- Category: New York Women's Liberation
Written by Nino, Outreach Chair of National Women’s Liberation – NY Chapter
As little girls, we exchanged stickers with our friends and tattooed them onto notebooks, desks, and walls; as women, we use them to push back against male supremacy. “This Oppresses Women” stickers, first printed in 1969 and now revived from the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archive, provoke conversations on how women are misrepresented in advertisements and other media. This dialogue is important in continuing a women’s liberation movement that encourages the participation of everyday people. We believe that it is us everyday people who make positive social change—not the courts, media, or celebrities. The freedom women have now was won by movements of women organizing and fighting for change.
The stickers aren’t about shaming women who engage in beauty practices or models who make a living from the beauty industry. This conversation isn’t about whether beauty empowers or oppresses. Instead, it’s about recognizing that women have real reasons to look a certain way, and are not “brainwashed” into doing beauty work. We understand the rewards for looking and acting conventionally pretty and feminine, especially when it comes to finding jobs or partners. And when we don’t conform to convention, we’re deemed “tom-boys,” “lazy,” “unprofessional,” “not really women,” or “different.” In this way, even women who avoid beauty practices are affected by advertisements that reinforce oppressive beauty standards to men and the society at large. Moreover, advertising first makes us feel deficient so it can sell us wholeness. One marketing firm has suggested that beauty businesses advertise their postings on Monday mornings, when women, according to their study, feel least attractive. Our vulnerabilities are calculated and exploited.
While some people are not personally bothered or affected by sexist advertising, we all still live in a society where men are encouraged to think of women as objects. In advertisements geared toward men, women become accessories to beers, cars, and other products; they become a part of the package of what is being sold. We are bombarded with images of women in sexy, servile positions. This has real, tangible consequences for women, who are portrayed as servile sex objects in advertisements and consequently treated like servile sex objects on the street, being cat-called, groped, and assaulted. Some men are genuinely surprised women don’t like this because of the distorted way women are portrayed in ads. Until sexist advertisements are taken seriously, women will continue to face the consequences of the advertisements, from sexual harassment to limited career opportunities.
Advertisements geared to sell products to women are also created “for” men because they make them feel relatively powerful; they suggest to everyday men that women are spending time and money decorating themselves for male viewing pleasure. This message creates a false sense of camaraderie between everyday men and corporate leaders that ultimately fails the former and distracts them from joining with women to tackle systematic issues of social and economic stratification: the Pew Research Center reports the last time income inequality was as high as it has been in recent years was in 1928. Sexist advertising is essentially corporate-sponsored harassment.
The purpose of these stickers is to raise consciousness about the misrepresentations of women in media which have real social, political, financial, and cultural repercussions for women. But these stickers also serve as a warning to advertisers: ads which distort and caricaturize women cannot and will not be tolerated.