Course overview, Case study 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Course code: WS1A03E – E for evening
Professor: Melinda Gough
How do women, culture, and power intersect?
Course content (subject matter)
Assignments and assessment
Reading quizzes – lowest mark will be dropped, expect at least 5, will be online on Avenue
Passage identification section of final will be based on readings we’ve discussed in class – recommendation is to bring readings to
lecture/tutorial to be able to keep track of what we’ve talked about
Expectations: lectures, tutorials
Specific topics and readings
Case study in Women/Culture/Power: Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption, body image
Fielding Bridget Jones’ diary
1 Bestseller – sold 2M copies
Adapted for film in 2001
(Gendered) body image
Advertising, media (within the story)
Consumption (Bridget = consumer, female readers of the novel as consumers)
BJD as Chick Lit – gains popularity in 1990s, instrumental in this development
“vapid” and “formulaic” mindfluff?
Marriage obsessed young women who love to shop?
Audience: according to Lisa Guerrero – daughters of women who fought for equality in 60s and 70s
No longer fighting for sexual liberation, equality
Experiencing rewards of mothers’ generations work
3 wave feminists? Postfeminists?
Protagonists: white, middle class, heterosexual women
Plot: search for love (and shoes!)
MARRIAGE = KEY!
Central struggle for protagonist: how to negotiate her relationship to the institution of (heterosexual) marriage
Appeal: tragic and comical paradoxical existence – not bound by mother’s generation stereotype but still struggles against modernday
Chick Lit: another definition
by women, for women
characters negotiate love, marriage, dating relationships, friendships, roommates, work, weight issues, addiction
2 lighthearted and humorous
intimate, confessional tone
What do we mean by “women”?
Not all women have the same experiences
i.e. sexual orientation, race, class, gender expression all have an impact
not all women are positioned equally in (global) hierarchies
Thus “by women, for women” begs the question: which women?
Women and/vs. Gender
Women: people in bodies that are sexed as female
Gender: the (cultural) meaning of living in a sexed body usually defined as female or male [binary]
Gender :: Power
Gender – the meaning of living in a sexed body
One major factor in how most societies distribute power
Control of, or access to, institutions sanctioned by the state
Ability to define reality and to convince other people to accept this definition
Ownership and control of political/social/economic resources, capacity to make/enforce decisions based on this control
Capacity of group of people to decide what they want and act in organized way to get it
Gender :: Power :: Culture
If the meanings of being a “man” or a “woman” are shaped by nature but also by culture (i.e. human activity), then these same definitions of
masculinity and femininity can also be changed by humans (i.e. through and in culture)
Culture ▯ Gender ▯ Power
What is culture?
“Highend” creative production
What is implicitly opposed to nature:
Practices that define us, collectively and in distinct groups, as human
“The sphere of meaning, which unifies the spheres of production (economics) and social relations (politics)” –Susie O’Brien and Imre Szeman
Gender, culture, and Power in Women’s Popular Culture
Today and next week:
I: Shame and culture
II: Shame in Bridget Jones’s Diary
III: Shame, gender, and consumer culture
(Advertising and body image)
3 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
maclife.mcmaster.ca for note taking
4 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Survey says: Hunger Games!
Quizzes will be announced in class, then available on Avenue for the next 24 hours
Case study in Women/Culture/Power
Bestseller fiction, body image, advertising, consumption
I: Shame and culture
II: Shame and Bridget Jones’s Diary
III: (Bridget’s) shame analyzed via this week’s readings
How consumption has been shaped as gendered
Shame, consumption, and magazines for “normal” women consumers
Advertising, body image, entrapment, resistance
I: Shame and culture
Shame is felt in conscience
Superego (‘conscience’ – voice in head that says you should/shouldn’t do things, polices the rest of the psyche)
Internal agency of selfpunishment
Reflects the individual’s psychic investment in social ideals
5 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
II: Shame in Bridget Jones’s Diary
New Year’s Resolution (BJD, 23)
“I WILL” and “I WILL NOT”
Bridget says she ought to be:
More organized, thriftier
Healthier, thinner, more attractive
More confident, better with relationships (less single)
General goals: to improve happiness, selfesteem, integrity, agency, selfdetermination
“Inner Poise” – wants to OWN it, not just PERFORM it
Contradiction #1: To save money… and to spend it
I WILL NOT “Spend more than I earn.”
I WILL “Save up money in form of savings, poss. Start pension too”
I WILL NOT “Waste money on: pasta makers, icecream machines or other culinary devices which will never use, books by unreadable authors,
Many resolutions require commodities
6 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Contradiciton #2: To be ok without a man… and to find one (or: to be ok without a man… in order to find one)
Bridget’s shame in action
Feb. 1: dinner with “smug marrieds”
Norm – heterosexually paired and reproductive by a certain age
Should be able to have a work life and love life – have it all!
Jan. 15: “Bridget prepares for a date”
Constantly evaluating herself according to the standards she thinks she should be meeting
Acknowledging how much work it takes to maintain nonnatural self (e.g. waxing, exfoliating, nails, etc.)
Ideal is culturally prescribed, way to get there is culturally prescribed as well
Things that are necessary for the performance must be bought (creams, exfoliants, exercise tapes/equipment, etc)
If patterns of shame testify to cultural norms:
1. Bridget’s shame is funny in part because it’s recognizable, familiar.
2. This means we may be able to recognize in Bridget’s shame a set of larger patterns.
What cultural norms can Bridget’s shame help us to see?
7 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
What is their history? Their effect?
How can these norms be changed?
III: Approaching (Bridget’s) shame via this week’s readings
History of shame and gendering of consumption in early America (Abelson, Scanlon)
Western culture today –
Women’s magazines: scare copy
Advertising, consumption, body image (Coward)
Late 19 century US
A new identity: middle class women shoppers (consumers)
As shoppers, women gained a kind of public life
Shopping as a break from labour in the home (a form of leisure, recreation)
Causes and effects
increase in manufacturing
decrease in prices
rise of the department store
multiplications of needs (wants)
8 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
“a massive reorientation of values”
Clothing ▯ increasing specialized
Middle class families had to be dressed well to reflect social and economic status
Clothes used to signify identity
Woman of household was responsible for making clothes for family
Not cost effective
Magazines used to tell women about all the kinds of clothes available and for what occasions they would be worn
Woman no longer producer of goods – now a consumer of clothes (and other types of goods)
In 19 century US, birth of middle class female urban consumer, esp. of clothing
Massive shift in (class) values
Widely circulating “norm” of middle class femininity
Subtle denigration of woman (i.e. mother) who sews at home – beginnings of shame!
Focus: Ladies Home Journal (early 20 century)
9 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Promoted ‘average’ woman: white, middle class, consumer
Offered conservatism under guise of liberation: choice: = what to buy (within a set range of options)
Analysis of Christmas 1893 LHJ
Emotional formula p.339
Foster reader anxiety
Follow up with advice/positive messages
▯ Promotes returning readership
Formula also helps to:
Foster the norm of middleclass (white) female consumer
Sell products to that consumer
Ellen McCracken, Decoding Women’s Magazines:
Shaming tactics sell products
Ultimate goal: scare copy
Example of scare copy: How’s your breath today? http://xroads.virginia.edu/~1930s/Print/vanity/list533.html
Risk of embarrassing situation; product as solution
Scare copy: this pattern ▯ part of the magazine’s official “copy” (writing)
Cosmo – 2014: Are flats sexier than high heels?
If you feel sexy, men will find you sexy too. Assumption: You WANT men to find you sexy.
10 Bestseller fiction, advertising, consumption and body image 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Mainstream women’s magazines offer pseudo liberation, including sexual liberation
Why PSEUDO liberation?
Internalized fragmentation of the body into “problem areas” that require consumer products as “solutions”
“problem areas” in fashion magazines
fragmentation of the female body: lips, eyes, hair, breasts, hips, hands, armpits, legs, feet
▯ cf. Bridget’s preparation for a date: p. 27
Fragmentation is not just about dividing up the body, but also making it smaller
Bridget as case study
“Wise people will say Daniel should like me just as I am, but I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture, have been traumatized by super models
and too many quizzes… I can’t take the pressure. I am going to cancel and spend the evening eating doughnuts in a cardigan with egg on it.”
Knowledge of the problem isn’t sufficient to solve the problem.
Silver lining? Coward suggests that women whose body images are fragmented in these ways are not just victims, however.
What powerful forces of feeling lurk hidden within women’s fragmented senses of their own bodies, according to Coward?
2. According to Coward, how can these patterns of feeling suggest an escape from the damaging aspects of body ideals in the
Is there another feeling besides shame that is available through these biases, that could allow a way out??
Fragmentation gives a space for limited selfaffirmation… not the solution out, but can be tapped into to move beyond the limited ideals.
11 Relationship between mass culture, gender, consumption and (pseudo) liberation/power 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
McCracken, Decoding Women’s Magazines
12 Relationship between mass culture, gender, consumption and (pseudo) liberation/power 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Shaming tactics sell products – “scare copy”
Ultimate goal ▯
Create insecurities within readers
Instill belief that these problems can only be solved through consumption
Listerine ad – it can happen to anyone! But it shouldn’t happen to you, because you can buy Listerine!
Risk of embarrassing situation; product as solution
McCracken – only a pseudo solution
Why pseudo liberation?
Coward’s article – beauty ideas focus on different parts of women’s bodies that can be worked on, esp. by buying specific products
Presents choices, but they’re limited (what to buy, what area to focus on)
No choices that involve stepping outside “average”, “normal” body images
This has a limiting effect on woman’s role – if starving, how can you think about bigger problems?
Coward – body/beauty ideal presents taboo on sexually mature woman (ideals), p12, col. 2, par 2 of courseware – women exchange their ‘big
ness’ in exchange to be able to attract men… not saying that women have NO power in choosing to be attractive to men, rather, a lesser
power… wouldn’t it be great for women to have both forms of power (i.e. power to be whatever size/shape we like AND attract men)
Odds stacked against us to stand on our own outside this myth because of the relentless pressure of this industry
Passages closely related to Coward’s article
If I feel this shame, what do Western women feel? What does that tell us about body image in the West?
P15, col 1, par 1
P 17 col 1 par 3
13 Relationship between mass culture, gender, consumption and (pseudo) liberation/power 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Agent of oppressive action is “The Western Man”
Aggressive action: reduction of entirety of femininity (incl. mature femininity) to childish figure
Suggesting this is a veiling of true liberating possibilities of femininity
Mindy Kaling on Elle cover – can be funny and smart but has to sacrifice by being unattractive, gets cut off at the waist
Draws on Naomi Wolf to point out – fashion is making money as result of anxieties
Why do women go along with it? Rather than this being an overt physical restraint, it takes the form of symbolic violence/coercive force
P.18, col 1
Dieting incapacitates women’s thinking capabilities!! Haha
Puzzle – has to be explained
Beauty ideal causes women to have personality changes, including ‘natural’ overemotionalness but also passivity
Last paragraph of essay…
Not just a pseudo sexual liberation, but a sexual liberation at large
Arguing that human rights have been violated
Language is interesting – need to be aware of Mernissi’s approach
Majority is about Western culture – premade clothing which carries certain kinds of assumptions
Defamiliarization (She’s from Morocco) – we are familiar with department store but she isn’t; making the familiar strange in order to understand
what is familiar (originally used by Formalist Viktor Shklovsky re: art)
Danger: she is really clever – she is Muslim, calls on Allah to prevent these things from happening to Western women (thus not claiming Islam
itself is particularly oppressive to women) but this point is so subtle that it could be missed… European history of colonialism, orientalism)
Saying that yes some practices are oppressive to women, but not nearly as bad as the West – we believe our society is progressive and that
Eastern societies are oppressive, she turns that notion on its head but subtly, so we might miss it
Could easily imagine that she is saying that all veiling is bad and oppressive
14 Relationship between mass culture, gender, consumption and (pseudo) liberation/power 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
Be cognizant of the parts of the essay that might suggest that all religious practices are necessarily oppressive – is this really true?
If Mernissi is right about the situations that oppress women, is this a postfeminist moment?
Post feminism – feminism no longer necessary, doesn’t have force/relevance for speaking to women’s lives today
Recall BJD: Bridget has realized some of Mernissi and Coward’s points – just can’t do all the things that she ‘should’ do – so will just sit at
home in cardigan with egg on it, child of Cosmo magazine and too many quizzes
Takes herself out of depressing social world and stay at home drinking and watching TV
Is she a feminist protagonist? (could be argued either way)
Side bar: 2 Wave Feminism
1. The world after the 2 wave
2. A forgetting of feminism
3. A critique of/backlash against feminism
*Note: Debatable whether there are even such things as “waves”, but 2 wave is movement/set of movements taking place in US and Britain,
involving middleclass white women (and some men), civil rights era (60slate 70s/early 80s), had 2 major goals:
1. Institutional change (equal opportunity employment, equal pay for equal work, equal access to health care, women’s reproductive rights,
equality under the law)
2. Empowering change at individual/personal level (give women imagination and solidarity to criticize the roles traditionally ascribed to them)
If BJD mapping patterns of shame, discussing them in terms of cultural ideals
Guilt vs. shame – something you’ve done vs. something you ARE
Shame – individual identity part of/informed by social expectations/norms, shame is measure or sign of investment, happens when superego
tells us we don’t measure up, then everyone knows.
Makes evident problems with beauty ideals
Essays end by trying to point to ways that we could make changes
What is the problem/puzzle that the essay is trying to solve, how does it relate to other essays we’ve examined, what is the solution that it’s
pointing us to?
15 Relationship between mass culture, gender, consumption and (pseudo) liberation/power 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
What is the aim of this essay?
What contribution does the text make to clarifying/resolving that issue?
You might not agree (would be surprising if we did), but out job is not to take everything as gospel, but to understand what the writer is trying to
There are LOTS of debates in and among the texts, and among feminism itself. Goal not to be converted, but to explore.
Aim: focus on how Western culture defines masculinity (since we’ve been focusing on middle class ideal white womanness linked to
capitalism), gets at questions from different angle
That is, not just femininity that’s constructed culturally but masculinity too!
So how is masculinity defined?
What are the forces that go into making this definition whole?
Focus: masculinity and male sexuality is performance and power (like a machine)… how did this come to be?
How do these cultural representations exist on a mass scale? Esp. ads for prescription drugs and Hollywood films
Also tries to clarify (covertly) – if this is how masculinity/male sexuality is defined, who is benefiting form that?
Drug companies, their shareholders (maybe our parents!)
Shame of impotence – inability to perform
Erectile dysfunction is limited to penis but impotence is a wholeperson problem
Men too have to make a choice – either to experience shame/humiliation at inability to perform, or they do perform, always, leaving out
pleasure/feeling (including not wanting to have sex)
Thus we can see that not only women have these restrictive ideals, rather both sides are limited
Women – lack of power, immaturity, passivity, smallness
Men – bigness, power, ability, strength, ‘steering the ship of pleasure’
Bordo not talking about women but we can extrapolate; both will be shamed if they deviate from their norms
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Essay has been deconstructing the expectation that normal men perform like power tools
P22, col 2, par 2 – pray for wood, erection on command
Expectation is as strange as pornography is, needs to be replaced with something different
P23, last paragraph
Not advocating Viagra, just wishing people would pay attention to the other problem – male ideals of masculinity/male sexuality – so as to be in
a better position to try to do something about it
So where does the power come from? It’s more of a structural thing, can’t be exactly pinpointed.
Question of advertising, considering women as cultural consumers, but also cultural producers
Focusing on advertising industry
Begins with something familiar – Mad Men – to open up questions of gender and consumption, esp. sexist ads, what should we do with them?
Discusses success of Mad Men – NYC ad firm, late 60s/early 70s
Notorious for depicting the sexism of advertising of the time
The success of the article
Friedan’s argument about ads about best microwave oven, washing machine feed on women’s anxieties and emptiness, esp after WWII now
back in home, left with sense of purposelessness; ads step in to offer consumer products – sidesteps the problem by offering a cure without
actually addressing the problem
Miss Clairol ad – Does she… or doesn’t she?
Actually created by a woman
Does she what? Put out? Women who coloured their hair seen as prostitutes
She CAN colour hair and be a mother
Even though we would think sexist and demeaning ads have been created by men, more women held creative positions during the 20s than
they have done ever since
But what about the content?
Selfdefined feminists in ad world – Doris Anderson (editor, Chatelaine)
Lorraine Tao and Elspeth Lynn, founding partners of Zig
Special K ad – who is the target audience, and what is the message?
Men look ridiculously obsessive
Shows men saying things that women normally say, but they sound ridiculous…
Defamiliarization of obsessive lines that women say in order to make us wake up and take a step back
17 Stepping back: What is women’s studies? Why feminism? 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
I. Stepping back: methods and frameworks used in the course thus far
18 Stepping back: What is women’s studies? Why feminism? 2/12/2014 8:57:00 PM
II. What is feminism? How are feminism and women’s studies connected?
What is the aim of the text?
What problem/issue does it focus on? What is the puzzle?
What prescription does it make to fix the problem? What does it say about the puzzle?
Parks: Mad Men, Mad Women
Focus – not really about mad men (just a hook!), rather, women as producers and consumers, specifically in advertising industry (esp. the show
What difference does it make to have products advertised to women when women are producing the ads
What difference does it make when the consumers are educated about the patterns of consumption and can thus read ads critically
Special K ad – Tao and Lynn
According to Parks, this ad “depicted average men deriding aspects of their bodies using classic female scripts. It delivered a strong message
about advertising and women’s insecurities about body image”
Compare to BJD resolution to lose weight, this year I’ll learn to appreciate my body, I will not let my dress size determine my selfworth, I have
my mother’s thighs, do these make my butt look big?
Defamiliarization (his concept will appear on the midterm, understand it and be able to apply it to the analysis of
texts) – taking familiar and making it strange in order to allow us to understand the familiar