The new misogyny, to the surprise of no one paying the slightest attention, is the same as the old misogyny in that it conveys the same tired old ideas about women, and women's bodies, and what those bodies should look like, and to whom they belong. But the new misogyny, hip to the counter-narratives devised by clever feminists who have exposed misogyny in media, sometimes has to sneak those messages into the marketplace of ideas. The new misogyny has taken a long look at the millions of women in whom the old misogyny has created a profound and lasting thirst for images of themselves in media, and it has delivered a tantalizing opiate for these masses—glimpses of fat women and/or women of color, behind whom the new misogyny hides its familiar refrains.
While we ooh and ahh at the magnanimity of the producers of women's products actually deigning to show maybe 3% (instead of the usual >1%) of the physical spectrum of womanhood—and no less under the auspices of a pro-woman campaign—the new misogyny creeps by undetected, hiding itself behind the unexpectedly included women. There, behind the big butts and the black girls, the new misogyny can safely reinforce the same shitty narratives about women, using the same divisive and exclusionary tactics that have pitted women against one another for years.
That is, when it's not putting directly into the mouths of those women negative messages about their bodies and experiences, delivered with a girlish smile or a self-deprecating laugh—messages that are certain to be drowned out by the grateful and celebratory applause of routinely ignored women and well-meaning allies who are quite understandably thrilled at the mere sight of women who look downright like them (or their wives, or mothers, or sisters, or friends).
Today, Blue Gal forwarded me this Playtex bra advert, which features "real" women talking sassily about what cutesy names they've given their breasts.
"What do I call them?"
"Boobs, breasts, knockers…"
"Are you asking me if I have a nickname for them?"
"It's a guy thing to name parts of your body!"
"Betty and Jane."
"I call them Lacey and Casey."
"It kinda rhymes, and they're kinda, ya know, my friends."
"Two baby boobs."
"They're my girls."
"I've been asked to shake the moneymakers on the subway a few times."
"The little girls that could."
"They're my best friends."
Wait just a minute. Back up for a second.
I've been asked to shake the moneymakers on the subway a few times?! Giggle giggle ha ha.
And that's exactly how smoothly and coolly the new misogyny can minimize the seriousness of sexual harassment.
The entire raison d'être for HollaBack NYC, HollaBack Chicago, HollaBack Boston, HollaBack San Francisco, HollaBack Seattle, HollaBack D.C., HollaBack Texas, HollaBack Pennsylvania, HollaBack Colorado, HollaBack Canada, and probably some I'm missing has been reduced in a bra ad being praised for its pro-woman messaging to a one-liner that treats the sexual objectification of a woman's breasts by a stranger as a compliment.
Fates help us all.
And speaking of sexual objectification, let us stop for a moment to consider the irony that this advert—and others in the series, like the grim "Happy Bra Dance" spot—are evoking positive reactions in women who are thrilled to finally see fat women and/or women of color sexually objectified. Yay! Go women's lib! Go civil rights! Go fat acceptance! Now we (not-all-that-) fat/brown chicks can dance in our bras on national television while sexist straight doodz debate who's the most fuckable, too!
If we're lucky, maybe once Joe Francis gets out of jail, he'll even do a Girls Gone Wild: Fatties on the Loose edition.
Then we'll know we've made it.
Now don't get me wrong—images of larger women and women of color leaving the cold darkness of Obscurity for the long march toward the warmer climes of Ubiquity is, naturally, A Good Thing. But if those images are ever presented within the perpetuity of misogynist messaging, and certainly if they're used as a Trojan horse for that messaging, it's impossible to regard them, to borrow Maura's term, as an unalloyed good.
Of course I want to see more images of fat women and women of color (and disabled women and dwarf women and birthmarked women and tattooed women and women of every shape, size, color, age, and circumstance). But I'll be damned if I want their presence used as a diversionary tactic while my skull is pounded with messages like "Breasts are toys!" and "Sexual harassment is flattering!" by companies who then expect me to genuflect in desperate gratitude because this something is ostensibly better than the nothing of the status quo.
It takes more to earn my applause.