The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do Women Yearn to be Tamed?

Not too long ago I was discussing the women’s movement with my older daughter. From her point of view that movement has done more harm than good to the family structure of America, and she yearns for the day when women can stay home and be mothers and wives again. Part of me agrees with her. I’ve spent some time trying to imagine what it must be like for girls her age ... to never have known pointed and hurtful sexism on a very personal level. To be thought of as second class citizens. To never have a credit score of your own. To be so dependent on a man that basic things, like owning a home, are beyond your reach. She has grown up knowing she could be anything she wants to be and all is possible for a girl. I am glad she has that, though I do recognize that now most women have to work outside the home, married or not, and that does hurt the structure of a healthy home-life for kids. For those who wanted to keep the idea of traditional womanhood alive, we have, for the most part, failed them.

I grew up fighting for the right to work and did my share of tough assignments. I was ‘first’ woman on several jobs, standing my ground through pickets, insults, and flying objects. I never thought about the real long haul of it, only about the moments when I knew I could do a job better than the guy standing over there. And I did my best, always.

My job for a long time was commercial illustration and product development (1990s - mid 2000’s). In that position I had to think about who decided on what to spend disposable income. It was generally understood that women held the pocket-book keys ... or, at least she’s the one men would have to persuade should he want a specific toy or treat for himself. And, most significantly, she was the one the children would bug until she caved. On one hand, it felt like developers believed women had a lot of power in the home. On the other, I understood very well that women were being profiled as a group, and we were evil bitches who didn’t want to be persuaded and fawned over. I kid you not, product development meetings really were all about how to trick a woman into parting with some money all while we adhered to the new politically correct thought control standards. We analyzed colour trends, marketable subject matter, style ... all things that made up a package for toys or food or whatever.

The idea that I participated in those meetings is really rather bizarre, when I think about it now. I worked for top international companies and my images generated hundreds of millions of dollars each year. I was sought after and held marketing secrets close to chest. I wore a hat that said, “Respect my authority”.  I wore soccer shorts and a Xena tee-shirt that read, “Chicks Kick Ass”. I had product developing men hit on me, and lesbians, too. It was a brutal job, really, and one I was somewhat happy to leave behind. But, even though it’s not my duty anymore, I still think about trends and look for marketing angles all the time. How we sell things says everything about who we are as a society. And with that in mind, I’ve been searching for vintage ads with the intention of sharing with my girl how women were viewed before. Old ads will tell very well why many young girls joined the women’s movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.

For example, look what the 1970s did to Levi jeans. It’s bad enough they pin-striped them, showing two Woody Allen-looking dorks standing in near super hero poses – what is that woman doing there?... in a bikini, to boot, nestled right between the leader of the pack's legs? She’s small and subservient, barely dressed, and looking ever so lustfully bashful. No doubt, men were in control when this ad was made. They could tell a woman what looked good and they knew how to dress to catch us. They also knew what to drive:

What about that nearly naked lustfully bashful gal that sits nestled between a fella’s legs?  She’s a spirited woman who’s yearning to be tamed.  Just like a Subaru. A man would feel pretty good knowing he could drive either one of these things home. But, he’s got to catch that gal’s attention first, reel her into the Subaru so he could take her home, or to a motel ...

Yes. What woman doesn’t like second hand skinny cigar smoke blown in her face? I know I’m getting all tingly just thinking about it. A puff in her direction and she will follow a fella anywhere. The only thing finer than smoke blown in your face is kissing an ash try and, frankly, I think they dropped the ball on this ad. She’s leaning into him, yes, yet her eyes are not rolling back in shear delight and anticipation. Because, you know, once that gal follows the smoke to the fella and then slides in beside him in the Subaru, taming can commence, with or without the motel room ... and that man is prepared:

Wow. I don’t even know what to say about this one. Women are slutty, always have been? We pack the diseases? We can’t resist any man? I think this ad was made especially for very optimistic men. I know I’ve met a lot of those in my life and, honestly, they never needed what this ad promotes ... they pack those things in their wallets just so other guys believe they tame the wild girls. Trust me, all you men reading, they don’t.

Normal fellas? They didn’t bother with the rain coats. They instead put on their most powerful scent. [And, why does this ad say at the lower bottom, left corner “Found in Mom’s Basement”? Does the shape of this bottle and that little remark imply what I think it implies? We women are really, REALLY, wild and sexual animals – so tame us!!]

I nearly lost my train of thought with this one ... sorry, it’s hard to keep my composure through this ... to re-cap, Levi’s are pressed (mom did it, in the basement), irrasistible scent is on, the fella hops in his Subaru and, while puffing his skinny cigar, makes haste for the nearest library. You know, that place where really wild single women work. It’s one of the only job gals are allowed to do.

He rescues the long legged lady from that bore of a job and soon becomes the center of her world, because there is one thing he knows ... he’ll always be hungry without her.

That’s a good reason to own a wife, don’t you think? The fella did dream long and hard about an alternative and that made him happy, but he is a realist in the end. It’s illegal to have two of them, after all, but a fella can dream even after he’s married.

Oh, yeah ... those ad makers dreamed ...

... and dreamed ...

and made us feel completely inadequate, weak, and stupid.

And the best thing he could do to pick up our spirits is ...

give us and our newborn some beer.

In the end, men remembered one rule that changed their world forever ...

Go figure ...

It’s important for young women to realize that we gals who supported and pushed for women’s rights weren’t people who wanted special treatment. We didn’t want to become men, nor did we wish to give up femininity or the option to choose a family life. We simply wanted to be recognized as equal people who are capable of many more things than we were allowed to do. We expected to have to prove ourselves, just as men did. And we wanted paid the same for equal work. We wanted to buy a house, or a car, or hold a credit card with our name. We wanted our own name. I wanted to be Olivia Schemanski, not Mrs. Christopher Schemanski. And, it’s not because I was ashamed of the man I married, I actually adore him. I just wanted my identity, too. But I never dreamed we would lose so much by gaining what we thought were reasonable rights. I think the world functions like a pendulum. We keep swinging to the extremes and I don’t think that's a very healthy way to be. Why can't we calm that pendulum?