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Women Targeted: The Pornographic Gaze

Posted Aug 25 2008 3:17pm
Today’s New York Times Business Day section discusses a NYC Time’s Square billboard which depicts a woman “splayed across” a red and white target, the retailer’s logo, her crotch forming the center of the bull’s-eye. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/business/media/28target.html?_r=1&ref=business



According to the Times, Shaping Youth http://www.shapingyouth.org founder and bloggger contacted the retailer to complain that ad was demeaning and was reported told that the retailer does not respond to “nontraditional media;” the Times concludes by saying that the retailer “does not plan to change it’s ads.”



The crotch shot is indeed repugnant, but hiding behind the source of the criticism rather than taking it on raises the ante on this one. The traditional media are of course the ones who are tone deaf to this sort of issue. If you have not been reading the inside back cover of MS. Magazine, check out their “No Comment” feature, a roundup of “traditional” advertising that is depicts women in sexual and/or degrading ways in order to sell ordinary sort products and services completely unrelated to sex. http://www.msmagazine.com/spring2005/nocomment.asp



It is noteworthy that the male version of the ad mentioned here depicts him skating across the logo. The focus on the woman’s crotch distracts from less obvious problems with this and other ads: women are depicted as immobilized, passive, pinned while men are active, dominant, in control. For me, this is the more disturbing element since it flies under the radar and is less accessible to criticism yet arguably has a greater role in maintaining the conceptual underpinnings of women’s subordination. I have benefited in thinking about these issues by Jane Caputi’s powerful work on “The Pornography of Everyday Life” from her book _Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power and Popular Culture_. [Full Disclosure: Caputi is my colleague and friend.]



Now, what shall we do about this retailer and others who do not take the dignity of women seriously?
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