Thursday, June 29, 2006

Vicky Vengeance v. Victoria's Secret

One of my favorite bands of all time, Sleater-Kinney, announced they are breaking up a couple days ago and officially broke my heart a little. If you aren't familiar with their uncompromising feminist attitude and unbelievably kick ass music, I strongly recommend you find a CD of theirs and give it a listen.

First off I want to give you some context for this post and then we'll get going on some healthy ranting. The first major protest that second wave feminists put on was of the Miss America pageant in 1968. It was the first time second wave feminists stepped into the media spotlight crowning a sheep Miss America and throwing bras, makeup, high heels etc. into a "freedom trash can" to show that the pageant was demeaning to women and celebrated a vision of womanhood the ladies in attendance were sick and tired of. While some people thought the tactics they used were a little too rough around the edges and spur of the moment, it made many women realize they weren't alone out there in their frustration.

Flash forward thirty years and the Miss America pageant is out of business and off network TV, although there are still a lot of rumors about it's future. Many people have sited that feminist protest as a major reason for it's steady decline in popularity, but I think the cause is much bigger than that and it illustrates very well the general cultural shift that's taken place since second wave's heyday.

You may notice that the same network that carried Miss America now televises a yearly Victoria's Secret Fashion Show special that plays to millions upon millions of viewers. You'll see no competition for educational scholarships or questions testing the women's intelligence or talent during the Victoria's Secret show. Instead of the evening gown frills, the crown and scepter, we've been handed million dollar diamond encrusted bras (I don't know about you, but OUCH keep the sharp things away from my breasts please), angel wings, and oodles of flesh. This progression serves as an interesting mirror of how America has digested and distorted the messages of feminism through the years. Instead of being shackled to your husband and children, dressed up in a notion of femininity dependent on being, well, dependent, passive, pleasant, and dutiful, you've now earned a thong and stilletos and an encouragement to use your sexuality to get what you want, be aggressive, be emotionally estranged and uncommitted. After all, it's worked for the boys for such a long time.

But wait, my massive metaphor (about to collapse under its own weight any minute now!) goes further! You might be pleased to find out that there are in fact people protesting the Victoria's Secret fashion shows and their stores all over America. Huzzah! But it's not a feminist group who is running these protests my friends, it's an environmentalist one.

Before I go a bit further with my critique I'm going to go ahead and slap a big disclaimer up right the hell now. If you're skimming this, STOP! READ THIS before you comment:
I am aware of the existence and awesomeness of eco-feminism. I think environmentalism is an extremely important, necessary, bad ass movement on many levels. I also understand how environmentalism often impacts third world women and just women in general in a big, big way. There is plenty of room for overlap and coalition-building between movements here and I understand that protests have to set their sights on practical, achievable goals. The End.

Continuing on, a group called ForestEthics is the one who has been picketing Victoria's Secret under the oh so scandalous campaign name, "Victoria's Dirty Secret." Apparently VS is the number one catalog distributor of non-recycled paper sending out millions of catalogs a day. As far as I can tell from their website, which I encourage you to check out for yourself, the main goal of this campaign is to get VS to switch to recycled paper. To be fair, they do list reducing paper use altogether along with their other demands, all of which focus on using more sustainable, less damaging types of paper.

Call me a bad sport, but calling for VS to change the paper they use seems a little ridiculous to me. Given the close analogy I see between Miss America and VS, I find it extremely disheartening to know they aren't being protested because their catalogs totally objectify women and turn, not only trees, but WOMEN, into easily consumable products in the capitalist machine. While I understand that environmentalism is the primary focus of this group, that doesn't mean the feminist dimension of this campaign couldn't or shouldn't be taken into account.

If a racist organization who featured broad racist images and stereotypes in their material was the number one catalog distributor in the country, people would be extremely pissed off if the main demand of ForestEthics was for them to switch to recycled paper because that demand trivializes the larger weight of what that corporation is promoting. It's less about which cause you choose to prioritize, environmentalist or feminist, and more about the fact that this should clearly be a feminist issue on many levels and this organization is not only ignoring that, but implying that it doesn't matter to begin with. Replacing the paper VS uses isn't going to change anything about the sexism they promote with their millions of catalogs and further, although I would be happy about the trees being saved, if this campaign is successful I can't stand to think about the news stories and press releases congratulating them on what a great company they are for being green friendly.

I also like how this activist group has chosen to use the images of women and men wearing lingerie (because what's more ugly and absurd than a man in a woman's clothing?) to promote their campaign. It reminds me of those infamous PETA ads, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" featuring a host of naked supermodels to promote animal rights. It's not as extreme as those ads were and I understand that these ads are meant to be amusing parodies of Victoria's Secret ads, but it seems to me that using a very thin, scantily clad woman in your advertisements is still using patriarchal tactics to draw attention to and support for the campaign. In using men in lingerie to be funny and provocative, I also see hints of both sexism and transphobia.

Here's my idea for reducing the amount of paper AND sexist waste products that are out there right now. According to Wikipedia, Playboy has a distribution of at least 3 million. That's 3 million magazines being sent out every month with a higher page count than the Victoria's Secret catalogs and that is only one pornographic magazine of hundreds. How about we protest Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, and every other porn mag that is not only destroying natural resources, but hurting both men and women on a daily basis by eroding our capacity for positive sexual connections?


Anonymous rhondda said...

While both nature and women are exploited by the patriarchy, it seems that some feminists are so concerned by the label essentialist that they will not make the logical connections. I don't think feminists ever said that women were nature. That was a patriarical concept in Christian theology, but the accusation has stuck. I do think we all need to reassess our relationship to nature and that we do take it for granted. It becomes something to use, just like women are used. That is the intellectual concept. The patriarchy shits in the nest and expects women and "nature" to clean it up. Well, it seems that perhaps women should take a clue from nature and say no. Afterall, global warming will clean the nest efficiently and thoroughly. The paper thing is just one reductionist excuse that is easily dismissed by the powers that be.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Excellent, EXCELLENT post, Vicky!
Interesting that: What would seem as a win for feminism, the slow plummet of Miss America type shows, really has become worse, hasn't it, with that Victoria's Secret shit.

The men and women in the ads: Right. The man looks funny, silly, not sexy, not a victim. The woman looks "sexy," not funny.

It was bad enough when PETA et al seemed to have an "animals before women" attitude.
Now trees too seem more important than women.

Not quite awake -- sorry for the rambling comment.

1:50 AM  
Blogger spotted elephant said...

This constant use of women in the environmental movement has really made me change my identification. Most (yes, there are ecofeminists) greens will willingly step on women to achieve their goals.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Pippa said...

Fabulous post! Yes i too have noticed that the greens (of which I used to be one.) will trample on women if it suits. BTW: I JUST cottoned on to SleaterKinney and now they are splitting?! Typical. I got some of their music on a mix CD in the great feminist music swap. I love it. Cheers, Pippa x

1:18 AM  
Anonymous GeT a LiFe said...

Todays world for woman is all about choice.The western world provides freedom for females. Why are you complaining? Thanks to older generations of woman we live in a better world, but how can you forget the millions upon millions of woman suffering in third world countries. Do you even care? These victoria secret woman have the right to choose to model for that company, just as we all have the right to buy the clothes or read the catalogue. Whats with thinking we are better than the enviroment? Without it we wouldnt even exist. There are billions of us but if we keep exploiting the earth everything will be majorly affected. What is with the U.S and not recycling?! I have a friend who recycles there and she is seen as crazy and a hippie.WTF? So caring is seen as being a retard over there. I'm so glad i live in N.Z where we care about the world we live in and support all woman and their choices.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved your blogspot! ^_^
nice post!!!!!!!!!!!!


7:35 AM  
Blogger javieth said...

Oh, i love victoria´s secret fashion, i think it have the most beautiful collection in clothes, perfume or make up, it drive me crazy!!! I like the fragance and my boyfriend love it, specially because he need to be stimulated this days. Actually i buy viagra for him, he have had some problems, but i am sure we’ll solve it.

8:48 AM  

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