International Women’s Day was just over one week ago. Most of the women I know, knew about it, but didn’t really seem to care much. Given that I live in a western European country that is not too surprising, since women here, in general do not have to deal with ongoing sexism. In my line of work, pay inequality based on gender would be so outrages, it just, would not happen. I do however find it sad that if we look back even 100 years ago, things were so different, that maybe the 8th of March should be taken more seriously given the fact that there is still so much gender inequality in so many sectors, religions, families and countries.
I would like to add a disclaimer right now however;
Please understand, I am aware of all forms of gender inequality, including those in the LGBT community, but I will only be focussing specifically on women. In addition to that, as this is a very serious issue in so many parts of the world still, my blog piece is going to focus more in passed issues than present ones. After a little reminder of the sexism we have come from, and how far, we as people have progressed, I feel that focussing entirely on the negative will arrive us at a moot state rather than anything else.
Therefore this article will focus on random comical, ridiculous, and now, shocking advertisements featuring women. Everything from cigarette adverts, fashions, weight issues, women’s suffrage and so on.
My hope is that by the end of this article, March 8th 2016 will be a date that stands out to you rather than a date that is taken for granted.
The very first International Women’s Day was held as early as 1909, which actually surprised me. I had assumed it was something that only began after World War One, since that is when women seemed to finally get the point across that they were able to do more than what was previously thought. It was organised, in New York by the Socialist Party of America in memory of the International Ladies’ Garment Union strike that was held in 1908. For many years after that however, International Women’s Day became a lot like Mother’s Day, where women were appreciated, but let’s be honest, in a condescending, rather than a truly appreciative way.
This advert for Lucky Strike cigarettes is aimed at women. The text in the advert saying, to take all things in moderation, even smoking, but to be careful, because unless you want your figure to be that of the dark grey shadow, reaching for a “Lucky” will keep you from that disaster. The minute I saw this advert, my mouth dropped open. Not only because obviously we all know the health risks of smoking, but to advertise it in a way to keep oneself slim is simply ludicrous (now).
This one really had me seething. Obviously, before a mechanism was invented to help with sharpening pencils, women were completely incapable of doing so. No doubt, men kept up whittling down their pencils to prove their manliness. I think not. It is the suggestion, that had a pencil sharpener not been invented, women would have always had to rely on a man to do this. Of course, at the time, this advert was directed towards our fine gender because the general female workforce was made up of administrators, nurses and teachers: pencils being a very useful utensil, at home and at work.
“Show her it’s a man’s world” and “Women don’t leave the Kitchen”
Now, for me it makes absolutely no difference that the first advert is actually for men’s ties, and the second is for a restaurant. No matter which way you look at it the first shows a woman, on her knees serving her husband breakfast in bed, like the champ he is, because he is wearing a Van Heusen tie, and the second states that if you’re unluckily not married yet, then you will not be fed. That is right, unmarried men,would starve without this type of restaurant, because only a woman can cook for you. (Aren’t the best chef’s in the world predominantly men? Something men love to boast now… ironic.) Women, do not leave their kitchens so how else will you eat a meal if unmarried, why of course, by going to Hardees restaurant! The sexism just screams out of these adverts.
What I wish is that I had the perspective of a woman who lived through the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, to know how they felt about those adverts at the time, and how they feel about them now, looking back. I would love to know.
These two adverts must be my favourites however. Oh how times have changed and evolved. The first is not a sexual object. Or at least was not meant to be. It was designed to vibrate, yes, but for every part of the body suffering from aches and pains. Little did the creator realise, that not only with it’s phallic shape, and as we know the raging sexism of what sex was, this would soon, indeed, become one of women’s most favoured objects of relaxation and fulfilment, where no man could do the job.
This second advert made me smile at the irony of how much has changed in respect to weight. Unfortunately the advert is still about pleasing men. “Men wouldn’t look at me when i was skinny” is the tagline. So, of course, this is a way to gain weight in order to look good enough to snag yourself a man. That part, I find sad, of course.
Though, what I find refreshing about the advert, is how we are now at the other end of the spectrum, where the only adverts these days are about how to lose weight and get skinnier as fast as possible.
I feel we have come a very long way as women. For myself, I do want to look good for my boyfriend, but in fact, when it comes to fashion, beauty and brains, my biggest competition are other women. My inspiration comes from them. The saying goes now that “women dress for women” and it’s true. Sometimes out of competition, and sometimes out of admiration. As far as intelligence goes, I never feel that a man is more intelligent or capable than I am simply because he is a man, I am rational. If my talent lies in modern history, I do not pretend to be an expert in ancient philosophy, but this is not a sign of capability.
There is no doubt that we still, globally speaking live in a male dominated world, but that is changing every day. It is not only due to the work of women proving themselves but also due to numerous other types of inequalities that have had light shed on them. Racism, homophobia, religious prejudice, tattoo discrimination, disability discrimination and the list goes on. What is important to realise is that no one is capable of doing everything. Everyone has their vulnerabilities, but what we have in common is that we are all human beings, inhabiting this earth. If we all add what we can, instead of discriminating against others for pointless reasons such as gender (or any other such silly reason) we only hold ourselves back.
My final say is what inspired this piece. A friend of mine shared this Facebook post (it’s in Flemish, sorry) with me, right before International Women’s Day this year. The Oxfam Bookshop in Leuven, had decided that their best way to commemorate the day, was to give out free manicures. The complete living up to the stereotype, especially by a Human Rights Organisation such as Oxfam shocked me so much, I felt I had to at least write something.