February 2010


Misogyny Gone Wild, Part One of ???

Because of a recent discussion on Heather in Europe, I’ve suddenly started thinking about misogyny.

Until the debate appeared I never really thought about the word before, and so I found myself consulting the dictionary to find the exact definition of misogynist – which, as an adjective, means “reflecting or inspired by hatred of women”.

Before we proceed I want to be perfectly and unambiguously clear about the definition because I felt that that it was ignored on Heather’s blog, so I will repeat it:

Misogynist, as an adjective, means
reflecting or inspired by hatred of women.

Honestly, I’m not really done with the debate on Heather’s blog, but I’m not really clear how to focus my argument at this time in a way that’s coherent and clear. Instead I am going to take a small bite off here because after returning to Weimar I was grocery shopping at a local REWE where I found this cardboard standup of a woman selling vegetables for children (“Kindergemüse”).

Benign or not?

Normally I wouldn’t have given this a second thought because I don’t normally notice this kind of advertising. I’m not in the market for children’s vegetables and I just do not normally notice women selling stuff in advertising. I’m not wired that way (something I often poke fun of), but because of the discussion on Heather’s blog, I noticed it and wondered: is it misogynistic? Is it sexist? Is it racist? Is it homophobic? Is it anti-Semitic?

Given the German context it’s probably not racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic, but that left me wondering if it was misogynistic or sexist.

In my view the answer to both is no, mainly because it is aimed at women. I say this because I assume that in Germany the vast majority of people shopping for food for children are women. We could question whether or not this is culturally systemic sexism problem or not, but that’s outside the scope of discussing this particular advertisement.

That said, even if it is misogynistic or sexist by somebody else’s standard, it’s a relatively mild form. I doubt it would inspire a non-sexist or misogynistic male to suddenly install a glass ceiling that prevents women from getting promoted to the highest possible position. I doubt it would encourage somebody who doesn’t say or think sexist things to suddenly become misogynistic or sexist. At worst, people who are already misogynistic or sexist might find this cardboard cutout vaguely reaffirming.

Now if you can provide me research that proves my thinking about this subject is wrong, I’ll gladly and happily reassess my thinking patterns. However this research needs to be real scientific research, not somebody saying that they find it personally offensive. I want to know that a statistically significant proportion of the population is negatively affected by this kind of representation of women.

Another front where some concern might originate is over the objectification of women—which the cardboard cutout at REWE might very well be—but I don’t think objectification in and of it self is dangerous or bad.

Just because I love men, doesn't mean I hate women.

I readily admit to objectifying men: I have calendars of shirtless men in my apartment and I drool over particularly nice samples of men. I think it’s just who I am, and telling me that objectifying men is wrong runs counter to my very genetics and I would readily argue that complaining about hetero-men objectifying women runs counter to hetero-male genetics. And, quite frankly, I’m fine with hetero-women objectifying men and homo-women objectifying women. Whatever floats your boat—as long as the objectification is respectful or by choice: I don’t go up and drool over the men I see in public, and the men in my calendars are in my calendars because they chose to be models.

Therefore I feel that just because something’s crass or rude doesn’t mean that it reflects or is inspired by hatred of women I think it’s unfair and inaccurate to immediately slap the label “misogynistic” on it.

20 comments to Misogyny Gone Wild, Part One of ???

  • Well said, Adam. Really, the Heather in Europe flap was such a joke. I mean seriously, all it was a little cartoon egg saying an obvious pun on an egg carton. Why anyone would read hatred of women into it I’ll never know.

  • Jul

    “Now if you can provide me research that proves my thinking about this subject is wrong, I’ll gladly and happily reassess my thinking patterns.”

    Here’s where you lost me. It’s all well and good that you want to think about feminist issues, and I encourage you to continue to challenge yourself to learn and grow. But tell me, is your current thinking all based on scientific findings? Did a research project lead you to conclude that this image has no negative effect on women? Of course not. Your current ideas are based on what you admit is not very much thought about the topic at all. It’s ridiculously arrogant of you to assume that your musings to date have led you to a truth so solid that only science itself could possibly lead you to doubt these beliefs.

    And you’re basically saying that you don’t really give a shit about other people’s beliefs and what led them there, even if they’ve been thinking about the topic a lot longer than you have, or if they have a different point of view to bring to the discussion. I understand why you’re feeling inclined to do this – I’ve seen the lack of logic and reason in the argument between you and G on the egg post, and I see why you would want to preempt her from continuing such blather here. But if you’re going to bother to write this big bad post on the subject, why not be open to hearing what others have to say? Otherwise this post just comes across as you wanting to get in the last word on the egg laying discussion. And I already declared you the winner of that one, so now you’re just wasting your time. 😛

    • You are absolutely right with your criticism.

      Mainly I am trying to prevent an off the cuff remark–and make sure that the definition of misogyny is not overlooked. I have the feeling that the true definition has been overlooked because somebody wants to feel offended and so the word is thrown out there without actually being understood.

    • Contrary to what Adam said, you are, of course, wrong Jul ;).

      EVERYTHING -IS- science, not just what people do in lab coats. “Science itself” can be a randomized, double-blind sample that allows you to assess what people think about sexism – without your own ideas tainting the example.

      This is the spirit that led Adam to demand a scientific study. Not “arrogance” in wanting BIG BAD authorities to shake his beliefs – he simply wanted data that is objectively TRUE and not ANYBODY’S opinion.

      Which ties quite nicely into your last paragraph:
      SCIENCE gives a shit at how people arrived at their opinions, it only cares if they match observable reality or not. That’s why science is great and personal opinions worthless when discussing an issue. No matter how anybody arrived at these opinions.

      • Jul

        Wow, Markus, you make about as much sense as G does in that ‘getting laid’ thread. Adam’s opinions are not scientific, no one is talking about big bad authorities, and if you think personal opinions are so worthless then why don’t you keep yours to yourself?

  • This is just a guess, but I’d be willing to bet that Jul is an American. Which kind of proves the point I was going to make about it depending on which country in which one sees this cardboard sign.

    • Jul

      Dude, not only can you predict my nationality, but you can also read my mind? I haven’t told you what I think about the cardboard sign, but I’d love to hear what you think I think about it.

  • G

    Here you go, Adam. Scroll to “Male privilege” at the bottom.

    It’s good to know that you can decide for me where my view of the difference between sexism that is “only” sexism becomes a type of misogyny.

    Then, if you care, you can note that the type of objectification you are showing is now illegal in Spain, before 10 pm on TV, because it has been shown, scientifically, to hurt women, girls and the people who care about their roles in society.

    And maybe spend a few minutes googling Feminism 101, if you care.

    • I’ve encountered that list before, only framed in terms of heterosexual versus homosexual. I think the list is an amusing thought provoking thing, but, ultimately it doesn’t really mean anything.

      I still believe that you don’t understand the definition of misogyny is, so I will repeat it here:

      “reflecting or inspired by hatred of women”

      Presuming, of a second, the list of male privilege questions has some truth to it (and some points do, but not all), few actually reflect or are inspired by a hatred of women. Maybe points 21 and 22, with 22 being “If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.” — That is, at worst, sexist–in my book. Misogynists are likely to suggest you’re a bad driver because you’re a woman, but so are sexist individuals.

      I’ll grant that there is sexism out there, and it’s probably in a lot of places — but I think that the frau selling veggies is a mild form, at worst, and it’s not misogynistic.

      As for Spain and its banning of objectification before children go to bed – parents should be controlling what their children see on television, not the government.

    • Actually I want to clarify the Spain point a bit: could you please provide a link to something that substantiates your claim that in Spain it is illegal to objectify men (or, I presume, women) before 10pm on television.

      My quick Google searches are not turning anything relevant up. I might not be searching the right terms, so if you can provide a direct link, that would be great.

  • I think it’s a little sexist, but not miogyny. That said, what woman really wears heels and a dress to make dinner? Blah.

  • I completely agree with everything you said on the topic.

    And I’d like to throw in the thought that this display could very well be a (sort of) tongue-in-cheek play on the good old Hausfrau stereotype, Mother of All Sexism.

  • Reko

    Assuming the definition of “misogynist” that Adam quotes, it seems to me that it is a rather complicated matter to determine whether a comment or representation is in fact misogynist. This is because the definition depends on the psychological state of the source. I am not disputing for a second that there are many verbal and graphic representations which very strongly suggest hostility toward women or at the very least casual disregard for women’s health or well-being. However, it also seems to me that there also many statements about or depictions of women that do not immediately reveal the attitudes of their creators. Take the cardboard advertisement. I could easily imagine a creator who intended this to be an attractive, positive representation. I could imagine a creator who thought that it depicted a woman whose choice of Iglo frozen vegetables was wise because her children would enjoy eating something healthy. But maybe the creator meant to depict a “clever” woman finding a short-cut to get her children to eat some kind of vegetables, even though it would be healthier for the children to eat fresh, locally produced vegetables. Is the woman dressed this way because the creator finds this clothing to reflect self-respect, or because the creator believes that women should dress in a particular way that certain men will find attractive, because it suggests submission? Is the cardboard intended to be taken “literally” or as a parody of depictions from the 1950s and 1960s? I am not denying each viewer’s “right” to an opinion and to complain (or not buy Iglo foods) if he or she is offended by the advert. But I’m hesitant to ascribe motives (other than the desire to sell frozen vegetables) to the creator of the cardboard.

  • Michele J

    I’d just like to point out that this is not just “a woman” but Verona Pooth nee Feldbusch, who is considered a Werbeikone/advertising icon in Germany (god help us). She’s been advertising for Iglu spinach for years now, and the look is part of her schtick I would say.

    Not that it’s not sexist (“what’s wrong with being sexy?”) I think it promotes certain stereotypes that feeding/caring for children is women’s work and we should look babelicious doing it. And god forbid women emulate Verona – she’s dumber than a doornail. But I think it’s important to consider the cultural context and references. It’s like getting wound up about Dita von Teese or Betty Crocker.

  • I could never imagine this standup could produce such a big debate. When I saw this in REWE for the first time I just noticed how bad the photoshop work was done. That woman is a bad tanned Bree Van de Kamp.

  • And yes, this display IS tongue in cheek.

    For everyone tuned into German Pop culture:
    The “model” is Verona Pooth, ex-wife of Dieter Bohlen. She’s actually a fashion designer, but has a reputation of being quite a Ditz… perfect for the “Hausfrau”-stereotype that cannot be advertised with (seriously) anymore.

    So yes, Iglo goes with the whole tongue-in-cheek-thing, since no serious advertiser would put ANY woman into that dress in the first place (I know, I am one ;).

  • Thank you to the three of you (one privately) who told me who the frozen model is: Verona Pooth nee Feldbusch.

    I’m sufficiently out of touch with German pop culture that I have never heard of her before, and I have never (knowingly) seen an image of her before. As I observed above, I’m consistently oblivious to this kind imagery. I might have even walked past it a dozen times before the debate came up and never noticed it, but this time it caught my eye and I felt compelled to take a picture and think about it.

    There are two main reasons I don’t notice this kind of thing: First, I don’t notice too much advertising in general. I actually tune it out — I can read an entire newspaper (New York Times, The Economist, or Indianapolis Star News) and never notice a single advertisement. I just don’t see or read them that often. Secondly, she’s a girl. Now this does not come from a place of sexism or misogyny, but I just do not notice women. If it was a male model holding it, I would notice it — but this is because I’m gay an I’m wired that way.

    When it comes to work, friends, and the rest, I do notice women and I do talk to them and I like talking to them. It’s often easier to talk to women than men. (Probably, in part, because I am gay.)

    When I was a teacher, early on I noticed that I learned the names of my male students much more quickly than my female students — and as soon as I realized that I took corrective action and I would actually take photographs of all my students, crop them and create flashcards. The first three or four weeks of the semester I would study my flashcards, play games, and do everything I could do to learn all of my students names, female and male. I struggle with names (even with men), so this was a huge challenge to me, but I did the best that I could and I worked at it.

  • B.

    Personally I’m a big fan of getting laid. That said, there seems to be a lot of sanctimonious jockeying both on this thread and the original post.

    My husband is a breast enthusiast who doesn’t limit his appreciation to just mine. Yet in no way do I view him as a misogynistic pig waiting to pounce on poor, unsuspecting females. Likewise, I have a good friend who was nearly date raped in college… as a result, she detests anything that glorifies casual sexuality. But I don’t think that makes her an uptight prude.

    I say live and let live; differing opinions, when approached objectively, broaden our horizons. Now let’s all pat each other on the butts, say ‘good game’ and hit the showers. Oh wait, that was sexist of me, wasn’t it….

    • Thanks B! I’ll admit that I’ve been over the top, but I am only trying to match in tone and pitch G’s approach. Off the top of my head she’s swung wildly and ranted about things on three different blogs about things which are either mildly amusing or mildly offensive–perhaps sexist or racist.

      I’ve learned a lot as a result of this debate and I will have a summary post tomorrow.