black women’s hair. Black hair care as an industry is valued at more than a trillion dollars (Johnson 2016). But a socially constructed beauty dichotomy dependent on historical ideologies about white supremacy works to socialize women to believe that naturally textured, curly hair is unattractive and less feminine than its straight counterpart (Collins [1990] 2000; Gilchrist and Thompson 2012; Hazell and Clark 2008; Johnson 2016; Lester 2000; Thompson 2009). Stereotypical definitions of blackness and natural black hair have been largely diffused and maintained through mass-mediated messages, including advertising (Dyer 1997; McClintock 1995; Thompson 2009; Walker 2007). A few studies have examined the depiction of black women’s hair in advertising (Gilchrist and Thompson 2012; Hazell and Clark 2008), but the depth of politics surrounding images of black women’s hair is not attributed to advertising scholars. Where scholars have approached this topic, the politics surrounding images of black hair are either not fully explained or are treated as a small piece of the larger puzzle of Western beauty politics. In the present chapter, our aim is to underscore the complexity of black women’s hair politics while calling for more advertising scholarship on this topic. In what follows, we introduce black feminist thought as the lens through which we view these issues. We also introduce the limited literature on black women’s hair care in advertising and the literatures representing disciplinary perspectives other than advertising on black women’s hair politics. Next we provide a quick tour of the US history of advertising black women’s hair care products. Themes to watch for include, first, hair as an essentialist marker for race. Second, despite the deprecation of black people and cultures in advertising, some scholars hold on to hope that advertising, blogging, and social media have the potential to reshape wider mainstream values with regard to the politics of black women’s hair.

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BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT Similar to scholarship outside of advertising that has focused on black hair politics, in this chapter we adopt a black feminist perspective. US black feminist thought puts US black women center stage to spotlight the intersection of race, gender, sexual, and class discrimination (hooks 2000). Black women in the United States are subject to unique social realities of race + gender because they are black women. In the present context, our interest in advertising and the commodification of beauty standards further positions black women as consumers at the intersection of race + gender + class. Black feminist thought rejects a deficit model of US black womanhood, however. Black women have endured and flourished under dire circumstances. Many have developed an oppositional consciousness individually and as a community within the constraints of the United States’s institutionalized intersectional oppressions (Collins [1990] 2000). Black feminist thought also insists that black women self-define their standpoints (Collins [1990] 2000; White 2005). At the same time, before social injustice can be fully redressed, US black women’s subjugated knowledges must be recognized and validated not just beyond their own communities of black women, but as an integral part of the greater whole we might refer to as the mainstream in US society and culture (Collins [1990] 2000; Crenshaw 1989, 1991). Reframing black women’s hair politics in advertising as a worthy academic pursuit is a start. The politics of black women’s hair advertising are relevant to everyone, not just black audiences. BLACK HAIR CARE ADVERTISING RESEARCH The study of black women’s hair politics in US advertising has been published outside the advertising academy and has been almost exclusively limited to studies of print magazines targeting black readers. Ebony and Essence are the most studied for hair advertising, ranging from Leslie’s (1995) study of Ebony between 1957 and 1995 to Johnson’s (2016) study of Ebony and Essence in five-year increments between 1985 and 2010. (See also Baker 2005; Hazell and Clark 2008; Mayes 1997.) Both magazines are wellestablished publications (with Ebony founded in 1945 and Essence founded in 1970) that focus on the culture and lifestyle of blacks and black women specifically. The emergence of Ebony and Essence magazines represents an obvious deficit of media content targeting black women readers, who were excluded in most mainstream magazines. Rather than studying the ads per se, Gilchrist and Thompson (2012) asked fifty black women to name magazines that featured black hair care products or styles. Participants’ answers included Ebony, Essence, and Jet, as well as Hype Hair and Sophisticate’s Black Hair.


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In addition to black women’s preferences for these magazines in matters of style, reasons for an acute focus on studying hair in magazine advertising go beyond the accessibility of such media for data collection. For one thing, magazines such as Ebony, Essence, and Jet are historically nearly the only place where the bulk of such advertisements are placed. Additionally, continuing to study print media, such as Leslie’s (1995) and Johnson’s (2016) studies, is the only way to make longitudinal comparisons across decades and now centuries. (See, for example, Berkman 1963; Geizer 1971; Gitter, O’Connell, and Mostofsky 1972; Joseph and Lewis 1981. See also Humphrey and Schuman 1984; McLaughlin and Goulet 1999, Plous and Neptune 1997; Sheperd 1980.) Such studies also document an important but unacknowledged part of black history intersecting journalism history and advertising history. Further, black models are underrepresented in mainstream beauty and hair advertising. Some black women who do appear in such advertising tend to exemplify European beauty characteristics. These absences and Eurocentric portrayals further underscore Janice Marie Collins’s assertion in the introduction to Chapter 9 of this volume that “the numerical underrepresentation, ideological misrepresentation, and symbolic annihilation by omission” of black women in advertising is well documented. Additionally, even today in the academy there is resistance to validating the study of so-called special interest groups as legitimate research. Yet there are a few studies. They are considered “too narrow” or “too focused” for vertical fields of knowledge production like sociology, anthropology, literature, history, marketing, and other fields, or so the arguments go. Other slighted areas of academic research also include, for example, Africana/black studies; Latinx/[email protected] studies; ethnic studies; women’s, gender, and sexualities studies; and others, such as disabilities studies and fat studies. But such prejudice is common in mass communications, too, with its emphasis on teaching skills at the expense of “diversity” issues, a term that has simultaneously become code for race and has come to mean nothing, really, except tepid attempts at tokenism. Finally, in African-American communities, there is a politics of advertisers in that there are historical differences between black-owned brands and whiteowned brands of black hair-care products marketed to black women in the United States. Black-owned brands generally have participated in practices, images, and messages that uplift the race, at least in word if not deed, even if uplifting the black community at times has meant assimilating to whiteness, including imitating white women’s hairstyles. But uplifting the race, for black consumers, also has meant patronizing black-owned businesses, including black-owned media, such as Ebony and Essence. Weems (2000) reminds us that economic nationalism among African Americans has a proud US history, even if black folks often didn’t have a choice but to frequent black businesses,

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which never have competed on level playing fields with white businesses. Weems notes that people who do know their history also know that midtwentieth century Civil Rights–era “Black Power” sentiments, which were appropriated by marketers and advertisers in the 1960s and 1970s, were not a new phenomenon but in fact were citing the early-twentieth-century black pride movement. The earlier racial pride movement, and its leaders such as W. E. B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey, also inspired early-twentieth-century advertising and marketing of black-owned beauty, skin, and hair-care brands targeting black consumers. Some document a resurgence of self-love messages for black women in early-twenty-first-century advertising of black women’s hair care products and services (Gilchrist and Thompson 2012; Hazell and Clark 2008; Johnson 2016). White-owned brands in mainstream advertising mostly have ignored black women. However, white-owned brands marketing specifically black health, beauty, and hair-care products to black women have in some instances, both consciously and unconsciously, classified blackness (e.g., dark skin, tightly coiled hair) as something unpleasant to escape from via product consumption. White-owned brands additionally have a history of buying successful blackowned brands without publicizing the change of ownership, so black women might not realize that a white corporation is wooing them with messages to “tame” their “wild” hair into refined, chemically processed tresses. This history continues today, although there are exceptions (Johnson 2016). Rhetorically speaking, however, it has mattered little who endorsed these messages to black women about their hair. As Mayes (1997) and White (2010) point out, more than a century of advertising to black women about their hair has normalized an understanding that natural untreated black women’s hair is all alike—problematic—and that treated black women’s hair— relaxed and straightened—is preferable, regardless of the time, expense, and risks of processed hair. In fact, getting their hair relaxed in the “the big girl’s chair” at the salon has been considered a rite of passage for black girls (White 2010). But if relaxing one’s hair has always advertised one’s aspirations for social acceptance into society modeled on white values, then wearing natural black hair or traditional African and black hairstyles, also remains a political statement, and sporting natural black hair is still subject to social penalties (Johnson 2016; Mayes 1997; Shepherd 1980). DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVES ON U.S. BLACK WOMEN’S HAIR POLITICS For US black women, the subject of their hair is tense, a circumstance owing in large part to what Collins ([1990] 2000, 88) describes as “controlling


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images” reproducing an “ideology of domination” that persistently characterizes black women as Other via “particular meanings, stereotypes, and myths.” Race, gender, and class converge on the topic of US black women and hair fashion. This has been the case since Eliza Potter wrote her 1859 autobiography as a free black woman employed as the hairdresser of society for white women. In 1970, a doctoral candidate named Angela Davis became more famous for her Afro, a sign of her “radical” counterculture politics, than for her substantial intellect. In 1989, Quaker Oats updated its racist pancake brand logo by removing the last remnant of Aunt Jemima’s slavery-era “Mammy” head scarf to reveal Aunt Jemima’s hair for the first time in a hundred years: a hairdo that looked suspiciously like a short, shiny 1980s-era Jheri curl. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, bell hooks’s (1999) charming children’s book Happy to be Nappy, for black “girlpies,” framed black girls’ hair as a “halo—a crown” for “heads of joy.” In 2008, the news and social media blew up around soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama’s relaxed and straightened hairstylings while polling suggested that the “US is not ready for a ‘First Lady with kinky hair’”: “Girl, ain’t no braids, twists, afros, etc. getting into the White House just yet . . . LOL” (Desmond-Harris 2009). In 2016, Chastity Jones lost her job offer, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lost its appeal on her behalf, because Jones refused to acquiesce to an employee dress code that required her to lose her short, well-groomed dreadlocks. Jones’s would-be Alabama employer, Catastrophe Management Solutions, refused to change its policy against employee dreadlocks, and the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused to view the company’s policy as race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Shocking as Jones’s case might be, the courts have been siding with employers who require black women to abandon “natural” black hairstyles in favor of imitating white women’s hair aesthetics since before Renee Rogers sued American Airlines in 1981 and lost because she wasn’t allowed to wear braids to work. The reasoning supporting such policies is even more racist: white hairstyles are professional, thus appropriate for the workplace; natural black hair and black hairstyles are not. Robinson (2006) writes, “The reality is African American hair—from the afro to the press and curl and perm to natural styles such as braid, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks—still stirs up controversy. Why?” Indeed. That question has occupied scholars across the academy. Researchers and scholars have considered the politics of black women’s hair from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, from Africana and black studies (Banks 2000; Lindsey 2011; Rooks 1996; Spellers and Moffitt 2010; Tate 2007) to legal studies (Caldwell 1991; Onwuachi-Willig 2010; Rosette and Dumas 2007), as well as history (Byrd and Tharps 2001; Camp 2015; Walker 2007), literature (Lester 2000, 2010), and the arts (Taylor 1999) and

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humanities (Miller 2016). In addition to public health (Fills and Joshi 2015; Versey 2014) and social work (Bankhead and Johnson 2014; Johnson and Bankhead 2014), the social sciences also have found relevance and disciplinary entry points into the politics of black women’s hair, including sociology (Gill 2010; Leeds 1994; Leeds Craig 2002; Wingfield 2009), anthropology (Jacobs-Huey 2006; Johnson 2016), and psychology (Makkar and Strube 1995; Milkie 1999; Okazawa-Rey, Robinson, and Ward 1987). Women’s and gender studies can claim an early and ongoing interest in feminized beauty regimens with regard to black women’s hair (Bordo 2008; Brownmiller 1984; Thompson 2009; Weitz 2001). Even communication and cultural studies scholars have entered the conversation about black women’s hair practices (Patton 2006; Robinson 2011; White 2005), not to mention the national press (Thomas 2013). Academic advertising, on the other hand, seems oblivious. Across these literatures, the arguments are consistent: Standards of beauty, beauty practices, and beauty consumption, including hair maintenance and hair fashion, are job one for women. But the whole enterprise is based on a Eurocentric beauty standard, a bar that non-European women, including women of the African diaspora, cannot live up to; in actual fact, nonwhite women are not meant to achieve the Eurocentric beauty standard (Fills and Joshi 2015; Johnson 2016; Lindsey 2011; Patton 2006; Spellers and Moffitt 2010; Taylor 1999; Thompson 2009; Walker 2007; White 2005). The active construction and maintenance of the standard functions to reify racial difference and thereby obfuscate the social manufacture of racial difference through institutionalized racisms via legal, educational, and commercial means, among others. However, there always has been a US black women’s beauty aesthetic, which metamorphizes across history and social context, and black women’s beauty parlors as businesses and cultural gathering places have not only promoted matters of good taste but also knit together the community and provided women of color economic independence (Byrd and Tharps 2001; Camp 2015; Gill 2010; Johnson 2016; Leeds Craig 2002; Rooks 1996). That includes today’s blogs and social media sites. Like all things cultural, the practices and meanings of US black women’s hair are not monolithic or indisputable, and at all times the practices and meanings of US black women’s hair represent resistance, ambivalence, contradiction, and/ or submission to mainstream pressures and ideals (Bankhead and Johnson 2014; Banks 2000; Jacobs-Huey 2006; Johnson and Bankhead 2014; Leeds 1994; Makkar and Strube 1995; Robinson 2011; Tate 2007; Versey 2014; Weitz 2001; Wingfield 2009). In the end, there is this: For US black women, how to wear their hair remains politicized and so carries social and economic consequences. Unlike white women, black women do not have the luxury of assuming that how one wears one’s hair is a matter of personal taste and choice. For all women of color, “any aspect of their appearance that called


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attention to their minority status reduced their perceived competence and their social acceptability in the workplace” (Weitz 2001, 682). THE INTERSECTION OF ADVERTISING AND BLACK HAIR POLITICS Many consumers distrust and avoid advertisements because they believe the content is deceptive and view its proliferation across media as invasive (Cho and Cheon 2004; Darke and Ritchie 2007). To overcome these obstacles, advertisers often include images and words that link the brand or product to dominant social and cultural ideas and values (Hall 2012; Merskin 2001). Because these dominant ideas are ingrained in society as common sense, consumers uncritically accept them in advertising messages as accurate depictions of society (Hall 2012). Belief in the existence of multiple human races that are not created equal as evidenced by their associated stereotypes, although scientifically false, remains a hegemonic US ideology manifested implicitly, if not always explicitly, in advertising messages. The invention of race as a Western category historically has served to promote a mythology of white supremacy. Until 2017, some might have argued that blatant racial defamation was no longer socially acceptable in twenty-first-century US society, a claim that became insupportable after the 2016 presidential election. Regardless, negative depictions of black Americans have persisted in US advertising, including stigmatized depictions of natural black hair (Baker 2005; Hazell and Clarke 2007; Lester 2000). Following Dyer’s (1997) argument, such practices in Western culture and social structure are the result of uncritical, unrecognized, untrue conventions that frame whiteness as the neutral natural normal from which all human difference deviates. The natural black hair of individuals of African descent has evoked political meaning in the United States since the onset of slavery, when the steep increase in the population of enslaved Africans posed a threat to the power of the relatively smaller number of settlers (Lester 2000; Thompson 2009). In order to justify the enslavement of humans as an economic engine, white Europeans and early American settlers invented the concept of blackness, not just as a different race, but as an expressly inferior one; evidence to support such a claim was contrived in varieties of ways. One such tactic adhered the slave label to insulting caricatures of phenotypes common to people of African descent, which served to denigrate hair types and skin colors stereotyped as African, along with other physical features (Collins 2004; Fenton 2010; Fredrickson 2009; Hall 2001). The thick, short, tightly curled hair texture of enslaved Africans became more than an enduring visible symbol for blackness (Lester 2000; Thompson 2009). Black hair became associated with

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social stigma, including social uncleanliness, aesthetic unsightliness, and evolutionary primitiveness. Mullings (2004, 239) argues that part of feminizing white women in the US required “defeminizing” black women. European features of the oppressors (e.g., pale skin color, straight hair, etc.) were cast as normative and superior, thus as aesthetically pleasing and socially desirable. The European standard of feminine beauty for women is defined and so understood against its black opposite (Bankhead and Johnson 2014; Banks 2000; Johnson and Bankhead 2014). Even the language associated with African hair types communicates negative symbolic meanings. Derogatory descriptors such as coarse, kinky, frizzy, untamed, wooly, cornrow, dreadlock, and nappy, for example, convey more about race than hair. Consider, by comparison, descriptors such as smooth, straight, curled, silky, plait, braid, and so on, which are both more neutral and white accounts of European hair. White Euro hair might be perceived differently if it were construed as lank, flat, limp, lifeless, thin, and wispy. As black women internalize the European beauty standard, some black women have struggled to fully embrace natural hair textures. The US advertising industry has played no small part in the spread and reinforcement of what is or is not ideal or even acceptable hair, especially for black women. This poses a double bind for black women who are pressured by these historical and sustaining social narratives to invest greater resources to adopt straight hair at best, and burns, dermatitis, and alopecia, at worst. Pre–Civil Rights Era Although slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, the negative connotations associated with blackness, including natural black hair, remained pervasive in American society (Fenton 2010; Gaines 1996). After the Civil War, black Americans felt social pressure to demonstrate that they were capable of assimilating into white mainstream society by emulating its social norms, including adopting the stereotypically straight strands of European hair that Americans promoted in advertising. This pressure to assimilate increased during the period of Jim Crow, for any sign of racial difference, let alone racial militancy, could trigger devastating results, including violence and death. Such pressure was greater for black women striving for social acceptance, as even attempting to achieve the advertised feminine ideal created greater material, temporal, and emotional burdens than for white women (Caldwell 1991; Gaines 1996; Higginbotham 1993). If blackness in the United States signified all that was socially unacceptable, including a lack of beauty and grace, then for black women to become socially acceptable meant adopting “a politics of respectability” offering them greater entré into society (Higginbotham 1993, 37). Weems (2000, 166) writes:


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African Americans, of both genders, have historically viewed consumption as a means to construct “identity.” African Americans, in fact, have placed greater emphasis than other groups on “identity construction” through consumption. Because blacks possess the dubious distinction of being the only group in the United States to have once been designated as slaves, many African Americans continue to view consumerism, and in fact, conspicuous consumption, as a means to separate themselves from a “degraded past.”

Respectability politics for black women included taking care that one’s hair was always carefully coifed because natural (i.e., untreated) black hair, which was associated with the worst tropes about US slaves, former slaves, and African peoples, could never be considered respectable. Beauty companies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries strategically incorporated the hair anxieties of black women in their advertising messages (Rooks 1996). The most common message promoted to black women from white-owned companies was that straightened hair would make them more beautiful and upwardly mobile in society (Byrd and Tharps 2001; Rooks 1996). However, adopting white hairstyles might not always have been strictly about feminine insecurities regarding beauty and appearance, or even imitating whiteness (Weems 2000, 170); adopting these hairstyles also could offer economic advantages via access to better jobs and marital prospects (Mullings 2004; Peiss 1996; Weems 2000). Nonetheless, some black women interpreted such advertising through a lens of personal health and wellness, choosing brands that advertised products for keeping their hair healthy and supporting their own natural beauty (Rooks 1996). In their advertising, white-owned businesses often deployed derogatory racial shaming strategies that suggested that black women needed to transform their ugly hair into mechanically and chemically induced versions of white women’s hair. Although not above such tactics, black-owned beauty product brands often instead incorporated elements of racial pride into their messages (Johnson 2016; Lester 2010; Weems 2000). Sometimes the result was a little of both, such as communicating to black women that long hair was a black woman’s “crown” that proved her femininity and bolstered her class mobility (Rooks 1996, 45). For example, an early twentieth-century advertisement for the Dixie Curve-Tooth Straightening Comb, appearing in the “Negro” press, shouted, “MAKE YOUR HAIR STRAIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL” (Johnson 1925, 707, cited in Weems 2000, 167). This message not too subtly implied the opposite, that curly is ugly. A 1928 ad for Hi-Ja conditioning and hair smoothing product demeans kinky-haired women while celebrating straighter-haired women. The Hi-Ja ad also appeared in the blackowned newspaper Chicago Defender. Such an irony demonstrates the role of both mainstream and black media in reflecting hegemonically racialized

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heterosexist ideologies. Hi-Ja, like other straightening products targeting African Americans, was widely promoted in advertising during the pre–civil rights period. Other black-owned brands of the twentieth century emphasized women’s hair care as a well-deserved luxury for already beautiful black women, whereas white-owned hair brands constructed black women’s hair as lacking natural beauty and in need of the help of treatments (Rooks 1996). From this history, we can summarize advertising rhetorical strategies that continued through the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first. In the United States, black-owned brands encouraged black women to adopt the look of white European hair for the greater social progress of the black race, to improve the health and beauty of already beautiful black women, and to indulge in the luxury of self-care via consumption. White-owned brands tended toward less flattering tactics that told black women that their untreated hair was socially offensive in any degree of variation from the European standard of hair beauty. Almost none of these brands was free of the damaging and dangerous chemicals and processes necessary to achieve straightened black hair. Of course, the Black Power movement inspired the “Black is Beautiful” campaign, which became a persuasive advertising message beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although even the adoption of the natural black hair “Afro” was not so natural. A beautiful “Afro” also required product, according to advertisers. In fact, from a cultural studies point of view, there is no such thing as completely natural hair without any modifications made because any hairstyle, including a self-conscious refusal to style, represents cultural artifice. Natural hair is never really natural, then, including African, Afro-, and Africanized styles (Mercer 1994). The Civil Rights and Black Power Era Respectability politics pressuring US blacks to emulate Eurocentric hair textures and styles persisted until the 1960s civil rights movement. Along with the political successes achieved by US blacks, this period also produced the “Black is Beautiful” movement dedicated to expunging negative attitudes bound to natural black hair and other physical features associated with blackness. “Black is Beautiful,” a political message of African-American self-love, also became a means to celebrate natural black hair textures and styles. This period has been described as a “blackening of advertising” because advertising models with darker skin were replacing those with lighter skin—when black models were employed at all—and all things “African” became chic (Chapko 1976; Leslie 1995). For the years between the 1960s and late 1970s, black Americans donned natural “Afro” styles, or “naturals,” a practice that grew to stand for reclaiming and self-defining black physical features, in addition to claiming the


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rights of full citizenship now granted to black Americans by law (Caldwell 1991). Wearing an Afro was a political statement that the white establishment found as threatening as the civil rights movement itself, along with the other progressive movements of the era, including the women’s movement. The Afro’s popularity as a hairstyle ushered in new Afro-centric hair products. These products frequently were advertised to black women by incorporating—some might say co-opting—the empowering rhetoric of the Black Power movement resonating with black women. As is often the case with advertising, popular, and thus potentially dangerous subordinate group politics, were thereby reduced to an individual consumption choice and in the present context a hair-fashion statement. For example, Johnson Product Company, a black-owned business that produced Afro-Sheen and Ultra-Sheen hair products, frequently featured models with full textured Afros, along with the tagline “Black is Beautiful.” Afro Sheen advertisements also included Swahili phrases, like Kama Mama, Kama Binti: “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” References to Africa hearkened to an idealized, some might say romanticized, authentic African legacy, and thus an African identity. Advertisements such as Afro hairstyles both reflected and informed black women’s growing acceptance of their natural hair and illuminated the tensions of aligning blackness with femininity. Although black men also donned Afros, the beautiful in “Black is Beautiful” resonated differently for black women. African-American women remained second-class women among the white feminists controlling the second-wave women’s movement of the period. African-American women were also pressured to defer to the black men leading the civil rights movement as a show of racial unity. In an oddly parallel manner, black women remained nearly invisible in mainstream advertising for women’s hair care. But in “Black is Beautiful” advertising, black women were encouraged to demonstrate their support for the cause and trivialize their role in it by doing their hair. How black women fashioned their hair, however, remained political. Post–Civil Rights Era In the early 1980s, as the political climate shifted away from progressive social politics to neoconservatism and the emergence of the New Right or “New White” (Golombisky 2006), so did black women’s hairstyles, including advertising depictions. Legislated civil rights for black Americans led some to believe that blacks by the 1980s had attained equal economic and social standing in the United States (Bonilla-Silva 2017). The social pressures to assimilate returned, and an individual’s inability to thrive in American society was now blamed on personal shortcomings, not racially suppressive laws and policies (Bonilla-Silva 2017).

Black Women’s Hair Politics in Advertising


These assimilation pressures also surfaced in advertisements targeting black women, as long, silky, straighter hair replaced images of “radical” naturals and Afros as the “acceptable” black beauty hair standard. For example, an advertisement for the popular relaxer Tambia included an image of full, straight hair, alongside a tagline that read, “It’ll teach your hair who’s boss.” This message to black women foreshadowed the postfeminist advertising practice of incorporating feminist messages into advertising persuasion. Tambia, like many advertisers then and now, cashed in on the 1980s myth that white-collar management was now open to women of color, if only they looked the part. That part was defined by the advertising industry’s idea of a heterosexed, feminized, sexy boss-lady who might earn a good living, but not at the expense of losing her (hetero)sex appeal to a man. But the 1980s war on women, especially black women and feminists, betrayed the dream. Plus, even if showing your boss—and your hair—“who’s boss” is a delightful fantasy, the word “boss” has a direct history with plantation overseers, and thus slavery and racism. “Boss” for black women is animated by white racism, even when threaded through white feminism. The 1980s also boasted the Jheri curl trend in African-American hair fashions, and thus product advertising. The “curl,” although a different look than traditional relaxing and straightening, required similarly damaging treatments to relax tight curls into soft ones and needed more product daily to maintain them. Jheri curls were part of the phenomenon of “big hair” and “big shoulder pads” fashions in the 1980s. One could argue that the black woman’s “curl” paralleled the white woman’s big-haired perms of the decade. Both styles were fueled by celebrities, women and men of the film, entertainment, and music industries (including Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, among others). Scores of black celebrities took up the Jheri curl look, as the World Wide Web and image-sharing sites now painfully remind them. Although Jheri curls and big-hair perms both damaged women’s hair, the Jheri curl, named for Jheri Redding, the white stylist who invented the process, had the added distraction of being wet and leaving a chemical residue on everything it came in contact with. Despite its waning popularity by the 1990s, the “curl” joined the “Afro” and “natural” black hair as a permanent part of the advertising lexicon, no pun intended. Lester (2010, 137) describes a 1993 ad from Essence that urges black women to “tame” their “Afro” hair with “Herbal Tame Natural Hair Relaxer”: “Herbal Tame Natural Hair Relaxer is just what Afro Hair has always needed.” The ad’s copy continues: It is a mild, herbal relaxer that gradually and naturally releases kink without chemicals. It is so beneficial; your hair becomes stronger, straighter, smoother, silkier, easier to manage. For the first time since you were a baby, your hair will


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be healthy, growing strong, and shining without frizz. Because it contains NO CHEMICALS, it is guaranteed NEVER to damage your hair, no matter how often you use it. Different from chemical relaxers, HERBAL TAME natural Hair Relaxer may safely be used for hair that has been color treated, permed, and for children. (Lester 2010, 137)

As Lester points out, this copywriting clearly communicated that “blacks’ hair in its ‘natural’ state is undesirable. It is hair that needs to be ‘tamed,’ as if blackness were animalistic and whiteness were civilized” (137). Moreover, the product package belies its advertising claims since the box warns users that the product contains caustic lye. Additionally, the copy suggests that one needs to apply a natural product to achieve natural hair, defying logic in suggesting that hair without product is not natural. If Mercer (1994) argued there is no natural hairstyle since any style is a product of culture, then Williamson (1978) pointed out that in advertising we prefer our nature to be cooked and handed back to us all cleaned up. Williamson (1978, 120) writes: “The product, having ‘cooked’ nature, can then offer a safe passage ‘back’ to it. It can re-present nature to us in a form where it may be consumed.” Natural, however, also can have racist connotations, especially if the “nature” and “natural” happened to be in, from, or of Africa. As Plous and Neptune (1997) documented from 1,800 magazines ads from 1985 to 1994, black women as advertising models of that period were often portrayed as exotically animalistic and predatory. Additionally, Mayes’s (1997, 92) analysis of 1990s-era black women’s hair-care beauty advertising in black women’s magazines identified three themes: Theme 1: Black hair is naturally, constantly dry, brittle, damaged, and untouchable Theme 2: The natural texture of black hair is unmanageable, wild, and out of control Theme 3: Unprocessed black hair is not as attractive as relaxed or naturally straight hair Thus, late–twentieth-century advertising on the subject of black women’s hair stalled where it began at the beginning of the twentieth century: Black women, and their hair, in their natural, untouched state are too wild and too close to nature to be attractive as women. A New Century of Black Hair Politics and Advertising The early twenty-first century has been nothing if not a referendum on race, beginning with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on US soil, which

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triggered a surge of xenophobia and Islamophobia. Today it is easy to see that we overestimated the nation’s ability to move on from 9/11 with the election and reelection of President Barack Obama to the White House beginning in 2008. The Obama presidency was not proof of the “end of race,” despite renewed national conversations forcing issues of racial inequalities and racial pride back into the limelight for the first time in over four decades (Smith and King 2009, 25–26). Optimism regarding race and the Obama administration was tempered with disturbing racisms against the president and the first lady, let alone against ordinary nonwhite people of color in the United States, both US citizens and otherwise. In fact, the Twitter campaigns for #MeToo in 2006 and again in 2017, #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, and #SayHerName in 2015 all represent responses to horrific and in hindsight escalating forms of sexisms, racisms, and transphobias. The 2016 presidential election, hostile to immigration and immigrants, put open white supremacists in the White House, including one of the most vocal proponents of the Birther movement, which tried to discredit the legitimacy of the Obama presidency by falsely alleging that the president was African, but not African American. Rather than trivializing our concerns with black women’s hair politics and advertising, these events contextualize them within the broader historical moment. Black women’s early adopter status with new media also signified the digital advertising revolution, which gave black women their own power over advertisers desperate for black women’s consumer dollars (Jenkins 2017; Johnson 2016; see also Davis in Chapter 2 and Collins in Chapter 9 of this volume). Newly revitalized, the politics of the black empowerment movement in the first two decades of the 2000s also can be seen in the increasing popularity of Afrocentric hair textures and styles, such as dreadlocks or locs, in addition to a sometimes nostalgic but nonetheless righteous return of the Afro. Websites such as ILoveMyFro.com have morphed from a product line blog into a movement with all the proper merchandising accoutrements. Long and straight hair, achieved by processing or wig, remains popular, too, however. Today, when long, straight hair is not lightened, it arguably can be a vote for Asian rather than European hair aesthetics. The increasing availability of weaves and extensions in both Afrocentric and Eurocentric styles also speaks to an increasing range and acceptance of hairstyles available to black women, representing not just matters of taste but also self-expression, not to mention growing health concerns regarding chemically or mechanically straightened hair (Gilchrist and Thompson 2012). In fact, Gilchrist and Thompson’s (2012, 292) twenty-first-century black women respondents agreed that advertising functions as “a source of knowledge” about styles, products, and health regarding their hair. Gilchrist and Thompson’s study was limited to black women’s magazines. But Johnson’s (2016) ethnographic work suggests that the Internet, bypassing traditional media control


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of messages and audiences, has opened direct dialogue among black women regarding their hair health and fashions, especially in terms of a natural hair movement. At the same time, blogging and social media give black women direct power to accept or reject advertising messages. Johnson (2016, 86) describes an advertisement for the Bohemian Soul Hair Studio found on a natural hair social media review site for black women called NaturallyCurly.com. The Bohemian Soul Hair Studio ad’s headline reads, “She’s Confident, She’s Bold, She wears her hair how she wants to.” The advertisement features a style called “The Rebel Twist.” The model in the ad is “wearing kinky twists, one of the specialties of the Bohemian Soul Hair Studio” (87). This copy demonstrates a number of rhetorical moves indicative of the new century’s politics for black women: Bold, confident black women rebel and can wear their hair how they want to. Meanwhile, whether she chooses to rebel or acquiesce, assimilation pressures enforced by employers, schools, and the courts reiterate the twentyfirst-century reality that how a black woman wears her hair in the United States continues to be politicized. We can be optimistic regarding the growing acceptance of varieties of black hairstyles. We see the potential to change attitudes, especially given black women’s adoption of new media as consumers and activists. But on Madison Avenue, black hair remains a sign of racial difference that communicates black women as inferior—and also creates race and racism in the United States. CONCLUSION In 2013, the same Richelieu Dennis of SheaMoisture’s parent company Sundial Brands acquired a nearly one-hundred-year-old US black-owned personal grooming line known as Madam C. J. Walker before consulting with Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles on the future of the brand (Urban News Service 2016). Bundles (2001), who wrote a biography about Madam C. J. Walker, describes herself as more sympathetic to the natural hair movement and Afros of her generation. However, Madam C. J. Walker, also known as Sarah Breedlove, founded her black hair-care empire of straighteners and relaxers at the turn of the twentieth century with Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. “She was very clear that her primary goal was to have healthy hair and to grow hair,” says Bundles (Anthony 2016). Madam Walker’s business success made her a powerful force not just for African-American style and taste but also for activism and politics. She was important enough that W. E. B. Dubois wrote an obituary for her upon her death in 1919 (Bundles 2001). A century later, a news release began circulating on the web via news sites, bloggers, and advertising sites, all touting

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not only the esteemed historical legacy of Madam C. J. Walker, including her status as the first US black woman millionaire, but also the benefits of using Walker’s newly acquired and updated hair-care collection “for different hair textures: tightly coiled, curly, wavy and straight” (Anthony 2016). Cara Anthony (2016), riffing on the news release, quotes Bundles: “There is nothing wrong with our hair as it grows out [sic] our heads,” Bundles said. “Why is it that we have to make our hair look like someone else’s hair?” Joanna Jenkins (2017, 112) writes that “the advertising industry routinely continues to suggest that to be beautiful is a woman’s most important calling and defines beauty in racist, ageist, heterosexist, and ableist parameters.” The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the complexities of black hair politics in US advertising through the lens of intersectional black feminist thought. Mullings (2004, 238) observes that African-American women “are the focus of well-elaborated, strongly held, highly contested ideologies concerning race, class, and gender.” She continues: The images, representations, and symbols that form ideologies often have complex meanings and associations that are not always easily or readily articulated, making them difficult to challenge. Appearing in the scholarly literature as well as popular culture, they take the form of accepted truths. (Mullings 2004, 238)

As we look to the future of advertising education, practice, and research on the content of advertising with regard to black women in the United States, Mullings makes three other points worth considering: (1) Those in power control the production of ideologies and their meanings. (2) Such ideologies tell stories that tend to justify the existence of social inequities as natural. (3) Yet people will defer to their own experiences, and they will resist. In our analysis of the literatures on black women’s hair politics vis-à-vis US advertising, we find that the advertising academy has shown little interest in addressing its racialized hetero-sexisms. Even when scholars outside of advertising do engage in this kind of advertising research, there remains a danger of constructing black women as a homogenous group, which they most definitely are not—not with regard to black women’s intersectional positionalities, material hair types, or their hair and beauty beliefs and practices. We retain some optimism that the advertising industry might evolve in due time. It would be a savvy move for Madison Avenue given the range of nonwhite women of color’s attitudes on the topic of their hair and their attitudes toward advertising representations of women of color (Bankhead and Johnson 2014; Banks 2000; Jacobs-Huey 2006; Johnson and Bankhead 2014; Leeds 1994; Makkar and Strube 1995; Robinson 2011; Tate 2007; Versey 2014; Weitz 2001; Wingfield 2009). Johnson (2016) certainly offers hope in her analysis of the ways black women have adopted new media to


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bypass traditional hair advertising outlets. Davis, in Chapter 2 of this volume, and Jenkins (2017) in Golombisky and Kreshel’s (2017) preceding collection, make similar cases. We began this chapter with an optimistic vignette of SheaMoisture advertising. As we finish writing this chapter at the beginning of the first post-Obama presidential administration, we very well might have to revisit what we mean by hair politics and the ways that black women rise to the occasion variously to exercise their political and economic power and to reflect their politics in their hairstyles. REFERENCES Anthony, Cara. 2016. “A Legacy Reborn, Madam C.J. Walker Hair Products Are Back.” IndyStar/The Indianapolis Star, September 30. https​://ww​w.ind​ystar​.com/​ story​/life​/2016​/09/3​0/100​-year​s-lat​er-ma​dam-c​-j-wa​lker-​hair-​produ​cts-b​ack/9​ 03163​80/. Baker, Christina N. 2005. “Images of Women’s Sexuality in Advertisements: A Content Analysis of Black- and White-oriented Women’s and Men’s Magazines.” Sex Roles 52 (1–2): 13–27. Bankhead, Teiahsha and Tabora Johnson. 2014. “Self-Esteem, Hair-Esteem and Black Women with Natural Hair.” International Journal of Education and Social Science 1 (4): 92–102. Banks, Ingrid. 2000. Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women’s Consciousness. New York: NYU Press. Berkman, Dave. 1963. “Advertising in Ebony and Life: Negro Aspirations vs. Reality.” Journalism Quarterly 40: 5364. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2017. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, 5th edition. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. Bordo, Susan. 2008. “Cassie’s Hair.” In Material Feminisms, edited by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, 400–24. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Brownmiller, Susan. 1984. Femininity. New York: Linden. Bundles, A’Lelia Perry. 2001. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C J Walker. New York: Washington Square. Byrd, Ayana D. and Lori L. Tharps. 2001. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s. Caldwell, Paulette M. 1991. “A Hair Piece: Perspectives on the Intersection of Race and Gender.” Duke Law Journal 1991 (2): 365–96. Camp, Stephanie M. H. 2015. “Black is Beautiful: An American History.” Journal of Southern History 81 (3): 675–90. Chapko, Michael. 1976. “Black Ads Are Getting Blacker.” Journal of Communication 26: 175–78. Cho, Chang-Hoan and Hongsik John Cheon. 2004. “Why Do People Avoid Advertising on the Internet?” Journal of Advertising 33 (4): 89–97.

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Collins, Patricia Hill. (1990) 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Power. New York: Routledge. ———. 2004. “Booty Call: Sex, Violence, and Images of Black Masculinity.” In Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, 149–180. New York: Routledge. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1: 139–67. ———. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 1241–99. Darke, Peter R. and Robin J. B. Ritchie. 2007. “The Defensive Consumer: Advertising Deception, Defensive Processing, and Distrust.” Journal of Marketing Research 44 (1): 114–27. Desmond-Harris, Jenee. 2009. “Why Michelle’s Hair Matters.” Time 174 (9): 55–57. Dyer, Richard. 1997. White. New York: Routledge. Fenton, Steve. 2010. Ethnicity: Key Concepts, 2nd edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Fills, Cherika and Praphul Joshi. 2015. “European Standards of Beauty and the Relation of These Assimilated Beauty Ideals among African American Women.” Proceedings of the National Technology and Social Science Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada 58 (2): 83–88. Fredrickson, George M. 2009. Racism: A Short History. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gaines, Kevin K. 1996. Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Geizer, Ronald. 1971. “Advertising in Ebony: 1960 and 1969.” Journalism Quarterly 48: 131–34. Gilchrist, Eletra S. and Courtney Thompson. 2012. “African-American Women’s Perceptions of Constitutive Meanings of Good Hair Articulated in Black Hair Magazine Advertisements.” Journalism and Mass Communication 2 (1): 279–93. Gill, Tiffany M. 2010. Beauty Shop Politics: African-American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Gitter, George A., Stephen O’Connell, and David Mostofsky. 1972. “Trends in Appearance of Model in Ebony Ads over 17 Years.” Journalism Quarterly 49: 547–50. Golombisky, Kim. 2006. “Reforming Rhetoric: Gender Equity, the American Association of University Women, and the New White.” Iowa Journal of Communication special issue: Feminist Theories and Practices in Communication 38 (2): 101–26. Golombisky, Kim and Peggy J. Kreshel, eds. 2017. Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Hall, Stuart. 2001. “The Spectacle of the Other.” In Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, edited by Margaret Wetherall, Stephanie Taylor, and Simeon J. Yates, 324–44. London: Sage. ———. 2012. “Encoding/Decoding.” In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, 2nd edition, edited by Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, 137–44. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


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Hazell, Vanessa and Juanne Clarke. 2008. “Race and Gender in the Media: A Content Analysis of Advertisements in Two Mainstream Black Magazines.” Journal of Black Studies 39 (1): 5–21. Hazelwood, Janell. 2017. “Unilever Acquires Sundial Brands, Owner of Sheamoisture, for an Undisclosed Amount.” Black Enterprise, November 27. http:​ //www​ . blac​kente​rpris​e.com​/unil​ever-​acqui​res-s​undia​l-bra​nds-o​wner-​of-sh​eamoi​sture​-inf​or-un​discl​osed-​amoun​t/. Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1993. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. hooks, bell. 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Boston: South End. hooks, bell and Chris Raschka. 1999. Happy to Be Nappy. Los Angeles: Disney Jump at the Sun. Humphrey, Ronald and Howard Schuman. 1984. “The Portrayal of Blacks in Magazine Advertisements: 1950–1982.” Public Opinion Quarterly 48 (3): 551–63. Jacobs-Huey, Lanita. 2006. From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women’s Hair Care. New York: Oxford University Press. Jenkins, Joanna. 2017. “Black Women and Advertising Ethics: A Womanist Perspective.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by K. Golombisky and P. Kreshel, 109–31. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Johnson, Elizabeth. 2016. Resistance and Empowerment in Black Women’s Hair Styling. New York: Routledge. Johnson, Tabora A. and Teiahsha Bankhead. 2014. “Hair It is: Examining the Experiences of Black Women with Natural Hair.” Open Journal of Social Sciences 2 (1): 86–100. Joseph, Gloria and Jill Lewis. 1981. Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives. New York: South End. Leeds, Maxine. 1994. “Young African-American Women and the Language of Beauty.” In Ideals of Feminine Beauty: Philosophical, Social, and Cultural Dimensions, edited by Karen A. Callaghan, 147–59. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Leeds Craig, Maxine. 2002. Ain’t I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Leslie, Michael. 1995. “Slow Fade to? Advertising in Ebony Magazine, 1957–1989.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 72 (2): 426–35. Lester, Neal A. 2000. “Nappy Edges and Goldy Locks: African-American Daughters and the Politics of Hair.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24 (2): 201–24. ———. 2010. “Of Wigs and Weaves, Locks and Fades: A Personal Political Hair Story.” In Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities, edited by Regina E. Spellers and Kimberly R. Moffitt, 129–45. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton. Lindsey, Treva B. 2011. “Black No More: Skin Bleaching and the Emergence of New Negro Womanhood Beauty Culture.” Journal of Pan African Studies 4 (4): 97–116. Makkar, Jalmeen K. and Michael J. Strube. 1995. “Black Women’s Self-perceptions of Attractiveness following Exposure to White versus Black Beauty Standards: The Moderating Role of Racial Identity and Self-Esteem.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 25 (17): 1547–66.

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Mayes, Earnest M. 1997. “As Soft as Straight Gets: African American Women and Mainstream Beauty Standards in Haircare Advertising.” In Counterpoints: 54: Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising, edited by Katherine Frith, 85–108. New York: Peter Lang. McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context. London: Routledge. McLaughlin, Tara L. and Nicole Goulet. 1999. “Gender Advertisements in Magazines Aimed at African Americans: A Comparison to Their Occurrence in Magazines Aimed at Caucasians.” Sex Roles 40 (1–2): 61–71. Mercer, Kobena. 1994. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge. Merskin, Debra. 2001. “Winnebagos, Cherokees, Apaches, and Dakotas: The Persistence of Stereotyping of American Indians in American Advertising Brands.” Howard Journal of Communication 12 (3): 159–69. Miller, Carmen Hutchinson. 2016. “Uncovering the Kink Celebrating My Black Identity: Perceptions on Afro-Costa Ricans’ Natural Hair.” Journal of Arts and Humanities 5 (5): 78–95. Milkie, Melissa A. 1999. “Social Comparisons, Reflected Appraisals, and Mass Media: The Impact of Pervasive Beauty Images on Black and White Girls’ SelfConcepts.” Social Psychology Quarterly 62 (2): 190–210. Monllos, Kristina. 2016. “Droga5’s First Ads for Shea Moisture Address the Racial Divide in the Beauty Aisle.” AdWeek, April 6. http:​//www​.adwe​ek.co​m/adf​reak/​ droga​5s-fi​rst-a​ds-sh​ea-mo​istur​e-add​ress-​racia​l-div​ide-b​eauty​-aisl​e-170​650. Mullings, Leith. 2004. “Images, Ideology, and Women of Color.” In Feminist Communication Theory: Selections in Context, edited by Lana F. Rakow and Laura A. Wackwitz, 237–53. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Okazawa-Rey, Margo, Tracy Robinson, and Janie Victoria Ward. 1987. “Black Women and the Politics of Skin Color and Hair.” Women and Therapy 6 (1–2): 89–102. Onwuachi-Willig, Angela. 2010. “Another Hair Piece: Exploring New Strands of Analysis Under Title VII.” Georgetown Law Journal 98: 1080–131. Patton, Tracey Owens. 2006. “Hey Girl, Am I More Than My Hair? African American Women and Their Struggles with Beauty, Body Image, and Hair.” NWSA Journal 18 (2): 24–51. Peiss, Kathy. 1996. “Making Up, Making Over: Cosmetics, Consumer Culture, and Women’s Identity.” In The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, edited by Victoria DeGrazia and Ellen Furlough, 311–36. Berkeley: University of California Press. Plous, Scott and Dominique Neptune. 1997. “Racial and Gender Biases in Magazine Advertising: A Content-Analytic Study.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21 (4): 627–44. Potter, Eliza. 1859. A Hairdresser’s Experience in the High Life. Reprint with introduction and edited by Xiomara Santamarina, 2009. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Robinson, Cynthia L. 2011. “Hair as Race: Why ‘Good Hair’ May Be Bad for Black Females.” Howard Journal of Communications 22 (4): 358–76.


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Robinson, Lori. 2006. “The Politics of Hair.” The Crisis, September/October: 9. Rooks, Noliwe M. 1996. Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Rosette, Asleigh Shelby and Tracy L. Dumas. 2007. “The Hair Dilemma: Conform to Mainstream Expectations or Emphasize Racial Identity.” Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy 14 (1): 407–21. Sheperd, Juanita. 1980. “The Portrayal of Black Women in the Ads of Popular Magazines.” Journal of Black Studies 4: 179–82. Smith, Rogers M. and Desmond S. King. 2009. “Barack Obama and the Future of American Racial Politics.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 6 (1): 25–35. Spellers, Regina E. and Kimberly R. Moffitt. 2010. Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton. Tate, Shirley. 2007. “Black Beauty: Shade, Hair and Anti-Racist Aesthetics.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (2): 300–19. Taylor, Paul C. 1999. “Malcolm’s Conk and Danto’s Colors: Four Logical Petitions Concerning Race, Beauty, and Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57 (1): 16–20. Thomas, Tiffany. 2013. “Hair: They Are: The Ideologies of Black Hair.” The York Review 9 (1): 1–10. Thompson, Cheryl. 2009. “Black Women, Beauty, and Hair as a Matter of Being.” Women’s Studies 38 (8): 831–56. Urban News Service. 2016. “A Legacy Reborn: Madam C.J. Walker Culture Line Links to the Past.” April 19. https​://ur​banne​wsser​vice.​com/i​nvest​igati​ons/a​-lega​ cy-re​born/​. Versey, H. Shellae. 2014. “Centering Perspectives on Black Women, Hair Politics, and Physical Activity.” American Journal of Public Health 104 (5): 810–15. Walker, Susannah. 2007. Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920–1975. Lexington: University of Press of Kentucky. Weems, Robert E. Jr. 2000. “Consumerism and the Construction of Black Female Identity in Twentieth Century America.” In The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, edited by Jennifer Scanlon, 166–78. New York: New York University Press. Weitz, Rose. 2001. “Women and Their Hair Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation.” Gender and Society 15 (5): 667–86. White, Shauntae Brown. 2005. “Releasing the Pursuit of Bouncin’ and Behavin’ Hair: Natural Hair as an Afrocentric Feminist Aesthetic for Beauty.” International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 1 (3): 295–308. ———. 2010. “The Big Girl’s Chair: A Rhetorical Analysis of How Motions for Kids Markets Relaxers to African American Girls.” In Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities, edited by Regina E. Spellers and Kimberly R. Moffitt, 17–27. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton. Williamson, Judith. 1978. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars. Wingfield, Adia Harvey. 2009. Doing Business with Beauty: Black Women, Hair Salons, and the Racial Enclave Economy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Chapter 4

Driving Her to Distraction Women, Modernity, and the Disciplinary Discourse of 1920s Automobile Advertising Roseann M. Mandziuk

During the 1920s, few technologies altered every aspect of life as much as the automobile. This new technology rapidly became a signifier for American independence, style, and personal expression, functioning as “the chief carrier of the American Dream of freedom and plenitude” (Sanford 1980, 532). For women, few other new products held the potential for control over their mobility and the expansion of personal agency. Yet as Scharff (1991, 112) argues, “As the automobile industry revolutionized the nation’s geographical, economic, and cultural landscape in the 1920s, it also played no small part in reinforcing assumptions about masculinity and femininity.” A critical examination of 1920s automobile advertising directed to women readers reveals how the ideological struggle for women’s cultural status and agency played out in the pages of popular magazines. Within the context of the 1920s, the discourses of advertising within the pages of women’s periodicals functioned both to reinscribe disciplinary boundaries for women, yet also offer a space for the expression of their desires. As Alcoff (1997, 349) argues, the discursive definition of woman in a particular era is a phenomenon that is “a place where meaning is constructed, rather than simply a place where meaning can be discovered.” Similarly, Walker (2000, vii) emphasizes that “at no time during their histories have women’s magazines delivered perfectly consistent, monolithic messages to their readers.” In this chapter I analyze the comprehensive set of automobile advertisements published in Good Housekeeping from 1920 to 1929 to reveal how women were articulated in relation to the automobile as a central sign of modernity. My analysis of the set of automobile advertisements that appeared in Good Housekeeping between 1920 and 1929 resonates with Ramsey’s 83


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(2005, 33) conclusion about automobile advertisements in the previous decade of 1910 through 1920, that “in spite of the fact that representations of women in these advertisements were founded on traditional definitions of Woman, they still held possibilities for liberation.” I first explore how primary popular depictions in the 1920s defined white women’s relation to the automobile in complex ways. Second, I employ a feminist rhetorical analysis of both textual and visual elements that is grounded in commodity feminism, particularly the examination of how feminist social ideals of independence and professional achievement are distilled to a residue of individual style and the ways that advertising defines commodities as their substitutes (Goldman, Heath, and Smith 1991). My analysis of the automobile advertisements from Good Housekeeping reveals five themes that co-opt feminist ideas about personal autonomy and invest these in the sign of the automobile: the proper use of middle- to upper-class leisure time, the priority of white motherhood and family, the significance of style and status, strictures juxtaposing white women’s delicacy with control of technology, and celebration of women’s economic acuity. The conflicting depictions in automobile advertising to women, therefore, illustrate how women were disciplined by popular discourses to remain confined to traditional feminine roles, yet also how such discourses held the potential to be read in complex and oppositional ways in relation to the promises of this new technology. Moreover, these automobile advertisements demonstrate how many themes and images that persist in contemporary representations of women and new technologies were much earlier articulated in advertising discourse that sought to sell automobiles to women consumers. MODERNITY, MOBILITY, AND WOMEN’S DESIRES The decade of the 1920s was rich with social and cultural changes that heralded new possibilities for American women. First, Progressivists’ desire to improve the human condition by addressing a broad range of problems had emerged in response to industrialization and fueled various social reform movements led by mostly white, Protestant, and middle-class reformers, including many white women (Goldberg 1999). Second, progressivism melded quite comfortably with the cultural fascination with Taylorism and the application of scientific management not only to production lines but also to household management, particularly the “domestic efficiency” that was heralded to women (Frederick 1923). Third, following passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the Jazz Age delivered freedoms from traditional social mores enacted by flappers who flouted traditional social and fashion mores, but the era also was characterized by a strong emphasis on home and family

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(Brown 1987). Women in the 1920s were active in church and civic volunteer organizations, in the workplace, and in the literary and performing arts as the rise of new women’s periodicals provided a platform that addressed women’s “inarticulate longings” while also reinforcing women’s domestic roles (Scanlon 1995). Within this cultural milieu a new consumerism marked by population shifts, a changing workforce, increased earnings, and new credit institutions emerged that was accessible primarily to the white middle and upper classes. Lears (1983, 3) describes how “a rigid morality of self-denial” gave way to new values “that sanctioned periodic leisure, compulsive spending, apolitical passivity, and an apparently permissive (but subtly coercive) morality of individual fulfillment.” Advertising discursively situated the automobile in relation to these cultural transformations in complex ways. The automobile came to be synonymous with pursuit of the American Dream, melding perfectly with the frenetic pace of an early twentieth century that embraced everything new in the race to be modern (Peters 2009). By the 1920s, the automobile dominated the landscape, rendering forever a changed set of social, technological, political, and racially gendered relationships, and signifying the new leisure and desire for individuality in particular. Auto registrations increased from 8.1 million in 1920 to 23 million by 1930, as assembly lines improved the efficiency of production and lowered the cost of the vehicles (Walsh 2008). As a result, automobile ownership tripled during the 1920s, and by 1930 four families out of five owned one (Kyvig 2002, 21). The automobile symbolized an independence of movement and the chance to free oneself from the older boundaries of time, space, and distance. Yet, as Wajcman (1991, 25) observes, “it is impossible to divorce the gender relations which are expressed in, and shape technologies, from the wider social structures that create and maintain them.” For women, the promise of mobility represented by the automobile made it an object of desire and a convenient means for enacting the new demands for independence that marked the early twentieth century. Julie Wosk (2001, 120) notes that “by the 1920s, photographs of women and automobiles had become a central cultural emblem of women’s modernity, independence, and mobility” and concludes that the automobile “also served as a sign of stellar economic and social achievement.” Indeed, particularly for white, middle-class women, the embrace of the automobile signified their desire to “formulate their own resistance to the status quo. . . . Modernity signaled not an endorsement of an existing present but rather a bold imagining of an alternative future” (Felski 1995, 14). White suffragists especially sought to capitalize on the automobile as an “iconic object” (Wosk 2001, 125), and the association of women with automobiles conveyed a measure of control over technology that heralded a new role for women in the new century. Although few women were economically privileged to own an automobile in the early


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twentieth century, it served as a potent symbol of personal autonomy and gender equality. The resistance to masculine hegemony that the woman driver represented primarily was constrained within a disciplinary popular discourse that situated women who sought “automobility” as the objects of derision. As Motor editor Ray W. Sherman (1925, 27) stated, “Every time a woman learns to drive—and thousands do every year—it is a threat at yesterday’s order of things.” The stereotypes of the bad woman driver that emerged in earnest once automobiles were more widely affordable in the 1920s served the ideological purposes described by Berger (1986, 257): “They were attempts to both ‘keep women in their place’ and to protect them against what were believed to be corrupting influences to women in society.” Popular imagery in 1920s general readership magazines “also reinforced stereotypes of women as accident prone and driving recklessly out of control” (Wosk 2001, 133). Questioning women’s fitness to drive automobiles functioned to constrain them, as it became “an analogue of their capacity for self-governance and political agency that grew more pronounced during moments in which American masculinity was construed as threatened or enervated” (Seiler 2009, 85). Such messages reinforced stereotypes of feminine inadequacy and located women as incapable of mastering the automobile, the central symbol of modernity. So where did the advertising discourse of the 1920s fit within this dialectic between masculinist culture and women’s demands for agency and modern identity? Berger (1986, 258) notes that the discourse of advertising diverged from the folklore of women as bad drivers: “These ideas apparently did not affect the manufacturers of automobiles, who early on began to picture women in their advertisements and to recognize their influential role with male car buyers.” The new profession of advertising quickly mobilized to attract the loyalty of women consumers. In particular, 1920s advertisements “rationalized and lubricated an impersonal marketplace” by transcending their essential economic nature and achieving “subjective qualities and a ‘personal’ tone” (Marchand 1985, 9). More importantly, women were recognized as the key purchasing agents, with researchers estimating in the 1920s that women “purchased at least 80 percent of the total goods accumulated in families” (Scanlon 1995, 171). Women’s periodicals consistently attracted about a third of all magazine advertising dollars throughout the 1920s (Zuckerman 1998, 160). Within this saturation of appeals to these mostly white female consumers, the advertising discourses “not only complimented women on their superior responsiveness to new ideas, they also made them look modern” (Marchand 1985, 168). In her cultural analysis of women and automotive technology, Wosk (2001, 136) concludes that the costs that were exacted from women were incredibly high, as “the complex and conflicting

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representation of women automobilists in advertising and the popular press not only mirrored pervasive social attitudes but also helped shape women’s own sense of identity and self.” My analysis of 1920s automobile advertising suggests that these ads both circumscribed and celebrated modern women’s desires for personal autonomy and satisfaction. DISCOURSE ANALYSIS AND POPULAR MAGAZINES To examine automobile advertisements directed at women consumers, I collected the comprehensive set of over one hundred automobile ads that appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine from 1920 through 1929. I chose Good Housekeeping because it had “developed a complex and in many ways sophisticated identity as a service magazine for the American homemaker” (Walker 2000, 36) by providing prescriptions for fashion, household duties, cooking, and family care. Founded in 1885, by the mid-1920s Good Housekeeping’s circulation had topped one million readers (Endress and Lueck 1995, 124) who looked to the magazine for entertainment, amusement, and “concrete information that would assist them in their job of overseeing the household” (Zuckerman 1998, 4). Consequently, the advertisements that were published in this magazine are exemplars of advertisements that targeted middle-class white women consumers in the 1920s who properly qualified for “consumer citizenship” (Marchand 1985, 65). The new kind of women’s periodical prominent in the early twentieth century functioned as a complex space where advertising intersected with women readers who looked to these magazines to fulfill a complex set of needs. Good Housekeeping was one of the “Big Six” women’s periodicals of the early twentieth century, along with the other popular magazines Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, McCall’s, Pictorial Review, and Delineator, which “led in circulation, attracted large advertising dollars, and were treasured in the homes of thousands of loyal readers” (Zuckerman 1998, 3). These magazines embraced an ethos of managerialism characteristic of the 1920s and correspondingly oriented their contents to become “manuals in how citizenship, occupational life, and domesticity could be better ‘managed’” (Wilson 1983, 55). Still, although women’s magazines “propped up both capitalism and patriarchy,” they also gave voice to “women’s complaints, desires, and dreams” (Scanlon 1995, 231). All of the texts that I collected are full-page advertisements that, with a few exceptions, appeared in the separate, indexed advertising section that followed the main stories, recipes, and features, the typical monthly format of Good Housekeeping in this era. Unfortunately, no data exist regarding the racial composition of the actual readership, but the images


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in the advertisements exclusively depict white women and children, as would have been typical for mass-market magazines in the 1920s. The advertisements in this ten-year span represent several US automobile manufacturers, including Ford, Buick, Dodge, Chandler, Chevrolet, and Cadillac, etc. The frequency of the advertisements increased as the decade progressed, with many more appearing in the latter five years from 1925 through 1929. I adopt Foucault’s approach to discourse analysis to analyze this set of automobile advertisements directed toward women in Good Housekeeping, particularly in regard to how accounts of the social world are conveyed through images and language. Foucault’s (1972) examination of discourse especially focuses on the intersection of power and knowledge, precisely in relation to how discourses function in the construction of social differences and hierarchies of authority and power. He argued that thematic relationships among statements and visual elements “are the result of a construction the rules of which must be known and the justifications of which must be scrutinized” (25). Rose (2012, 215) notes that an important dimension of this method is determining “how a particular discourse works to persuade.” Hence, in this analysis I attend to rhetorical dimensions of the ads, especially scrutinizing the verbal and visual elements in relation to the audience addressed. These specific advertisements are cited as examples in my analysis: Buick • “Summer Days Mean So Much More,” July 1927, 5 Cadillac • “Infinitely Greater Safety and Handling Ease,” March 1929, 94 • “These Exclusive Features,” May 1929, 112 Chandler • “She Is a Carefree Driver,” April 1924, 121 Chevrolet • “Where Town and Country Meet,” October 1923, 91 Dodge • “Dodge Brothers Touring Car,” July 1923, 123 Ford • “Among Those Women,” January 1924, 98 • “Her Habit of Measuring Time,” April 1924, 101 • “Its Ability to Contribute,” February 1924, 85 • “Making Summer Linger,” September 1924, 100 • “Not Even a Chilly All-Day Rain,” March 1924, 99 • “Through Her Dealings,” August 1924, 99

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General Motors • “Marooned” April 1929, 173 • “Our Investment in Friendships,” May 1929, 168 Hupmobile • “Beauty in a Motor Car,” July 1923, 115 • “Creators of the Mode,” April 1929, 167 Star/Durant • “Why Women Prefer the Star,” May 1926, 195 The interrelationship among women and technology, the negative descriptions of women’s driving, and the cultural transformations in this era provide the context in which I interpret the images and texts. Of particular interest is how these advertisements communicate a definition of “woman” in relation to the automobile, both drawing on the emancipatory promise of this technology and yet reinforcing the primacy of domesticity and the desirability of achieving social status through consumption. DRIVING, DISTRACTIONS, AND DESIRES The five themes that I discovered in the advertisements point to sites of contradiction and ambiguity regarding how women are defined in relation to the automobile: (1) leisure, (2) motherhood and family, (3) style and status, (4) delicacy and control, and (5) value and economy. The advertisements echo the popular discourse regarding women, technology, and their specific relationship to automobiles, yet the ads also offer conflicting depictions that reflect the struggles regarding women’s roles characteristic of 1920s culture. The advertisements address women readers in complex ways by employing the verbal and visual cues of modernity and technology. The women in these ads are depicted as white, young, attractive, and stylish, what Marchand (1985, 182) refers to as the “grotesque moderne” image of an elongated body that “appeared as physically distinct from the woman of lower social position.” The automobile represents the means for fulfilling women’s desire for companionship and mobility, yet it also is situated in the ads as the key purchase that allows women to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers and wives as well as achieve social status. Consequently, the advertisements situate the consumption of the automobile in concert with a gendered commerce that was “performed in part in public for the good of the family and the home” (Damon-Moore 1994, 4). These automobile ads construct a particular kind of intersectional womanhood that both begins to make the car a necessity for the American middle class and entices white


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heterosexual womanhood to consume the automobile as a substitute for women’s political demands. Theme 1: Leisure and Liberatory Desires The automobile is situated as a key purchase that enables white middle- and upper-class women to access leisure time. In his survey of 1920s advertising, Marchand (1985, 172) argues that the promotional discourse of the era promised to save women time from their daily tasks, but in turn emphasized that these saved hours were to be devoted to their children, rather than shopping, charity work, golf, the theatre, or civic affairs. The copy and images in the automobile advertisements, however, challenge this characterization. The automobile’s use for the family is described as an important benefit in many of the ads, but others depict women with other women, sans children, gathered on front porches, assembled outside of theatres and shops, and motoring together. For the white, economically privileged women whom these ads address, leisure is linked to the freedom to pursue women’s companionship and individual pursuits. Although not explicitly depicted in the ads, this leisure was possible because many white women could employ women of color to perform their domestic and childcare duties. The advertisements positioned the automobile as the key purchase necessary to attain this unrushed and unruffled lifestyle. The language in these advertisements often emphasizes the “delight” of driving, as in the 1923 ad that proclaims, “Women who drive the Hupmobile know what a delight it is to arrive as fresh and unhurried as they start” (“Beauty in a Motor Car”). This statement is accompanied by a large illustration of three women in filmy dresses assembled for coffee on a veranda. Similarly, a 1923 Dodge advertisement states that “the airy freedom of the Touring Car is a source of genuine delight” (“Dodge Brothers Touring Car”), while the illustration of three women attired in summer hats and stylish clothing, with their car parked near a tree and park bench, suggests a leisurely afternoon among women friends. This depiction of leisure also is prominent in a 1924 Ford advertisement that describes how the woman behind the wheel can “suggest thoughtful services to her friends. She can call for them without effort and share pleasantly their companionship” (“Not Even a Chilly All-Day Rain”). This thematic emphasis on leisure as equated with freedom and happiness, accompanied with illustrations of women gathering together, provocatively resonates with the women’s suffrage appropriation of the automobile as a sign of liberation. By 1929, a General Motors advertisement explicitly refers to the purchase of a second car as “Our Investment in Friendships” and features a letter ostensibly written by a woman to the company in which she states: “Now, after having my own car, I am a different person. I am active

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both in club work and at the church. Talking and sewing with other women, hearing their problems, telling them mine, has given me a new point of view.” This is a particularly dramatic example of the message of liberation that situates the automobile as the key purchase that leads to self-transformation and the solidification of a women’s community. Yet, because this appeal to liberation is expressed not in political but in social realms, especially those accessible only to middle- and upper-class white women, personal satisfaction substitutes for public solidarity. Theme 2: Certifying Motherhood and Securing Family Bonds The implication that the automobile allows for leisure and enjoyment also frequently is articulated in relation to the successful performance of motherhood. The automobile is the key purchase that ensures that a woman is fulfilling her duties and maximizing her service to her children, albeit properly in step with the pace of modern life and circumscribed by heterosexual marriage. A 1924 Ford advertisement exemplifies this appeal by stating, “Its ability to contribute to the daily life of her children, as well as to her own, is a feature the modern mother is quick to appreciate.” In the illustration an older girl and a younger boy with their schoolbook satchels are featured in the foreground, with their young, modern mother standing next to the car in the background. The automobile provides pleasures for such economically privileged white women because they can transport children to activities that will give them joy and thus fulfill their traditional roles. These advertisements also complexify the idea of motherhood by emphasizing the development of a bond, importantly based on automobility, between mother and child that allows them a means of identification. Far from positioning the woman as merely a chauffeur, this same Ford ad emphasizes that the deepening of the relationship between the mother and her children is a key promise of the automobile: “It opens to her a precious participation in their busy affairs. With a Ford Closed Car she can share their good times and yet hold to the necessary schedule.” The ad concludes with a statement that positions the automobile as the unifying factor between a mother and her children: “She enjoys driving it herself; and the children look forward eagerly to their ride with mother at the wheel.” The automobile is rendered as essential for family maintenance and the development of one’s children while also positioned as “necessary” for the tasks that a modern white woman must undertake and perform well. The advertisements depicting women with children also suggest that driving can extend the pleasures of a day or a season by allowing a woman to travel farther with her family, yet be comfortable, safe, and, most significantly, in control. For example, a 1924 Ford advertisement features a


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large illustration of a stylishly attired, smiling woman who is driving, with a man and young boy in the backseat of the car. The headline of the ad entices with the description, “Making Summer Linger,” and promises that the automobile is the key to “Getting the Most Out of Every Day.” The copy continues with the statement that “To the woman at the wheel of a Ford car, every road seems straight and smooth; hills melt away and rough places are easy.” A similar message is found in a 1927 Buick advertisement depicting a mother and daughter picnicking away from the city. The text proclaims that “to the woman who owns a Buick, new roads to happiness reveal themselves each day” (“Summer Days Mean So Much More”). The woman who drives not only finds fulfillment in her children, but also experiences the pleasures related to the automobile’s motility with them. Yet the seductive promise that the automobile will smooth “rough places” and reveal paths to happiness are expressed within the confines of a traditional heterosexual family structure and perpetuate a white middle-class fantasy of uncomplicated domestic bliss. These advertisements discipline women by implying that they must be successful in their role as mother while linking “success” to the possession of modern products such as the automobile. The opposite also is implied, that the absence of the car equates with failure as mother and as a modern woman. In their landmark study of “Middletown,” Lynd and Lynd (1929, 225) describe the centrality of the automobile to everyday life and the pressures to conform to its place of prominence regardless of the cost: “‘We’d rather do without clothes than give up the car,’ said one mother with nine children.” While the automobile advertisements of the 1920s envisioned how women could transform themselves through personal transportation and forge meaningful relationships with their children, these ads also situated the automobile as necessary for white women’s happiness and family stability, regardless of the sacrifices necessary to possess it. Theme 3: Style and Status as Feminine Aspirations Women are exalted for their culture and taste in this set of advertisements, yet how these compliments are situated both enhances and constrains the definition of women as full participants in modern culture. White female consumers are praised for being “discriminating” and “cultured,” linguistic expressions that function in advertising discourse as code words for elite standards of consumption. Correspondingly, such women are afforded the freedom to navigate the landscape of products, but their knowledge and control is limited to notions of beauty and style. The rewards for the “tasteful” choice are prestige and social status, yet these images of woman as interested only in the aesthetic dimensions of modernity function to limit her active role

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to consumption. Moreover, the emphasis on style and status ties women to popular discourses that define them as shallow, motivated by their emotions, and concerned only with the aesthetic qualities of technology. Merging the “modern” woman as style icon and the image of the automobile in these advertisements underscores consumption as the signifier of upwardly mobile white women’s identity. Choosing the proper automobile ensures that a woman will be rewarded with an elevated social status for her good judgment, with these class aspirations conveyed in visual depictions of women among symbols of affluence and modern style. A 1924 Ford advertisement, for example, features a large illustration of a white woman dressed in what appears to be evening wear, including gloves and a coat with a fur collar. She stands near an ornate railing and in front of a brick walk that leads to her car, indications of a large home with a private drive. The ad’s copy complements the visual representation of style: “Among those women who are recognized in their communities as arbiters in matters of taste, the Ford Four-door enjoys unusually high favor.” Many of the advertisements create a similar link between the ability to recognize luxury in the selection of an automobile and the corresponding social status that will be afforded this achievement. These advertisements subordinate the automobile’s potential to signify freedom by emphasizing instead the stereotypical feminine desire for products that are attractive and new. A 1929 Hupmobile ad that begins with the headline “Creators of the Mode” actually merges the image of the “grotesque moderne” woman with the stylish lines of the automobile. The illustration features an art-deco figure at its center, a white woman with elongated body lines and thin, pointed extremities, with a partially visible man bending to kiss her hand, as both are posed on a city street. The copy implies that she is in Paris: “For the style-conscious woman, the New Hupmobile Century car flashes its message of smartness and modernity as swiftly and surely as does the latest gown by the Paris Grande Couture.” The white woman consumer’s identity as the arbiter of taste is underscored in the advertisement’s conclusion that the Hupmobile is “Her car for its dash; his car for its deeds.” That a woman’s sole interest in the automobile is related to her fashion sensibilities is emphasized by the opposition between this dimension and how a man knows that “there is more than beauty” in these cars, but also “mechanical trustworthiness” and “rugged” performance. These advertisements reinforce the patriarchal notions that the mechanical knowledge of automobiles is beyond a white woman’s capacity to understand by actively constructing a gendered opposition between beauty and performance. Consequently, the automobile is situated as a stylish accessory that will certify the modern status of the white woman who is in its presence.


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Theme 4: Feminine Delicacy and Mechanical Control Much of the popular discourse regarding women drivers emphasized their inability to operate a vehicle and the threat posed to their feminine delicacy by its mechanical complexity. These concerns about “delicacy” were the exclusive provenance of middle- and upper-class white women of leisure who sought the status that the automobile promised them. Advertisements for automobiles both reinscribe yet subtly alter this image of incompetent women drivers by assuring them that the modern cars are designed to compensate for these inadequacies while operating with ease. A good example of this paradoxical message is found in a 1924 Chandler advertisement that proclaims, “She is a Carefree Driver,” and provides two images of a smiling woman stepping out of her car. The advertisement conveys that the “sound reasons” for the purchase of a Chandler automobile include both style and substance: “No other closed car offers such enviable smartness at so moderate a cost; none is so easy, so safe, so delightful to drive.” This emphasis on the ease of operation is further underscored as of great importance for women in the concluding sentence of the copy, which proclaims, “No other car offers this delightful freedom from the evils of shifting gears.” The language of “evil” is striking in regard to how the car is the savior that will deliver women into liberation and help them circumvent the mechanical details that formerly impeded their relationship with this technology. The advertisements reinforce feminine limitations while depicting the attendant pleasures of driving that are available because designers and manufacturers have addressed the mechanical details of an automobile that once were a nuisance for properly delicate white women. A 1929 advertisement for the Cadillac LaSalle conveys this dual message dramatically by featuring a photograph of a car interior that shows a woman’s gloved hands, one on the steering wheel and the other reaching for a floor-mounted shift lever, while her stocking-clad leg is centered in the image. The copy begins with “Infinitely Greater Safety and Handling Ease,” and continues to describe how “handling, gear-shifting, braking, parking—all have been reduced to minimum effort and maximum security.” The woman is assured that she will be insulated from any complexities or embarrassments because the “simple, finger-touch shifting of gears” allows for easy operation “without the slightest suggestion of clashing gears.” Another Cadillac advertisement makes the case for women’s self-sufficiency even more dramatically, promising that “These exclusive features free driving of all conscious effort.” The copy entices women to “experience for yourself their matchless new measure of safety, comfort and handling ease.” The image of a relaxed white woman in control of the automobile in the photograph that accompanies this text conveys a measure of power and autonomy, even while the stereotypical

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feminine desire for fashion and style are highlighted in her traits. A paradoxical set of messages is communicated in these advertisements that situates white women as confident and in control, but only because the automobiles have been redesigned to compensate for white women’s inadequacies. Theme 5: Value and Consumer Control If 1920s advertising positioned women consumers as the primary purchasing agents for their family, then women must be knowledgeable about the right choices. This characterization recast the old role of housewife into a modern managerial status, what N. W. Ayer and Son advertising labeled “The Little Woman G.P.A.” (Marchand 1985, 168). Although this message to women resonates with the efficiency ethos of the era, the narrow set of attainments attributed to white women as their household managers typically is subordinated to their feminine fashion sense (Marchand 1985). Automobile advertising reinforces how managerial skills are related to style and status, but also implies a more complex way that the automobile serves as the key purchase that might allow the woman manager to move beyond the boundaries of the home. Many automobile advertisements that explicitly feature managerial language and laud the white female consumer for her good sense and judgment reinforce traditional class differences and racialized gender roles. For example, a 1924 advertisement describes the wisdom of women consumers: “Through her dealings as business manager of the home, the modern woman brings sound commercial sense to bear on her judgment of a Ford closed car” (“Through Her”). Both the copy and illustration position the car as the means by which a white, middle-class woman can perform her identity as a modern manager. Similarly, a 1923 advertisement describes how a Chevrolet car enhances the family budgets for both urban and rural women because a city wife is able to drive to a farm wife: “Each woman benefits by the exchange as the low prices paid by the city woman are much higher than the farmer can get on wholesale shipments” (“Where Town and Country Meet”). The ad offers a subtle image of female solidarity in this private economy, even in light of the class differences signified by the simple versus stylish clothing worn by the country and city wives and the narrative’s evocation of a nostalgic agrarian fantasy. In one case, expertise in the realm of purchasing automobiles even extends to the realm of professional women. Although it is the only one in the set to explicitly feature employment outside of the home, this 1924 Ford advertisement is notable for its direct copy and illustration. The ad praises how “Her habit of measuring time in terms of dollars gives the woman in business keen insight into the true value of a Ford closed car for her personal


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use,” and also describes that “This car enables her to conserve minutes, to expedite her affairs, to widen the scope of her activities” (“Her Habit”). More than half of the page is devoted to a large illustration of a white woman standing near a large window through which a car is visible. She holds a telephone and is positioned next to a desk arrayed with papers and files. Each of these objects—telephone, window, and desk—is a signifier frequently used in advertising of the era to connote modernity, prominence, and control (Marchand 1985, 242–45). Although this white woman is afforded only a street-level window and not the expansive city vistas given to businessmen, the image still is remarkable in conveying her activity and importance outside of the home. The notion of “value” that is articulated in these automobile advertisements transcends economics to demonstrate how the purchase of a car is integral to a modern woman’s identity. For example, a 1926 advertisement for Star Cars claims that the purchase of a “less expensive” automobile will not diminish one’s status, so long as it is also stylish, with “harmonious colors [and] tasteful appointments” (“Why Women Prefer the Star”). The illustration further implies that the less expensive Star Car is endorsed by modern white women like the two who are depicted outside of a boutique. While this ad defines value as social status, a 1929 advertisement promotes the idea of owning a second car as essential for a white woman’s ability to escape isolation. Following the headline “MAROONED!” the text extends economic value to a white woman’s personal sense of agency. In the ad copy, ostensibly from a letter to the company, “another woman” writes: “MAROONED! That is the fate of many a woman, and it was mine until I got an inexpensive car for my very own.” The letter continues to describe how, if not for this car, “we women would be stranded here many a day.” The writer says that “the neighbor women who haven’t cars envy me” because “without it, our home would seem almost like a prison.” The automobile functions as the literal means of escape for women from their domestic confines, offering the antidote to the sad white woman in the illustration who stands with her arms around her two children, waving to her husband who is about to depart in the family car. Most of the automobile advertisements that Good Housekeeping readers encountered between 1920 and 1929 do not contain such radical messages of domestic incarceration and automobility as liberation. However, advertisers’ articulation of the relationship between white women and automobiles is complex and often contradictory. Many ads embed messages of personal transformation along with images of women’s friendship, foreground the importance of emotional bonds with children, and suggest that self-realization is contingent on mobility. The advertisements draw on the negative images of female drivers in popular discourse to discipline women, but they also resonate with women’s desires for independence and mobility. Additionally,

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although the ads express the managerial ethos of the era by often connecting the automobile to white women’s roles in the home as mothers and purchasing agents, the ads also depict the automobile as the means for transcending boundaries of geographical and raced and gendered spaces. The automobile advertisements represent the same kind of complex discourse that characterized the pages of the women’s periodicals in which they appeared by providing both disciplinary guidelines for the proper way that “modern” white women look and behave, yet also mediating white women’s desires by progressively depicting how they might have agency and power. DISCIPLINARY DISTRACTIONS AND PARADOXICAL PROMISES Many of the advertisements I analyze here can be interpreted as constraining white women’s cultural role within the boundaries of white heteropatriarchy and the clutches of superficial consumption. Constructed to appeal to the upwardly mobile white woman consumer, these texts draw on symbols and narratives that particularly resonated with fantasies of social status and domestic bliss, and implicitly included only those women economically privileged enough to afford domestic help that would free them for leisure time. The disciplinary force of popular discourses that defined fashion and consumption as the proper pursuits for the modern white woman is evident in these automobile advertisements. The ads further reinscribed patriarchy by depicting delicate white women’s inadequacies in the face of technology and recuperated traditional racialized gender roles as mothers and wives by situating consumerism as a key measure of their success at fulfilling these roles, and also constructed social climbing and the leisure activities available to these white women consumers as substitutes for political aspirations. Yet even within their limited scope, my analysis revealed countervailing messages related to leisure, motherhood and family, style and status, delicacy and control, and value and economy, which also indicate a more complex cultural moment for women. First, although many of the advertisements replicate traditional definitions of white femininity and family roles, these texts also depict women’s roles in multifaceted ways. Particularly notable are the messages that exemplify how the automobile can serve as the means for building authentic and deepened relationships between mothers and children and among women. Visual depictions of groups of women engaged in activities outside of the home mirrored the longings of many women of the era. The automobile is not positioned as forging bonds among wives and husbands, however, and little is said about the effect of a white woman’s increased mobility on the


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quality of her marriage or romantic relationships. Advertisers likely needed to tread a careful line between respectable propriety and suggesting women would find access to cars liberating. Thus, particularly for the target audience of white middle- and upper-class women, situating women’s freedom within the confines of being a better mother or socializing with other respectable women provided a cloak of acceptability that mediated the subversive image of women who ventured out alone in automobiles. Second, the advertisements analyzed here diverge from heteropatriarchal notions of white women and offer a subtle rebuttal to unflattering stereotypical depictions of white women as inadequate drivers. Primarily, these advertisements locate what usually are viewed as traditionally masculine concerns as part of women’s relationship with automobiles. Scharff (1991, 119) argues that gendered notions of automobility often reinforce a “questionable distinction” wherein functions associated with power, economy, and price, are identified with masculinity, whereas automotive forms such as luxury, comfort, and style are identified with femininity. Although some of the texts in this set of advertisements reflect how this distinction was used to frame women’s relationship with automobiles, my analysis also points to how the discourses diverged from these categorizations. Particularly in regard to value and economy, the advertisements characterize women as savvy consumers who understand that the intrinsic worth of an automobile is related to more than its style. These advertisements frequently addressed women’s desires to experience the pleasures of driving that accompanied confidence and control. Third, the advertisements also convey social structures of inclusion and exclusion along lines of class, gender, and race. The white middle- and upper-class women who are present in the texts are depicted as in control of vehicles, and are shown using those vehicles to transcend spatial boundaries and forge relationships. These automobile advertisements feature tableaux where such women are active agents who pursue their own interests rather than display their modern style as passive objects of the male gaze. The men, who appear infrequently in the ads, are passengers or admiring companions for women. When women are depicted together, the women are congenial rather than competitive, and even when notions of style and status are emphasized, the automobile is articulated as the purchase that can create beneficial bonds. Consequently, the messages and depictions can be read as provocative “open” texts that left spaces for white middle- and upper-class women to see themselves as active participants in modernity and as independent from masculine authority and control. The absences and exclusions are profound, too, as the social world depicted was inaccessible to women of color, the lower classes, and anyone outside of the heteronormative definition of family that these advertisements portrayed. Indeed, these advertisements literally construct a uniquely US white femininity in the early twentieth century.

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The paradoxes that were presented to women in the early decades of the twentieth century in many ways persist into the twenty-first, particularly regarding the seductive promise of consumer capitalism to fulfill women’s desires for individual agency. Women continue to be constrained within the popular discourses that render them as inadequate and incomplete in the popular consciousness. Yet despite this historical legacy, popular texts that are designed for and engaged by women also hold the potential to function as locations for the negotiation of identities and the redefinition of cultural practices. Such promises always are circumscribed within the specificity of their class, race, and gender depictions, such that popular discourses like advertising may resonate for some, but completely exclude, indict, or erase the experiences of others. As my analysis of 1920s automobile advertisements reveals, the promise that popular discourses can offer alternative conceptualizations of women’s agency exists between the lines and among the pictures, but it also is important to remember that such enticements are as limited as they are alluring. REFERENCES Alcoff, Linda. 1997. “Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory.” In The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, edited by Linda Nicholson, 330–55. New York: Routledge. Berger, Michael L. 1986. “‘Women Drivers!’ The Emergence of Folklore Concerning Feminine Automotive Behavior.” Women’s Studies International Forum 9 (3): 257–63. Brown, Dorothy M. 1987. Setting a Course: American Women in the 1920s. Boston, MA: Twayne. Damon-Moore, Helen. 1994. Magazines for the Millions: Gender and Commerce in the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, 1880–1910. Albany: State University of New York Press. Endress, Kathleen L. and Therese L. Lueck. 1995. Women’s Periodicals in the United States: Consumer Magazines. Westport, CN: Greenwood. Felski, Rita. 1995. The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archeology of Knowledge. Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith. London: Tavistock. Frederick, Christine. 1923. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. Chicago, IL: American School of Home Economics. Goldberg, David J. 1999. Discontented America: The United States in the 1920s. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. 1991. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8 (3): 333–51.


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Kyvig, David E. 2002. Daily Life in the United States, 1920–1939. Westport, CN: Greenwood. Lears, T. J. Jackson. 1983. “From Salvation to Self Realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880–1930.” In The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History 1880–1980, edited by Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears, 1–38. New York: Pantheon. Lynd, Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd. 1929. Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. Marchand, Roland. 1985. Advertising the American Dream: Making way for Modernity, 1920–1940. Berkeley: University of California Press. Peters, Michael A. 2009. “Automobilism, Americanism, and the End of Fordism.” Policy Futures in Education 7 (2): 266–69. Ramsey, Michele. 2005. “Selling Social Status: Woman and Automobile Advertisements from 1910–1920.” Women and Language 28 (1): 26–38. Rose, Gillian. 2012. Visual Methodologies, 3rd ed. London: Sage. Sanford, Charles L. 1980. “‘Woman’s Place’ in American Car Culture.” Michigan Quarterly Review 19 (4): 532–47. Scanlon, Jennifer. 1995. Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies’ Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture. New York: Routledge. Scharff, Virginia. 1991. Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age. New York: Free Press. Seiler, Cotten. 2009. Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America. University of Chicago Press. Sherman, Ray W. 1925. “Our Next Great Development is the Woman Driver.” Motor, September, p. 27. Wajcman, Judy. 1991. Feminism Confronts Technology. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Walker, Nancy A. 2000. Shaping Our Mothers’ World: American Women’s Magazines. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Walsh, Margaret. 2008. “Gendering Mobility: Women, Work and Automobility in the United States.” History 93 (3): 376–95. Wilson, Christopher P. 1983. “The Rhetoric of Consumption: Mass-Market Magazines and the Demise of the Gentle Reader, 1880–1920.” In The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History 1880–1980, edited by Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears, 40–64. New York: Pantheon. Wosk, Julie. 2001. Women and the Machine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. 1998. A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792–1995. Westport, CN: Greenwood.

Part II


Chapter 5

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market Gillian W. Oakenfull

In the twenty-first century, the LGBT rights movement in the United States and other developed countries has made enormous gains in social acceptance and may have met its original goals. National trends indicate a rapid and significant increase over the last three decades in public support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States. On average, public support for marriage equality has more than doubled since the early 2000s (Flores 2014). The Pew Research Center (2013) reports that an overwhelming share of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults (92 percent) feel that society has become more accepting of them in the past decade, and an equal number expect it to grow even more accepting in the decade ahead. They attribute the changes to a variety of factors, from people knowing and interacting with someone who is LGBT to LGBT adults rearing families, and advocacy on behalf of LGBT people and families by high-profile public figures and corporations. Today corporations have gone beyond developing inclusive internal policies and gay-oriented marketing practices to begin to influence the treatment of the LGBT population in public policy. Given Ragusa’s (2005) taxonomy of corporate treatment of the LGBT population, it may be that corporations have shifted again from the corporate pursuit of the 2000s to corporate advocacy in the current decade. In response, LGBT individuals have shown impressive brand loyalty to companies that are visible supporters or advocates of LGBT equality in their advertising. Although some legal issues may be of more interest to one segment of the LGBT population than another (e.g., provision for transgender-related care among health insurance plans, adoption laws for lesbians who are more likely to have children than gay men, funding for AIDS research and treatment for gay men), the LGBT population 103


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recognizes the need to come together as one community to fight for equal rights at a macro level. However, the efficacy of corporate treatment of the “LGBT” market based simply on corporate advocacy and political identity rather than on marketing activities tailored to specific needs, wants, and behaviors is likely to erode as LGBT individuals receive increasing social legitimacy and redefine their social identity as members of a stigmatized group. As such, corporations must learn to distinguish between LGBT individuals as citizens and LGBT individuals as consumers with intersecting identities. In 2013, Amazon received accolades when it ran a commercial on mainstream television in which an attractive man and woman are reading, side by side, at the beach, the man struggling with the sun glare of his iPad (Gianatasio 2013). The woman encourages him to buy a Kindle Paperwhite, which the man immediately orders. He suggests they celebrate. “My husband’s bringing me a drink right now,” she says. “So is mine,” he responds with a smile. Some industry experts proclaimed the ad “profoundly important” from the point of view of the LGBT community because it aired on a broad range of popular television channels and was explicit in identifying the man in the ad as gay. Clearly, the ad goes far beyond the gay code and gay-vague imagery of previous decades, where companies winked at the gay community using gay subtext and innuendo while avoiding potential negative backlash from mainstream audiences. For that, Amazon picked up kudos from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which is a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees (Human Rights Campaign Staff 2013). However, while clarifying the identity of a character as gay can certainly be considered inclusion and corporate advocacy for a stigmatized minority group, it stops short of target marketing based on the specific needs and wants of a defined target group of consumers. Additionally, as with the vast majority of ads that claim to target the LGBT community, the “G” in the LGBT acronym almost always is exclusively depicted in the ad while all other groups are excluded. The image of an attractive, white, gay man sunning himself on a beach without a child in tow certainly speaks to the affluent white male “dual income, no kids” (DINK) stereotype that has historically dominated all other LGBT identities in the marketplace. To claim that the Amazon ad targets all of the LGBT population would require an assumption that lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people of all races and other intersectionalities can see themselves represented in the ad and can readily identify with the content of the ad as members of the same homogenous consumer segment. In this chapter, I begin with a discussion of whether an LGBT consumer market composed of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals actually exists based on the criteria for classification of a marketing segment.

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


I continue with an argument for why lesbian consumers should be treated differently from gay men in the marketplace. Although lesbians and gay men have joined forces to fight social and legal stigma, these shared political identities have a fragile link to consumer behavior—a link that grows increasingly meaningless as lesbians and gay men gain societal legitimacy. I conclude by highlighting meaningful differences between the lifestyles and consumption behaviors of gay men and lesbians, differences that call for treating lesbians as a distinct consumer segment. Given the historically pejorative use of the term lifestyle by heterosexist, homophobic culture to trivialize being LGBT as a frivolous choice, it is important to note that I use lifestyle throughout this work as a marketing concept referring to both work and leisure behavior patterns expressed through activities, attitudes, interests, opinions, values, and allocation of income. SEPARATING THE MOVEMENT FROM THE MARKET The Size of the LGBT Population A Williams Institute report authored by Gates (2011) estimated that 3.8 percent of US Americans identified as gay or lesbian, bisexual, or transgender: 1.7 percent as lesbian or gay, 1.8 percent as bisexual, and 0.3 percent as transgender. There are many challenges in estimating the size and composition of the LGBT population, starting with the question of whether to use a definition based solely on self-identification or whether also to include measures of sexual attraction and sexual behavior. The 2011 Williams Institute report states that 8.2 percent of Americans reported that they had engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and 11 percent reported some same-sex attraction. It is likely that these numbers vastly underrepresent the actual number of LGBT individuals in the United States and other countries. All such estimates depend to some degree on the willingness of LGBT individuals to disclose what they would understand in the present moment as their sexual orientation and gender identity, and research suggests that not everyone in this population is ready or willing to do so. Despite potential underrepresentation, it’s clear that the LGBT population in the United States, as in many other countries, is substantial and can reward marketers who employ effectively targeted marketing activities. How the Movement Spawned the Market The gay market was first anointed the “dream market” in 1988 in the Wall Street Journal, which cited the market’s higher-than-average incomes and


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career success, far greater spending on alcohol and travel, and higherthan-average credit card purchases (Rigden 1988). Over the next three decades, LGBT marketing agencies continued to tout the higher-thanaverage household incomes, attractive buying habits, and strong brand loyalty of the LGBT consumer market with an estimated buying power of over $871 billion (National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce 2016.) In reality, the rising visibility of the dream market in the media was part of a strategic effort by leaders of what was then the gay and lesbian social movement to achieve social progress through the marketplace. In the 1980s, post-civil rights era cultural goals of the gay and lesbian social movement began to take shape and included, among other things, building gay communities, working to liberate the broader society from biphobia and homophobia, and “challenging dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity, homophobia, and the primacy of the gendered heterosexual nuclear family (heteronormativity). Political goals include changing laws and policies in order to gain new rights, benefits, and protections from harm” (Bernstein 2002, 536). The term LGB first came about in the 1980s when bisexual people were added to the description. Activists in the LGB community felt that being recognized in the marketplace was important for the social legitimization of LGB individuals and the growth of the LGB social movement. This followed the path of earlier social movements that recognized the marketplace as an important domain of social contestation where disenfranchised groups engage in ongoing struggles for social and political inclusion (Peñaloza 1996). Activists and organizers set about proving to corporate America that it needed to focus on the LGB community as a consumer market. Marketing firms conducted surveys to show that not just affluence but high levels of brand loyalty were a hallmark of gays and lesbians (Wilke 2017). The image of gays and lesbians in society began to change once Wall Street and Madison Avenue realized that there was a vast, untapped potential consumer market of affluent DINKs and urban dwellers who loved to spend on travel and entertainment. In the media, while little attention was paid to lesbians, gay men were perceived as well to do, cosmopolitan, and voraciously consumerist. In Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Romer v. Evans (1996, 27), the landmark case that overturned a Colorado State constitutional amendment prohibiting legal protections for gays and lesbians, Scalia wrote, “Those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities.” Even more ominously to Scalia, gays and lesbians have “high disposable income,” which gives them “disproportionate political power . . . to [achieve] not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance, of homosexuality” (28).

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


Commentators have criticized the myth of gay affluence due to (1) deliberate efforts to convince corporations of the affluence of gay consumers to gain marketplace legitimacy; (2) weak research sampling that relied too heavily on subscribers to LGBT media who tended to be men, white, middleclass, and relatively affluent; and (3) difficulty capturing data from poorer LBGT individuals who often lived invisibly in regions with increased levels of homophobia where being out posed physical and emotional risks to their wellbeing (McDermott 2014). In reality, LGBT Americans face disproportionately greater economic challenges than their straight counterparts (Sears and Badgett 2012). The social movement expanded in the 1990s to go beyond sexual orientation to include gender identity. The term LGBT is intended to emphasize a diversity of sexuality- and gender identity–based cultures and may be used to refer to anyone who is nonheterosexual or noncisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. However, while this diversity has proven powerful in the social and political spheres, it poses challenges to attempts to delineate a valid LGBT consumer segment. Although the LGBT social movement is composed of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals united by societal stigmatization and cooperative movements to counteract it, it is questionable whether that stigmatization and cooperation can provide the homogeneity required to form an effective consumer segment. Detangling the Markets from the Movement Drawing on various aspects of marketing theory on segmentation, some question the existence of an LGBT consumer market. To be considered valid and meaningful, a consumer segment must contain individuals who are similar to one another and distinct from consumers in other groups with respect to their responsiveness to potential marketing offerings and appeals (Dickson and Ginter 1987). A consumer segment is generally defined using meaningful segmentation criteria that can be demographic, psychographic, geographic, benefits sought, or behavioral. At its simplest demographic levels, the LGBT population includes individuals who vary based on sex and gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Designating the entire LGBT population as a market segment assumes that every member of the segment possesses a common set of preferences and behaviors, a proposition that is false for any population segment but is especially specious for the so-called LGBT segment. Bhat (1996) argues that sexual orientation can serve only as a “descriptor” of a segment defined by demographics rather than as a “base” of segmentation. He adds that using a descriptor as a base for segmentation results in “stereotyping”—presuming


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that everyone who fits the segment behaves in the same way. Over twenty years ago, the concept of a one-size-fits-all identity based on LGBT stereotypes was already being criticized for suppressing the individuality of LGBT peoples (Simpson 1996). Diversity within Markets Makes Poor Marketing To some extent, to arrive at a meaningful consumer segment, marketers must first unravel the historical evolution of the LGBT acronym as a label for the social movement, beginning with the “T.” Some argue that transgender and transsexual identities and causes are distinct from those of LGB people. This argument centers on the idea that transgender and transsexuality are defined based on gender identity, or a person’s understanding of being a man, a woman, or both or neither, irrespective of their sexual orientation, whereas LGB issues refer to matters of sexual orientation or attraction. These distinctions have been made in the context of political action in which LGB goals, such as same-sex marriage legislation and adoption rights, may be perceived to differ from transgender and transsexual goals. Others believe that grouping together people with nonheterosexual orientations perpetuates the myth that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender makes a person deficiently different from other people. Finally, the term transgender has many definitions depending on whom you ask and the social, institutional, and political context of the question. Transgender is frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to all people who do not identify with the sex or gender assigned at birth or with the binary gender system in the first place. This umbrella definition includes transsexuals, crossdressers, genderqueer people, drag kings, drag queens, two-spirit people, and others. Some transgender people feel they exist not within one of the two standard gender categories, but rather somewhere between, beyond, or outside of those two genders. According to the 2013 Pew Research Center’s Study on LGBT Americans, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals perceive that they have less in common with transgender people than with each other; conversely, transgender adults do not perceive a great deal of commonality with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. In particular, transgender people might view issues such as same-sex marriage as less important, and transgender adults appear to be less involved in the LGBT community than other LGBT subgroups. That said, the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 77 percent of transgendered respondents identified their sexual orientation as something other than straight, leaving room for some transgender individuals to be included in an LGB consumer segment defined by a nonheterosexual orientation (Grant et al. 2011).

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


Considering Markets Based on Sexual Orientation However, even after narrowing the focus to a consumer population defined by sexual orientation, it’s questionable whether sexual orientation can be considered a meaningful segmentation variable that results in homogeneous responses to a firm’s marketing mix. Based on Cravens’s (1982) characteristics of a meaningful consumer segment, a consumer group must also be actionable so that all consumers are homogeneous in their response to targeted marketing activities. The 2013 Pew Research LGBT survey examined key demographic characteristics of bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians. Results show, among other things, that bisexuals are younger, have lower family incomes, and are less likely to be college graduates than gay men and lesbians. The relative youth of bisexuals likely explains some of their lower levels of income and education. The survey also finds that bisexuals differ from gay men and lesbians on a range of attitudes and experiences related to their sexual orientation. For example, whereas 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians say most or all of the important people in their lives know of the respondents’ sexual orientation, just 28 percent of bisexual respondents say the same. Likewise, about half of gay men and lesbians say their sexual orientation is extremely or very important to their overall identity, compared with just two in ten bisexual men and women. Two-thirds of bisexuals say they either already have or want children, compared with about half of lesbians and three in ten gay men. When it comes to community engagement, gay men and lesbians are more involved than bisexuals in a variety of LGBT-specific activities, such as attending gay pride events or being a member of an LGBT organization. Given these differences between the centrality of sexual orientation in these respondents’ self-identities, behaviors, and attitudes, marketers would be challenged to create marketing activities that could evoke the same response across gay, lesbian, and bisexual consumers. A Market at the Intersection of Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Feminism We can further unravel the history of the LGBT social movement to examine the validity of a gay and lesbian consumer market by revisiting the social and identity politics of the 1960s and 1970s that originally brought these two groups together. Beginning in the early twentieth century, the emergence of Western social movements bound together individuals newly designated as sexual deviants. The term gay was first used by homosexuals, among themselves, in the 1920s (Kipfer and Chapman 2007). The term emerged in the 1940s and 1950s as


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underground slang referring to homosexual women and men, but did not enter mainstream usage until the 1970s. The social movements of the 1960s, such as the Black Power and anti-Vietnam war movements in the United States, the May 1968 insurrection in France, and women’s liberation movements throughout the Western world, inspired the origins of the gay liberation movement. The first public protests for equal rights for gay and lesbian people were staged at governmental offices and historic landmarks in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., between 1965 and 1969. The Stonewall riots of 1969, when a group of transsexuals, lesbians, drag queens, and gay men as patrons at a bar in New York resisted a police raid, led to a new radicalism within the gay social movement. Immediately after Stonewall, the gay liberation movement shifted to a more organized political form. Groups such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were formed to demand equal treatment under the law for gay men and lesbians. They used the word gay in unapologetic defiance as an antonym for straight (“respectable sexual behavior”); gay encompassed a range of nonnormative sexualities and gender expressions, including transgender sex workers, and sought ultimately to free the bisexual potential in everyone, rendering obsolete the categories of homosexual and heterosexual. However, although the Stonewall riots of 1969 shifted the trajectory of the gay rights movement, many lesbians experienced the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in tandem with the ideologies of second-wave feminism that underpinned the women’s movement (Sender 2004). For many lesbians, the term gay referred only to gay men and represented the patriarchal underpinnings of the gay social movement that neglected the perspectives and concerns of lesbians. What followed was a movement characterized by a surge of gay activism and feminist consciousness that further transformed the definition of lesbian. During this time, lesbian as a political identity grew to describe a social philosophy among women, often overshadowing sexual desire as a defining trait. Political lesbianism embraces the theory that sexual orientation is a political and feminist choice. Originating in the late 1960s among second-wave radical feminists, political lesbianism advocates lesbianism as a positive alternative to heterosexuality for women as part of the struggle against sexism. Ti-Grace Atkinson, a lesbian and radical feminist who helped to found the group The Feminists, is attributed as the originator of the phrase that embodies the movement: “Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice” (Ford 2009). Adrienne Rich’s (1980) “lesbian continuum” and the influence of the women’s movement contributed to the idea of a sociopolitical lesbian who rejected the “compulsory heterosexuality” that is imposed on women and reinforced by a variety of social constraints. According to Sender (2004, 14), lesbian feminism separated lesbians from gay men, whom lesbians “saw as invested only in the hedonistic here and

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


now of an increasingly open public sexual culture.” Independence from men as oppressors was a central tenet of lesbian-feminism, and many believers strove to separate themselves physically and economically from androcentric culture, including gay men’s culture. Feminist theorists suggest that the lesbian identity is distinct from that of gay men, as lesbians face simultaneous oppression based on their sex/gender as well as their sexual orientation (Bristor and Fischer 1995; Rich 1980; Rust 1992, 1993). Rich (1980), a white, Jewish, lesbian feminist, described a lesbian continuum that puts womanidentifiedness at its core, a result of the sociohistorical oppression of women. She writes: To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to deny and erase female reality once again. To separate those women stigmatized as homosexual or gay from the complex continuum of female resistance to enslavement, and attach them to a male pattern, is to falsify our history. (Rich 1980, 637)

As equality was a priority for lesbian feminists, disparity of roles between men and women, or butch and femme, was viewed as patriarchal. Lesbian feminists eschewed the gender role-play that had been pervasive in bars, as well as the perceived chauvinism of gay men; many lesbian feminists refused to “fraternize” with gay men or take up their causes. The sexual revolution in the 1970s introduced the differentiation between identity and sexual behavior for women. Many women took advantage of their new social freedom to try sexual experiences with other women. While reinforcing the lesbian feminist’s understanding of the lesbian potential in all women, this perspective was at odds with the minority-rights framework of the gay rights movement and caused tension between politically active gay men and lesbians. Additionally, lesbians fought for representation within the feminist movement. Lesbian concerns were first introduced to the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1969, when Ivy Bottini, an open lesbian who was then president of NOW’s New York chapter, held a public forum titled “Is Lesbianism a Feminist Issue?” However, NOW president Betty Friedan was against lesbian participation in the movement, stating that the “women’s movement was not about sex, but about equal opportunity in jobs and all the rest of it” (Friedan 2001, 223). In fact, Friedan was so concerned about the threat that she believed associations with lesbianism posed to NOW and the emerging women’s movement, she famously used the expression “lavender menace” to refer to the informal group of lesbian radical feminists formed to protest the exclusion of lesbians and lesbian issues from the feminist movement at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City in 1970.


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This desexualization of lesbianism emblematic of second-wave separatist feminists was rejected by the 1990s by typically younger third-wave feminists. The third-wave feminism movement was born out of tension with the second wave as third-wave feminists criticized the second wave for its separatist ideology, not to mention lack of diversity. Third-wave feminism was founded on diversity, including the diversity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual perspectives. Embracing Crenshaw’s (1989, 1991) intersectional analytic, third-wave feminism recognizes the “interlocking nature of identity—that gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class never function in isolation but always work as interconnected categories of oppression and privilege” (Henry 2004, 32). Among lesbians, butch and femme roles returned, although they weren’t as strictly followed as in the 1950s, and they became a mode of chosen sexual self-expression for some women in the 1990s. As they had during the sexual revolution of the 1960s, in the 1990s women once again felt safer claiming to be more sexually adventurous, and sexual flexibility became more accepted (Iannello 2010). Today, lesbians in Western cultures generally share an identity that parallels those built on ethnicity in that lesbians share a history and subculture, and they have similar experiences of social and legal discrimination. This identity is unique from the identities of gay men and heterosexual women, and can create tension with both bisexual and transgender women. THE REALITIES OF THE DREAM MARKET Over the past two decades, along with the rise of third-wave feminism, an increasing visibility in the marketplace and workplace has successfully unified gay men and lesbians in the pursuit of sociality and justice. During this time, increasing numbers of companies have advocated for LGBT rights in the political sphere and invested in the LGBT marketplace. In 2014, advertising spending in the US LGBT press increased by 6.4 percent, whereas ad spending within mainstream consumer publications declined (Sass 2015). At the same time, corporate America and the popular press have mirrored the evolving terminology of the LGBT social movement, referring to a single “LGBT market,” rather than distinct market niches. However, the reality of marketing practice in the LGBT consumer sphere seems to better reflect the patriarchal systems and gender bias that lesbian feminists rallied against in the 1960s than the ideals of inclusivity embraced by contemporary third- and fourth-wave feminists. In practice, since the declaration of the dream market in the 1980s, marketers have almost exclusively used imagery of gay men in advertising placed in gay print media (see, for example, Tsai 2010). Some suggest that the

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


predominance of gay-man-oriented ads indicates a simple misunderstanding by predominantly male creative directors who assume that a one-size-fits-all approach to the gay market will also capture lesbians. Based on this argument, a lesbian, because of her sexual orientation, will look at an advertisement with imagery or text targeting a gay man and see herself represented in the ad. The converse is never expected of gay men, as this argument is based on an implicit acceptance of the patriarchal selection of gay men to represent both gay men and lesbians (Sender 2004). At best, this practice reflects a lack of understanding regarding the importance of social identity and representation to effective advertising. At worst, advertisers are referring to the LGBT market while focusing exclusively on the gay man’s dollar. Both perspectives would benefit from an understanding of lesbians in the contemporary sociopolitical context where they enjoy increased visibility and acceptance as a sexual minority while still experiencing gender discrimination and gender oppression unknown to gay men who benefit from gender privilege. Hence, although gay men can revel in rising societal support for LGBT rights, including the legal recognition of same-sex marriage and other antidiscrimination laws, as well as other advantages such as social legitimization in the marketplace and the media, gender inequality remains a considerable challenge for lesbians. As do all women, lesbians experience systemic institutionalized discrimination in health, education, political representation, employment, finance, and so on, with negative repercussions for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice. Yet as intersectional analysis reminds us, social identities are interlocking, not additive. Thus lesbians experience specific forms of gender oppression because of their sexual orientation, just as they experience specific forms of sexual oppression because of their gender. These interlocking inequalities lead to notable differences in the buying power of lesbians and their representation in the “LGBT” marketplace compared with that of gay men. Thus while the idea of the affluent LGBT market is still pervasive today, a more granular analysis shows that the apparent affluence of same-sex households is driven by gender inequality in pay. Data from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), an annual national survey collecting demographic, housing, social, and economic data, shows that same-sex households earn higher average household incomes ($117,768) than opposite-sex married couples ($104,226) and far more than unmarried opposite-sex households ($71,692). However, among same-sex households, men as same-sex couples have dramatically higher household incomes ($137,149) than those of women as same-sex couples ($99,681). Thus households of gay men have an average income that is 32 percent higher than married households of heterosexual couples and 38 percent higher than those of households of lesbians.


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Interestingly, transgender individuals, if they can find employment and a living wage, also face significant gender wage disparities on the job. Recent studies have shown that transgender women—at least some of whom spent time during their working years living as men—earn much less than transgender men. Schilt and Wiswall (2008) found that the earnings of transgender women as workers fell by nearly one-third following their gender transitions. Conversely, in a fascinating exemplar of the effect of gender on income, the same study found that the earnings of transgender men as workers slightly increased following their transition. This means that transgender men may actually experience a wage advantage rather than a wage penalty. TAPPING INTO THE LESBIAN IDENTITY AND EXPERIENCE IN THE MARKETPLACE Although stereotypes about gay men have drawn the attention of marketers (they earn more money than the general population; have expensive tastes; enjoy fashion, theater, home decorating, dance, music, art, design, gourmet goods, etc.), lesbian stereotypes have caused most mainstream marketers to stay away. Common stereotypes incorrectly label them as politically minded feminists who don’t subscribe to consumerism and, as a result, don’t like fashion, makeup, or shopping in general (Wilke 2006). Additionally, lesbian couples are wrongly assumed to suffer twice as much as a heterosexual couple from the sex differential in incomes in the United States, making a lesbian household less attractive to marketers than a household of either heterosexuals or gay men (Badgett 1998). According to the 2014 ACS, in 57 percent of same-sex-couple households, both partners work, compared with 48 percent of opposite-sex couples. Additionally, one survey finds 59 percent of lesbians lived with a partner compared with 37 percent of gay men (Pew Research Center 2013.) Hence, while lesbians are likely to earn less than all men, lesbian households are more likely to consist of two incomes than are heterosexual households. The L Word, a television series that originally ran on the Showtime network from 2004 to 2009, challenged some of these typical anticonsumer stereotypes and put a sexy (some say heterosexy) contemporary gloss on mostly fictional versions of lesbian life, which nonetheless helped to bring lesbians into the cultural mainstream. A factual look at lesbian incomes and spending patterns, however, reveals the need, indeed the potential, to treat lesbians as an attractive consumer segment separate from both heterosexual women and gay men. On average, lesbians earn 20 to 34 percent more than heterosexual women, according to a report on LGBT consumers by Experian Marketing Services (2016). Readers of Curve (the best-selling lesbian-oriented print

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


magazine in the United States with a circulation of 52,237) have annual salaries averaging $85,372; 62 percent have managerial or professional occupations and the same percentage own a home (Curve Facts 2017). Sixty-one percent of readers are college graduates (Warn 2006). Given that consumers respond most favorably to advertising and marketing that reflects their self-identities (Jaffe 1991), the key to effectively reaching lesbian consumers, assuming marketers actually want to be more inclusive in practice, lies in understanding the nuances of lesbian social identities and lesbian experiences as women. In the rare cases when consumer research has focused on LBGT people, any focus on the consumer behavior has tended either to exclude lesbians or to group lesbians with gay men without offering specific data on the lesbian market. Hence, advertisers eyeing the lesbian market often are left to make assumptions about lesbian spending and media habits or to advertise to lesbians via gay publications and grassroots marketing efforts, which reach only smaller numbers of the market. Contemporary research efforts, such as Nielsen’s 2015 LBGT consumer research survey, rarely break out the data for the four demographics that make up the LGBT social movement. Thus resulting data offer a limited view of the LGBT consumer marketplace that skews toward gay men and is of little help when undertaking meaningful target marketing efforts. The annual Gay and Lesbian Consumer Index Study, however, does provide some insights in the lifestyles, preferences, and behaviors of lesbians as consumers. The 2015 Gay and Lesbian Consumer Index Study, for example, found major differences between gay men and lesbians in terms of the makeup of the average household and consumption behaviors, factors that are critical to marketers when considering targeted marketing activities. Compared with gay men, lesbians are more likely to report living with a partner, often with children, and with pets. Additionally, among participants, reflecting on the kind of entertainment gay men enjoyed, and perhaps because of their greater tendency to live alone, gay men were more likely than lesbians to dine out with friends; go to bars or clubs, movies, and live performances; and go to the gym. In contrast, consistent with their greater tendency to live outside of cities, lesbians are more likely than are gay men to spend time enjoying the outdoors and to purchase sports-related equipment such as running shoes, camping equipment, and hiking boots. As I have argued elsewhere (Oakenfull 2007, 2012, 2013a, 2013b), beyond demographics on household composition and statistics on consumption, lesbians respond differently than do gay men to a variety of marketing activities typically employed on LGBT consumers (Oakenfull 2013b.) When evaluating a company’s gay-friendliness, lesbians appear to place more importance than do gay men on LGBT-oriented corporate policies, such as provision of domestic partner benefits and LGBT nondiscrimination policies (Oakenfull


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2013b.) Lesbians also place more weight than do gay men on a company’s effort to identify itself as gay-friendly in its marketing communications and to provide financial support for gay causes (Oakenfull 2013b). Sex/gender differences also appear to exist in gay men’s and lesbians’ attitudes toward gay-oriented advertising in general (Oakenfull 2013a). Finally, gay men and lesbians appear to respond differently to various types of gendered advertising content (Oakenfull 2007, 2012). A gay individual’s gender and level of gay identity play an important role in determining a response to various types of gay-oriented advertising messages (Oakenfull 2007). Additionally, the extent to which lesbians feel they share group membership with gay males plays a vital role in determining their attitudes toward advertisements that depict lesbian, gay male, or nongendered ad content (Oakenfull 2012). As with other consumer segments, marketers should not expect to access gay men and lesbians by using the same communication channels. Research over the past decade has consistently indicated that there are significant gender differences in media habits between gay men and lesbians, as gay men consume different types of, and generally more, gay media than do lesbians (Oakenfull 2013). Finally, gay men and lesbians appear to gravitate toward different lifestyles, a fact that challenges segmentation based on psychographics or behaviors. As I previously noted, lesbians are more likely than gay men to be in a relationship and are more likely to have children, but lesbians are less likely to socialize at gay bars or events, are more oriented toward private social and entertainment behaviors, and might not live in urban neighborhoods (2015 Gay and Lesbian Consumer Index Study). The gay media landscape has finally begun to recognize the potential of the lesbian market and is becoming more representative of the full spectrum of the gay rainbow in the past few years. When the US-based Vice Versa was published in 1947, founder Lisa Ben wanted a place for lesbians to express themselves (Katz 1983). Sent in secret through the mail, the monthly newsletter is credited as the first-ever LGBT publication in the United States. Although Vice Versa only lasted for nine issues, it inspired The Ladder, the most famous US lesbian magazine, as well as several other influential lesbian guides, including The Lesbian Tide, Heresies, and, more recently, Curve. With a circulation of over fifty thousand, Curve is now joined by a number of regional lesbian magazines, although most lesbian-focused media today have moved exclusively to the web. Over the last decade, more cities have found local publications and websites geared to lesbian and bisexual residents to be necessary. California’s Lesbian News, founded in 1975, is the longest running still in circulation, while Florida’s SHE Magazine has served Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Orlando since 1999. GO Magazine, based out of New York City, distributes the free magazine in ten other cities

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(Bendix 2014). However, the subscriber base of leading LGBT print magazines remains predominantly gay men with similarly skewed content. Historically only 25 percent of readers of The Advocate, touted as the leading gay and lesbian magazine in the world, were lesbian. In an effort to attract more women subscribers, The Advocate’s online presence has launched a section dedicated to women, a move unfortunately reminiscent of old-fashioned newsprint “ladies pages.” That said, convincing marketers of the viability of the lesbian consumer market is not without its challenges. Lesbian consumers suffer from stereotypes of anticonsumerism stemming from myths about second-wave feminism’s opposition to capitalism in general and the beauty and fashion industries specifically (Sender 2004). Although new stereotypes of lesbians in popular culture (e.g., lipstick lesbians, sexy androgyny) have permeated contemporary popular culture and reflect postfeminist neoliberalism, the anticonsumer, antifeminine stereotype of lesbians has not retired and continues to shape marketers’ perceptions of the market’s profit potential. Additionally, marketers often defend their neglect of the lesbian market by citing the challenges of accessibility. Sender (2004, 18) quotes the head of an ad agency that supposedly focuses on the LGBT market as saying, “There are just hundreds of thousands, millions of lesbians who are paired off, living together, who are living quiet lives on the edge of woods or in the heart of the city or whatever, that . . . are very hard to reach.” Apparently, what makes lesbians inaccessible is their lack of similarity to the distinct behavior patterns of gay men. In reality, lesbian behavior patterns may have more similarity with those of heterosexual women, and potential heterosexual couples, in similar life stages than those of gay men. KICKING GLASS FOR LESBIAN VISIBILITY IN THE MARKETPLACE The bigger challenge for lesbians who do want to see themselves represented in the marketplace might be their low numbers among marketing and agency decision makers. Whereas gay men as professionals—educators, consultants, and decision-makers within corporations and agencies—have played a role in the development of the gay men’s market, lesbians have yet to evolve as an influential force within the same professional sphere. Even though women control 80 percent of consumer spending, only 3 percent of creative directors are women (Dishman 2013). Given that only 11 percent of women experience same-sex attraction (Gates 2011), finding lesbian representation or perspectives among those few women creative directors would be rare. As such, the glass ceiling might be suppressing the growth of a viable lesbian


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marketplace in several ways. First, the gender wage gap and limited access to executive-level positions suppress the buying power of lesbians through lower household incomes. Second, the absence of lesbian creative directors and marketing executives has a twofold effect on marketing practice by minimizing the likelihood that lesbians will be recognized as an attractive consumer group and by minimizing the likelihood that marketing efforts will be developed by individuals who understand contemporary lesbian zeitgeist and can effectively speak to lesbian consumers. I am proposing here a minority critical-mass tipping-point argument, not essentialist propaganda that only lesbians can speak to lesbians, only women can speak to women, and only gay men can speak to gay men. If that were true, there would be no women’s media or gay men’s market segments. I am suggesting an increased understanding and application of the fluidity of lesbian identity and its impact on consumer behavior. For many lesbians, their homosexual identity becomes a master status (Becker 1963) when they first come out as lesbian, where their lesbian identities are viewed as defining characteristics of self, and as attributes relevant to most social interactions and situations (Troiden 1988). However, as social progress lifts restrictions on LGBT individuals to marry and to have children, and removes social stigma around sexual orientation, the life experiences of lesbians and, consequently, lesbian identities may well be increasingly less distinct from that of heterosexual women and more removed from those of gay men. That’s not to say that differences do not exist between lesbians and heterosexual women, especially as it relates to household consumption. In Oakenfull (2012), I draw on sex research and theories of social identity from the field of psychology, stemming from the 1930s, to consider the potential “gender flexing” role of gay identity on consumer behavior. The idea of gender flexing suggests that lesbians and heterosexual women similarly self-identify as feminine but lesbians tend to span further across the feminine-masculine continuum than heterosexual women (Pillard 1991). Hence, although lesbians can identify with many dimensions of social identity as women, conversely, or perhaps simultaneously, from a consumption perspective, lesbians also may identify with traditionally male-oriented target marketing. Most people are familiar with the stereotype of power-tool-wielding lesbians; the roots of the stereotype may be linked to the increased gender flexibility of lesbians. An application of gender flexing among lesbians would place many lesbians more effectively in a demographic consumer segment with heterosexual men or women than with gay men, with flexibility to move between the two. However, the “lesbians with power tools” stereotype also simply might be an artifact of living in a lesbian household. Stereotypes aside, most homeowners do need to own power tools. In a lesbian household, the shopper,

Lesbian Consumers and the Myth of an LGBT Consumer Market


purchaser, and consumer will be a woman. In this era of big data, marketers can bypass complex social identities and representation in traditional media to drill down directly to consumer behavior. Marketers know exactly what’s in a consumer’s shopping basket and can personalize direct appeals to that consumer to influence future behavior. As the industry moves toward digital campaigns driven by web metrics and individualized sales data, the customized coupon that shows up in the mailboxes of those “millions of lesbians who are paired off, living together, who are living quiet lives on the edge of woods or in the heart of the city or whatever” has no regard for sexual orientation or social identity. Nor does Madison Avenue need to know whether those lesbians would more readily see themselves represented by gay men or heterosexual women, as the industry would to effectively target through traditional media. That coupon simply wants those consumers to buy more of what they currently buy. As such, individual-level big data regarding both purchase and media consumption diminish the relevance of demographic segmentation. The cookie that I dropped on the BMW website will retarget me on the Curve, Vanity Fair, or Home Depot websites without needing to know whether I identify as a lesbian and without a human (who, by the numbers, most likely would be a straight male) deciding that a lesbian couldn’t afford a BMW. REFERENCES 2014 American Community Survey. Report by the United States Census Bureau. https​://ww​w.cen​sus.g​ov/pr​ogram​s-sur​veys/​acs/n​ews/d​ata-r​eleas​es/20​14/re​lease​.html​. 2015 Gay and Lesbian Consumer Index Study. Report by Community Marketing Inc. http:​//www​.comm​unity​marke​tingi​nc.co​m/bac​kup/m​kt_in​t_gld​.php.​ Badgett, Mary Virginia Lee. 1998. Income Inflation: The Myth of Affluence among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans. Washington, DC: Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Becker, H. S. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Bendix, Trish. 2014. “The Growing Need for Local Lesbian Media.” AfterEllen, March 20. http:​//www​.afte​relle​n.com​/ente​rtain​ment/​21306​4-the​-grow​ing-n​eedf​or-lo​cal-l​esbia​n-med​ia. Bernstein, Mary. 2002. “Identities and Politics: Toward a Historical Understanding of the Lesbian and Gay Movement.” Social Science History 26 (3): 531–81. Bhat, S. 1996. “Some Comments on Marketing to the Homosexual (Gay) Market: A Profile and Strategy Implications.” In Gays, Lesbians, and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice, and Research Issues in Marketing, edited by Daniel Wardlow. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.


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Bristor, Julia and Eileen Fischer. 1995. “Exploring Simultaneous Oppression: Towards the Development of Consumer Research in the Interest of Diverse Women.” American Behavioral Scientist 38 (4): 526–36. Cravens, David W. 1982. Strategic Marketing. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139–67. ———. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43: 1241–99. “Curve Facts.” n.d. http:​//www​.curv​emag.​com/C​urve-​Magaz​ine/A​dvert​ise/C​urve-​ Facts​/. Dickson, Peter and James L. Ginter. 1987. “Market Segmentation, Product Differentiation, and Marketing Strategy.” Journal of Marketing 51 (2): 1–10. Dishman, Lydia. 2013. “Where Are All the Women Creative Directors?” Fast Company, February 26. http:​//www​.fast​compa​ny.co​m/300​6255/​where​-are-​all-w​ omen-​creat​ive-d​irect​ors. Experian Marketing Services. 2016. Marketing Out Loud: What Brands Need to Know about LGBT Consumers. http:​//www​.expe​rian.​com/m​arket​ing-s​ervic​es/lg​ bt-re​port.​html. Flores, Andrew. 2014. “National Trends in Public Opinion on LGBT Rights.” Report by the Williams Institute. http:​//wil​liams​insti​tute.​law.u​cla.e​du/ca​tegor​y/res​earch​/ cens​us-lg​bt-de​mogra​phics​-stud​ies/#​sthas​h.MYo​ujHi3​.dpuf​. Ford, Lynne E. 2009. “Ti-Grace Atkinson.” In Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics, 40–41. New York: Facts on File. Friedan, Betty. 2001. Life So Far: A Memoir. New York: Simon and Schuster. Gates, Gary J. 2011. “How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?” Report by the Williams Institute. https​://wi​lliam​sinst​itute​.law.​ucla.​edu/w​pcon​tent/​uploa​ds/Ga​tes-H​ow-Ma​ny-Pe​ople-​LGBT-​Apr-2​011.p​df. Gianatasio, David. 2013. “Amazon’s Gay Kindle Spot: A Nice Surprise, or a Little Forced?” Adweek, March 7. http:/​ /www.​ adwee​ k.com ​ /crea​ tivit​ y/ama​ zons-​ gay-k​ indle​ spo​t-nic​e-sur​prise​-or-l​ittle​-forc​ed-14​7758/​. Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. 2011. “Injustice at Every Turn.” National Center for Transgender Equality. http:​//end​trans​discr​imina​tion.​org/P​DFs/N​TDS_E​xec_S​ummar​y.pdf​. Henry, A. 2004. Not My Mother’s Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-wave Feminism. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Human Rights Campaign Staff. 2013. “The Best LGBT-Inclusive Ads of 2013.” http:​// www​.hrc.​org/b​log/t​he-be​st-lg​bt-in​clusi​ve-ad​s-of-​2013. Iannello, Kathleen. 2010. “Women’s Leadership and Third-Wave Feminism.” In Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook, edited by Karen O’Connor, 70–77. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Jaffe, L. J. 1991. “Impact of Positioning and Sex-Role Identity on Women’s Responses to Advertising.” Journal of Advertising Research 31 (June–July): 57–64. Katz, Jonathan Ned. 1983. Gay/Lesbian Almanac, 618–20. New York: Harper and Row.

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Kipfer, Barbara Ann and Robert L. Chapman, eds. 2007. Dictionary of American Slang, 4th edition. New York: HarperCollins. McDermott, Nathan. 2014. “The Myth of Gay Affluence.” The Atlantic, May 21. http:​//www​.thea​tlant​ic.co​m/bus​iness​/arch​ive/2​014/0​3/the​-myth​-of-g​ay-af​fluen​ ce/28​4570/​. National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. 2016. “America’s LGBT 2015 Buying Power Estimated at $917 Billion.” OutNewsWire, July 29. http:​//www​.nlgj​a. org​/outn​ewswi​re/20​16/07​/20/a​meric​as-lg​bt-20​15-bu​ying-​power​-esti​mated​-at9​17-bi​llion​/. Nielsen. 2015. “Proudly Setting Trends: The 2015 LGBT Consumer Report.” http:​// www​.niel​sen.c​om/us​/en/i​nsigh​ts/re​ports​/2015​/prou​dly-s​ettin​g-tre​nds-t​he-20​15-lg​ bt-co​nsume​r-rep​ort.h​tml. Oakenfull, Gillian K. 2007. “Effects of Gay Identity, Sex and Explicitness of Ad Imagery on Gay Responses to Advertising Content.” Journal of Homosexuality 53 (4): 49–69. ———. 2012. “Gay Consumers and Brand Usage: The Gender-Flexing Role of Gay Identity and Community Involvement.” Psychology and Marketing 29 (12): 968–79. Oakenfull, Gillian. 2013a. “Unraveling the Movement from the Marketplace: Lesbian Responses to Gay-oriented Advertising.” Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness 7 (2): 57–71. Oakenfull, Gillian W. 2013b. “What Matters: Factors Influencing Gay Consumers’ Evaluations of Gay-friendly Corporate Activities.” In “Marketplace Diversity and Inclusion,” special issue of Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 32: 79–89. Peñaloza, Lisa. 1996. “We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We’re Going Shopping.” In Gays, Lesbians, and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice, and Research Issues in Marketing, edited by Daniel Wardlow, 9–41. Binghamton, NY: Haworth. Pew Research Center. 2013. “A Survey of LGBT Americans Attitudes, Experiences and Values in Changing Times,” June 13.ht​tp://​www.p​ewsoc​ialtr​ends.​org/2​013/0​ 6/13/​a-sur​vey-o​f-lgb​t-ame​rican​s/. Pillard, Richard C. 1991. “Masculinity and Femininity in Homosexuality: ‘Inversion’ Revisited.” In Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy, edited by J. C. Gonsiorek and J. D. Weinrich, 32–43. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Ragusa, Angela T. 2005. “Social Change and the Corporate Construction of Gay Markets in the New York Times Advertising Business News.” Media, Culture and Society 27 (5): 653–76. Rich, Adrienne. 1980. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience.” Signs 5: 631–60. Rigden, Joan E. July 16, 1988. “Overcoming a Deep-rooted Reluctance, More Firms Advertise to the Gay Community.” Wall Street Journal, B1. Romer, Governor of Colorado, et al. v. Evans et al. (94–1039), 517 U.S. 620. 1996. https​://ww​w.law​.corn​ell.e​du/su​pct/h​tml/9​4-103​9.ZD.​html. Rust, Paula C. 1993. “Coming Out’ in the Age of Social Constructionism.” Gender and Society 7: 50–77.


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———. 1992. “The Politics of Sexual Identity: Sexual Attraction and Behavior among Lesbian and Bisexual Women.” Social Problems 39: 366–86. Sass, Eric. 2015. “LGBT Press Spending Up in 2014.” Media Daily Press, May 19. https​://ww​w.med​iapos​t.com​/publ​icati​ons/a​rticl​e/250​296/l​gbt-p​ress-​spend​ing-u​ p-in-​2014.​html?​editi​on=83​016. Schilt, Kristen and Matthew Wiswall. 2008. “Before and After: Gender Transitions, Human Capital, and Workplace Experiences.” B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 8 (1): 39. Sears, Brad and Lee Badgett. 2012. “Beyond Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBT Community.” TIDES: Momentum 4. https​://wi​lliam​sinst​itute​.law.​ucla.​edu/h​eadli​nes/b​ eyond​-ster​eotyp​es-po​verty​-in-t​he-lg​bt-co​mmuni​ty/. Sender, Katherine. 2004. “Neither Fish nor Fowl: Feminism, Desire, and the Lesbian Consumer Market.” The Communication Review 7: 407–32. Simpson, Mark. 1996. Anti-Gay. London, UK: Cassell. Troiden, R. R. 1988. Gay and Lesbian Identity: A Sociological Analysis. New York: General Hall. Tsai, Wanhsiu Sunny. 2010. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising and Society Review 11 (1). Warn, S. 2006. “Where, Oh, Where Are All the Women?” Advertising Age, June, S3. Wilke, Michael. 2017. “Are Gays Really Brand Loyal?” AdRespect. http:​//www​.adre​ spect​.org/​commo​n/new​s/rep​orts/​detai​l.cfm​?Clas​sific​ation​=repo​rt&QI​D=448​7&Cli​ entID​=1106​4&Top​icID=​344. ———. 2006. “Corporate Gay Marketing Plans Weather Conservative Attacks.” Advertising Age, June, S1.

Chapter 6

Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising Representations of Women with Depression A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective Ella Houston

In this chapter, three disabled women challenge advertising representations of women with depression. Informed by feminist disability studies, I examine three particular advertisements on the topic of depression, as well as interpretations of the three ads by three women who experience depression in the United Kingdom. This analysis is extracted from a larger project in which I interviewed UK women with mobility, mental health, and visual impairments regarding representations of disabled women in advertising (Houston 2017). Here, I use this excerpt from my work and the occasion of this chapter to offer a primer on feminist disability studies. First, depression is sometimes referred to as an invisible impairment, as it is not immediately apparent to others. Second, depression also falls into the category of “mental health issues,” and the disabling barriers individuals with depression face in society are often overlooked. In this chapter, the term “mental health issues” is used, as opposed to “mental illness.” In using the former term, mental health diversity, rather than pathologization of mental health issues, is recognized. Mental health issues are not only pathologized and stigmatized like most impairments but also can be subject to even greater medicalization under the presumption that “cures” to “restore” “health” are both desirable and possible with medical treatment. The idea of “curing” impairment is controversial among disabled people, not just because it frames impairment as sickness or disease. Curing impairment also incorrectly assumes that all disabled people always would choose to shed their impairments if given a choice. Third, the contemporary discourse surrounding 123


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depression takes up a gendered language and symbolism that evolved from a Western medical history of labelling difficult women as “mad, bad, and sad” (Appignanesi 2009). Indeed, in early-twentieth-century advertising, women with mental health issues were often portrayed as “unstable” (Houston 2016, abstract). Finally, in recent decades, US direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising (which remains illegal in Canada and the United Kingdom) addresses women in a “priestly” voice robed in neutral science to persuade them that it is their (post)feminist right to self-diagnose their mental health and successfully choose from among branded treatments (Johnson 2004). Thus depression advertising “reestablishes the feminine bias of depression” (Gardner 2007, 550). For present purposes, I rely on my interviews with three UK women with personal experiences of depression. All three women identify as white, and each chose her pseudonym. A postgraduate student, Melody was in her late thirties when she met with me. Isobel, a higher education practitioner, was in her forties. Chris, a social care employee, was in her early fifties. I talked with each woman for about an hour regarding her impressions of three depressionrelated advertisements. I chose the three ads from an Internet search. I was only interested in contemporary advertisements branded by US or UK companies or organizations. I chose ads that featured a woman with depression as the sole character in the visual and textual narrative. The three ads I describe here provide continuity by my criteria while also offering some variety in terms of advertiser, purpose, and approach: charity, pharmaceutical, and public agency. The first ad, produced by UK charities Mind and Rethink, is a public service announcement featuring the popular UK celebrity Trisha Goddard comparing her experiences of depression and breast cancer. A head-and-shoulders photograph of Goddard, who is black, appears in the ad. The headline reads, “There are no ‘Get Well Soon’ cards with mental illness.” The thrust of the message is to end societal stigma surrounding depression. The second ad is for the antidepressant pharmaceutical brand Wellbutrin XL, marketed in the United States and Canada. The ad features a head-andshoulders photograph of a blonde white woman. The headline reads, “I’m ready to experience life.” Wellbutrin XL’s ad tells women that its once-a-day tablet relieves the “symptoms” of depression without weight gain and sexual side effects. The third ad is part of a public health campaign sponsored by the US agency Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the US Ad Council. The ad encourages “native people” and “youth on the reservation” to offer support to friends and loved ones who experience “depression” and “anxiety.” The head-to-waist photograph shows a young Native American woman.

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First, participants objected to pathologizing mental health issues, including depression, as illness. Second, participants supported calls to increase community support and destigmatize depression. A third theme critiqued gender stereotypes about women with mental health issues, including the assumption that women experiencing depression need to “recover” their lives. Before sharing detail, I offer an introduction to feminist disability studies. FEMINIST DISABILITY STUDIES Foundationally, feminist disability studies challenges essentialist ideas about gender and impairment. Feminist disability studies: • views disability as “a system of exclusions that stigmatizes” • “uncovers communities and identities that the bodies we consider disabled have produced” • “reveals discriminatory attitudes and practices directed at those bodies” • “exposes disability as a category of analysis” • “frames disability as an effect of power relations” (Garland-Thomson 2005, 1557) To do this work, feminist disability studies pays close attention to the language used to create and sustain the construct of disability, including medicalese and legalese, for example. To avoid doing the same violence, then, feminist disability studies is also hyperconscious of and precise about the language it deploys. Taking a disability studies approach to disability and impairment involves addressing and challenging social inequalities faced by disabled people (Davis 1997; Shakespeare 1998). Disability is a sociocultural construct that depends on the presumption of a so-called normal subject position: what society enforces as “normalcy” (Davis 1995) and who is privileged as the unmarked “normate” (Garland-Thomson 1997). Deviation from normalcy or the normate, then, is Othered and stigmatized as “abnormal.” Ableism describes how society serves normates, who have the luxury to operate as if their experience is universal. We inhabit an ableist world that tolerates people with impairments, rather than viewing bodily diversity as an enriching part of the human community (Campbell 2008, 2009). In an uninterrogated ableist social order, everyone is disciplined to conform to the normate ideal. The implicit ableist consensus is that a body without impairments is most desirable, and that nondisabled bodies are the most socially valuable (Loja et al. 2013). Normalcy and normate, however, change across individuals, time, and place.


Ella Houston

Not all impairments present as visible embodiment, including, for example, conditions like heart disease or cognitive impairments such as dementia (Shelton and Matthews 2001). Moreover, Scott and Bates (2017, 152) suggest, “Mental impairments (cognitive, sensory, and/or emotional conditions) are currently debated as to their appropriateness for disability studies.” There is also speculation that disability studies detour around systematic analysis of the emotions of distress and oppression that may come with disablement, because of the difficulty of disentangling harmful stereotypes about both disability and mental health issues from people’s own interpretations of their experiences (Magnet and Watson 2017; Watermeyer 2012). Scott and Bates (2017, 157) write, “The relationship between disability studies and mental impairment, particularly those of mood or emotion, is currently unresolved.” Bodies with impairments, visible or invisible, physical or mental, are subject to social stigma, invoking a deficit understanding of disability as somehow lacking. If “Western societies value self-reliance, beauty, health, and independence,” then “persons with invisible disabilities have great incentive to keep their conditions concealed” (Shelton and Matthews 2001, 122). In the United States, Goffman (1963) suggested that people with visible and invisible impairments manage stigma as a “spoiled identity,” including passing as nondisabled. In the United Kingdom, Hunt (1966) described living with stigma from a lived experience of disability. Furthermore, following Crenshaw (1991), feminist disability studies describe how one’s experiences of impairment influence and are influenced by one’s intersectional positionalities of race, sexuality, class, gender, age, and nationality, among other factors. These categories themselves are slippery constructions that nevertheless limit or empower one’s life. Feminist disability studies reject the medical model of disability in preference for a social model, although critiques of an imperfect social model exist, too, informed by political, performative, and phenomenological perspectives. The medical model of disability suggests that disability is an individual “problem” rather than a result of society’s refusal to invest in material, social, cultural, and symbolic infrastructure to support human diversity. Under the medical model, people with impairments are viewed as “defective.” A medical model perspective would problematically suggest that people with impairments become disabled due to their embodiment (Crow 1996). The medical model treats impairment as a pathologic condition, literally as illness or disease requiring intervention and treatment, along with concomitant vocabularies of cure, rehabilitation, remission, and recovery. With regard to mental health issues and depression, Gilman (1985, 23) argued, “of all the models of pathology, one of the most powerful is mental illness.” (See also Goffman 1961; Foucault [1965] 1988, 2013.) For Western women, mental health issues, including depression, carry a gendered history

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of biomedical violence from genteel metaphors of intellectual weakness and rebellion to institutionalized torture (Appignanesi 2009; Donaldson 2002; Gilbert and Gubar 1978; Price Herndl 1993; Showalter 1985). Blum and Stracuzzi (2004, 271) write, “Psychiatric discourses have recast women’s responses to subordination as disorder, hysteria, or madness.” Today, oldfashioned “melancholia” (Eng 2000) has morphed into medicalized “depression” (Cvetkovich 2012), and is thusly available for commodification (Johnson 2004; Smardon 2007). Contemporary mediated representations of women with mental health issues would benefit from feminist disability studies analysis, as such popular culture representations both adopt and adapt older gender stereotypes and inform newer biopolitics and neoliberal logics about the individual’s responsibility to be self-sufficient and productive (Herson 2016). Eng (2000, 1278) asks, “Why is it that women, homosexuals, people of color, and postcolonials seem to be at greatest risk for melancholia and depression in contemporary society?” “Clinical” depression, variously described as “illness,” “disorder,” “condition,” and “disease,” is also increasingly modified by intensifiers, such as “major,” “serious,” “severe,” “debilitating,” and “disabling,” (Emmons 2014, 76–78). Depression and related mental health issues, however, can be reconfigured as a site of pleasure and beauty, rather than described in exclusively medical terms. Scott and Bates (2017, 157) argue that their own “complex experiences with anxiety disorders have found them to bring gifts . . . in addition to challenges.” Opposing the medicalization of impairment, the social model of disability promotes emancipatory values (Crow 1996; Shakespeare 2006). Instead of suggesting that disability is an individual tragedy automatically arising from bodily impairment, the social model understands socially constructed disability as a form of social oppression. Under the social model, impairment is part of human diversity. Rather, human-made environments, socially constructed as normalcy for the normate, do not accommodate the diversity of human embodiment and experience (Siebers 2008). If “impairment refers to any physical or mental limitation,” then “disability signals the social exclusions based on, and social meanings attributed to, that impairment” (Kafer 2013, 7). “People with impairments,” then, are understood to be “disabled by their environments” in the social model (7). Additionally, human diversity has come to include understanding cognitive impairment and mental health issues as “neurodiversity” (Armstrong 2010). Everyone who ages eventually experiences impairment, as the aging process itself brings physical and cognitive changes (Wendell 1999). In the social model, impairment is recognized as part of being human and does not mean that someone will necessarily experience pain or “suffering,” an assumption enforced upon disabled people (Swain and French 2000).


Ella Houston

Others have noted that the social model, motivated to critique systemic and structural normalcy, can neglect the individual experiences of people who live with bodily impairment or mental health issues (Ellcessor, Hagood, and Kirkpatrick 2017). McRuer’s (2006) queer crip theory, Sandahl’s (2003) queer crip studies, and Kafer’s (2013) feminist queer crip theory productively unsettle the field by deploying a political model of disability that questions inclusions and exclusions from disability studies in terms of identities, bodies, experiences, canon, and practices. The political model, or political-relational model as Kafer (2013, 7) names it, sees “the whole terrain of ‘disability’ as up for debate.” This model can be used as an approach to discussion surrounding who and what may count as impaired/impairment or disabled/ disability. Kafer asks, “Is someone who had cancer years ago but is now in remission disabled?” (11). Can children who do not have hearing impairment, but have Deaf parents be “crips”? Are menstruation and its symptomologies, already framed as a medicalized gender disability for women, also impairment (Gardner 2007; Mamo and Fosket 2009)? Tremain (2017, 16) notes the political utility of feminist standpoint epistemologies for disability studies: “people in subordinated social positions have, in virtue of their subordinated social status, understandings of social relations that are superior to—that is more complete and objective than—the understandings of these relations that members of privileged social groups have.” In addition to enlisting the voices of disabled people in the production of knowledge about impairment and disability, media and popular culture also stand as artifacts to study how disability is constructed about and instructional for people who identify as disabled. In these public communication spaces, varieties of discourses inform one another from medical science to advocacy. Culture is a key site of oppression complicit in the stigmatization of disabled people (Garland-Thomson 1996, 1997; Longmore 2003; Mitchell and Snyder 1997, 2000; Snyder and Mitchell 2006). Numbers of typologies describe disability tropes (see, e.g., Bolt 2014; Garland-Thomson 2005; Haller and Ralph 2006), including the “supercrip,” who achieves remarkable feats despite some disability, a myth that sustains stereotypes of exceptionalism (Barnes 1992). DEPRESSION ADVERTISING Since Wurtzel (1994) popularized Prozac Nation, depression has become a leading UK and US diagnosis in the twenty-first century (Elman 2014, Rose 2006). Depression marketing and advertising, however, remain highly feminized endeavours (Blum and Stracuzzi 2004; Gardner 2007; Grow, Park, and Han 2006; Smardon 2007). Popular representations of depression participate in Rubin’s (2006) “psychotropia” wherein consumers are subjected

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to indirect-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising by brands placed, prescribed, and consumed in movies, television, and music. Participating in discourses about mental health issues and impairment, including depression, popular representations inform not only people who consume media and pharmaceuticals but also the media and medical establishments (Donaldson 2002). Representations of depression mostly but not exclusively emerge from pharmaceutical advertising, which has expanded to the Internet, and operate on a commodified medical model. In conjunction with US DTC advertising, the proliferation of web-based medical information available has increased consumers’ self-diagnosing. Cyberchondria, as Elman (2014, 173) describes it, means that “the operative diagnostic questions will no longer be ‘Are you depressed?’ but rather ‘How depressed are you?’” Antidepressant ads function as rhetorical calls to self-diagnose depression in highly gendered ways, beginning with the fact that they primarily address women, and hence communicate the problematic message that only women experience depression (Gardner 2007; Grow, Park, and Han 2006, 168). DTC ads also gender depression and the drugs sold to treat depression as a feminine mental health issue (Gardner 2007). Being a woman becomes a “risk” factor for depression, while such messages “signify the complexity of emotional health as biological illness” (548). Antidepressant advertisers have found success with narrative forms of persuasion (Blum and Stracuzzi 2004; Grow, Park, and Han 2006; Smardon 2007). In antidepressant drug advertising, women are depicted as happy to get their lives back and ready to enjoy life again (Gardner 2007; Grow, Park, and Han 2006). In these scripts, women who properly participate in medicalized treatment for their depression return to health, demonstrated by cheerfully acquiescing to others’ needs (Gardner 2007; Grow, Park, and Han 2006). Pharmaceutical advertising for depression “treatments” can raise awareness about mental health issues (Blum and Stracuzzi 2004; Chang 2008; Grow, Park, and Han 2006; Smardon 2007). But Smardon’s (2007, 79) work also suggests that such ads could do more to reduce stigma if they avoided “stereotypes about the mentally ill.” She laments, however, that even when depression ads produced by pharmaceutical companies seem to reduce depression stigma, increased public awareness comes at the expense of commodification, which also homogenizes people’s experiences of depression into a regularized symptomology, once more obscuring the diversity of human experience. I suggest it also comes with further medicalization. In this chapter, I highlight how women with depression resist problematic and stereotypical portrayals of depression in advertising. Instead of simply absorbing cultural representations and attitudes toward mental health that are


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reflected in advertising, the women I interviewed demonstrate unique ways of navigating through such representations and assumptions. MIND AND RETHINK CHARITIES: “GET WELL SOON CARD” The bold headline of the UK Mind and Rethink charities ad reads, “There are no ‘get well soon’ cards with mental illness.” The visual of Trisha Goddard, chin resting on her hand, has her looking thoughtfully out at the reader. Goddard’s photo is positioned above body copy comparing her personal experiences of breast cancer and depression. The ad’s lead reads: “Trisha has personal experience of mental illness, even spending some time as an in-patient in a psychiatric. And compared to when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Trisha believes that her mental illness was more difficult to deal with.” Individually, participants spoke to two themes in conversation with me about Mind and Rethink’s ad, including depression framed as “illness” and the lack of psychosocial support for people who experience depression. By using the word “illness,” the makers of the ad position depression as a pathological deficit, rather than a type of experience that might also carry personal gains (Armstrong 2010; Scott and Bates 2017). For example, sometimes the participants described their experiences of depression as a source of strength and as an intrinsic part of their identities. The second theme highlights the importance of friendship and support for people experiencing mental health issues in order to avoid stigma and isolation, a message the participants endorsed. Mind and Rethink’s ad tells readers that Goddard not only has “mental illness” but also has been institutionalized, which immediately positions depression in the medical model. Furthermore, the suggestion that Goddard has “even” spent time in a mental institution supports a dramatic and exceptionalist narrative about mental health as beyond ordinary human experience. Sensationalizing depression as outside of normalcy restigmatizes depression, even as the purpose of the ad is public education. Isobel, who is in her forties and works in higher education, responded to Mind and Rethink’s ad by focusing on ideas of strength and womanhood. Rejecting the idea of women with depression as somehow weak, Isobel was concerned about people’s ignorance and misinterpretations of mental health as damaging to personal and emotional strength: Isobel: People run away for different reasons when you tell them you’ve got depression. . . . People just don’t understand it. And I think with women, people

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are so used to women being labelled as “neurotic” and “premenstrual” and “perimenopausal” or whatever that they want to put that explanation on mental health for women as well, as they’re used to all that. So to come out, I think, when you come out and say “depression,” it frightens people, as they need you.

In the ad’s copy, Goddard describes social encounters when people “wouldn’t look [me] in the eye” and says that “people ran away” when they became aware of her depression diagnosis. Similarly, from Isobel’s perspective, people often distance themselves from friends or family who experience mental health issues out of fear and ignorance. However, Isobel described depression as part of her life and fundamental to her feelings of personal strength: “Absolutely, my mental health makes me the person I am strengthwise. Doesn’t make me weak. Makes me stronger.” Postgrad student Melody also referred to negative and unsupportive attitudes from people. In her late thirties, Melody said the invisible nature of mental health issues contributes to ignorant attitudes: Melody: Yeah, because even with my own family, if I—like I used to cut myself— I know that’s part of mental illness—if I’d cut myself, they could see it. They understood it. Then if I got stitches, and, that, they could see it. But I’d try and explain to them what was going on in my head, and it’s like, “Just pull your socks up” or “It’s all in your head. You’re just attention-seeking.” Do you know what I mean? and [they] wouldn’t be as sympathetic?

For Melody, visible impairment attracts greater support and understanding than invisible impairment, and depression is dismissed in ableist terms as giving in to self-indulgent emotion. Magnet and Watson (2017), comparing women’s self-representations of their depression and their cancer, quote Engelberg’s (2006) “tyranny of cheerfulness” to describe inappropriate responses to women with both depression and cancer. In Mind and Rethink’s ad, mental health issues, for Goddard, carry stigma not attached to physical conditions. Goddard’s narrative says, “part of the problem is that people are more comfortable talking about physical health than mental illness.” In this description, the body (“physical”) is cast as “health,” but the mind (“mental”) is cast as “illness.” Chris, in her early fifties, also focused on social fear surrounding mental health issues. She also believed that physical impairment draws less negative reaction than invisible impairment: Chris: Yeah, I’ve sort of personally and indirectly seen a hell of a lot of what she’s [Goddard] talking about, where it’s, especially in the West, if people have an illness, especially if it’s physical, there is a lot of support and everybody’s really


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concerned. But if it’s something that’s not physical, that people can’t do anything about, and it is to do with the mind, people don’t know what to do. They’re fearful of it because maybe it reminds them of ourselves, or whatever it is. It is a real big mystery.

For Chris, the ad summarized society’s failure to acknowledge mental health issues. Chris’s expression “real big mystery” describes the general public’s ignorance about mental health issues. By Chris’s perspective, then, Goddard’s narrative in the ad is progressive because it helps raise public awareness by describing a phenomenon that women with mental health issues face. Isobel critiqued the ad’s framing of depression as illness: “There are no ‘Get Well Soon’ cards” for “mental illness.” In the ad, Goddard says social isolation made her depression “recovery” more difficult. Isobel rejected the assumption that she is ill because she experiences depression: Isobel: No . . . because they’d think I was ill, and I’m not. I mean some people are, but I think that [ad] is pushing that need for sympathy. Yeah, it would be lovely for people to acknowledge it [depression] and be there to support you, but I certainly wouldn’t want. . . . You know, if you have breast cancer you would expect people to sympathize, but I’m never going to get better—[because] it’s not an illness.

Melody, however, responded to the idea of a “get well soon” card more positively. For Melody, the ad had the potential to promote public education about depression and mental health issues: Melody: And I like the analogy of a “get well soon” card, the way she’s compared and used that to, like, gauge the support she was getting [when diagnosed with breast cancer], do you know what I mean? I like the way she’s talking about being comfortable and about physical illness and mental illness.

Isobel argued that depression should not be equated with breast cancer: “I’m not saying depression is great, and everyone should have it. Oh my god, no. But, it’s not the end of the world, either, and it can’t be put in the same breath as breast cancer.” Instead, Isobel suggested that depression can be understood as an ordinary facet of human experience: Isobel: And I do think there’s a way of saying, “Actually, it’s okay to be up and down.” What’s wrong with that, you know? A lot of people who live with depression, it doesn’t get that serious as being sectioned [institutionalized], but that is what this [ad] is making you feel. So there’s a little bit missing. . . . It is a problem, but it’s my problem. It makes me who I am. I do think there needs to be more of a positive take.

Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising


Thus, for some individuals, to live with depression is ordinary. One is neither pathetic-pitiful nor an exemplary supercrip. WELLBUTRIN XL: “I’M READY TO EXPERIENCE LIFE” Wellbutrin XL’s ad includes a photograph of a blonde white woman. Her head is canted, and she gazes, smiling, at the reader. The headline reads, “I’m ready to experience life.” The subhead reads, “Wellbutrin XL works for my depression with a low risk of weight gain and sexual side effects. Your results may vary.” The headline, “I’m ready to experience life,” implies that women experiencing depression are not actually living unless they receive medication to effectively change aspects of their ontological being. It is true that as part of depression, some individuals experience periods of mental distress, especially when considering that it is typically treated as an isolating “illness” one should be ashamed of. However, some of the women who participated in my research conceptualized depression as part of life’s tapestry, and numbers of people, including Isabel, Melody, and Chris, refuse the idea of “curing” it. Secondly, the copy is gendered in its communication, which targets women readers. The ad says that the Wellbutrin XL depression medication advertised has only “a low risk of weight gain and sexual side effects.” This statement communicates that women, including women with depression, should be concerned with weight gain and sexual side effects, implying that women should not be overweight and that they should be sexually active. Isobel immediately questioned the gendered subtext of the Wellbutrin ad: Isobel: It’s quite insulting to me as a woman, and as a woman with the label of, the diagnosis of depression [laughing] and everything about it. This “low risk of weight gain,” I don’t like any of it. It’s basically saying, isn’t it, that you’re going to be like me if you take this medicine: Lovely and happy and not fat [shrugging].

Melody’s response to Wellbutrin XL’s ad was similar to Isobel’s: Melody: I just don’t like that bit—the risk of weight gain, no sexual side effects. I like that “I’m ready to experience life.” That’s quite positive. But I just think, “What have you been doing beforehand?” [laughing] I don’t like it.

According to Melody’s interpretation, the ad suggests one doesn’t experience life with depression, a view with which the participants strongly disagreed. Wellbutrin XL’s ad is problematic at several levels: that women with depression are not experiencing life; that women should be and should want


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to be “cured” so that they can experience life; that a proper cure and attitude to experiencing life includes having an attractive appearance, which does not include gaining weight; and that properly healthy women are active sexually. The copy is ableist and sexist in its admonition that women should be “ready to experience life,” including sexual activity, presumably after taking the advertised medication “to work for” their depression. Participants also shared a general distrust of pharmaceutical advertising. Doubting that a tablet can end depression, Chris accused drug companies of getting rich by taking advantage of rather than alleviating women’s anxieties. Chris: I’m cynical again because it’s like another trap into spending big money and making multinational companies into millionaires on the promise that they’re going to get rid of your depression, which I don’t really believe that they would— through tablets. That’s not empowering is it, when they’re trying to make money out of you? Out of your insecurities and your depression and things like that.

Chris points out a complaint about advertising by scholars of feminist disability studies. In the United Kingdom and United States, consumerist media endorse images of idealized bodily aesthetics for women in order to increase supply and demand of beauty products. Women are increasingly critical of marketing cultures that undermine women’s self-confidence and self-worth for the purpose of increasing consumption of products promising to fix the manipulated gap. Disabled women arguably have more reason to distrust the advertising industry because, historically, women with impairments have been subject to mediated “symbolic annihilation” (Tuchman 1978). Disabled women are less likely to appear in beauty advertising and are often not targeted as consumers by beauty advertising, thus creating the false impression that women with impairments are not and cannot be beautiful and, furthermore, do not care about beauty products and appearances. The exclusion of disabled women from women’s “beauty” advertising could be said to indicate their exclusion from womanhood altogether. Yet, ironically, to possess a gendered label such as depression almost requires womanhood. According to the participants, Wellbutrin XL’s ad was not successful in realistically and responsibly representing women’s mental health issues. For Isobel, Wellbutrin XL’s ad does not try to reduce stigma associated with depression: “It’s totally dissing the fact that actually lots of people with depression do experience life—quite fine. But it’s that age-old stigma, isn’t it?” Instead, the ad’s message is that depression interferes with an individual’s ability to experience life properly. Isobel: And there’s a lot of doubt on whether any medication works for anybody [laughing]. . . . [Pointing at the advertisement’s small print] Oh there, it’s got it:

Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising


“Your results may vary.” But it’s not going work for everybody. But it’s that whole idea that that’s not what people with depression look like—that’s what’s wrong with it, you know? A lot of people with depression are still very happy and lovely and enjoy life. It doesn’t mean that we’re all in this grey-black world, you know?

Melody said this kind of representation of mental health does not resonate with her experience of depression. For Melody, advertisers would do better to focus on the individual’s life and personal experiences rather than on “curing” all people with a single medication. Melody: It doesn’t say jack shit about mental health. “Works for my depression” [repeating advertisement text], well what’s your depression? Because your depression is not my depression. So if you could, like, expand? If that’s just the advert itself, it says nothing, does it? It’s not teaching anyone, it’s not doing anything different. . . . I don’t like it [external pressure to take medication] because I just think it’s “come back for your repeat prescription, and see you in a month.” It’s not talking to a person or understanding that person.

The participants took issue with Wellbutrin XL’s ad because, they said, when one lives with depression, one is nonetheless living a life with value. Wellbutrin XL’s DTC pharmaceutical advertising is not intended as a public service message about people with depression. Participants, however, who are the target audience of Wellbutrin XL’s ad, demonstrated an expectation that such advertisers be mindful of the potentially stigmatizing and insultingly sexist and ableist messages their advertisements communicate about women and mental health issues, including depression. SAMHSA AND THE AD COUNCIL: “HELP SUPPORT A FRIEND” In 2010, as part of its “Tribal Affairs Agenda,” SAMHSA produced an advertisement targeting young adults from American Indian and Alaskan Native communities who experience mental health issues. The ad examined here includes logos for SAMHSA and the US-based Ad Council. The ad’s mouse type includes the URL to SAMHSA’s website with the call to action to “learn how you can help support a friend.” “Support a friend” seems to build a positive and empathetic approach to mental health issues. Rather than suggesting that people experiencing mental health issues deserve pity, SAMHSA’s ad encourages supportive friendships and emphasizes human empathy rather than sympathy. The centre of the frame is dominated by an image of a young woman, smiling broadly out at the reader. She has long straight dark hair.


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She wears a black t-shirt with a large turquoise necklace. With her head canted, the model in SAMSHA’s ad mirrors the poses and body language of both Trisha Goddard in Mind and Rethink’s ad and the model in Wellbutrin XL’s ad. The SAMHSA ad’s body copy appears in the form of a word cloud forming the silhouette of another person seated beside the model. The dominant words in the cloud are “together,” “never apart,” and “best friends,” implying that the word cloud’s silhouette represents an absent best friend. The next largest words are “congratulations,” “mental health problem,” “depression and anxiety,” and “Native People.” But the word cloud is actually a narrative paragraph, which, verbatim, reads: It seems like it was yesterday when we learned to ride our bikes together, discovered that we both liked to dance and speak our language. It seems like we were never apart and everyone knew we were best friends. When we decided to go to school, we made sure we were going to be roommates. When you finally landed the first job after all your hard work, I was the first to say “congratulations.” When you said you wanted to help the youth on the reservation, I said, “Let’s do it together.” Then came a time when you told me that you have a mental health problem, like depression and anxiety. Now I know that anyone can experience mental health problems, even Native People. We thought we knew everything, yet I really didn’t understand what a difference my support can make in your recovery. Well, I am here for you. I will be here for you. And—as always—we will recover together.

In contrast to the way in which Wellbutrin XL’s ad directly addresses women who experience depression, SAMHSA’s ad is about educating people who do not have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. SAMHSA’s ad emphasizes the role of community support and the need collectively to respond to mental health issues. This SAMHSA message is progressive as it moves away from the notion that individuals should deal with their perceived “problem” in isolation from their social groups. At the same time, SAMHSA’s ad does focus on “recovery,” both invoking the medical model and suggesting once again that something has been lost that must be regained, albeit with the help of a community of supportive people. Chris supported SAMHSA’s focus on addressing mental health issues through friendship and community: Chris: If I would have had that given to me, and someone said to me they were going to be there for me at that time, I’d be thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to make it.” You know? I didn’t have that so there was no sort of lifeline. That’s why I make sure I do it for other people. . . . Definitely, it’s making people realize that they’re not the oddball. It’s a human thing that most people experience. It’s very rare that you can go through your life and not experience it.

Women Who Experience Depression Interpret Advertising


Here, in addition to reiterating the belief that everyone will have mental health issues at some point, Chris returned to the importance of psychosocial support for people with mental health issues: Chris: And I think it’s empowering. Like, it gives you—you know you’re not alone. It takes away—As soon as you think of mental health, you think of someone sitting alone in a corner in a dark, cloudy . . . straightaway. Do you know what I mean? Or white coats or something? And this [SAMHSA ad] is quite positive.

For Isobel, however, the recurring theme of recovery, as seen in the previous two ads, continued to trouble her: Isabel: Well, she’s saying it’s all right, isn’t it? To have mental health problems, and anyone can have them, and you just have to support people through it. It’s [SAMHSA ad] focused on the recovery again though, isn’t it? . . . It does make you think of someone very differently when you say, you know, “Oh, I’ll support you, and we’ll recover together.” Well, one, you might never “recover,” actually, because it might not be something that you’re ever going to “recover” from.

For Isobel, the idea that women experiencing mental health issues are longing to recover is deeply flawed. Isobel, too, promoted the understanding that mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, are part of human life so it is problematic to attach cure-and-recovery narratives to depression experiences. CONCLUSION The participants criticized the three ads for adopting a medical model approach to mental health that treats women’s depression as pathologic condition. This goes to the medical model of disability, which suggests that something is “wrong” with disabled people. In the medical model, mental health issues are interpreted as mental “illness,” rather than simply understood as a way of being in the world. Because the three ads operate from a medical model perspective in how they frame depression, the participants noted and objected to the advertisers’ emphasis on “recovery,” whether by medication, psychosocial support, or institutionalization or hospitalization, as in the case of Trisha Goddard in Mind and Rethink’s ad. Two of the three ads are public service messages to increase awareness and social support for those with mental health issues, such as depression. The participants praised this kind of message for attempting to reduce the social isolation and stigma that people experiencing depression can face. As Mind and Rethink’s ad communicates, if, indeed, the general public


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understands mental health issues via a medical model, then rallying to support people who are “ill” with medicalized mental health issues is the same as rallying to support people who are ill with other medical issues. In both cases, the individual is perceived as experiencing a negative, undesirable condition. The participants responded to this message by rejecting the medical model but embracing the call for social support. The participants said depression is not unusual but instead an ordinary part of most people’s lives at some time or another. Such an ordinary experience should be both talked about and dealt with openly within and supported by one’s community. Additionally, depression can be understood as an affirmative part of an individual’s identity, and one that they would not wish to be “cured” of. According to the participants, one’s experience of depression is part of one’s inimitable subjective self. Finally, the participants took issue with gendered scripts of depression, specifically in Wellbutrin XL’s advertisement, the only for-profit brand among the three ads inspected for this study. The participants objected to gender stereotypes regarding the way a woman should “experience life,” which additionally requires being sexually active but not overweight. Ableist discourse unreflexively understands impairment as a deficient ontology in the same way that androcentric discourse unreflexively understands womanhood and femininity as deficiencies, and in fact these understandings of gender depend on the Western white hetero-normate. In some ways Trisha Goddard is an example of an exceptional supercrip. Readers are meant to be inspired by this famous black woman’s ability to overcome her experiences of depression and institutionalization. Her exceptionalism is reinforced by the minority status of her skin colour. The trope of the strong black woman is relevant here. As a black media celebrity, she has overcome her two gendered pathologies—breast cancer and depression. SAMHSA’s ad copy also hints at exceptionalism: “Now I know that anyone can experience mental health problems, even Native People.” The “anyone” who “can experience mental health problems” cannot automatically include even “Native people” if they must be appended to the statement. Therein lies the dilemma of all identity politics for marginalized groups: To be named is to be stigmatized, but to be unnamed is to remain unrecognizable, thus unacknowledged. Extending my critical analysis of the three advertisements on the topic of women’s depression to include the reactions and interpretations of the ads by women who have lived experiences of depression underscores the under- or miseducation of advertisers, who may lack contemporary understanding of social-model approaches to mental health issues. A wider consciousness of the concerns addressed by feminist disability studies along with engaging with advocacy organizations for disabled people might improve the

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effectiveness of advertising messages, such as those examined here, among target audiences, such as the women who participated here. REFERENCES Appignanesi, Lisa. 2009. Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors. New York: W. W. Norton and Co. Armstrong, Thomas. 2010. Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences. Boston: Da Capo. Barnes, Colin. 1992. Disabling Imagery and the Media. Halifax: Ryburn. Blum, Linda M. and Nena F. Stracuzzi. 2004. “Gender in the Prozac Nation: Popular Discourse and Productive Femininity.” Gender and Society 18 (3): 269–86. Bolt, David. 2014. “An Advertising Aesthetic: Real Beauty and Visual Impairment.” British Journal of Visual Impairment 32: 25–32. Campbell, Fiona Kumari. 2008. “Refusing Able(ness): A Preliminary Conversation About Ableism.” M/C Journal 11. ———. 2009. Contours of Ableism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Chang, Chingching. 2008. “Increasing Mental Health Literacy via Narrative Advertising.” Journal of Health Communication 13: 37–55. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Colour.” Stanford Law Review 43: 1241–99. Crow, Liz. 1996. “Including All of Our Lives: Renewing the Social Model of Disability.” In Encounters with Strangers: Feminism and Disability, edited by Jenny Morris, 55–72. London: The Women’s Press. Cvetkovich, Ann. 2012. Depression: A Public Feeling. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Davis, Lennard J. 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. New York: Verso. ———. 1997. “Introduction.” In The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 1–6. New York: Routledge. Donaldson, Elizabeth J. 2002. “The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness.” NWSA Journal 14 (3): 99–119. Ellcessor, Elizabeth, Mack Hagood, and Bill Kirkpatrick. 2017. “Introduction: Toward a Disability Media Studies.” In Disability Media Studies, edited by Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kilpatrick, 1–28. New York: New York University Press. Elman, Julie Passanante. 2014. Chronic Youth: Disability, Sexuality, and US Media Cultures of Rehabilitation. New York: New York University Press. Emmons, Kimberly K. 2014. Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Eng, David L. 2000. “Melancholia in the Late Twentieth Century.” Signs 25 (4): 1275–81. Engelberg, Miriam. 2006. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics. New York: Harper Perennial.


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Foucault, Michel. (1965) 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Vintage. ———. 2013. History of Madness. Edited by Jean Khalfa. Translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa. London: Routledge. Gardner, Paula M. 2007. “Re-Gendering Depression: Risk, Web Health Campaigns, and the Feminized Pharmaco-Subject.” Canadian Journal of Communication 32 (3–4): 537–55. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 1996. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press. ———. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies. New York: Columbia University Press. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2005. “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs 30 (2): 1557–87. Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. 1978. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Women Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Gilman, Sander L. 1985. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Health Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Anchor Books. ———. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Spectrum. Grow, Jean M., Jin Seong Park, and Xiaoqi Han. 2006. “‘Your Life is Waiting!’: Symbolic Meanings in Direct-to-Consumer Antidepressant Advertising.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 30 (2): 163–88. Haller, Beth A. and Sue Ralph. 2006. “Are Disability Images in Advertising Becoming Bold and Daring? An Analysis of Prominent Themes in US and UK Campaigns.” Disability Studies Quarterly 26. Herson, Kellie. 2016. “Transgression, Embodiment, and Gendered Madness: Reading Homeland and Enlightened through Critical Disability Theory.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (6): 1000–13. Houston, Ella. 2016. “‘Mabel is Unstable’: A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective on Early-Twentieth-Century Representations of Disabled Women in Advertisements.” Considering Disability Journal 1 (1). ———. 2017. The Representation of Disabled Women in Anglo-American Advertising: Examining How Cultural Disability Tropes Impact on the Subject Wellbeing of Disabled Women. Unpublished masters/doctoral dissertation, Lancaster University, Lancaster, England. Hunt, Paul. 1966. Stigma: The Experience of Disability. London: Geoffrey Chapman. Johnson, Davi. 2004. “Selling Sarafem: Priestly and Bardic Discourses in the Construction of Premenstrual Syndrome.” Women's Studies in Communication 27 (3): 330–51. Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Loja, Ema, Maria Emilia Costa, Bill Hughes, and Isabel Menezes. 2013. “Disability, Embodiment and Ableism: Stories of Resistance.” Disability and Society 28: 190–203.

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Longmore, Paul K. 2003. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Magnet, Shoshana and Amanda Watson. 2017. “‘How to Get through the Day with Pain and Sadness.” In Disability Media Studies, edited by Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kilpatrick, 247–71. New York: New York University Press. Mamo, Laura and Jennifer Ruth Fosket. 2009. “Scripting the Body: Pharmaceuticals and the (Re)Making of Menstruation.” Signs 34 (4): 925–49. McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press. Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. 1997. The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability. Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ———. 2000. Narrative Prosthesis. Michigan: University of Michigan Press. Price Herndl, Diane. 1993. Invalid Women: Figuring Feminine Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Rose, Nikolas. 2006. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Rubin, L. C. 2006. “Psychotropia: Medicine, Media, and the Virtual Asylum.” Journal of Popular Culture 39 (2): 260–71. Sandahl, Carrie. 2003. “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer? Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9 (1–2): 25–56. Scott, D. Travers and Meagan Bates. 2017. “‘It’s Not Just Sexism’: Feminization and (Ab)Normalization in the Commercialization of Anxiety Disorders.” In Disability Media Studies, edited by Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kilpatrick, 132–73. New York: New York University Press. Shakespeare, Tom. 1998. “Introduction.” In The Disability Reader, edited by Tom Shakespeare, 1–7. London: Continuum. ———. 2006. Disability Rights and Wrongs. London: Routledge. Shelton, Michael W. and Cynthia K. Matthews. 2001. “Extending the Diversity Agenda in Forensics: Invisible Disabilities and Beyond.” Argumentation and Advocacy 38: 121–30. Showalter, Elaine. 1985. The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830–1980. New York: Pantheon. Siebers, Tobin. 2008. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Smardon, Regina. 2007. “‘I’d Rather Not Take Prozac’: Stigma and Commodification in Antidepressant Consumer Narratives.” Health 12 (1): 67–86. Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. 2006. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Swain, John and Sally French. 2000. “Towards an Affirmation Model of Disability.” Disability and Society 15 (4): 569–582. Tremain, Shelley L. 2017. Foucault and the Feminist Philosophy of Disability. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Tuchman, Gaye. 1978. “Introduction: The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the Mass Media.” In Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, edited


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by Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet, 3–38. New York: Oxford University Press. Watermeyer, Brian. 2012. “Is It Possible to Create a Politically Engaged, Contextual Psychology of Disability?” Disability and Society 27 (2): 161–74. Wendell, Susan. 1999. “Old Women Out of Control: Some Thoughts on Aging, Ethics, and Psychosomatic Medicine.” In Mother Time: Women, Aging, and Ethics, edited by Margaret Urban Walker, 133–50. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Wurtzel, Elizabeth. 1994. Prozac Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Chapter 7

Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics of the Unmarked Kim Golombisky

In 1978, Williamson twisted the ideological lid off an Oil of Olay advertisement that read, “Your age is no secret if your skin lets you down” (68). Williamson (1978) pointed out that, first, the ad poised the viewer in a literal face-off that made enemies of the viewer and her skin. Second, the beautiful young model with flawless skin in the ad’s visual was positioned as a mirror for the viewer. The Olay ad addressed the viewer as “mature.” Along with describing the viewer’s skin as a potential Judas, the Olay ad suggested time betrays the viewer because it “takes with it the youthful moisture that makes young skin young.” In the narrative of this advertisement, women’s own faces collude with time to rob women of their youth, and thus their beauty. But Oil of Olay—with its “blend of tropical moist oils that almost exactly duplicate our skin’s own natural lubrication”—enjoins nature to save the viewer’s face from “wrinkle dryness.” The twenty-first-century Oil of Olay, along with Olay’s competitors, in many ways echoes this twentieth-century advertising story about the negative effects of time and the secrets women keep to hide their age. However, although the 1978 version allies these products with a scientifically enhanced nature in the cause of visible beauty, the 2018 version allies with biomedical technology to discipline or even combat nature. Today’s oeuvre is also more blatant and insistent in its “antiaging” discourse. But the beautiful young model pictured as the idealized result of using the product is less prevalent in current advertising for “mature” skin care. Contemporary “antiaging” advertising exists at the nexus of a cultural aversion to aging in general and aging women specifically. Today’s varieties of antiaging ads address Baby Boomer women, now passing out of middle age into the life stage when the preferred euphemism is “older adults,” along 143


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with Generation-X women who are only just arriving at midlife. For the moment, however, the commercial enterprise of antiaging skin care seems to be at a loss as to how to visually represent women of a certain age, outside of hiring carefully airbrushed, elegantly aging celebrities. In this essay, I find that advertising for skin-care products for “mature” women emphasizes the “visible signs of aging” for a consumer demographic for which there are few visual conventions. If beauty is women’s greatest asset, and if our culture understands beauty as synonymous with visible youth, it should come as no surprise that the rhetoric of skin-care advertising targeting aging women consists of waging a high-tech war against aging itself. In this essay, I argue that this “antiaging” rhetoric, so dependent on visibility politics, undermines itself precisely in its hesitance to show images of middle age. I wonder if leitmotifs of appearance and disappearance reflect a contemporary cultural question mark on the subject of aging women living in a visual society. MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN AS STEREOTYPED OR ABSENT I find a persistent theme of in/visibility on the topic of women, aging, and the media. Citing Wolf’s (1991) The Beauty Myth and Friedan’s (1993) The Fountain of Age, Sefcovic (1996) wrote that the power of recognition for US women hinges on youth and beauty. Feeling like a “signified without a signifier” (2), she noted that “middle age seems to be the point at which females are deleted from public representations” (4). Barnett (2008, 14) wrote, “In the media world, women age differently from men; older women are typically invisible.” The relatively infrequent appearance of middle-aged women in media studies parallels their own conclusions: The presence of middle-aged women in both the literature and the media is the exception rather than the rule. It is easier to find studies on media representations of the elderly, which find elderly women underrepresented and depicted as unappealing (Brooks, Bichard, and Craig 2016; Hajjar 1997; McConatha, Schnell, and McKenna 1999; Miller et al. 1999; Nett 1991; Robinson and Skill 1995; Vasil and Wass 1993; Vernon et al. 1990; Ware and Moutsatsos 2013; Zhang et al. 2006). The subtitle of Bazzini et al.’s (1997) study of aging women in film aptly summarizes the point: Such women are “underrepresented, unattractive, unfriendly, and unintelligent.” Sacks (1992, 4) pointed out that in our society “valued older women’s statuses do not exist.” Sefocovic (1996, 2) wrote, “American popular culture typically excises the woman who shows her age.” Part of the irrelevance of aging women derives from having outlived their reproductive utility. Mediated representations of menopause tend to

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characterize it negatively as a disease to be treated or coped with (Cimons 2006; Coupland and Williams 2002; Gannon and Stevens 1998; Hust and Andsager 2003; Marcus-Newhall, Thompson, and Thomas 2001; Quintanilla, Cano, and Ivy 2004; Rostosky and Travis 1996; Sefcovic 1996). In their study of menopause news coverage, Hust and Andsager (2003, 103) wrote, “Although women in their fifties are certainly not elderly, they are practically invisible in media imagery.” Indeed, little in popular culture—or academic theory—prepares women to interpret aging, except in terms of the visible physical as “caricature” (Cristofovici 1999), “disgust” (Vares 2009), or “disease” (Woodward 1999). Barnett (2008, 14) is not alone in noticing that aging is mostly a women’s issue, “creating a double jeopardy where sexism and ageism intersect.” Arguing the need “to distinguish carefully between biological aging and aging that is produced by culture” (“encoded daily in the stories and advertisements of mass media”), Woodward (1999, 5–9) wrote, “It is thus not an accident that many women around age fifty experience aging. . . . By experiencing aging, I am referring primarily to the internalization of our culture’s denial and distaste for aging, which is understood in terms of decline, not in terms of growth and change.” While I might pause to critique the implication that “biological” aging is more real than “cultural” aging, I agree with the idea of intersectional phenomenologies of aging, which are guided by “culture,” including cultural deference to constructions of “biology.” We can attribute at least some of the contemporary biocultural zeitgeist of aging to marketplace neoliberalism. Zhang and colleagues (2006, 274) found, “Advertisers are responding to new consumer markets created by the baby boom, healthy/active lifestyles, and longevity.” They continued: “One risk is the emergence of ‘approved’ ways of growing old, which implies that older people have the responsibility for maintaining their own health, financial viability, and so forth” (274). This otherwise savvy characterization of the neoliberal subject regarding age and class does not address Portnoy’s (1997, 24) “gender double standard of aging,” let alone gender identity and other intersectional differences across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability. For example, aging increasingly understood as disability means most everyone eventually experiences disability, as Wendell (1999) explained, regardless of individual circumstances, not the least of which is economic resources. It is possible, however, to interpret the cultural admonition to stay young as incompatible, even paradoxical, in light of the inevitability of bodily changes in eyesight and mobility, just to name two abilities that can change with aging. Additionally, in antiaging discourse that pathologizes aging as preventable and treatable, disability-by-aging is repathologized. In antiaging discourse, the personal responsibility of the neoliberal consuming senior citizen is nursed by the postfeminist redirect of women’s


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organized political movement into the retail narcissism of Lazar’s (2009) “entitled femininity.” As in access to quality healthcare for preventing the so-called infirmities of aging, class also remains the invisible presumption for young ladies who shop. But, in addition to class, “the production of an entitled feminine subject is limited also in terms of sexual and age preferences. . . . Although beauty advertising is known to promote the ideal of youthful appearance, in a postfeminist era, women are required to adopt a youthful disposition as well, no matter what their age” (397) in this heterosexist hypersexualized “acutely” ageist corruption of feminism. In sum, middle-aged women represent a significant US demographic, whose presence has been less well represented in popular media or media studies. Nevertheless, as Kitch (2003) hinted, we could be witnessing the media industries’ attempts to articulate a “‘new’ middle age,” reflecting “a profoundly commercial vision based on the fear of aging.” Advertising says that women are meant to be beautiful, an achievement accomplished by purchasing a product. Yet to be beautiful, women also must be young—as well as white, able-bodied, heterosexually available, and in possession of the resources to shop “unreservedly,” as Lazar (2009, 397) puts it. So while there are many ways to fail the beauty test, here I am interested in what skin-care advertising has to say about women beginning to age out of norms of beauty. Before examining antiaging skin-care advertising, however, I want to propose Phelan’s (1993) unmarked politics as a way to interpret the “problem” of representing middle-aged women in advertising. POLITICS OF IN/VISIBILITY Well before the postfeminist critique of advertising, Williamson (1978) pointed out that advertising represents an ideology wherein we are encouraged to produce ourselves by consuming the products advertised to us. In the case of cosmetic advertising, she wrote that “your external appearance, your face, already has the status of an object; so it can easily become an object that is the property of the manufacturers—but one held up as purchasable” (68). This commercial ideology participates in a larger cultural psychology of individualism and self-help (Dow 1996; Payne 1989, 1991, 1992; White 1992). Self-sufficiency also requires engaging in “approved” forms of consumer aging (Zhang et al. 2006). Such a self-help psychology is furthermore a gendered prescription that encourages women to make their appearance a “lifelong project” (Hernández 2017, 359; Lambiase, Bronstein, and Coleman 2017, 30; Windels 2017, 165). So antiaging advertising assumes a commonsense kind of wisdom assuring women that it is only natural to want to look

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younger and to consume scientifically fortified products that promise youthful results. One might argue that aging is the natural process, that mediated discourses, even scientific ones that exhort women to resist aging, are unnatural. LaWare and Moutsatsos (2013) find the idea of an “authentic” aging woman’s voice in advertising a worthy, even feminist, but elusive goal. Others argue the cultural invisibility of women’s naturally aging bodies is what creates their social devaluation, and this invisibility explains older women’s embarrassment regarding their own bodies (Cruikshank 2003; Holstein 2006). “Following this logic,” writes Vares (2009, 520), “the visibility of ageing women’s bodies will enable ageing to be seen and experienced as less shameful.” That logic also seems a little like victim blaming since Vares cites disgust and revulsion at the sight, and mere thought, of seeing older women’s naked bodies depicted in the media. This distaste came from scholars as well as Vares’s participants, men aged forty-nine to seventy-eight, who acknowledged the sexist double standard of ageism but enforced it anyway. Analyzing the literature on “the portrayal of older adults in advertising,” Zhang et al. (2006, 266) adopt vitality theory to explain this population’s infrequent but stereotyped media appearances: “the presence or absence of a group in the media is an indicator of that group’s level of objective vitality in society.” I am reminded of the 2007 Dove Real Beauty “Pro-Age” campaign, which hired Annie Leibovitz, at well over fifty years old, to photograph gorgeous nudes of women also older than fifty who were not celebrities or professional models. The ads’ headlines, superimposed over images of women’s bodies that were not digitally altered, revealed the creative concept: “beauty has no age limit” and “too old to be in an anti-aging ad.” Seeing naked middle-aged and aging women with wrinkles and folds in exquisite photographs might be poignantly beautiful to look at, but the message still suggests that although we can expand the (age) limits of what we define as “natural” beauty, a women’s natural value nevertheless remains tethered to her beauty. Vares (2009, 520), however, provides the clincher as she moves from discussing the men in her study to the women: “Yet the talk of many female participants . . . complicates this argument that the increasing visibility of older women as ‘sexy oldies’ is necessarily ‘positive,’ enabling or empowering for women.” For the fifty-two- to eighty-two-year-old women participating, “to be seen ‘is the ultimate devaluation’”; “for many participants, the visibility of an older woman’s body does not undermine its devaluation” (520). These participants intellectually understood that shame is a culturally constructed affect toward women’s aging bodies, but they have performatively lived with this embodiment too long to separate nature from nurture, if such a thing is possible.


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Enter the critique of scientific discourses and their construction of gender politics. Haraway (1991) argued that “nature,” and so what is “natural,” is a moving target in a constant exercise/exorcism to distinguish the limits of self/ Other. We use language to order the “natural” world, often in arbitrary ways, including what may count as “nature” and the “natural.” Tracing the way our understanding of “nature” parallels the trajectory of science along with the metaphors that science appropriates, Haraway wrote, “In a strict sense, science is our myth” (1991, 42). But even this myth is an evolving one, following the course of human endeavor itself, from sociobiology as capitalist market machine to genetics and immunology as information systems and a problem of mis/communication. So Haraway’s work, first, cautions us against assumptions about what is natural, and, second, can assist us in recognizing the scientific analogies and metaphors that antiaging advertising appropriates. Moving from the natural to the empirical, if the symbolic order functions as a lens through which we view the world, then our eyes might deceive us, according to Phelan (1993). Attentive to embodiment and performance, Phelan is suspicious of visibility politics: “If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture” (10). She reminded us that “representations” are not “real truths” (2). Phelan posited an “unmarked” subjectivity that “cannot be reproduced within the ideology of the visible” (1). As she conceived it, the unmarked becomes more elusive the harder one tries to envision it. The usefulness of the unmarked lies in unsettling binaries and resisting equivalence to a visual real, thereby upsetting our too-comfortable reliance on “seeing is believing.” As long as US advertising lacks the visual vernacular for representing middle-aged womanhood, then perhaps midlife women embody an example of an unmarked presence that remains a force—for the moment—outside of formulae that equate visual representation with reality. Phelan (1993) warned, “Visibility is a trap” (6): “Representation follows two laws: it always conveys more than it intends; and it is never totalizing” (2). She yearned for “a more nuanced relationship to the power of visibility,” one that accounts for “the power of the unmarked, unspoken, and unseen” (7). Her “unmarked” subjectivity “cannot be reproduced within the ideology of the visible” (1). Not dissimilar to the subaltern, who is mute, unintelligible, forgotten, ignored, or suppressed but remains a force nonetheless, the unmarked is a presence. Despite the difficulty this poses for “showing” us examples, Phelan (1993) hinted at the unmarked with analogies representing material conundrums: the contested pregnant body, which cannot be fixed as either one or two; and live theater and performance art, impossible to capture, stabilize, and reproduce without transforming them into something else. In good deconstructionist form, Phelan’s unmarked becomes the proverbial rabbit of meaning in the

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briar patch; we can point toward it, move closer to it, but never fully apprehend it. But she is less interested in language than the corporeal body, visual culture, and the performative. Most relevant here is Phelan’s (1993) interest in “developing the unmarked” through her pre–digital-revolution discussion of portrait photography, which once again complicates our reliance on empirical observation to claim what is real. Nodding to Benjamin (1968) but then moving on, Phelan (1993, 36) wrote, “Reproduction within portrait photography is always a double copy: an imitation of the gaze of the other and a copy of the negative.” The seer, scene, and seen vacillate from the corporeal to the imagined, between model and photographer, and from the shutter to the negative (or, today, to the digital file) to the print (or, today, to the screen)—and, we might add, again to the printing press (or perhaps the desktop printer)—to an audience of individual imaginations. Phelan’s point was that without an “original” there is no mimesis: Without a stable “original,” the status of the real also comes under scrutiny. The model’s body is “real,” but the image of that body is, like all images, an account of the gaze’s relation to the lure. (1993, 36–37)

Because there is no original, there can be no derivative copy. Even the photograph’s negative becomes more than just its reverse image; simultaneously it is not the photograph’s “original,” yet it re/produces prints. A quarter-century later, this is even more true of digital images because digital file formats are not analogues to photographic negatives or opposite complements to digital images. Digital image files are not materially real, either, not in the sense of a film negative, anyway. Digital file formats of images are in fact difficult to grasp literally and figuratively, not to mention representationally, and they are far more likely to be “corrected” automatically and their images manipulated manually—or self-consciously not manipulated, as in the case of Leibovitz’s images for Dove’s “Pro-Age” ads. To bring the discussion back to advertising, Kramer (1999, 4–5) longed for a magazine cover featuring “a Karsh-like photograph of a middle-aged woman whose character and story are written on her face.” That Kramer wished to see a “Karsh-like photograph” meant she already had seen it in her mind’s eye. She had “pictured” the mirror in which she would see an image that told her something about herself. But her mirror is a citation—reminiscent of the work of Yousuf Karsh (or perhaps Annie Leibovitz)—of a photographic copy of a model who performs an imagined presence specifically for a photographer poised with a camera ready to compose a visual image for a ghostly audience yet to materialize. The unmarked, then, unravels easy, comfortable correspondences between seer and seen. Phelan (1993, 19) wished to find a way to articulate the


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immaterially real: “I am speaking here of an active vanishing, a deliberate and conscious refusal to take the payoff of visibility.” I argue that advertisers might be having some difficulty representing middle-aged womanhood within current visual vernacular, and perhaps this difficulty is not an entirely bad thing. It means that instruction for midlife womanhood has not been captured, pinned down, solidified by a “tyranny of the visual.” Unlike Vares’s (2009) older adult participants who already knew what old women look like on film, maybe the signs of middle age remain elusive. Personally, I find this accidentally unmarked middle-aged presence appealing, resistant, and subversive. A little ambiguity provides wiggle room, like a roomy shirt. Middle age is problematic within a symbolic order dependent on binary opposites such as young-old and definitions of age and aging that depend on visual recognition. Accordingly, women’s middle age is indeed an awkward age, difficult to associate with stereotypical ideas about attractive or disgusting, reproductive or un(re)productive, positive or negative. Furthermore, if the “visible signs of aging” can be retarded, erased, and reversed, as “antiaging” skin-care advertising promises, then what we see in terms of the “visible signs of aging” is no longer necessarily what we get. Nevertheless, it is significant that without some visual format of a middle ground, the choices for people who live as women seem to be to appear as either young or old, and no brand is going to succeed by encouraging middle-aged women to expend time and money to make themselves look older. To visualize or embody old age is to acknowledge mortality, which renders consumption moot. So we cast magical discursive spells and apply dainty potions to mystify what we, literally in this case, cannot face. Next I tune in to the in/visibility politics in antiaging advertising. THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS OF ANTIAGING MESSAGES Antiaging skin-care advertising promises to “de-crease” the “visible signs of aging,” which advertisers are eager to catalog for women who have been taught to “fight” aging. Here I focus on “antiaging” advertising for lotions, crèmes, and serums, including the language of “visible signs of aging”; secrets, lies, and hiding; time compression and reversal; and the war against aging followed by a victory of spring-like renewal. I note the use of celebrity models, as well as layout strategies I call “cropped, chopped, and dropped.” This kind of antiaging advertising not only addresses heterosexual, ablebodied, white, cisgendered women as heterosexual, able-bodied, white, and cisgendered but also then defines the ideal woman as youthful, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgendered, and white. Dyer (1997) demonstrated the ways

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cosmetic advertising historically constructs womanly beauty as white and heterosexual. White beauty is racialized by aligning beauty with the color white, which is used to signify soapy cleanliness and purity. More than pure product ingredients and clear pale skin, purity also aligns with the idealized white woman’s angelic virtue and her unsullied virginal bridal availability. This hetero-whiteness is connoted by white clothing and staging, and an abundance of white light, which makes her “glow”; she is radiantly beautiful framed with heavenly white light. Here I think of Ellen Degeneres. In her “Simply Ageless” makeup ads, Degeneres, blue-eyed and more blonde every year, is often framed in white and light. She is luminous. Just as Dove’s “Pro-Age” headline, “too old to be in an anti-aging ad,” documents antiaging discourse by disputing it, Degeneres, the lesbian celebrity who is beloved because of her dazzling moral goodness, proves the beauty industry’s heterosexism by refuting it. Or maybe because Degeneres is no longer young, her sexuality is no longer an issue. Exclusive of “Simply Ageless” and “Pro-Age,” across skin-care ads, rhetoric of “antiaging” targets “mid-life skin” and “mature skin.” Often the product names tell the story, such as “Anti-Wrinkle Cream,” “Anti-Age Spot Serum,” and “Age-Diminishing Moisturizer.” One product offers “anti-aging action.” Another brand advertises itself as an “anti-aging breakthrough.” Some brands encourage women to “defy” their age. The enemy is “visible aging,” which writes itself upon the white woman’s face, according to this kind of advertising. She is urged to patrol her face for “the seven signs of aging”: “fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, texture, tone, dullness, dryness, pores.” Numbers of brands promise visible results, dependent on sight. Therefore, age is a problem of becoming unsightly. An eye product promises to “visibly correct lines,” implying that visible facial lines are incorrect. A “Visibly Firm Night Cream” says the woman who uses this product will “see results.” Another brand says it can “visibly reduce brown spots.” Others “repair” “skin’s appearance” and “the appearance of deep lines and wrinkles.” They all seem vested in vision, by which “you’ll see” “spectacular results,” including skin that is “visibly smoother” and “youthfullooking.” Advertisers assure users of “looking younger” and “reducing the appearance” of aging on the face. The effect is “an overall more youthful appearance” because the “skin’s appearance is visibly lifted and brightened.” Noticeable improvements to a woman’s face might tempt people to “peek” into her medicine cabinet to see what product is generating those visible results, says one ad. Although antiaging advertisers employ themes of secrets, lies, and hiding, the stereotype of women lying about their age is not new. Popular culture told women to hide and lie about their age long before Boomer women reached midlife. Ad headlines read: “Lie about your age. Hide the evidence” and “Lie about your age. Bury the evidence.” One advertiser


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warns, “Don’t hide it [the product] in your medicine cabinet”; “your secret’s not safe” there, perhaps because of those curious peekers. The same brand declares, “So what if you’re not really 28? . . . Your secret’s safe.” A less selfish advertiser shares its brand’s “secret” to “looking younger.” Where visual culture meets middle-aged women, we find the inevitability of women whose age is contradicted by cultural pressure to sustain youthful beauty. Rather than pronouncing the antiaging cosmetic product category a failure because inexorably women will look old, antiaging ads urge women to consume more new and improved products because aging women do look old. Yet antiaging skin care is about “reversing the effects of time,” as some advertisers claim. Worth noting, however, is the way the reversal of one’s lifetime is compressed into quick results. Furthermore, some of the language implies that such products “correct” facial aging as a mistake or accident, or they “repair” something that is broken, like a pothole in the street’s asphalt. “Stop the clock,” says a headline positioned under a visual that replaces the right side of a model’s face with an analog clock. Offering a product that “repairs skin damage,” the copy reads, “Erase time one line at a time” in “as little as four weeks.” Another advertiser “accelerates the natural rate skin repairs itself by up to 90%.” The copy offers results in an hour, but the full effect of its “wrinkle corrector” takes one to four weeks. A third advertiser’s results can be “confirmed after 6 weeks of use.” A fourth claims “no downtime” as with cosmetic surgery but instead offers “immediate results.” “Leading us into the ageless future,” a product advertises: “New lift, new life. In just 10 minutes.” An improved treatment can “repair” skin “6 times faster” than its “previous formulas.” If these advertising claims are disposed to “antiaging” and rapid results, then “fighting” aging requires enlisting “wrinkle reversing agents” into an organized war effort: “Don’t just fight wrinkles. Fight gravity.” A headline reads: “The fight against aging doesn’t stop at wrinkles.” One product “powerfully fights seven signs of aging.” An Intensive Restoration Treatment “miraculously fights past damage.” But this war is more like a technologyassisted precision insurgence than a traditional battlefield confrontation. An eye serum targets “three zones”; the line art in the ad’s visual literally targets spots around the model’s eye, connoting satellite imagery or the bird’s-eye view of an airstrike or weaponized drone. Another brand “directly” and “precisely” “targets expression lines,” providing “instant intervention.” A third ad’s product employs a tactical force of “the six most revolutionary wrinkle fighters.” A fourth ad builds the skin’s “resistance” to aging. A fifth ad, placing its body copy on a map-like grid, “delivers concentrated action” through “a powerful bio-network.” Advertisers then promise postwar, springlike renewal using verbs such as refinish, regenerate, rejuvenate, renew, replenish, restore, and revitalize.

Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics


A dilemma arises, however, in antiaging advertising focusing on the “visible signs of aging.” How does an advertiser visually represent those “visible signs of aging” and visually prove the product’s effectiveness at “visible improvement”? Before-and-after would be one typical ad strategy, except that before-and-after photos call to mind unglamorous low-budget “quick-anddirty” advertising, too déclassé for products pretending to French-language chic. The larger issue, however, raises a question: What does a close-up of a middle-aged woman look like? We have no visual templates for composing or interpreting such an image. Furthermore, I suspect middle-aged women are less likely to identify with glamour shots of their contemporaries because that looking glass might reflect a little too much reality for buying into the enchanted efficacy of anti-aging product results. Some advertising solutions include using extraordinarily attractive aging celebrities, cropping the models’ faces into extreme close-ups, chopping the models’ faces into a series of disembodied facial features, or dropping the use of women models altogether. Antiaging celebrity spokesmodels have included Connie Nielsen, Claudia Schiffer, Andie MacDowell, Diane Keaton, and Ellen Degeneres, among others. Degeneres is the Baby-Boomer celebrity lesbian white princess to Queen Latifah’s Gen-X reign as queer-of-color celebrity, both representing the Cover Girl brand. Degeneres’s “Simply Ageless” (a product co-branded by Cover Girl and Olay) is touted as “wrinkle defying” for “younger looking skin.” As LaWare and Moutsatsos (2013) write, Lancôme fired Isabella Rossellini, its celeb spokes-beauty, in 1994 because she was too old at age forty-two. But in 1994, the Baby Boomer “pig in the python” (see Cork and Lightstone 1996) had not fully entered middle age; the oldest Boomer women were just into their fifties, and the youngest were still only thirty. Ten years later, we arrived at a different story. Turn-of-the-millennium marketers salivated at the enormous market segment of boomer women reaching the height of their spending power. LaWare and Moutsatsos also find this period to coincide with popular culture’s rise of the “Age of [cosmetic] Surgery” (194). If not aging celebrities—appropriately “Photoshopped” to represent aspirational rather than accurate characterizations of aging—sometimes antiaging ads default to a younger understudy. In a sense, then, visually demonstrating what happens “after” using the product requires visually representing a woman “before” she reaches middle age with its accompanying “visible signs of aging.” Of course, this choice reinforces a cultural narrative in which the midlife heterosexual woman is at risk of replacement by a younger woman. In some ads, the understudy might be pulled back to a medium shot that reduces the size of her head to the point that makes scrutinizing her “visible signs of aging” impossible. However, advertisers apparently prefer a solution that tends to present the younger understudy by cropping her into an extreme close-up and then chopping her face into so many of Kilbourne’s


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(1987, [1979] 2000) disembodied parts. This technique, which I call “cropped and chopped,” highlights “trouble spots” on the face and deemphasizes the (younger) age of the models. In addition to obscuring the model’s age, an extreme close-up of the face obscures the background context of the photograph, such as the ad alluding to satellite imagery, which also literally transforms a human model’s face into something akin to a topographic map. Cropped faces that no longer resemble beautiful women are no longer suitable for “after” beauty shots. Instead such images become “problem” or “solution” images of “trouble spots.” Cropped ads also might use small inset images of chopped-up facial features, including tiny cropped before-and-after or problem-and-solution images. Tightly cropped and chopped faces are less personal, less like flattering mirrors for potentially consuming viewers hoping to see an improved future—thus younger past—version of their own faces. But in antiaging advertising, techniques of cropping and chopping further transform the model’s—and thus the target viewer’s—face into a foreign object to be battled rather than embraced. In one ad, for example, the only visual other than the product is a grid-like series of small, extreme-close-up photographs of eyes, nose, and mouth—all cut off from the face that would invite mirror-like identification—like so many atomized targeted enemy zones awaiting “resurfacing.” Finally, the “dropped” strategy simply avoids human models. Exemplars in this category “make the product the hero” by placing the product into a narrative landscape. This technique places the product in the foreground of, for instance, background boudoir shots. One ad shows a close-up of the product framed by the lens of a pair of eyeglasses. Another employs visual metonymy by substituting a large visual of a rose for the woman model, and then bisecting the rose to demonstrate something like a before-and-after. Ads that drop photographs of women as models forego any sense of visual verisimilitude, thereby leaving the fantasy of a younger-looking face to each target viewer’s own imagination. Antiaging advertising is objectionable in that it encourages women to erase or hide the “visible signs of aging” in order to be presentable to the eye as it values appearance over substance and youth over age. However, at a more subtle level, these advertisers undermine their own purpose because they cannot effectively show the target viewer a picture of herself. Here, an accidental unmarked politics speaks to a vast middle-aged presence beyond the grasp of the visual image. While not ideal, nor exactly what Phelan (1993) had in mind, this representational catch-22 for advertisers lets middle-aged women off the visual hook for the time being. Locating the possibility of a politics of the unmarked within an advertising discourse that focuses the eye on un/marking women’s bodies for visible signs of age seems oxymoronic. However, advertisers caught in the absurdity that

Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics


disavows the visual representation of women’s aging faces in order to sell products purported to mask or erase the visible signs of aging does confirm the presence of middle-aged women while complicating the possibility of equating their visual images with the real. Advertisers must make the visible signs of aging invisible in order to prove their products’ value within an ideology that prioritizes the visual empirical, itself a particular type of visual ableism. The visible erasure of middle-aged women does reinforce the proclivity to value the youthful and beautiful, and it does symbolically annihilate middleaged women. Nevertheless, I find this antiaging advertising difficulty with representation a little comical, and, yes, accidentally resistant. For, as long as middle-aged women are hailed by younger versions of themselves, middle age remains a mystery, not in Riviere’s (1929) sense of a disguise for nothingness, but in Phelan’s (1993) sense of a surplus that resists the grasp of the camera, the negative or digital file, visual re/production, or equations of the visible as real. There is much more to critique here, and laughing at advertisers who put themselves in a difficulty of their own making conveniently overlooks the real traumas many women experience with the loss of their youth, along with all those who are excluded from this particular definition of “woman.” I merely wish to point out the mistake of equating the mediated visual—or the absence of it—with reality or a particular demographic’s social “vitality.” I CAN’T BELIEVE MY EYES Antiaging advertising urges “mature” women to consume in order to re-create youth. Steeping this narrative in Burke ([1961] 1970), we find the “visible signs of aging” as a kind of pollution, the assignment of guilt to time and the aging woman’s face (an enemy if not within at least adhered to the surface), a purification or self-mortification ritual involving an increasingly complex antiaging skin-care regimen to “fight” those visible signs of aging, and rebirth and redemption in the reduction or reversal of those “visible signs of aging.” What is significant about this otherwise straightforward reading is the “natural order” implied by the logic that time is an enemy, that women should be at odds with their faces, that the visible signs of maturity equate with personal pollution—a logic easily lost in the desire to “look” at improved versions of themselves in the mirror. This ritual of self-mortification in the name of youth encourages women to purchase and consume expensive products. As an “active rhetorical technology” (Payne, 1989, 1991), antiaging equates visibly white, heterosexual, able-bodied women’s worth with visible beauty and urges all women to concern themselves with how they appear. Surface impressions become more important than deeper physical or metaphysical well-being.


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Haraway’s (1991) description of the “biopolitics of postmodern bodies” made an eerily similar observation. She argued a fundamental shift in the discursive medicalization of bodies between the late nineteenth and late twentieth centuries, a shift that among other things moved from metaphors of “depth, integrity” to those of “surface, boundary” (209). The postmodern body, exemplified by a converged scientific, medical, and mythical heroic discourse of the immune system, is primarily concerned with envisioning the body—the self—as a territory subject to top-secret invasion by an Other disguised as self. Haraway argued, “The body is conceived as a strategic system, highly militarized in key arenas of imagery and practice” (211). Exactly ten years after the publication of Simian, Cyborgs, and Women, Haraway’s thesis became downright scary following September 11, 2001, with a new national preoccupation with terrorism, biological warfare, homeland security, and profiling and screening systems for identifying alien threats both domestically and abroad. How far we have come since then with a pervasive nightmarish discourse of militarized security to shield against penetration by terrorists, aliens, and criminals (and “older” women running nation-states). Ugly anti-immigration populism grows in response to an international crisis of dispossessed peoples seeking refuge at geopolitical borders. The United States builds material, digital, and symbolic walls against illegal border crossings, while US authorities are conscripted to seek and cast out the undocumented Other. Citizens trump up their Constitutional right to arm themselves and “stand their ground” against threats not from the State but their neighbors. Consumer-workers are trained to protect themselves against concealed but highly organized identity thieves, as cyber security becomes big business. Our social networks are compromised by clandestine incursions. We have entered a new cold war in which even elections are subject to undetected invasion, and our leaders justify spying on and lying to us, as they engage in extraordinary rendition and torture of the enemy Other. We are surveilled from satellites; drones; public-space cameras; airport x-ray screening; and cable, fiber-optic, and mobile networks; along with volunteer armies of crowd-sourcing data narcs, friendly and not. The discourses of immune systems and their similarity to discourses of patriotism and terrorism certainly trivialize the “fine lines and wrinkles” associated with midlife women. My point is that the difference between Williamson’s 1978 Olay advertisement and the contemporary version is the way the product-as-hero is presented to quarantine women’s faces as the enemy, a threat, an Other disguised as self. The aging woman’s face is framed as an imposter. Today’s commercial “antiaging” (antiviral, antibody, antiterrorism, anti-immigrant) reads like high-tech conflict on the “visible signs of aging” by mobilizing biomedical science into covert special ops that may lie, hide, and even bury the evidence of its undercover missions. The product-hero’s

Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics


activity is positioned as nearly bordering on the criminal (any means necessary). This militarized association with secrecy is significant. The only way to distinguish the product from enemy activity is by the work that it does. Actually, we can only recognize the fact of this classified mission because the products promise visible results. The tensions and contradictions between visibility and invisibility in antiaging advertising fascinate me. Williamson (1978, 68) wrote of the “thin masking layer of chemicals,” which “coat” the face so that “the surface you see in the mirror may well be ‘theirs’, not ‘yours.’” But Williamson was referring to Olay lotion in terms of a cosmetic, such as makeup. Today’s “antiaging” products, although in truth probably little more than cosmetics, promise far more than temporary makeup adhering to the facial skin. “Antiaging” products, with their language of state-of-the-art research and development, advertise their ability to transform a woman’s face. The consumer becomes one with the product, a reversal twice over. First, the product promises to reverse the visible facial changes time has wrought—facial changes that devalue a woman, according to culture. We must take this promise on faith, however, because these products are invisible once applied to the skin and do their work sight-unseen at the microscopic cellular level, so they tell us. Second, the consumer trades her own “natural” face, cast as an invader in these ads, for a technologically enhanced one in which manufactured products become allies. These high-tech products literally yet invisibly become us. At this point, Haraway’s (1991) cyborg rears its strategic prosthetic. Haraway’s (1991) feminist cyborg, however, is premised on rejecting essentialist alignments between women and nature based on metaphors of reproduction. The cyborg depends on metaphors of “regeneration after injury, such as the loss of a limb, [and] involves regrowth of structure and restoration of function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd topographical productions at the site of former injury” (181). Williamson’s 1978 argument about advertising discourses that “cook nature” to improve it might be based on her belief that nature is natural and need not be cooked. Contemporary “antiaging” advertising, promising to “regenerate” new younger skin, might seem to manifest the cyborg. But “antiaging” technologies merely promise to return white, heterosexual, able-bodied, economically comfortable women to their natural Stepford-wife state of youthful beauty. That is not exactly what Haraway intended for a strategic feminist politics. The appeal and power of the cyborg metaphor as a political tactic lies in terrifyingly “unnatural” couplings that undo territorial borders between nature and technology. Besides, lengthy twenty-first-century US wars have accustomed us to “wounded warriors”: women and men as military veterans with technologically wondrous prostheses that attempt to redress the horrors of human bodies engaged in war.


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Haraway has not escaped critiques of her intersectional failures, either, including, among others, Kafer’s (2013) feminist queer crip assessment of the cyborg’s ableism since the cyborg’s power lies in its freakishness. Despite any similarity to the cyborg, “antiaging” advertising taking advantage of an ideology of womanly beauty is not scary enough to be a tactical embodiment for women, although, with its biomedical industrial complex and militaristic metaphors, it ought to be. Beauty, or at least our understanding of it, is not frightening. But loss of beauty is. Envisioning the aging woman as a female grotesque (Creed 1986; Russo 1986) comes closer to monstrous revolutionary power than younger-looking skin. This leads to my sense that “antiaging” advertising imagery seems hesitant to show middle-aged womanhood or to mark age on female-bodied persons. Although “antiaging” advertising exhibits tensions between what we see and what we don’t see, the greatest tension is the absence of the middle-aged women as the viewers these ads so directly address. I return to Vares (2009, 505) documenting “revulsion” and “visceral disgust” at the “taboo” undressed bodies of sexually active older women. That is power—to generate that kind of affect. I have wondered if that is the origination of the Medusa’s reputation for punishing the male gaze by turning men to stone. Perhaps the Medusa might be a better mascot for middle-aged femininity’s relationship to visibility politics. That is, the aging woman is not invisible because she is irrelevant; the aging She, in full possession of herself, is just too dangerous to contemplate. Leibovitz’s “Pro-Age” nudes for Dove are weak in comparison—because they are beautiful images and because the women’s bodies fold in on themselves, covering their privates, taking up so little space because of feminine modesty’s directive to be seen as trying to disappear. The Dove “Pro-Age” ads are “gender advertisements,” classically so, by way of Goffman’s (1976) feminine touch, ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal. AN ACCIDENTAL POLITICS OF THE UNMARKED I have asked what middle-aged women look like in advertising. Advertisers seem hesitant to show the middle-aged woman or to mark middle age on her body. I can only guess that a formerly invisible feminine middle age poses a problem in terms of the visual/visible for advertisers because there are few visual tropes to draw on if middle-aged women are neither young nor old as each is defined by visual culture. Whereas an advertising industry that locates a woman’s worth in her beauty and exhorts people who live as women to wage war on their own faces via consumption is repugnant, instinctive counterarguments that deploy “natural” aging are overly romantic. “Natural” aging, like “natural” gender,

Middle-Aged Women, Antiaging Advertising, and an Accidental Politics


is not natural (although dignified aging has merit). Additionally, reframing “natural” aging as beautiful not only repeats the reasoning that values women for their beauty but also remains dependent on the visual. That middle-aged women are women at all mostly depends on culture, in fact, visual culture. But middle age upsets the either-or dichotomy implied by young or old. Indeed, the unspoken assumption here all along has been the existence of a phenomenon called “middle age.” We ought to remind ourselves that interpretations of aging, the segmenting of age by demographics or generational bracketing, and the association of age with physiological, psychological, and socioeconomic life stages are all constructions, too, in many cases arbitrary except for their convenience to the politics of biomedical models and the political institutions of neoliberal capitalism, including marketing and advertising. Still, for the moment, it pleases me that I don’t see in advertising an imagined copy of a copy of myself—one that I should feel compelled to compare myself to and find myself lacking (Leibovitz’s “Karshlike” “Pro-Age” nudes notwithstanding). Personally, I find that difficult-to-imagine “unmarked” subjectivity, embodied and performed, the more appealing move because it does not translate into imagery. Phelan (1993, 19) wrote, “By refusing to participate in the visibility-is-currency economy,” we “resist . . . fetishization.” There might be some freedom, even relief, in this unmarked presence of aging women. If being the object of the gaze is difficult, uncomfortable work for beautiful young people, then US middle-aged woman—like their absent advertising avatars—do have at least one privilege at the moment: invisibility or at least visual ambiguity. They are free to slip away to do whatever it is that they want to do with their hard-earned life experience, and few will notice. Frankly, subversive culture work is easier to accomplish if you’re not being minded. I know, of course, such images are not solely for middle-aged women. They, unfortunately, function to tell others something about middle-aged women without their consent or approval. People’s behaviors are driven by stereotypes. There are “real” material consequences to mediated representations, or the lack thereof, however we theorize that such representations are not really “real.” I know that it is easy for an aging, well educated, economically comfortable, Global North, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered, white woman to draw conclusions about the benefits of being able to disappear. But I do not want to jettison the possibility of an unmarked politics that avoids “surveillance,” “voyeurism,” and the “colonialist/imperialist appetite for possession” (Phelan 1993, 6). Remember, the unmarked is so radical that Phelan had difficulty showing us examples. In 1993, she suggested the example of the Guerrilla Girls, the art world’s anonymous feminist critics wearing gorilla masks to do their public


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culture work. “By resisting visible identities, the Guerrilla Girls mark the failure of the gaze to posses, and arrest” (19). Today I wonder if the Muslim veil and trans+ might be more accessible entry points to the unmarked. The burqa and niqab rather literally drop a curtain in performative terms and, if worn by choice, present a visual question mark. In the United States, however, a hijab draws mostly unwanted attention as a spectacle instead of providing the means of vanishing. Trans+, referring to a complement of identifications that defy normative categorization, also continues to draw unwanted violent attention, usually because of visual mis/recognition. But mis/recognition depends on the inkling that something is out of alignment with expectations. For numbers of transgender people, unmarked embodiment signals a goal realized—an unremarkable somebody going about their business, although, again, that is too easy, and there is much more to say. It is important to note, as well, that these problems of visuality and representational politics depend on an ableist understanding of eyesight and that we might also learn from people who can’t see or who see differently. Maybe these difficulties with representation and so-called material reality are both the result of visual culture and a way out of it. Phelan (1993, 180) wrote: “Similarly, those concerned with understanding the relation between the real and the representational must also recognize that our failing eyes may be insufficient organs for measuring the terms and meanings of the transformative alchemy between them.” She argued that the persistence of “doubt” might be the best evidence of the “real.” Within the context of advertising’s visual rhetoric and a discussion of aging women, Phelan’s insight is humorous: If we depend on the visual to define what is real, our aging eyes might fail us. REFERENCES Barnett, Barbara. 2008. “More Contradictions: A Framing Analysis of Health, Agency, and Femininity in a Magazine for Women over Forty.” In Women, Wellness, and Media, edited by M. Wiley, 11–37. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars. Bazzini, Doris G., William D. McIntosh, Stephen M. Smith, Sabina Cook, and Caleigh Harris. 1997. “The Aging Woman in Popular Film: Underrepresented, Unattractive, Unfriendly, and Unintelligent.” Sex Roles 36 (7–8), 531–43. Benjamin, Walter. 1968. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 211–244. London: Fontana. Brooks, Mary, Shannon Bichard, and Clay Craig. 2016. “What’s the Score? A Content Analysis of Mature Adults in Super Bowl Commercials.” Howard Journal of Communication 27 (4): 347–66.

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Burke, K. (1961) 1970. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. Berkeley: University of California Press. Cimons, Marlene. 2006. “Menopause: Milestone or Misery? A Look at Media Messages to Our Mothers and Grandmothers.” American Journalism 23 (1): 63–94. Cork, David and Susan Lightstone. 1996. The Pig and the Python: How to Prosper from the Aging Baby Boom. Ontario: Stoddart. Coupland, Justine and Angie Williams. 2002. “Conflicting Discourses, Shifting Ideologies: Pharmaceutical, ‘Alternative’ and Feminist Emancipatory Texts on Menopause.” Discourse and Society 13 (4): 419–36. Creed, Barbara. 1986. “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.” Screen 27 (1): 44–70. Cristofovici, Anca. 1999. “Touching Surfaces: Photography, Aging, and an Aesthetics of Change.” In Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations, edited by K. Woodward, 268–79. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Cruikshank, Margaret. 2003. Learning to be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Dow, Bonnie J. 1996. Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement since 1970. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Dyer, Richard. 1997. White. London: Routledge. Friedan, Betty. 1993. The Fountain of Age. New York: Simon and Schuster. Gannon, Linda and Jill Stevens. 1998. “Portraits of Menopause in Mass Media.” Women and Health 27 (3): 1–15. Goffman, Erving. 1976. “Gender ‘Advertisements.’” Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication 3 (2): 69–l54. Hajjar, Wendy J. 1997. “The Image of Aging in Television Commercials: An Update for the 1990s.” In Cross-Cultural Communication and Aging in the United States, edited by Hana S. Noor Al-Deen, 231–44. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Haraway. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. Hernández, Leandra H. 2017. “‘You Get a Very Conflicting View’: Postfeminism, Contradiction, and Women of Color’s Responses to Representations of Women in Advertisements.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy Kreshel, 251–70. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Holstein, Martha. 2006. “On Being an Aging Woman.” In Age Matters: Realigning Feminist Thinking, edited by Toni Calasanti and Kathleen Slevin, 313–34. New York: Routledge. Hust, Stacey J. T. and Julie L. Andsager. 2003. “Medicalization vs. Adaptive Models? Sense-making in Magazine Framing of Menopause.” Women and Health 38 (1): 101–22. Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Kilbourne, Jean. (1979) 2000. Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Documentary Films. ———. 1987. Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Documentary Films.


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Kitch, Carolyn. 2003. “Selling the ‘Boomer Babes’: More, My Generation, and the ‘New’ Middle Age.” Journal of Magazine and New Media Research [online serial] 5 (1). http:​//www​.aejm​cmaga​zine.​bsu.e​du/jo​urnal​. Kramer, Judy. 1999. “Middle-aged and Mad at Supermarket Magazines.” Media Report to Women 27 (2): 4–5. Lambiase, Jacqueline, Carolyn Bronstein, and Catherine Coleman. 2017. “Women versus Brands: Sexist Advertising and Gender Stereotypes Motivate Transgenerational Feminist Critique.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy Kreshel, 29–59. Lanham, MD: Lexington. LaWare, Margaret R. and Chrisy Moutsatsos. 2013. “‘For Skin That’s Us, Authentically Us’: Celebrity, Empowerment, and the Allure of Antiaging Advertisements.” Women’s Studies in Communication 36: 189–208. Lazar, Michelle M. 2009. “Entitled to Consume: Postfeminist Femininity and a Culture of Post-Critique.” Discourse and Communication 3 (4): 371–400. Marcus-Newhall, Amy, Suzanne Thompson, and Craic Thomas. 2001. “Examining a Gender Stereotype: Menopausal Women.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 31 (4): 698–719. McConatha, Jasmine T., Frauke Schnell, and Amy McKenna. 1999. “Description of Older Adults as Depicted in Magazine Advertisements.” Psychological Reports 85: 1051–56. Miller, Patricia N., Darryl W. Miller, Eithne M. McKibben, and Gregory L. Pettys. 1999. “Stereotypes of the Elderly in Magazine Advertising.” International Journal of Aging and Human Development 49 (4): 319–37. Nett, Emily M. 1991. “Is There Life after Fifty? Images of Middle Age for Women in Chatelaine Magazine, 1984.” Journal of Women and Aging 3 (1): 93–115. Payne, David. 1989. “The Wizard of Oz: Therapeutic Rhetoric in a Contemporary Media Ritual.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 75: 25–39. ———. 1991. “Characterology, Media, and Rhetoric.” In Media, Consciousness, and Culture: Explorations of Walter Ong’s Thought, edited by B. E. Gronbeck, T. J. Farrell, and P. A. Soukoup, 223–38. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. ———. 1992. “Political Vertigo in Dead Poets Society.” The Southern Communication Journal 58 (1): 13–21. Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge. Portnoy, Enid J. 1997. “Older Women as Cultural Figures in Aging.” In CrossCultural Communication and Aging in the United States, edited by Hana S. Noor Al-Deen, 23–41. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Quintanilla, Kelly, Nada Frazier Cano, and Diana K. Ivy. 2004. “The Defining of Menopause.” In Gender in Applied Communication Contexts, edited by P. M. Buzzanell, P. M. Stark, and L. H. Turner, 99–121. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Riviere, Joan. 1929. “Womanliness as a Masquerade.” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 9: 303–13. Robinson, James D. and Thomas T. Skill. 1995. “The Invisible Generation: Portrayals of the Elderly on Prime-Time Television.” Communication Reports, 8 (2) 111–119.

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Rostosky, Sharon S. and Cheryl B. Travis. 1996. “Menopause Research and the Dominance of the Biomedical Model 1984–1994.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 20: 285–312. Russo, Mary. 1986. “Female Grotesques: Carnival and Theory.” In Feminist Studies/ Critical Studies. Language, Discourse, Society, edited by T. de Lauretis, 213–29. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Sacks, Karen B. 1992. “Introduction: New Views on Middle-aged Women.” In In Her Prime: New Views of Middle-aged Women, edited by V. Kerns and J. K. Brown, 1–6. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Sefcovic, Enid M. I. 1996. “Stuck in the Middle: Representations of Middle-aged Women in Three Popular Books about Menopause.” Women’s Studies in Communication 19 (1): 1–27. Vares, Tiina. 2009. “Reading the ‘Sexy Oldie’: Gender, Age(ing) and Embodiment.” Sexualities 12 (4): 503–24. Vasil, Latika and Hannelore Wass. 1993. “Portrayal of the Elderly in the Media: A Literature Review and Implications for Educational Gerontologists.” Educational Gerontology, January–February: 19 (1) 71–85. Vernon, J. A., J. A. Williams, T. Phillips, and J. Wilson. 1990. “Media Stereotyping: A Comparison of the Way Elderly Women and Men Are Portrayed on Prime-Time Television.” Journal of Women and Aging 2 (4): 55–68. Wendell, Susan. 1999. “Old Women Out of Control: Some Thoughts on Aging, Ethics, and Psychosomatic Medicine.” In Mother Time: Women, Aging, and Ethics, edited by Margaret Urban Walker, 133–50. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. White, Mimi. 1992. Tele-advising: Therapeutic Discourse in American Television. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Williamson, Judith. 1978. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Boyars. Windels, Kasey. 2017. “Exceptional Exemplars: Practitioners’ Perspectives on Ads that Communicate Effectively with Women and Men.” In Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply, edited by Kim Golombisky and Peggy Kreshel, 166–75. Lanham, MD: Lexington. Wolf, Naomi. 1991. The Beauty Myth. New York: Anchor/Doubleday. Woodward, Kathleen. 1999. Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Zhang, Yan Bing, Jake Harwood, Angie Williams, Virpi Ylanne-McEwen, Paul Mark Wadleigh, and Caja Thimm. 2006. “The Portrayal of Older Adults in Advertising: A Cross-National Review.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 25 (3): 264–82.

Chapter 8

Corporeal Commodification Chinese Women’s Bodies as Advertisements Carol M. Liebler, Li Chen, and Anqi Peng

“The focus on the body is part of China’s shift in governing from Mao’s emphasis on the public and politics to the post-Mao emphasis on the individual and the body as a way to prove to the capitalist world that China has overcome the ideological excesses of Maoist socialism in order to stake out a position in the global market.” (Yang 2011, 339)

The young women are gorgeous, and often scantily clad. They pose smilingly and provocatively, next to the latest-model automobiles or video games, their beauty a tool to encourage the male gaze, to solicit customers, to sell wares. Across town from these “showgirls”1 is a row of striking young Chinese women in traditional dress, creating a reception line at a high-end eating establishment, serving no other function than to advertise their beauty, thereby symbolically representing the restaurant. And in Chinese retail establishments, large and small, beautiful, twentysomething “promoter girls” (Beattie 2012) pitch the value of their products. These women often appear interchangeable, each with a tall and slim figure; in fact, some uniforms come in a single size (“Refining the Pitch” 2012). The young women described here may respectively carry the title of liyi xiaojie, translated as “Miss Etiquette,” “showgirl,” or “promotion girl.” Although there are similarities among them, their positions vary in terms of function and expectations. Women have long served as decorations in advertising, with such portrayals frequently sexualized (American Psychological Association 2007). Although much of the research on this topic has been conducted in the West, sexualization of women in media content occurs across various cultural contexts, including in Asia (Morris 2014). In contemporary China we now witness “corporeal commodification”: the unmediated body itself as decorative 165


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advertisement. As Chinese women become the ad, they bestride the line between a burgeoning beauty economy that stresses outer appearances and sexuality (Yang 2011) and traditional notions of inner beauty with women as purveyors of courtesy and etiquette. It is this tension, between the sexualized “showgirl” and a very traditional “Miss Etiquette,” with the “promoter girl” somewhere in between, that is the impetus of this chapter. We do not argue that this phenomenon is wholly unique to China. For example, Hooter’s Girls, who are marketed globally, provide a Westernized version of a similar phenomenon. We do suggest, however, that its occurrence must be interpreted within the context of Chinese culture and labor, and that its meanings and implications are culturally bound. We argue that the appropriation of Chinese women’s bodies as advertisements is influenced by both the Chinese market economy and Western ideal beauty, as well as by traditional Chinese notions of femininity. Our feminist ethnography takes us to two settings in which we witness corporeal commodification of women: the casino culture of Macau, which is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, and “ChinaJoy,” the largest video game trade show in Asia. We use the lens of material feminism to explore Chinese women’s bodies in relation to emotional, aesthetic, and sexualized labor. Material feminism interrogates the material conditions in which gender hierarchies are produced and reproduced, and, with a focus on patriarchy and capitalism, it is a lens appropriate to the postsocialist market economy of China. As such, this study is in the tradition of feminist scholarship that has examined the sexualization of women’s bodies in relation to labor (Bordo 1993) and in the service industry in mainland China and Taiwan (Hanser 2005; Lan 2003). We situate our analysis in literature on Chinese femininity, China’s beauty economy, women in Chinese advertising, and the public display of women. CHINESE FEMININITY It is important to consider the trajectory of how Chinese femininity has evolved to fully appreciate the context in which the practice of displaying women for public consumption has flourished. Traditional Chinese femininity was largely influenced by Confucius’s teachings, yet Confucius himself wrote little about women as he believed they were an inferior sex deserving little attention (Shen 2007). A woman therefore remained subordinate to men, with her highest value being a “filial woman, a dutiful wife, and a good mother” (Lin 2000, 25). In the book Lessons for Women, written three thousand years ago, Confucian intellectual Ban Zhao summarized “three obediences and four virtues” as the doctrines

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for women’s behavior. The former included “obeying her father as a daughter, obeying her husband as a wife, and obeying her son in widowhood” (Chan and Ng 2013, 51). The four virtues were morality, proper language, decent appearance and manner, and diligent housework; of these, morality was the most important. A woman with morals would always be loyal and obedient toward her husband. As the wife, she was to rid herself of envy and help her husband to take concubines. As the mother, she was to nurture and teach the children. Thus a division of labor was clearly defined. Women were supposed to stay at home and take care of the household (Shen 2007); it was inappropriate for them to go out in public. From the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, Chinese society underwent significant change. The revolution led by Sun Yat Sen in 1911 overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ended the feudal system that had governed China for more than two thousand years. Along with the revolution, the society began to advocate equal education for women, as well as monogamy. Women were educated outside the home and held a variety of positions from teacher to soldier (Shen 2007, 244). The changing characteristics of Chinese femininity during this time were reflected in women’s dress as well. In the 1920s, the qipao, a garment developed from traditional Manchu culture and influenced by western aesthetics, signified the modern woman (Clark 2000). This type of gown showed the curve of a woman’s body and emphasized the idea that “women were supposed to be women” (Finnane 1996, 117). In the late 1930s, graphic representations of women in qipao appeared in various contexts, including cigarette advertisements. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the Communist Party enacted laws to ensure the freedom of marriage and gender equality; women stepped into the work fields and earned equal pay (Luo and Hao 2007). Mao Zedong declared “Women Holding Up Half the Sky,” and, during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Chinese femininity went through a process of defeminization (Zhang 2003). Women wore the same army style of clothing as men, cut their hair short, and wore no make-up. In the meantime, the government promoted official role models for women to follow. These “Iron Girls” were to become the idols of the time with their “masculine strength, inexhaustible energy, and surging revolutionary spirit” (Luo and Hao 2007, 212). Chinese femininity once again underwent transformation in 1978 with the reform led by Deng Xiaoping, which brought Chinese society into a new era that included increased Western influence. In contrast to the perceptions that women in fancy dresses were frivolous, gender differences were naturalized and even essentialized (Yang 2011), and women began to dress and act in a womanly way (Zhang 2003). The criteria of “dutiful wife and good mother”


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were again used as a reference for modern Chinese femininity (Zhang 2003, 215), but in addition, an increasing number of Western models appeared on Chinese media, most of whom were young and sexy (Yang 2011). Moreover, with the rise of a market economy, consumption has become a crucial element of modern Chinese femininity. In contemporary China, young women build their gender identities through consuming products and performing femininity through cosmetics, new hairstyles, and colorful clothes (McWilliams 2013). In 2014, the total revenue of the skin care, hair services, and beauty services industry was $1.1 billion, representing a growth of 6.7 percent from the previous year (IBISWorld 2015b). Cosmetic surgery totaled $142 million in revenue (IBISWorld 2015a), and China’s 2014 makeup market value was $2 billion (MarketLine 2015). These numbers point to the increasing emphasis on consuming beauty products in China’s market economy and an obvious emphasis on appearance. In sum, Chinese femininity historically has been tied to the State, although it has undergone considerable transformation over time. Contemporary Chinese women are situated in a market economy that encourages both femininity and consumption to improve one’s appearance. MEINU JINGJI: BEAUTY AS CAPITAL Meinu jingji is the phenomenon of women’s beauty being used for economic power (Xu and Feiner 2007). Meaning quite literally “beautiful women” (meinu) and “economy” (jingji), in China, the practice “is increasingly ubiquitous, describing everything from beauty pageants, modeling competitions, advertisement, cosmetics, and cosmetic surgery to tourism, TV, and cinema” (Xu and Feiner 2007, 307), many of which emulate Western standards of beauty. This beauty economy is part of a larger sexual economy that focuses on femininity, sexualization, and wealth (Zurndorfer 2016). Beautiful women are everywhere, and it’s no accident. Meinu jingji is a central part of economic policy, one that is closely linked to the priorities of the Chinese government (Hua 2013; Xu and Feiner 2007). Indeed, it is held up as “a marker of universal modernity” (Hua 2013, 151), one that “stresses that China has a supply of beautiful women who look as glamorous as all other women, thereby allowing Chinese bodies and goods to enter the flow of commodities connecting China to the global economy” (Xu and Feiner 2007, 310). Thus meinu jingji does more than simply encourage the equivalent of Mulvey’s (1975) male gaze. The beauty economy can be best understood in the context of labor and the body; “the increasing commodification of all aspects of corporeality in China is driven by the rampant development of consumer capitalism” (Yang 2011, 353).

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Women’s bodies are now freed from the constraints of Mao’s economy, and they are “available to be freely adorned and exploited and then to be used as a commodity to sell” (Yang 2011, 340). At the same time, women have increased agency to use their bodies and beauty to their own advantage: Women are both the consumers and the consumed (Yang 2011). The commodification of beautiful women in the Chinese beauty economy, then, emphasizes the success of liberalizing economic policies while embracing Western ideal beauty. At the same time, it serves as a “signifier of patriarchal oppression” as it encourages a consumerist gaze that “exercises diffusive power upon the female body” (Luo 2013, 9). WOMEN IN CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ADVERTISING The earliest advertising (guang gao) in China was oral, and dates back to the eleventh century when the Book of Odes described street peddlers playing flutes to sell candy (Wang 2008). Indeed, advertising in China has enjoyed a rich history. Prior to the Cultural Revolution, products were advertised via a wide variety of creative platforms such as calendars, window displays, and even chessboards (Wang 2008). Contemporarily, advertising continues to flourish in China’s market economy with women the newest of advertising platforms. Historically, both the transformation and commodification of Chinese femininity were closely related to the advancement of the Chinese advertising industry (Johansson 2015). The revival of advertising in mainland China has promoted the prosperity of consumer culture, within which Chinese femininity is sexualized. Chinese women’s pursuit of white skin and large breasts represents their determination to become modern women situated in the complicated relationship between China and the West (Johansson 2015). An examination of the ways in which Chinese women are represented in contemporary Chinese advertising provides further foundation for understanding the phenomenon of corporeal commodification within the context of the Chinese beauty economy.2 In general, Chinese advertisements tend toward traditional and utilitarian values and a blending of Western and Chinese (Zhang and Hardwood 2004), and the same is true when looking at gender specifically (Hung, Li, and Belk 2007). For example, in a content analysis of 427 magazine advertisements (Hung and Li 2006), Chinese women were represented as nurturers (8 percent of ads), strong women (12 percent), flower vases (28 percent), and urban sophisticates (44 percent). Notably, the flower vase category is perhaps most related to our focus as it emphasizes physical beauty with a mix of Western and traditional Chinese ideals. A woman in


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this role is most likely to appear in ads for cosmetics, daily necessities, and electronics, and is intended to “dazzle everyone with her looks” (Hung and Li 2006, 13). Such hybridization of the modern and traditional is evidenced also in television commercials in both Hong Kong and Mainland China (Wu and Chung 2011). Notably, gender stereotyping in magazine advertising is more frequent in China than in the United States with Chinese advertisements more likely to portray women in decorative roles (nonfunctional, only as a sexual stimuli) than are their American counterparts (Zhang, Srisupandit, and Cartwright 2009). One example of the Western influence in Chinese advertising is found in outdoor advertisements. Morris’s (2014, 255) comparative content analysis included Hong Kong where women appeared as active but were “situated as part of consumer economy.” Morris’s analysis found few face-only ads, which is a departure from previous practice; women’s bodies were commonly shown, indicative of a Western approach. In a similar vein, there is evidence of an increased use of sex appeal in Chinese advertising, including nudity and sexual behavior (Cheung et al. 2013). The Western influence is also evidenced in a content analysis of 581 ads in mainland China from 1980 to 2001 in which women’s portrayal in Chinese ads transformed from an equal position to a more westernized depiction of sexual objects who attract the male gaze (Ye, Ashley-Cotleur, and Gaumer 2012). Another perspective on how Chinese women are represented in advertisements comes from examining advertising practitioners’ cultural perceptions of gender (Shao, Desmarais, and Weaver 2014). Semistructured interviews with twenty-six practitioners in nine agencies revealed that advertisers tend to depict gender in relation to both modern values based in Western capitalism and traditional Chinese Confucian gender roles and norms. Nurturing was considered an ideal feminine trait, with men practitioners situating women as subordinate. Moreover, “alluring decorative beauty” was very important for women in advertisements, with youth and beauty as key components; men practitioners emphasized physically attractive young women as a means of cutting through advertising clutter. The importance of using young, beautiful women to advertise is further shown via an online survey of 443 exhibition visitors (Tsao 2013). Applying expectation confirmation theory, the study found that using showgirls to promote products may increase the tendency to impulse buy, and the authors go so far as to recommend their exploitation: “Sponsors should encourage exhibit managers to arrange stronger incentives to evoke impulsive purchase, such as lighting, flowers, music, and hiring attractive girls to catch customers’ eyes. This can be an effective way to increase satisfaction and to induce purchase without thinking” (294).

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In short, since Chinese mass media began to accept advertisements again in 1979, the advertising industry has flourished. Through the distribution power of mass media, women in Chinese advertising have become a targeted beauty ideal, manifesting a stereotyped gender portrayal with decorative functions and increased emphasis on sexual appeal, and situating women in a melting pot of traditional Chinese and Western values. Among these “decorative beauties,” liyi xiaojie occupies a special role in Chinese advertising. DISPLAYING WOMEN FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION Generally speaking, liyi xiaojie, translated as “Miss Etiquettes,” appear in two different settings: working at high-end restaurants, clubs, casinos, commercial exhibitions, and conferences, as well as working at national or international sports ceremonies (Zhao 2016). The former is linked to commercial enterprise (our focus in this chapter), with the women often referred to as “promotional models” or “showgirls,” depending on the geographic location and nature of their work (Chen 2011). The latter consists only of volunteers, not paid workers (Chen 2014), yet the training for liyi xiaojie in national or international ceremonies is stricter than that of others (Hua 2013; Wang 2012; Wu 2013). Hua (2013, 163) refers to such training as “a gendered embodiment of a nationalist expression.” In both the private and public sectors young women wear specialized uniforms that frequently come in only one size to ensure conformity to height and weight standards (“Refining the Pitch” 2012), and these women are typically quite beautiful (Chen 2011). Take for example Advertising Age’s description of promoter girls in a supermarket: “China’s PGs—for ‘promoter girls’ or ‘push girls’—sport eye-catching uniforms, many with short hemlines. They range from the Quaker Oats promoter’s blue minidress with frilly apron to the Yili ‘Children’s Growth Milk’ promoter’s gold satin dress and white pumps” (Beattie 2012). Promoter girls who are less good looking will earn low salaries, roughly $20 USD for an eight-hour shift (“Refining the Pitch” 2012). Showgirls have emerged alongside the advancement of China’s game industry, especially at the ChinaJoy exhibition (Shi 2015). These girls are always quite young; the age of twenty is considered relatively old (Xu 2015). As one news report put it, the “shelf life” of a showgirl is roughly five years, indicating just how important youth is to the beauty economy (Miller 2013). This and other news outlets (e.g., Thomas 2014) report that some showgirls also engage in sex work both during and between trade shows. This practice illustrates how the beauty economy extends from exploitation of physical,


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appearance-based capital to sexual or erotic capital (Hua 2013) and helps to maintain the Chinese sexual economy. Young, beautiful Chinese women are employed to sell products in various settings, a practice that is deeply interwoven with the beauty economy. Their job titles and responsibilities vary, but all share the fact that their bodies are on display. A FEMINIST ETHNOGRAPHY A feminist ethnography centers on gendered experiences and incorporates the material as well as the symbolic, primarily through observation (Aune 2009). It is focused on “producing knowledge about women’s experiences in specific cultural contexts” (Schrock 2013). Ethnography is necessarily interpretive (Geertz 1973), as it is not a first-person account. Therefore, a concern for feminist ethnographers is in their representation of others, and it is thus important to be reflexive in one’s knowledge production and in relationships with research participants (Schrock 2013). The first author is a white US citizen who has lived and taught in Macau, and has also spent extensive time in mainland China. Nonetheless, she is an outsider to the cultural context studied here. The second and third authors of this study are Chinese women who are currently studying media and gender issues as graduate students in the United States. Both are native Chinese speakers who grew up in the Chinese reform era. We engaged in observations in two locations in China in which women’s bodies are used as private sector advertisements: Macau and Shanghai. To lend further insight and gain the emic view, we conducted in-depth interviews with four young women who worked in one or more of these positions, as well as with one trainer. We conducted all interviews in Mandarin. Throughout our observations we wrote extensive field notes and took more than one hundred photographs. We also analyzed job announcements via searches on Google and Baidu. All searched terms were in Chinese: “模特” (model) and “招聘” (hiring), “showgirl” and “招聘” (hiring), “展会模特” (exposition model) and “招聘” (hiring), “礼仪小姐” (Miss Etiquette) and “招聘” (hiring). We examined the first ten to fifteen pages of the results, saving those that had explicit job descriptions or job requirements. One of us (a native Chinese speaker) then translated the postings into English. Our theoretical lens of material feminism points us to an examination of gender in relation to the material conditions of the Chinese beauty economy and particularly the service industry. Material feminism emphasizes a focus on systematic social inequalities to understand women’s labor in the specifics

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of historical contexts. Women in the Chinese advertising industry continue to be defined and shaped by the sexual division of labor. The women who are our research focus, liyi xiaojie, experience this gendered division as their bodies become unmediated advertisements. The Study Sites Our first site was Macau, China. Adjacent to Guangdong Province, Macau is an SAR of China. Colonized by the Portuguese for four hundred years, Macau was returned to China in December 1999. Since that time, the casino culture has flourished in Macau, which is the only place in the PRC with legal gambling (Simpson 2015), and mainland Chinese visitors compose the majority of tourists (IFT Tourism Research Centre 2016). Contemporary Macau thus represents a blending of Chinese and Portuguese cultures as evidenced in its citizenry, languages, food, and leisure. However, the omniscient influence is casino culture. The gambling business accounts for four-fifths of the economy (Chen and Wong 2015), and much of Macau’s landscape is one of large casino complexes that include high-end shops, restaurants, theaters, and extravagant displays. Our research took us to four such complexes that we observed over seven days in summer 2015. This concentrated period built on more extended observations by the first author when she had recently lived in Macau. Our second site was the ChinaJoy gaming trade show in Shanghai, China. From July 30 to August 2, 2015, we spent six to seven hours per day at the stadium of the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference. As women observers, it was easy for us to identify just how gendered this trade show was, simply based on who was in attendance. In fact, according to a data report from Tencent Inc. (China’s largest and most used Internet service portal), approximately 73 percent of attendees were men, primarily ages twenty through twenty-nine (Yoyojie 2015). It is not unusual for expos of the game industry to be male-dominated; the situation was similar at the Tokyo Game Show in Japan and Electronic Entertainment Expo in the United States. MACAU: HIGH STAKES AND HIGH HEELS What one notices first upon entering the Galaxy Macau is the line of four liyi xiaojie standing inside the main door. Standing tall in three- to four-inch heels, the beautiful young women remain stationary for hours at a time, greeting visitors as they enter the complex. Although they answer questions if asked, it is clear that their main task is to provide ornamentation and set the tone for a luxurious Galaxy experience where money can buy pretty much


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anything. The color of the women’s dresses varies daily, but they are always formfitting and cut well above the knee, with a slit extending up the thigh. On one observation, we witnessed one of the young women take a break; as she teetered off on her heels, she looked about to fall, her ankles failing her. Another stood, shifting her weight back and forth, apparently trying to get more comfortable. A similar tableau plays out down the street at the City of Dreams where girls stand at each entrance; they are attired in matching elegant prom-like

Figure 8.1  One of Several Miss Etiquettes in the Lobby at the Galaxy Macau. Credit: C.M. Liebler.

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dresses with extremely high heels. The two, like all liyi xiaojie we see, are tall, rail thin, and beautiful. Their makeup is expertly applied to their pale skin. Their height, skin tone, and slender bodies are all consistent with Western ideal beauty. When not interacting with guests, each woman stands completely still, ballet position, her head bowed, the epitome of traditional Chinese femininity. The young woman stationed at the main entrance stands in front of a large LED virtual aquarium in which a highly sexualized, largebreasted mermaid swims about, a suggestive backdrop for the demure Miss Etiquette. The large breasts are again reflective of the Western ideal. These young women were typical of the liyi xiaojie we observed. Their dress varied from traditional Chinese qipao to sexy revealing gowns, and the extent to which they had a role beyond a decorative one ranged from not at all to helping guests find what they needed. Thus some embodied the traditional Chinese feminine role of nurturer, whereas others reflected a beauty economy that valued sexiness as well as good looks and a caring demeanor; in other words, physical capital and sexual capital were both fully on display. Before some visitors ever reach the casino complexes, however, they are likely to encounter promotion girls who hold a rather different role than the liyi xiaojie of the casinos. Stationed at the Gongbei Border Gate (situated between mainland China and Macau, it is one of the busiest borders in the world) and at both ferry terminals in Macau are a variety of young women, all employed by casino hotels, each of whose job is to advertise her hotel and encourage tourists onto its bus. Indeed, it is here class differences in corporeal commodification become apparent. In the casino complexes, alongside the luxury brand shops, we saw advertisements (including the elegant liyi xiaojie) designed to attract “goldcollar” consumers (jinling). At Gongbei and elsewhere, the target market was also inclusive of the “blue-collar” (lanling) market (Wang 2008). Notably, Macau tourists favor shopping over gambling (IFT Tourism Research Centre 2016), so not all advertisements are designed to attract high-stakes gamblers. On average, Macau tourists are young and well educated, with a monthly income of between $1500 and $4500 USD (IFT Tourism Research Centre 2016). It’s a gray, rainy day at Gongbei, chilly for a July afternoon. Despite the weather, the promotion girls are lined up as they always are, most holding a sign and smiling at the approaching tourists. There may be uniformity in their task, but there is wide variation in their appearances. Most young women are conventionally pretty and wear short, tight dresses showing off a slim build, in a color matching the sign they hold. One young woman is lucky enough to have a coat, but the others are all sleeveless, notwithstanding the weather. Another young woman stands out; we note the contrast in her demeanor and attire. She is positioned at the end of the line and holds no sign, looking straight


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ahead, her face in repose, an umbrella perched on her shoulder, seeming as though she would like to be anywhere other than where she is. What strikes us most, however, is that she is wearing a shirt that matches her umbrella, khaki pants, and white sneakers. Interestingly, she represents SJM Holdings Limited, which owns a variety of casinos and the upscale Grand Lisboa Hotel and Sofitel Macau. Her relatively unglamorous look appears in sharp contrast not only to the other young women, but also to the establishments that employ her. Yet her attire is reflective of the market she is designed to attract: middleclass Chinese consumers with discretionary income, but those not rich enough to avoid the indignities of walking across the border. The scene is similar at the Macau ferry terminals. The same casino representatives are out in droves, with signs and dresses lending color to the landscape. One male employee directs the promotion girls under his supervision, telling them how and where to stand. We again see a promotion girl for SJM and, like her counterpart at the border gate, she makes no show of appearing to enjoy her job. But this time it is not her uniform that catches our eye but her skin color, which is quite dark. The woman’s complexion is yet another marker: Historically, darker-skinned Chinese were those who worked the fields, and there remains a connection between skin color and wealth. This promotion girl is another display advertisement targeting the less wealthy consumer. In Macau, the settings in which liyi xiaojjie work, their attire, body positions, and job responsibilities all provide insight into the material conditions of their labor. The structured absence of men promoters illuminates how young women are appropriated and sexualized for commercial purposes. For women who become casino advertisements, both age and class are important factors in a heteronormative practice that encourages the male gaze. CHINAJOY, WHERE “BOOTH BABES” ABOUND The huge arena is filled with booths, each with at least one and often several showgirls. All are wearing company uniforms, some more scantily clad than others, as they smile at passersby, offer pamphlets, and pose for photographs. In 2015, there are 859 ChinaJoy showgirls, colloquially known as “booth babes,” trying to attract some 272,900 exhibition attendees (Tencent 2015), and clearly attire is one means of doing so. Large game companies have hired more showgirls than small ones; Shengda has hired thirty girls; Perfect World, thirty-five; and Yinghan, forty (Tencent 2015). But even small game companies have girls on display. We see one booth selling only boxed lunches, but it, too, has a showgirl standing by, doing nothing but smiling. Notably, there are very few showboys relative to showgirls.

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The proportion of showgirls in scantily clad outfits may be extreme at ChinaJoy because men are the target consumers (Xiong 2014; Yoyojie 2015). In fact, media coverage identifies showgirls’ cleavage as the most attractive feature of the ChinaJoy Expo over the past ten years (e.g., Xu 2015). Although there was a new prohibition rule for showgirls’ outfits in 2015 (Yang 2015), as shown in Table 8.1, the young women’s bodies are still on full display. Long legs are highlighted by wearing very short skirts, as are shoulders by wearing strapless tops. One showgirl tells us that, because of this year’s strict rules on covering breasts and midriffs, the company that she works for has provided a bath towel as her outfit. Some companies have chosen thematic outfits, such as a student uniform, Japanese maid outfit, or sports shorts. As the women’s bodies are feminized and sexualized, the service industry’s qingchungfan or “rice bowl of youth” is in full evidence: women at ChinaJoy convert their sexuality and youth into lucrative employment (Hanser 2005). Indeed, in China’s consumer culture, women are expected to produce sexuality and gender in the service sector; however, they must first meet the criteria of being young and beautiful. Some bodies hold more value than others (Hanser 2005). Showgirls are busy in the arena. Big game companies have set up a high stage for their performances, and some are on the stage modeling companyspecific clothes. Xixi3 works for one of the local big game companies. She is Table 8.1  Outfit Rules for Showgirls and Showboys in China Joy 2015 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

The outfit needs to be approved in advance. The outfit must fit the body of showgirls. It is prohibited that the outfit is too loose, too tight, or different from the examined example. The outfit cannot be too transparent or skimpy. The underwear of showgirls should not be seen. Showgirls are not allowed to only wear a bikini or outfits similar to underwear or no underwear. Specific rule on tops: the naked part of the back of showgirls should not more than two-thirds of the upper back. The torso of showboys should not be naked. The breasts of showgirls should be covered with materials that are nontransparent. The bottom pants of showgirls must be above the pelvis and not below the navel, which means the navel should not be seen. Exposed buttocks are not accepted. Showboys cannot wear only a tight triangle or similar underwear and clothes, or tight pants. Pants are not lower than the hipbone. To display products and images on the sensitive parts of the model is not accepted. No excessive contact between models.

Source: New Silk Road website (2015).


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wearing a strapless white top and a red miniskirt. One of thirty showgirls, she performs the modeling show every hour and then stands on the edge of the stage to let the audience take her photograph. During these five minutes, showgirls smile as much and as cutely as they can, appearing as commodities for game players who are men to scrutinize and evaluate. One showgirl tells us during the break how uncomfortable she was when one man intentionally took photos of her naked legs and short skirt. This not-so-subtle sexual harassment might be intolerable for the showgirls, but the setting encourages men to act out their sexual desires in such ways. While Xixi and her colleagues are performing, another game company’s twenty foreign models also perform, competing for attention. Different from the local company that Xixi works for, this game company has hired both Chinese showgirls and foreign models, including an African-American rapper. Western influence is not only reflected in the outfits of Xixi and other showgirls, but is also directly represented by the increasing number of foreign models, western music, and even cosplay of Western comic characters. Modeling is one showgirl job. Another significant activity is interacting with the audience of game players who are nearly exclusively men. Some companies have designed a game to play on the stage. Whatever the game is, showgirls stand by with presents for game winners. A showgirl has little role in the game playing; her only position is to stand there, looking beautiful with a great smile, indicating an invitation to the consumer. On some stages, the anchor stresses repeatedly, “If you win, you can hug any of the showgirls you choose on the stage!” One rare moment occurs when a woman game player wins; then the anchor ignores the process of hugging and just gives her the present. In contrast, during the same game, every male game player receives a hug from the showgirl he chooses. When showgirls do participate in a game, the games are interactive play with the men only, a clear heteronormative practice. On one stage, a game prompts the game player to display a gesture of “I love you” to the showgirl he chooses. Here and elsewhere, the agency belongs to the man. The obvious and emphasized heterosexuality is in this way encoded into these showgirls’ everyday working practices. This pattern is so pervasive and continuous that showgirls, visitors, and game company workers all regard it as natural and take it for granted. The responsibility to interact with game players is not limited to the stage. Numerous showgirls also stand in front of their company posters, often as mere decorations waiting for attendees to take photos of them. Others hand out pamphlets and walk around the enormous stadium with the company posters. However, whatever her responsibilities, the most vital assignment for any showgirl is to pose for cameras whenever requested. With more

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than 270,000 attendees (Tencent 2015), there are at least that many cameras, whether professional ones or just smartphones. Xixi tells us at the end of the day she often feels as though her face is frozen in place because she has maintained the same smile from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Women’s bodies are continuously objectified as the men consumers manifest the male gaze through their picture taking. The material conditions of showgirls’ labor at Chinajoy regulate their outfits, smiles, and behaviors, and sexualize their bodies, thereby reinforcing both patriarchy and heteronormativity. There exists sharp contrast between showgirls as advertising objects and game-playing men as agentic consumers.

Figure 8.2  A ChinaJoy 2015 Showgirl Poses for Male Photographers. Credit: L. Chen.


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THE EMBODIED LABOR OF CORPOREAL COMMODIFICATION We argue here that women become the advertisement through the combination of emotional, aesthetic, and sexualized labor. It is through these different types of labor that the feelings and corporeality of employees are appropriated, commodified, and regulated to comply with consumers’ expectations and to achieve commercial profits (Warhurt and Nickson 2009). Our observations in both Macau and at ChinaJoy 2015 showcased all three of these types of labor: interaction (emotional labor); appearance (aesthetic labor); and the over-sexualized body (sexualized labor). Our examination of job announcements and our interviews with women who work in these positions further solidifies the relevance of this typology in relation to China’s beauty economy and the use of women’s bodies as advertisements. Emphasis on Interaction (Emotional Labor) Emotional labor “requires employees to manipulate both their own emotions and those of the customer as part of the employee’s wage labour and for the commercial benefit of the organization” (Warhurst and Nickson 2009, 387). We can see this need for emotional engagement with customers in the job announcements for showgirls, promotion girls, and Miss Etiquettes. They frequently specify that girls must have an outgoing personality, good temperament, and initiative. In addition, as illustrated by one job posting for a Miss Etiquette, girls may be required to be obedient and clever. The recruitment advertisements for showgirls at ChinaJoy asked for women with a smiling and outgoing personality (Zhuang 2015) because the game industry assumed that more interactions with gamers would lead to higher profits (Liu 2015). Nanan, a graduate student in Macau who works part-time as a car model and liyi xiaojie, told us, “First of all I think your smile is very important. Because you go out there for a job, and you should demonstrate a . . . ah . . . warm or sweet or pleasant facial expression. You have to make others feel happy.” Nanan said it was imperative while working that she “remember to smile.” This sentiment was echoed by Jiajia, an etiquette trainer, who also emphasized the fundamental rule of smiling. The function of a “smile” that Nanan and Jiajia expressed represents the formula of “making others happy by appearing happy,” which indicates a complete obedience to the market logic and a loss of the possibility of “a refusal, a claim, a protest” (Ahmed 2017, 58). Indeed, most of the young women we observed smiled, and they smiled a lot. But they also interacted with potential customers in a variety of other ways. The nature of the interaction, for example, was different for a Miss Etiquette whose job was to be helpful, versus a showgirl who was to entertain

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and lure men to her employer’s wares. But all such interactions were designed to maximize the organization’s commercial gain. Such bodily displays are “a crucial element of emotional labour” (Warhurst and Nickson 2009, 389). Emphasis on Appearance (Aesthetic Labor) Perhaps the type of labor most clearly linked to the beauty economy is the aesthetic, where “organizations intentionally mobilize and develop the corporeality of employees” (Warhurst and Nickson 2009, 396). Whether a Miss Etiquette, a showgirl, or promotion girl, appearance is critical, highlighting the centrality of appearance-based capital. Stephanie, who had worked many Miss Etiquette jobs, put it this way: “After all, the job of the Miss Etiquette is to demonstrate beauty. I don’t mean that the models demonstrate the beauty for themselves, but to demonstrate a beautiful feeling representing the company or the activity.” In the job announcements we reviewed, we found specifications of age, height, weight, breast size, eye shape, and skin color. For example, one ad for ChinaJoy specified that girls needed to be 168–175 cm (5'6"–5'8") tall and have C-cup breasts. This same ad specified that the girl should be thin, light skinned, and have round eyes. Other position announcements were less extreme in their requirements, but they were consistent in their request for pretty girls. According to Stephanie, this requirement played out in job interviews as well, where the recruiters are typically men: “Sometimes they will hold the interviews in a five-star hotel. They will ask you to take off your shoes and measure your height and body measurements. And they will take pictures, including frontal headshot and profiles. Sometimes the casting will go through several rounds, and I think height and appearance are the most important elements.” Across our observation sites, it was clear that appearance mattered and that the women had spent considerable time perfecting how they looked. Flawless skin and perfect hair were de rigueur. Many of the women mimicked mannequins, their looks interchangeable. Different titles, however, carried different expectations. Miss Etiquettes often reflected a traditional Chinese feminine look, some to the point of wearing a red qipao. Showgirls, on the other hand, were expected to be cute and sexy, more explicitly attracting the male (consumer) gaze. In both instances, the women’s bodies were on display for material gain, exploiting Chinese femininity. Indeed, according to Jiajia, the trainer, “The Chinese males’ preference for young and beautiful women stimulates the development of the market. . . . If a brand failed to invite the appropriate models, its reputation will get harmed.” The importance of appearance further manifested at ChinaJoy where showgirls were photographed throughout the day; the photographers were young


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men. In fact, being photographed next to their product is often a showgirl’s only job, according to two young women we interviewed. Indeed, showgirls repeatedly perform for the male gaze. One stage at ChinaJoy 2015 became a beauty contest as twenty-four showgirls exhibited themselves for the gamers before them. Game companies designed an online voting system so the men could choose the top three most beautiful showgirls, and because the showgirls wore the same uniform, the only competing features were body shape, sweet smiles, and cute body gestures. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that women have no agency in relation to aesthetic labor. From the perspective of some of the women we interviewed, they are exploiting their beauty for their own purposes. For example, Xixi regarded the part-time job of being a showgirl as a tool for being independent: “After I became a model, I never took a penny from my parents since I went to college. Every money I spent was earned by myself, and I am proud of that.” Emphasis on a Sexualized Body (Sexualized Labor) Organizations may subscribe to an image of sexualized labor but not necessarily prescribe their workers to engage in it (Warhurst and Nickson 2009). Advertising and marketing are examples of such a practice, where sexuality is used strategically for commercial benefit, but employees are not actually engaging in sexual behavior. Such was the case with the young women we observed in Macau and at ChinaJoy, where the suggestion of sexualized labor was evidenced both explicitly and implicitly. The emphasis on breast size in recruitment is one clear indicator of aesthetic sexualization and also one of Western influence. Western notions of beauty situate an ideal breast as large, firm, and erotic (Yalom 1997), characteristics deemed desirable in the contemporary Chinese beauty economy. Young women are sexually objectified before they even apply for the job. Even with new uniform requirements in place, ChinaJoy’s showgirls exuded sexuality. Whether through their short skirts or shorts, little girl outfits, or bath towels, they played to the fantasies of men, the consumers. And sometimes these fantasies were allowed to be enacted on stage, at least to a limited extent. Xixi, the first-year showgirl at ChinaJoy, explained that coping with unwanted sexual advances was part of the job: You know most of the gamers were males and, of course, they wanted more interactions with pretty girls, especially body contacts. So some small exposition booth might use these awkward [sexual] tricks, but it was unlikely to happen in big or major exposition booth. I was never asked to do things like that, but if a showgirl were requested to do so on stage, usually people would ask

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them in advance whether they could accept such interactions. If not, they will not put you on stage. Not all the showgirls had the opportunity to be on the stage. So they will only select the ones who were okay with these things.

Xixi’s comments reveal that although employees may have the agency to refuse sexual advances, doing so has implications for her career as a showgirl, and for the opportunities she has. Mumu, a two-time ChinaJoy showgirl, however, is comfortable with her agency in the workplace: “Before I stepped into this business, I thought it must be hard to earn a living because the business was really messy, and I was told that there were unspoken rules. The truth is that even if there are unspoken rules, you are the one to decide whether to accept or not.” Notably, sexuality played out in subtler ways as well. The quiet Miss Etiquette standing in front of a bare-breasted, highly sexual mermaid; the young woman with downcast eyes standing as though waiting to be plucked; the line of beautiful, sexy, young women at the entrance to a casino complex in a city where sex work thrives and sex trafficking is rampant: These contexts were all heteronormatively sexualized in a way that conjured up the man acting upon the woman, of encouraging the male gazer, and more. CONCLUSION Corporeal commodification is one manifestation of China’s beauty economy. Young women’s bodies become advertisements as they are appropriated for commercial gain and to help situate China in the global economic arena. The body is interrogated in the hiring process, with men recruiters passing judgment, illustrative of the heteronormative ideology that defines the beauty economy. The body is further exploited in the workplace as women are hired to attract the male consumer’s gaze and are held to ideal beauty standards that are increasingly Western in origin. Pale skin, large eyes, long legs, and big breasts all reflect a Eurocentric definition of beauty and sexiness. Women who don’t match these standards get paid less, lose their jobs as they age, or are not hired at all. Indeed, a hierarchy exists in the beauty economy, and class distinctions are manifested in gender displays. As we saw in Macau, the most glamorous women were found inside luxurious casino complexes, whereas promotion girls were relegated to a sidewalk regardless of the weather. Advertisers are simultaneously pitching to their target markets and cutting through the advertising clutter. Our research highlights the tension between conventional Chinese femininity and that which is new and market-driven: liyi xiaojie represent a hybridization of traditional and Western beauty, whereas showgirls exemplify


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sexualization. We have examined physical and sexual capital within the context of emotional, aesthetic, and sexualized labor; future research should explore the somatic labor of corporeal commodification, as our observations revealed the long hours and discomfort that showgirls, promotion girls, and liyi xiaojie all experience. The issues of unsteady wages, lack of job security, health risks, and irregular work routines, including seasonal, temporary, and contingent employment, also must be interrogated. The question of agency warrants continued investigation as well, given the ubiquity of women’s bodies as sites for consumption in the Chinese consumer market. NOTES 1. This chapter employs the term girl for two reasons: First, “showgirl,” “promoter girls,” or “Hooter’s girls” are specific terms in those particular settings. Second, in the Chinese context, “girl” (nv hai) is more appropriate than “woman” (fu nv) to describe young women because “woman” (fu nv) is more likely to describe those who are married. Meanwhile, we use “Miss” only for the special term “Miss Etiquette.” The similar translation is seen in Wong (2012). 2. The discussion excludes research related to advertising and Asian Americans because our focus is the Chinese context. 3. Xixi, Nanan, Mumu, Jiajia, and Stephanie are pseudonyms for these interviewees.

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Part III


Chapter 9

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power in 1,084 Prime-time TV Commercials from 2005 Janice Marie Collins

Just before tennis professionals Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens competed in the 2017 US Open, sports journalist Candace Buckner (2017) wrote, “I unabashedly root for representation and role models, knowing there are many girls with Venus’s hair type and Sloane’s dark complexion who don’t always see positive images of themselves on television.” I concur with Buckner when she claims: “Before a kid can visualize herself doing dope stuff, she first has to see it done. See how it’s even possible.” Black feminist thought challenges the media’s “controlling images” of US black women and, by extension of principle, other marginalized peoples (Collins [1990] 2000). Controlling images, from the “angry black woman” to the “Asian model minority,” function to rationalize such groups’ subordination in the matrix of domination. Patricia Hill Collins ([1990] 2000, 284) writes that “an increasingly important dimension of why hegemonic ideologies concerning race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation remain so deeply entrenched lies, in part, in the growing sophistication of mass media in regulating intersecting oppressions.” In this chapter I share the results of a study about advertising representations of race/ethnicity, gender, class, and social power found in over a thousand commercials recorded during prime-time viewing in winter 2005. If nonwhite women of color were looking among this sample of ads for role models doing dope stuff, they were disappointed. They remained “invisible consumers” (Kern-Foxworth 1994, 115). Representations of Asian women as primary characters were nil; Latinas, only 2%; and black women, only 5%. Representations of Asian men and Latinos were a little better, although black characters as a group tended to be represented in percentages roughly comparable to their 2005 numbers in the US general population. This research joins 191


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a scholarly conversation about such images that began a half-century ago. In advertising, we refer to social responsibility as the ethical obligation to act in a manner that benefits society at large. This means that, because of the vital roles members of these marginalized groups play in the economic profitability and sustainment of this society, advertisers have an ethical obligation to act responsibly and fairly with regard to the representation of people. In reporting these data, I accomplish three additional goals by dispelling perceptions that the feminist study of advertising representations is passé, by demonstrating that feminist scholarship can be quantitative, and by documenting an episode of television advertising’s history in terms of its (lack of) diversity. First, at the risk of seeming quaintly outdated, I take this opportunity to reinforce the continuing relevance of representation as a useful concept in the feminist analysis of media, including advertising. Taking a constructionist view of the production of shared meaning in society, the late Stuart Hall ([1997] 2003, 1) wrote, “Representation is an essential part of the process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture.” bell hooks (1992, 3) argues, “The field of representation remains a place of struggle.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation, she writes, “There is a direct and abiding connection between the maintenance of white supremacist patriarchy in this society and the institutionalization via mass media of specific images, representations of race, of blackness that support and maintain the oppression, exploitation, and overall domination of all black people” (2). Douglas Kellner and Gigi Durham (2006, xxxii) pronounce, “The idea that all cultural representations are political is one of the major themes of media and cultural theory of the past several decades.” Pointing to the proliferation of identity politics beginning in the 1960s, they write that “critiques of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other biases made it clear that cultural representations . . . can serve pernicious interests of cultural oppression by positioning certain groups as inferior, thus pointing to the superiority of dominant social groups” (xxxii). Anthony Cortese (2016, 14) points specifically at advertising as a “powerful force that articulates, develops, transforms, and elaborates these ideas about ethnicity, gender, and social class.” Gaye Tuchman (1978) defined the “reflection hypothesis” as the ways “the mass media reflect dominant societal values” (7), and she defined “symbolic annihilation” as the “condemnation, trivialization, or absence” (8) of groups of people in media representations. My present interest in advertising portrayals of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and power lies in numerical underrepresentation, ideological misrepresentation, and symbolic annihilation by omission. I, of course, endorse the value of intersectional analysis in which, for example, black, Latina, Asian, and Anglo women are always already raced, gendered, and classed, for example. Collins ([1990] 2000, 18) writes,

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power


“Intersectional paradigms remind us that oppression cannot be reduced to one fundamental type, and that oppressions work together in producing injustice.” Nonetheless, sometimes we do need simply to count the representations, which leads to my next aim. Gillian Rose (2016, 86) writes, “Content analysis’s close attention to the mass media—television, newspapers and radio— occurred not only because it was seen as a way of generating objective data about these new phenomena, however, but also because it was a method that could address the sheer scale of those media.” Second, then, I demonstrate the feminist practice of quantitative research skills in advertising and communications inside and outside the academy, along with the rhetorical value of statistical data in persuading others of “how inequality is created and sustained” (Sprague 2016, 95). In “How Feminists Count,” Joey Sprague (2016, 95) writes, “To many, quantitative research seems more trustworthy as a source of valid information,” which then helps to make “quantitative findings persuasive in public discourse.” I work to correct the misguided assumption that feminist research and scholarship is not, should not, and cannot be quantitative, a perception that is patently false. Such a view functions to deskill women across their differences, to legitimize stereotypes regarding women’s mathematical competence, and to delegitimize feminist research and scholarship as lacking rigor. “Any research method is available for feminist research” (Golombisky 2018, 174). At the same time, we must acknowledge that even the apparently neutral practice of counting is not as transparent as we might wish to believe, as I shall demonstrate later on by way of operational definitions. Third, I take this opportunity to record a snapshot of network television advertising just as everything was changing for network television and its advertisers. In 2005, TV commercials reached 98% broadcast penetration in US households, where viewers watched at least five hours of television advertising every day (TekCarta 2018). This viewership pattern continued for five more years until 2010, just as the digital landscape was usurping advertisers’ prestige medium (although cable penetration, the proliferation of multiple household sets, and the advent of time-shifting devices had already robbed the TV set of its status as the household gathering place). In 2005, however, YouTube became a reality. Amazon got into the streaming video business in 2006. The original iPhone appeared in 2007, the same year that Hulu began offering video-on-demand services. The Apple App Store debuted in 2008 and the first iPad signaled a tablet revolution in 2010. Netflix began providing original streaming content by 2013. These few changes by no means represent a full account of the digital pressures brought to bear on commercial television during 2005 and after. Nonetheless, the information is important because it reveals the value of the data I collected in 2005.


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IN CONVERSATION WITH OTHER STUDIES The underrepresentation, misrepresentation, and omission of blacks, Latina/ os, Asians, and women has a long history in prime-time commercials in this country, as does the academic study of these groups’ marginalization. These studies provide findings that speak to the overall image portrayals of various aggregates, while offering some longitudinal evidence of change in either direction or not at all. Nonetheless, their terminologies, definitions, and approaches are not always unproblematic, let alone equivalent or comparable. When studying fall 1984 image portrayals during a week of prime-time network commercials, Wilkes and Valencia (1989) found the presence of “blacks” at 26% in commercials with live models. However, there was a reduction in primary roles for blacks to just 31% in 1984 from 44% to 47% measured 10 years earlier. Wilkes and Valencia’s 1984 data built on two earlier studies examining TV commercials, one looking at commercials aired between 1967 and 1969 by Dominick and Greenberg (1970) and one looking at commercials aired in 1974 by Bush, Solomon, and Hair (1977). Both studies found increasing numbers of black representations, rising from primetime lows of 4% up to percentages in the teens over the periods studied. Both studies also found improved representation of blacks in primary advertising roles. In a later meta-analysis of data on television commercials between 1978 and 1989, the variation of frequency of black representation ran 8.5% to 9.1% (Greenberg, Mastro, and Brand 2002). A smaller fall 1991 prime-time commercial study found that 35% of commercials had at least one live black model and that “45% of black and integrated ads depicted black models in major roles,” although black male models outnumbered black female models two to one (Licata and Biswas 1993, 873). In 1994, concerned with “subtle racist elements that suggest inferiority” (56), Bristor, Lee, and Hunt (1995, 52) conducted an ideological examination of “African-Americans” in prime-time television commercials on March 31 in the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville television market to find “a paucity of African-American families.” They also found African-American characters’ screen presence marginalized relative to white characters by way of tokenism, objectification, trivialization, minimized activity levels, increased camera distance, decreased onscreen exposure time, and, finally, characters’ lower status and power. Hollerbach (2009) analyzed November 2003 and February 2004 prime-time commercials during programs targeting “AfricanAmerican” audiences and found blacks still playing subordinate roles. Nevertheless, there seems to be some agreement that blacks might be the only minority designation that has achieved something roughly approximating proportional television commercial representation relative to US Census

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power


numbers (Greenberg, Mastro, and Brand 2002; Licata and Biswas 1993; Mastro 2009; Taylor and Stern 1997). Regarding Asian commercial representation, in 1994 Taylor and Stern (1997) analyzed a week of June prime-time network commercials for “model minority” stereotypes of “Asian-American” characters. “For the purpose of coding, Asian-Americans were defined as persons whose ancestry is rooted in any of the following Asian countries: Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong” (51). Their results raised questions about stereotyping, tokenism, and gender asymmetry. Among 1,300 prime-time television commercials, Asian characters were found mainly in the background, even though this kind of minority wallpapering numerically overrepresented Asians who appeared in 8.4% of the commercials, relative to their 3.6% of the 1994 US population. Asian women were rarely depicted in major roles, and Asian characters were underrepresented in home settings, family situations, and other social relationships. At the same time, they were depicted as affluent, highly educated, and employed in managerial and professional occupations. In a meta-analysis of thirty years of data, Greenberg, Mastro, and Brand (2002) write that between 1978 and 1989 “Latino” portrayals accounted for less than 2% of prime-time commercials. In the mid-1980s, the percentage increased, but still remained small; Wilkes and Valencia (1989) analyzed 1984-era prime-time representations of “Hispanic” live models and found Latinos appeared in less than 6% of the commercials. Of the 904 commercials analyzed in Wilkes and Valencia’s (1989) study, only 15 contained a Hispanic female, compared with 46 that contained a Hispanic male. Hispanic models “were judged to be in mostly background roles and to appear as part of a group” (22). “By the mid-1990s Latinos were found in 8.5% of primetime commercials with human models” (Greenberg, Mastro, and Brand 2002, 340). In a study of race, ethnicity, and gender, Mastro and Stern (2003) analyzed speaking characters in one week of prime-time television commercials from 2001. Of the 2,880 commercials’ characters analyzed, 83.3% were white, 12.4% were “African American,” 2.3% were “Asian American,” 1% were “Latino,” and 0.4% were “Native American.” Males of all races appeared more than females except when it came to Latina/os. Relative to previous studies, male and female Latina/os remained underrepresented relative to their numbers in the general population, and their portrayals remained mostly negative. Black and Latina/o characters appeared in the outdoors. Asians were viewed in working environments, and whites were most often viewed in home settings with families. As to the representation of gender, from the 1950s to the 1980s, women have consistently been portrayed stereotypically as younger than their male


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counterparts, passive, subservient, sexually objectified, and if employed, working in low-status jobs (Allan and Coltrane 1996). The 1970s showed slight improvement in terms of occupational portrayals of women working outside of the home and in more high-status jobs, a shift reflecting women’s movement of the era (Allan and Coltrane 1996). Over the same period, however, images of males remained mostly unchanged, except during the 1980s when there was modest improvement showing men in nontraditional roles. Over the decades studied, males were represented more frequently than females, and males were portrayed as active, authoritative, knowledgeable leaders in primary roles. In the 1980s, more men appeared in parenting roles inside the home than previously, while the percentage of women parenting in the home decreased from 69.2% to 28.3%. This can be correlated with the 71.1% increase in images of women working outside of the home. Replicating Dominick and Rauch’s (1972) content analysis of April 1971 prime-time commercials, Ferrante, Haynes, and Kingsley (1988) looked for a change in the way women were portrayed in October 1986 prime-time commercials. They found men consistently overrepresented in primary roles. Women were seen more than men in spousal and household roles, in the home instead of outside, as well as in low-status jobs. Lin (1997a, 1997b) examined gender in prime-time commercials from April 1993. She writes, “Both women and men were depicted in largely stereotypical ‘traditional’ roles, though women were twice as likely to be shown as ‘Cheesecake’ than men were as ‘beefcake’” (1997a, 237), a finding she noted was a step backward from 1980s data. A 1995 study of commercial image portrayals of men in family roles revealed most “family men” were white in scenes without a spouse, in scenes with boys but not girls or infants, and in roles that are stereotypically male; men were less likely to be portrayed in commercials that dealt with cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, or shopping (Kaufman 1999). Although women purchased most of the services and goods in prime-time commercials from 1998, they were still underrepresented as primary characters; the exception was when women were portrayed in health and beauty product commercials during prime time (Ganahl, Prinsen, and Netzley 2003). These trends mostly continued into the early twenty-first century. Gender stereotyping for women and men continued in English-language prime-time commercials in February 2003 and June 2008 (Fowler and Thomas 2015), in Spanish- and English-language prime-time commercials in April 2013 (Prieler 2016), and across Super Bowl commercials between 1990 and 2009 (Hatzithomas, Boutsouki, and Ziamou 2016). But Fowler and Thomas (2015) counted a reduction in men playing leading or primary characters at 30% in 2003 and 20% in 2008 compared with more than half of men playing leading or primary roles in previous studies (e.g., 1998 data by Ganahl, Prinsen, and

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power


Netzley 2003). Prieler (2016) had similar 2013 findings across both Englishand Spanish-language commercials. Greenberg, Mastro, and Brand’s (2002) revisiting of data on prime-time representations of blacks, Latina/os, Asians, and Native Americans found that diversity of cultures in US advertising is usually designed to accommodate the values of the white majority; minority characters are usually portrayed in subservient roles, as part of a crowd, or part of the background. Cortese (2016, 2) writes, “Advertising is one of the most powerful mechanisms through which members of a society assimilate their cultural heritage and ideologies of domination.” Cortese notes this process is not always or even often achieved “consciously or deliberatively,” but rather occurs through “inferential or symbolic” processes, such as “symbolic racism” (14). (PROBLEMS WITH) OPERATIONAL DEFINITIONS Operational definitions for race, ethnicity, and gender are necessary to perform research that documents underrepresentation, misrepresentation, and omission. Yet operational definitions from the outset are problematic in ways not so different from the problems of advertising representation. Operational definitions have the power to define reality in terms of who literally counts or does not, as well as reifying artificial categories. Furthermore, items such as race, ethnicity, and gender, let alone social and economic power, are operationally defined variously, across, for example, the US Census, Nielsen ratings, and the varieties of coding categories reported in academic literature. “Thus the entire concept of demographics begins to unravel at philosophical and ethical levels, even as demographics continue to be very useful at a practical level” (Golombisky 2018, 185). Crucial to doing feminist research is demystifying and qualifying the naming, delimiting, and “coding” of classifications of people. Too often students as well as researchers fall prey to believing in the classifications they research without taking responsibility for their part in perpetuating social division, and thus injustice. Just because we do define and then quantify doesn’t mean that our definitions are beyond critique or that our nomenclature can ever be neutral. Critiquing Nielsen’s commodification of US black women and Latinas as target audiences, Golombisky (2017, 341) identifies the “paradox of engaging labels to demonstrate their harms and their privileges—not to mention profit potentials.” She notes, “In addition to the tensions of engaging the labels we wish to retire in order to be politically visible, there is a second problem of who is included and excluded from such labels” (343). Because I am trading in the problematic representations that I am critiquing, it is important to be “clear about operational definitions” (Golombisky 2018, 189).


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Today most readers will recognize that race and ethnicity are not naturally occurring biological traits, but rather correspond with mutable socially constructed categories, albeit with what can result in catastrophic material effects for some groups of peoples. Similarly, we increasingly recognize gender as a spectrum of positionalities, rather than “the simple dummy variables of male and female biological sex” (Dow and Condit 2005, 454). Moreover, “An individual’s many identifications interlock so that one’s experiences of gender are predicated upon one’s simultaneous experiences of gender identity, race, ethnicity, economic and social class, sexuality, ability, nationality, and religion, for example” (Golombisky 2015, 403). Nevertheless, our social practices remain founded on unexamined beliefs about the naturalness of such categories. In “The Anatomy of a Stereotype,” Marilyn Kern-Foxworth (1994) outlines historical shifts in scholars’ understanding of “stereotypes” from uncritical habits of perception to critical recognition of prejudiced and detrimental hegemony. Kern-Foxworth, writing about negative representations of black people, settles on a working definition of an advertising stereotype as “a consistent representation . . . that ultimately suggests that all members of the race are the same” (77). She writes that these stereotypes negatively influence attitudes and behaviors of the dominant group in power toward the stereotyped one: “Researchers feel that negative stereotypes hinder the upward mobility of blacks in many ways” (78). Unfortunately, as Everette E. Dennis (2011, ix) writes, “For visual communicators . . . stereotypes are useful devices because they are easily understood and make a clear, if unfair, and, at times, even hurtful point.” Those who work in the advertising industry continue to make excuses about their dependence on stereotypes for efficient and effective communication. For the present study, five coders were trained to identify “image portrayals,” meaning they knew they were not identifying the gender and racial or ethnic heritage of the actors per se; rather they were trained to recognize and document the cultural conventions, including stereotypes, being employed by advertisers to communicate gender and racial/ ethnic heritage as part of advertising messages. They were coding the constructed images portrayed. As to operational definitions of gender, in the same year as the commercials in this study were recorded for analysis, Dow and Condit (2005, 454) observed that “the earlier era, in which sex or gender were taken to be simple highly coherent variables based on invariant characteristics that were uniform within groups, has passed.” They write, “Sex and gender are not simply variables deserving incorporation into equations, but are complex factors that require careful, sustained attention to their formation” (p. 454). In the present study, gender was defined as physical presentation communicating either female or male, although “other” was a coding option. Because the

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power


US visual conventions for performing binary gender—female or male—are so widely recognized and because many product categories and social roles are gendered with a hierarchical male-female binary, the five coders did not have difficulty coding for female or male characters, resulting in 100% coder agreement on gender, regardless of whether one might question a binary construct of gender in the first place. An operational definition of gender proceeded on the assumption that in 2005 advertisers would not be critical of binary gender and would rely on gender stereotypes to communicate gender efficiently. Today, I suspect that such an assumption would not be valid and that advertisers more often than in the past do use gender-ambiguous, nonbinary, and genderqueer character representations, however stereotypically or disingenuously. Regarding sexuality, coding for 2005 commercials also began with a code sheet that allowed for same-sex couples. Because none were observed, coding for representations of couples and families by race and ethnicity defaulted to heterosexism. In the present chapter, then, references to couples and families assume heterosexuality. Among coders, there was no disagreement that in instances when advertisers denoted or connoted a couple or a family, the intent was unambiguously heteronormative. Similarly, this study relied on visually recognizable racial and ethnic stereotypes for operational definitions, which meant trading in problematic categories or, as Paul Martin Lester (1996) calls them, “images that injure.” Among the five coders, there was 100 percent intracoder reliability on the racial and ethnic categories that they were trained to observe, not as a reality of the actors per se, but instead as conventions of advertising representation communicating race and ethnicity. Building on previous studies and for the purpose of coding advertising patterns of representation in the present study, race and ethnicity were collapsed. Inside and outside the academy, there seems to be an acceptance that all races and ethnicities other than white can be grouped, indicating a general belief that white represents a neutral norm. This approach is problematic, and interpretations of the data that emerge from such studies should be evaluated with caution. I adopted this troubling approach anyway in order to put my data into conversation with previous studies, thereby making the present study coherent with the literature. Coders counted characters in commercials for race/ethnicity in terms of white, black, Latina/o, Asian, and other/don’t know/specify. No coder used the “other/don’t know/specify” category, which meant coders agreed that they never saw images they could not identify. Nor did coders recognize any other specific racial and ethnic representations, such as Native American, South Asian Indian, mixed-race, or biracial. That coders never marked “other/don’t know/specify” is a finding worth reporting on its own if we pause long enough to reflect on it.


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Advertising characters’ race/ethnicity was identified on the basis of skin color, hair texture, eye shape, stereotypical attire, and even signs of ethnic products, as well as nonvisuals such as speech. What constituted a white character depended on the coders’ ability to recognize “white” skin of European descent when they saw it on screen as distinguishable from “black,” “Latina/o,” and “Asian.” As Richard Dyer (1997) demonstrated, whiteness as race is only recognizable for what it is in relation to what it is not. In other words, the supremacy of whiteness depends on the existence of an Other. What constituted a “black” character depended on coders’ ability to recognize dark-hued skin tones and hair textures of African descent as not “white,” Latina/o, or Asian. I use the word black because it is more inclusive than “African American,” which is a subset of “black” diasporic peoples descended from indigenous peoples of the African continent, and because we did not code for nationality (African American) per se. Following Mastro and Greenberg’s (2000, 694) definition of Latino, I use the more inclusive term Latina/o to refer to people descended from Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans, or other Spanish speakers not from Spain. Latina/o, while more linguistically inclusive than Hispanic, is no less problematic, given the range of cultures, languages, skin tones, and histories, including colonization and genocide, of peoples descended from indigenous, enslaved, trafficked, and colonial peoples in the Americas. In the study, characters coded as Latina/o often were recognized on the basis of “brown” skin, distinguishable as not European “white,” African “black,” or “Asian.” No Latina/o characters were coded as “black” or “white,” and no characters coded as “black” or “white” were coded as Latina/o, a finding that is incongruent with the material reality of Latina/o peoples of the Americas. Following Taylor and Stern (1997), Asian characters were defined to exclude South-Asian ethnicities, ancestries, and countries such as India and Pakistan. I use the word Asian because it is more inclusive than “Asian American,” which is a subset of peoples descended from the cultures defined by modern geopolitical borders of an Asian continent, and because we did not code for nationality (Asian American). As the expression goes, “In Asia, there are no Asians.” For the category of “Asian,” coders mostly relied on identifying characters with epicanthic folds. Coders also were trained to document gendered and raced commercial characters by their social power in terms of cognitive attributes (displays of knowledge and intelligence), familial connections (represented as a member of a single-race or single-ethnicity couple or family), social rank (giving orders to others and making decisions on behalf of others), high- or lowstatus occupations (white- or blue-collar), upward accomplishment (upward economic mobility by job, accomplishment, or enterprise), purchasing power

Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power


(high- or low-end product category), and character positioning (centrality of character’s role in the commercial narrative as primary, secondary, tertiary, or quaternary). These categories are no less artificial or problematic than the ones for representations of race/ethnicity and gender, and in fact play important roles in constructing race, ethnicity, and gender, as intersectional analysis tells us. HYPOTHESES The null hypothesis states that the advertising representations of image portrayals of males versus females are equal and that the representations of image portrayals of white, black, Latina/o, and Asian characters in primetime commercials are proportional to their presence in the general US population (H0). However, as we can predict on the basis of previous research, such is not the case. Thus this study tested the following hypotheses. H1: Male images are overrepresented in overall character positioning compared with female characters. H2: White characters are overrepresented by way of overall character positioning compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H3: Nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color are underrepresented by way of family- and couple-structured portrayals compared with the white aggregate. H4: Images of white males are overrepresented in primary character positioning compared with images of females. H5: Images of white characters are overrepresented in primary character positioning compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H6: Image portrayals of white characters giving orders are overrepresented compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H7: Image portrayals of male characters in primary roles giving orders are overrepresented compared with female characters. H8: Image portrayals of white characters exhibiting cognitive attributes are overrepresented compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H9: Image portrayals of male characters in primary roles exhibiting cognitive attributes are overrepresented compared with female characters. H10: Image portrayals of white characters making decisions are overrepresented compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H11: Image portrayals of male characters making decisions are overrepresented compared with female characters. H12: Image portrayals of white characters in highly skilled occupations are overrepresented compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color. H13: Image portrayals of males in highly skilled occupations are overrepresented compared with female characters.


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H14: Image portrayals of males exhibiting upward accomplishment are overrepresented compared with female characters. H15: Image portrayals of male characters purchasing high-end products are overrepresented compared with female characters. H16: Image portrayals of white characters purchasing high-end products are overrepresented compared with nonwhite racial and ethnic aggregates of color.

THE STUDY This 2005 study evaluated advertising character image portrayals of race/ ethnicity and gender in terms of character positioning and couple and family relationships, as well as professional, social, and economic status and power in 1,048 prime-time television commercials. The television commercials, appearing on the networks ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and WB, were recorded between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. (prime time), eastern standard time, Monday through Friday, January 10 through 14, 2005. Promotions for movies, network programs, and local newscasts were excluded. Commercials containing large numbers of characters or animated characters or animals were noted but not coded. All characters were counted only once per commercial, regardless, for example, of number of scenes. However, if the same commercial appeared more than once during the three-hour time span from 8 to 11 p.m., it was coded as many times as that particular commercial appeared, which enabled coding for frequency. Five coders were trained until the intercoder reliability was consistent and acceptable at 96.3% overall.1 During the gathering and tabulation processes for this study, the level of significance was set at 0.05. When appropriate, data culminating into frequencies were also employed. The sum of characters observed in the primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary roles consisted of 841 females, 1,079 males, 87 single-race or singleethnicity families, and 124 single-race or single-ethnicity couples, for a total of 2,131 characters by gender. In terms of overall image portrayals by race and ethnicity, there were 355 black, 97 Latina/o, 46 Asian, and 1,633 white characters counted. RESULTS Hypothesis 1 predicted an overrepresentation of male images in overall character positioning compared with females. The difference in the percentages was significant at p < 0.05, confirming H1. Overall, portrayals of males represented 51% of all images, followed by women at 39%, single-race heterosexual families at 1%, and single-race heterosexual couples at 3%. Male


Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power Table 9.1  Overall Gender Representation and Positioning Positioning Female Male Single Family Single Couple Total




403 (37%) 542 (50%) 63 (6%) 76 (7%) 1084

232 (40%) 308 (52%) 16 (3%) 35 (5%) 591

144 (49%) 140 (47%) 4 (1%) 9 (3%) 97

Quaternary 62 89 4 4

(40%) (56%) (2%) (2%) 9

Total 841 (39%) 1079 (51%) 87 (4%) 124 (6%) 2131 (100%)

X2 = 36.2183, df = 3, p < 0.05.

image portrayals also dominated in each positioning category except tertiary, which was only slightly smaller than the female aggregate (Table 9.1). As to hypothesis 2, when we examine the results of overall character positioning of white image portrayals compared with all other racial/ethnic aggregates, white characters were overrepresented in every category. The difference in the percentages was significant at p < 0.05, confirming H2. The data reveal that 80% of the time, the audience would have viewed a white character in the primary role. Only 16% of the time was an image of a black character represented in the primary role, followed by 3% Latina/o and 4% Asian, respectively (Table 9.2). Hypothesis 3 predicted that aggregates of nonwhite color are underrepresented by way of family and couple portrayals compared with the white aggregate. Although the distributions were not significant, the results, by frequency, are worth mentioning. There were 139 representations of family or couple structures. From this total, 82% and 91% of the time, a viewer would have witnessed a white heterosexual family or a white heterosexual couple, respectively. A viewer would have witnessed a black heterosexual family only 17% of the time and a black heterosexual couple only 8% of the time. There was no representation of a Latina/o family and no representation of an Asian couple. These findings mimic Taylor and Stern’s (1997) study, which found aggregates of nonwhite color were underrepresented, stereotyped, and tokenized, with Asian characters having the lowest number of representations of family and social relationships (Table 9.3). Hypotheses 4 and 5 referred to primary character portrayals by gender and race/ethnicity, respectively. If we compare the image portrayals of the primary Table 9.2  Overall Racial and Ethnic Representation and Positioning Positioning Black White Latina/o Asian Total






175 (16%) 868 (80%) 37 (3%) 4 (0.4%) 1084

108 (18%) 444 (75%) 27 (5%) 12 (2%) 590

42 (14%) 214 (72%) 19 (6%) 22 (7%) 297

30 (19%) 107 (67%) 14 (9%) 8 (5%) 159

355 (17%) 1633 (77%) 97 (4%) 46 (2%) 2131 (100%)

X2 = 78.9064, df = 3, p < 0.05.


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Table 9.3  Single-Race or Single-Ethnicity Family and Single-Race or Single-Ethnicity Couple Representations Race/Ethnicity






Single Family Single Couple Total

11 (17%) 6 (8%) 17

51 (82%) 69 (91%) 120

0 1 (1%) 1

1 (1%) 0 1

63 76 139

X2 = 4.998, df = 3, ns at p < 0.05.

character roles (without including images of family and couple data) to the US population during the data collection period, there is some variance by frequency. According to the US Census (2005c), the 2005 US population consisted of 80% whites, 12% blacks, 14% Latina/os, and 4% Asians. Relative to a 2005 US Latina/o population of 14%, the results of this study reveal that Latina/o image portrayals were underrepresented at 3%; Latina/os starred as primary characters only thirty-seven times in more than one thousand commercials. Black primary characters in the study were recorded at 16%, slightly over the 2005 Census rate of 12% black Americans. With 4% Asian Americans (including South Asians excluded from the present study’s operational definitions) in the 2005 US Census, Asians appeared as primary characters in the study less than 1% of the time. Whites in the study composed primary characters 80% of the time, matching the percentage of whites in the 2005 US Census (Table 9.4). If we evaluate the primary character role by gender and race/ethnicity, the results reveal an overrepresentation of white males at 43%. The difference in the percentages was significant at p < 0.025, confirming H4. However, white females were a close second at 37%, resulting in an overall overrepresentation of white image portrayals. Image portrayals of Latina/os and Asians were underrepresented in both gender categories, as were blacks, although not to such extreme degrees (Table 9.5). Hypothesis 5 predicted that image portrayals of white characters in the primary character position would be overrepresented compared with aggregates of nonwhite color. The difference in the percentages was significant at p < 0.05, confirming H5. Table 9.4  Primary Character by Race or Ethnicity Excluding Family and Couple Images Race/Ethnicity Black White Latina/o Asian Total

Frequency 175 868 37 4 1084


U.S. Census 2005*

16.1 80.1 3.4 0.4 (100%)

(12%) (80%) (14%) (4%)

Single race or ethnicity percentages except for Latina/os. Percentages do not add up to 100% because Latina/os may be of any race and are therefore counted under more than one category.



Representations of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, and Power Table 9.5  Primary Character by Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Gender




Black White Latina/o Asian Total

51 (5%) 335 (37%) 17 (2%) 0 403

106 (11%) 409 (43%) 19 (2%) 3 (