Tag Archives: WTF

Adjust Yourself.

23 Jun

So, one of the reasons I had (and have) to dial down a little on blog posts is that there’s loads of other work to do… Not that I’m actually doing it; I went on holiday to Madrid. And yet – even in between tapas, red wine, glorious sights, handsome men and sunny, summery weather, some people have taken their one chance to piss me off on my last day, when I discovered this in the subway:

That’s right. An advertisement for the gastric band. The poster features a naked fat woman, “Marta”, allegedly 28 years old, an architect and – gasp! – single. The poster goes on to say that Marta has difficulties when it comes to social relations, and that she suffers from joint pain and depression (…in that order). In comes the gastric band: it is advertised as “the definite solution,” and one can pay it off by monthly instalments of 177 Euros…

Seriously. Seriously? Where do I begin… First of all, the mere idea of proactively advertising major abdominal surgery (and yes, whereas surgeons try to perform it as minimally invasive as possible – it is still major abdominal surgery) is just mind-boggling to me. You might as well start to advertise appendectomies (because who needs that little stomp and it’s a preemptive strike, right) or tonsillectomies (which are less invasive than a lap band surgery…). Apparently, being fat is such a horrible state of existence that advertisements like these are totally ethically justified. The European Union has established the imprint of warnings on the mortal danger of smoking on every damn cigarette pack around the continent – and yet, lap band advertisements are completely fine. True, it is probably a lot cleverer not to mention the risks, side effects and the utter uselesness of the gastric band in some cases – probably no one would voluntarily do that to hirself, then.

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You’re Blocking Me In.

22 Jun

Isn’t it curious who calls themselves “feminist” lately? Sure, not Kristina Schröder, germany’s current secretary for family, women and youth affairs (the one person you might have expected to do so) who pretty much is the most unsuitable and outright irritating person in that position since Angela Merkel and her frilly blouse twenty years ago.

Her predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen, however, a member of the conservative christian democratic union (CDU) and mother of seven children, had no problem claiming feminism (albeit in a conservative twist) as her brand, and was  the one to implement “Elterngeld” (which losely translates as “parents money,” federally sponsored monetary support for new parents who take a leave of absence from work during the first 12 to 14 months of their child’s life) and somewhat half-compulsary “Vätermonate” (“father’s months”, which means that for at least 2 out of the 14 months parents are entitled to “Elterngeld,” the other parent – usually the father – has to take a leave of absence from work to claim the money).

[I might add here that it’s funny how early this term, “father’s months,” has caught on, even though it’s not specified who of the parents (in the official definition: mother and father – this is without a doubt another rampantly heterosexist piece of legislation) has to take the shorter span of time doing care work, and it has always been an option to divide the months of “Elterngeld” equally between partners. Apparently, only 12 per cent of recent fathers are aware of or care about that fact [PDF, p. 20], however, and take more than 2 months off from their job  (although that may have more differentiated reasons, one of them usually being his higher salary than her’s; a fact which the secretary for women’s affairs, Schröder, does not give a damn about).]

However faulty, heterosexist and deeply steepd in neoliberal idea(l)s “Elterngeld” is, it has been marketed (and predominantly perceived) as a breakthrough of “gender equality,” as a new policy of modern (conservative) feminism, epitomised by germany’s first female chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is still being applauded for her every move by germany’s oldest feminist magazine, Emma. Incidentally, Merkel is a conservative, a member of the CDU, and was far from emphasising feminism in her political career at any point.

Despite the differences regarding the political system and political culture between germany and the US, the latter has obviously had its own (even more peculiar…) “conservative feminists” influx lately, most prominently by Michelle Bachmann, seeking the GOP’s presidential nomination, and Sarah Palin (who secretly does the same, I guess). Although Jessica Valenti has written a great piece on why Palin’s brand of “mama grizzly” feminism can be labelled as a fake strategy to win over (allegedly) progressive voters whilst keeping the conservative ones with a simultaneous family-centred and anti-abortion stance,  it strikes me as interesting and noteworthy that women of the conservative persuasion seem to be able to take over the term “feminism” so easily (and willingly) and seemingly position themselves at the front of their political parties with great success.

Ruth Rosen has commented on the irony that (in many respects) ultraconservative women as the afore mentioned Tea Party icons would claim such a term, although “the religious right-wing had so successfully created an unattractive image of a feminist as a hairy, man-hating, lesbian who spouted equality, but really wanted to kill babies” during the 1980s.

Is it purely ironic, though? I’d say: Yes and No.

Yes, because the brand of feminism à la Palin and Bachmann is actually trying to void many of the term’s basic meanings. Just being a female politician does not make you a feminist (anymore…). If you are anti-abortion (or rather: pro forced-birth), you are not a (modern) feminist and have no business claiming that term for you. As Valenti has noted (and Palin & Co. repeatedly emphasised), the majority of “first wave” feminists were largely anti-abortion. I’d add: The majority of “first wave” feminists were also largely white supremacists. Hence, the sole advocacy for equal political rights does not make you a (modern) feminist; and ignoring ongoing feminist debates (within and around a movement that made it possible for Merkel et al. to stand where they stand today) for the past decades most certainly does not either.

Moreover, pursuing anti-feminist politics and/or ignoring discrimination excludes you from feminism – and it’s no surprise that the United Nations’ Report on gender discrimination in germany has come to the conclusion that “in significant areas,” the situation has actually been exacerbated rather than improved during the last years (although one has to obviously put that into global perspective). And ultimately, trying to void, re-brand and utilise ideas, histories and social movements for your own sake, after having fought and defamed them ferociously, makes this a really sad paradox, to say the least.

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Keep Your Bleach.

25 May

Ah, Unilever… You are such a horrible company.

There is a debate going on on many blogs whether or not this advertisement is racist. And you might have guessed what I think: hell yes it is.

Dove has accomplished something truly remarkable with this: a fail on so many levels, all wrapped up in a nice little picture. Marketing a new product “that actually improves the look of your skin,” the ad shows three women in bath towels, standing in front of two pictures in a setting that looks like an art gallery. The “before” picture is a “painting” of seemingly cracked and rough skin (as it supposedly looks before using moisturising products), the “after painting” shows a smooth skin surface.

Dove’s “real beauty” campaign has had its fails before, for example when they made quite clear that their definition of  “real beauty” apparently does not include scars, tattoos or certain body shapes. This ad, however, brings their attempt to sell more products through diversity to a different level of discrepancy and hypocrisy.

The three women in the picture are standing in a line that makes one recall ads for dietary products, with a “before” and “after” picture. Dove had the great idea to position the women according to skin colour/”shade”: Starting with an African American woman with curly black hair, to a (supposedly) Latina with straight brown hair, and finally ending the little get-together with a Caucasian woman with blonde straight hair.

Now the fun starts: The African American woman is conveniently placed under the “before” label, whereas the Caucasian woman is standing beneath the “after” headline. Dove, therefore, seems to suggest that using their products has the great effect of eventually lightening skin, or, to use their phrasing: “actually improve” its “look.” Moreover, the further we get to the Caucasian model, the more weight the women lose. Judging from the picture, Dove has found the recipe for “real beauty:” being white, blonde, straight-haired and skinny. Isn’t that practical, especially since we have just recently been taught by Satoshi Kanazawa that white women are “scientifically” proven to be more attractive?!

Dove’s white-centredness does not stop here, however. The skin “paintings” in the background show skin as being light, maybe with a slight tan. In times when the colourism of the infamous brown paper bag test is still far from being obsolete, most notably in (mainstream) art and entertainment, and plasters are still being referred to as “flesh”-coloured (at least in germany), Dove should have thought about those images twice before equating them with an allegedly universal look of “skin.” This even reinforces the white-centred image the campaign is conveying with the arrangement of the women in front of the “skin” pictures.

Whereas it is a possibility that the creators of this advertisement and the people who approved of it were not aware of these implications and effects, it is not an excuse. Having the option to be unaware of racist attitudes, pictures and subtle messages is a form of white privilege. Not being bothered by these images and accusing others of being too sensitive (… angry Black woman, anyone?!) is a form of white privilege. Being able to equate “skin” with “white skin,” setting this as the default and normality, and setting it as a default for “good looks” is a form of white privilege.

Peggy McIntosh has spelled out the various forms of White Privilege 20 years ago. [pdf] But Unilever knows that; they just don’t care – Whiteness works. Especially when you’re the leading supplier of skin-bleaching creams in India.

Honeytrapping Hurts My Teeth.

20 May

According to Reuters, more than half of France’s population thinks that Dominique Strauss-Kahn “was the victim of a plot;” within his own political party, the number rises to 70 per cent. If they took a poll of different countries, I presume the outcome would not be significantly different.

The idea that (mostly) men who are accused of rape have been lured into this situation rather than caused it by their actions is nothing new, obviously, but strikes me as exponential lately. Most prominent and most exhausting seems to be the kind of language chosen for these acts, and how the accused are portrayed by the media. Feminist scholarship has referred to this phenomenon as an integral part of “rape culture,” which means that in our current culture, sexual assaults are being tolerated, excused and belittled, including extensive victim blaming and rape apologism by sexual objectification.

Whereas the concept of rape culture struck me as a bit extreme before, I am now (finally) convinced that there is nothing to argue about this. The most featured cases of rape and sexual assaults are clearly just the tip of the iceberg, but seem to be good examples as to how pervasive victim blaming is and how ready people are to accept that sexual assaults are somehow just part of the package of a “normal” life experience and that “boys will be boys.”

The first extensively discussed case of a widely known figure being accused of rape lately was Roman Polanski. In fact, it was 1977, when he, 43 years old, drugged and raped a 13 year old girl, and, having admitted that this was true, fled the country before any legal action could be taken against him. Notwithstanding that he never faced any sort of consequences (except for not being able to enter the United States and pick up his Academy Award – boo hoo – and now having to do an MTV Cribs episode suffer house arrest in his Swiss chateau), a long list of Hollywood celebrities, directors and authors felt the need to express their admiration for him as a director, tied to the claim that he should be set free and not be harassed because of this “case of morals” (!) (including Natalie Portman, Wim Wenders, Fatih Akin, Yasmina Reza and Whoopie Goldberg who  said this rape wasn’t “rape-rape,” thus perpetuating the ridiculous and latently racist notion that there are moral differences between raping a woman you know and the clichéd image of some guy jumping out from behind a tree to rape a strange woman).

Being a director and having suffered horror in your life time apparently excludes you from doing anything abhorrent yourself and/or the need to face consequences for that. Moreover, the girl was said to have looked mature for her age, to not have been a “virgin” anymore (don’t get me started on that concept and how it is used to make women feel guilty…) and that she and/or her mother had celebrity ambitions. No wonder, then, that he could not resist to intoxicate, drug and rape his victim. What would you have done, if not that? “Honeytrapped,” obviously…

Parallels can be easily drawn regarding the second most prominent case of rape accusation lately: Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange. Two Swedish women accused him of having sex with them a) against their will (that is: being asleep and then being awoken by Assange penetrating them) b) against their expressed condition of wearing a condom (which he did not). Again, Assange left the country before he could face consequences, and is since then in the UK, minding his own business, apparently.

Something interesting happened: All sorts of people from all sorts of points of view jumped to his defense with the most crude assumptions. His lawyers stated that the charge he was facing was the funny Swedish peculiarism of “sex by surprise” (which does not exist, btw); that “sex” with a sleeping person is obviously consensual, since s/he has consented before (and, apparently, that consent lasts until all eternity, no matter what state you are in). Alleged leftists and feminists like Naomi Wolf came to his rescue and accused the women of being fame-whores and the Swedish police of policing “dating problems.”

Moreover, the women were accused of actually being CIA spies who successfully “honeytrapped” Assange with their amazing sexuality, causing him to have a minor mishap that could eventually be exploited by the US waging a war and threatening death against the world’s most amazing dude who tells The Truth and thus damages the US’ Evil Cause. Finally, there were voices who assumed that he might have committed a crime, but one should handle that lightly, since we owe him for his initiative in political transparency (as Polanski is owed for his artistic talent).

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