Objectification 1970s Style

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Feminism, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I am going to show my age here, but I remember this grafitti. It could be that the photo was in a feminist journal/book, a few years after the actual ad came out so I may not be quite as old as that Fiat Palio. But this is definitely a snapshot of the 1970s feminism I do remember from my childhood.

The text of the ad reads: ‘if it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched’. This is quite clever objectifying language. The car is an ‘it’ but in anthropomorphising it into a ‘lady’, the ‘object’ of the sentence remains, so the woman is presented as an ‘it’.

The graffiti in response says: ‘if this lady was a car she’d run you down’.

I thought the graffiti was funny when I saw it as a kid. But then I was a girl trained in the art of feminist ‘humour’. My Mum’s friend had a badge with that statement ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ on. I probably laughed at the time. Now I just think ‘you what?’

But, after discussing TubeCrush in the last post and the way men’s objectification has arguably taken over women’s in our culture, I remembered this ad and the angry graffiti scrawled on it.

Suddenly I find the feminist retort: ‘if this lady was a car she’d run you down’ a bit chilling. It’s a naff sexist allusion to pinching an attractive woman’s bum, which contributes to that annoying thing where cars and ships and other vehicles are feminised as ‘she’, as men’s ‘playthings’.

But the response is suggesting that a woman who is the butt of sexist humour would  ‘run you down’ in a car. A violent image that suggests the anger feminist women were expressing all over my life in the 1970s. An anger that I was taught was righteous, and based on centuries of oppression by men. So I barely noticed it here.

Maybe I am being too critical. Maybe it is just a clever play on words, to match the clever play on words used by the admen. But it is worth remembering that in the 1970s, some feminists were also involved in activities such as burning down Sex Shops,  reading the SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) and taking seriously the ‘eugenics’ advocated by women such as Mary Daly:

What Is Enlightenment (Susan Bridle): Which brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article “The FutureIf There Is OneIs Female” writes: “At least three further requirements supplement the strategies of environmentalists if we were to create and preserve a less violent world. 1) Every culture must begin to affirm the female future. 2) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture. 3) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race.” What do you think about this statement?

Mary Daly: I think it’s not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

If it were a lady it’d get its bottom pinched. If it were a man, it might be castrated (or worse)!

Comments
  1. Alex says:

    As a man I wholeheartedly endorse a society where women outnumber us nine to one.

  2. Alex says:

    Sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team. Can you imagine how powerful we’d be if we were only 10% of the population? Less even considering some of us would be gay and largely uninterested in our frustrated spinster overlords?

    Anyway, you wouldn’t necessarily have to kill everyone off. Just adjust birth rates or something. Using technology or Muslamic ray guns or something.

    • Kendall says:

      I doubt you’d be getting laid too often in Mary Daly’s utopia Alex. In her book Quintessence the non-lesbian women are zapped out of existence by elemental feminist psychic energy along with the patriarchal men.

      In Daly’s dream of the future women reproduce through parthenogenesis (using eco-feminist magic rather than the phallocratic necrophile technology of course), making men obsolete.

  3. Alex says:

    I’m also failing to see the direct connection between attempts to breed out maleness and attempts to exterminate other undesirables.

    Attempts to stamp out homosexuality, prostitution and so on are, basically, attempts to stamp out a practice, not a type of human, while the attempt to make Jews extinct was based on the idea that there was no need for them anyway. Exterminations are not quite so easily comparable (it’s why I don’t like calling anti-gay violence “genocidal”, or that Hari sidesplitter “homo-cidal”), and besides that, it’s not an extermination.

    This 10% population control thing is weird, not to mention unworkable enough to make a very good joke, but being based on a very structured, Brave New World vision of restructuring reproduction, it’s different at its core. It’s creepy in the sense that all utopian, technocratic visions like this are, but comparisons with 20th century eugenics are lazy.

  4. Alex says:

    You’re implying a causality which isn’t there in what she says:
    “If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth” does not necessarily refer to XYers. In fact, the phrase “I think this will be accompanied by” pretty much makes it clear that the contaminants are something other then men, except possibly in the sense of “mankind”. Especially as she mentions “an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males” – the agency with this change is not Daly’s and this is a side-effect.

    Daly isn’t proposing an extermination of men, possibly not even some kind of sci-fi selective-breeding jobby. She’s saying 10% Mannism will be a byproduct of whatever other grown-in-vats vision she has.

    • are you basing that on having read Daly’s work alex or just this one quote?

      Because I have and I disagree with your interpretation.
      P.s. I am not ‘lazy’ in my thinking I don’t need any put downs today. thanks.

  5. Alex says:

    More to the point, what actually is “species responsibility”. Who is our responsibility to fuck, sprogdrop, fuck and sprogdrop again actually to?

  6. feel free to go and read Mary Daly in full. Knock yourself out.

    Disingenuous means dishonest. Twisting information for your own ends. I think you were saying I was being disingenuous. But I wasn’t.

  7. Alex says:

    No, that wasn’t it. What’s the word for when someone makes reasonable-seeming comparisons that oversimplify the issue somewhat? Miscomparicious? Godwinarious? That one, anyway.

  8. redpesto says:

    FYI:

    1 – I think the photo ended up in a collection called Spray It Loud by Jill Posener

    2 – Posener subsequently ended up as a photographer for On Our Backs, the first (contemporary) lesbian porn mag by, for and featuring actual lesbians

    3 – Posener went on to co-edit a book of lesbian erotic photography with Susie Bright

    Oh, the irony.

    PS: QRG – Like TubeCrush, running down men in motor cars is okay as men are always and everywhere so powerful that they clearly wouldn’t feel a thing. They are so armoured with privilege they cannot actually be destroyed, short of melting them down for scrap like a T-1000.

    (As for Daly, was ‘Herland’-style utopian fantasies of a male-free universe part and parcel of a 1970s feminism that feminists simultaneously keep tapping into and disowning when it gets too mainstream/emabarssing?)

    • Thanks great 70s lesbo-feminist info there!

      I am not sure what irony you are commenting on- is it the irony that lesbians make pornography? ;D

      I think you mean the irony of a rad fem ‘separatist’ working with a sex-positive feminist at one point.

  9. AlekNovy says:

    My Mum’s friend had a badge with that statement ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ on

    The funny part is men (as a group) have called on this bluff. It’ll take 20-30 years before it settles down, but there will be some transitional pain, as men are calling “strong women” on this bluff.

  10. redpesto says:

    The latter: there are loads of little and big stories of women who did the anti-porn politics thing until they either noticed that it wasn’t the collection of ‘snuff’ they’d believe or they started wondering :’Hang on, where’s the stuff that makes me horny?’ Just as Dworkin couldn’t ‘fit’ gay male porn into her ‘violence against women’ narrative without ‘feminising’ one of the men, she couldn’t/wouldn’t acknowledge that lesbians might be a wee bit fed up with having their sexuality misrepresented in ‘straight’ porn, and choose to make something sexy for and about themselves. Sadly, it looks like we’re going to have to go over all that ground (yet) again.

    • It does. But I am afraid I am not very happy with the ‘sex positive’ feminists either, and they are not very happy with me! This is a bigger conversation/subject and I will write another post on my issues with ‘sex positive’ feminism. But it’s great to have some perspective on those 1970s days! I was there but was just a kid!

  11. redpesto says:

    I wasn’t there either, but I was lucky to find the articles/books that helped me side with the ‘sex positive’ writers (for want of a better term). I suspect a lot of contemporary activists haven’t.

  12. M.Lives says:

    You do realize that the term feminist is highly objective and means nothing more and nothing less than the belief that the genders are equal, right?

    As for going after low-hanging fruit like Mary Daly and ’70s fringe lunacy (and it WAS on the fringe and certainly doesn’t even begin to enter the consciousness of what is generally called feminism today, particularly since third wave feminism generally realizes that equality must be inter-sectional and include attacking transphobia (meaning that it’s fairly likely you will never see any kind of calls for the castration you claim would appear if it suggested it was male, since it’s pretty clear there’s more to gender and inequality than genitals) and promoting sex positivity (including rights for sex workers and the “yes means yes” ethos of a healthy, happy sex life).

    Finally, if you do really and truly believe that the continued objectification of women as a whole is in anyway comparable to the objectification of men as a whole, you might as well fall into the camp claiming that it’s not fair that there isn’t a “White History Month” or “Straight Pride” parades. And I do have to wonder, how exactly is the graffiti artist’s flip response “anti-male”? It’s anti-objectification of women, surely (and with a humorous hyperbole: I think we can say with fair certainty that the defacer of such an ad is not about to brutally murder someone simply because she was sexually harassed, let alone brutally murder someone because she was objectified; after all, the graffiti is a response to the billboard’s suggestion of bottom-pinching rather than just objectification) but to read it as “misandry” and even quote fringe groups that claim to be for extermination of men is out and out absurd to the point of a deliberate misreading.

    I’m always kind of fascinated by the women that speak out against feminism (Ann Coulter, Phyllis Schlafly) when it is feminists who have fought for their right to a platform on which to air their views.

  13. […] We are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat . […]

  14. […] enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat […]

  15. […] When we talk about the indecent assault we are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat. […]

  16. […] were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched” – that one clever woman vandalised with the words “if this lady was a car she’d run you down”. You rarely see such things these days, but the art of subvertising is alive and well on the […]

  17. […] enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat […]

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