Friday, January 20, 2006

American Apparel: Sweatshop free, but oh so sexist

This may be old news, but it's new to me. (A friend just started working there)

So I know that many of you (stateside) at least get bombarded with the porn like ads featuring only "American Apparel employees." (They must not hire anyone bigger then a size 5.) To those of you who may not have to see these ads displayed everywhere I have provided one for you. I could probably post only on this ad, or others like it. Lord knows I rant about it enough in real life. (And what EXACTLY is she supposed to be doing with her socks? Why do we still have ads like these! I want all ads gone NOW!!)

No, the reason I am making this post is because of this:
It's in the company's racy ads -- which run mostly in alternative newspapers such as New York's The Village Voice and LA Weekly -- that the line between work and recreational sex at American Apparel begins to blur. Charney takes many of the photos himself, often using company employees as models as well as people he finds on the street. "Meet Melissa," reads one print ad, which pictures a comely brunette in a shower and a see-through shirt. "She won an unofficial wet T-shirt contest held at the American Apparel apartment in Montreal." (The company maintains a string of apartments in the U.S. and Canada to save money on hotel rooms.)

In his marketing, Charney has been adept at weaving his libertarian sexual attitude with his progressive labor practices. But it's another matter to make that attitude a bedrock principle of the workplace. In their sexual harassment suits, two of the women accuse Charney of exposing himself to them. One claims he invited her to masturbate with him and that he ran business meetings at his Los Angeles home wearing close to nothing. Another says he asked her to hire young women with whom he could have sex, Asians preferred. All describe him using foul language in their presence, much of it demeaning to women. Says Keith A. Fink, an attorney for one of the women suing: "The work environment there makes Animal House look like choir practice."

Charney says all three women did substandard work and gave no indication before they left that they had felt harassed. Charney says he never engaged in any of the acts of which he is accused. As for his language, he says that's par for the course in the fashion biz. "When I'm working with creative people I use the language of the street," he says. "It can get pretty salty."

The suits follow a bizarre article last year in the women's magazine Jane. Charney was described as engaging in oral sex with a female employee and masturbating in front of the reporter. Charney doesn't deny taking part in any of the activities described in the article. He says he befriended the writer over the course of the two months it took her to research the piece. "I've never done anything sexual that wasn't consensual," Charney says. The reporter, Claudine Ko, confirmed his take on events to BusinessWeek. *see below

Employment attorneys say Charney's language alone could get him into trouble. "You can't force women to be subject to certain conduct on the theory that this is a coarse working environment," says Washington, D.C. employment attorney Bruce A. Fredrickson. As for Charney's admitted "love affairs" with employees, San Francisco attorney Phil Horowitz, chair of the California Employment Lawyers Assn., says: "Any chief executive who's thinking of having sex with subordinates ought to have his head examined."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in 1986 that a hostile work environment was a violation of an employee's civil rights, sexual harassment cases have become a fact of life in American business. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature can constitute harassment if it's severe or pervasive. It's not illegal for a boss to pursue relationships with underlings, so long as the relationships are welcome. If there's a pattern of promotions or other opportunities granted to employees who engaged in sex with a manager, the employer may be liable for sex discrimination claims from other workers. (emphasis mine)

* and I quote "It doesn't help Charney's case that his stores are papered with Penthouse and Oui magazine snapshots and that he happily admits to having sex with his employees. Nor does it help that he brags about his penchant for masturbating in front of women. So much so, that he masturbated in front of reporter Claudine Ko while she interviewed him for Jane magazine. Ko reports in Jane:

"'Can I?' he says adjusting himself in his chair. And thus begins another compulsive episode of what Dov likes to call "self-pleasure," during which we casually carry on our interview, discussing things like business models, hiring practices and the stupidity of focus groups. 'Masturbation in front of women is underrated,' Dov explains to me later over the phone. 'It's much easier on the woman. She gets to watch, it's a sensual experience that doesn't involve a man violating a woman, yet once the man has his release, it's over and you can talk to the guy.' Soon enough he loosens his Pierre Cardin belt. 'Are you going to do it again?' I ask."

I hated his company purely because of his sexist ads, but Penthouse snapshots in the stores? And behaviour like this? I don't find that violating at all. Sure you can whip it out around me, but I wouldn't plan on doing that if you want to keep it attached to your body. Actually in his case, I might encourage him to do so. (Wait, can I say that....is blogger gonna tell on me?)

Anyway, I'm constantly fighting with people over supporting/not supporting American Apparel. I think that this is concrete proof that we should not. Sure they don't use sweatshops, but they're also anti-union. (BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!) And I mean any one can see how horrible their ads are. But people are buying American Apparel because it's made "conciously" and in Downtown LA (because the downtown parts of large US cities have never been home to sweatshops. nooooooooooooooo.) I boycotted them solely because of the ads, but now I feel that more people have to start boycotting, those people who can shrug off the ads, how can they shrug off this behaviour? That's the worst work environment I have ever heard of (especially for a "socially concious" company), and if I worked there I hope that I would never have to see that asshole.

Blargh.

64 comments:

miranda said...

"how can they shrug off this behaviour?"

Easy. Do your research.

Are they anti-union? Maybe the question should be did their well-paid, well-treated employees want a union? See In These Times Article and the comments and the editors' retractions. Keep in mind that In These Times is a pro union magazine.

Horrible ads? Real women not wearing makeup in unretouched photos being depicted as sexy is a breath of fresh air in fashion marketing. AA should be applauded. (btw Lauren Phoenix whose ad you reproduced weighs 150 pounds)

Penthouse snapshots in the stores? No silly. Penthouse covers. Playgirl too. Covers. Not snapshots. Big difference, or so I've been told.

The Guardian recently reported that 2 of the 3 cases against Charney were dismissed and that the 3rd is "floundering." Sure Charney is unconventional but does he force himself on anyone? Doesn't seem like it.

The fact is that most of AA's upper management is female. AA is, by all reports, an awesome place to work at and a great company. Boycott?

Hell, we should boycott every retailer but AA until they get their shit together and run good, wholesome companies rather than rapacious organizations that offer us fun, cheap fashions at the expense of poor, abused 3rd world sweatshop workers - and then market their wares via the use of unrealistic women with impossible to acheive artificially generated beauty whose only purpose is to make real women feel insecure.

In fact, I'm going to spend some cash at American Apparel tomorrow specifically because of your post. My only hope is that you perhaps rethink what you've written, just a little, and maybe see that the situation isn't as black and white as some may lead you to believe.

lost clown said...

OK, again, as with the burlesque, how am I supposed to applaud and be happy that there are near pornographic ads for a company? Seriously, are you telling me it's ok because they pay their employees well? (Aside from the degrading comments from the boss, the Penthouse and Playboy covers (that to me is very hostile), and the having to whip out his dick and mastrubate in front of people?

Hmm. On second thought, I want to meet this guy and tell him what a great job he's doing to make degredation of women seem normal and ok. Then I'll punch him.

lost clown said...

And just because a sexual harrassment suit isn't won doesn't mean that the harrassment didn't happen. This guy is super sketchy (and although I did read the comments on the In These Times article I failed to find an author's retraction.) My whole picking up on AA now is because of a friend who is an employee there. He has the same problems I do with the store. Strange now isn't that?


(And I prefer to buy my clothes that have the Union Made mark on them (being a staunch unionist myself)

lost clown said...

oh i should plan before I comment. How easily do you think it is to say no when the boss wants sex? You and I may know that we have every right to do it and not get fired (and sue if we do), but not all women may know this.

miranda said...

about the ads, I personally don't mind them. I'm a women's studies major and of the school of thought that says we do more harm to women by calling images of the female body "derogatory" or "offensive" or "sexist" or "hostile" than we do by celebrating the female form in all it's clothed or less-clothed glory.

Why do we assume that women are weak and being taken advantage of when they allow their their sexuality to be shown? See, we all know women have no innate sexual desire, and don't want to be made to look sexy, and would NEVER get off on the thought of men lusting for them as their hot, normal, non-photshoped and perfectly realistic body is plastered all over the city streets, no, women wouldn't want that at all. What they want is to stay inside, cooking and cleaning, because it is in that arena that a woman finds her glory. Right?

We've gotten so used to perfected images of sexuality, blemishes gone, cellulite nowhere, images of women who don't exist in reality, and now here comes AA with REAL sexuality and we're all "ahhh! perversion!!!" It's a little backwards and counterproductive. Do me a favor, pick up any fashion magazine, Vogue is a good one, and compare those ads to AA's. Which is a more realistic ideal of sexual beauty?

Also, notice that AA "objectifies" men (note playgirl in stores and ads like this.
Perhaps its the women in ads that bothers you, but the use of sexuality at all.

minerva said...

We’ve clearly come up against the very fuzzy territory of exploitation vs empowerment.

This all begs the Q: what about the women who work there who don't want to participate in a 'let's be sexy' discourse? what if they'd rather talk about books or talk period, rather than be immersed in a work culture saturated with sex and bodies? Why should those socks be a sex toy and not say warm and comfy?

It looks like an old, old story to me - women are only sex, women are only bodies for sex. You can make jokes about 'feminists hate sex' but that's an old silencing mode as well. (If women can’t say no without being called names, then it isn’t a liberation or a free choice, is it?)

Let's instead ask - why is sex, and being happy with sexualized images in your workplace, a norm in this company? Is it possible to not participate in that? is there a hierarchy of privileges and approval for participating?

Perhaps these 'real' women are an improvement, but it really sounds like a 'this is better than the real bad stuff' argument rather than 'this in itself is great' - like the burlesque thread that said at least these men are looking at burlesque instead of looking at child porn. ??? That's an argument about mitigation, not liberation.

And let's all keep in mind that we're trying to get to the heart of things - is it not worth it to think right through the implications of these issues, rather than say 'oh its okay enough for me' - rather than unpacking the situation as far as we can?

IMHO the path is to build and give everyone the tools to deconstruct any particular situation so they can know with open eyes what are the implications of their participation, and thus truly make choices.

Perhaps that will also allow women who don’t want to participate say no in a clear and informed way, without shame - & we can stop calling them frigid.

lost clown said...

Thank you minerva, I agree wholeheartedly.

IMHO the path is to build and give everyone the tools to deconstruct any particular situation so they can know with open eyes what are the implications of their participation, and thus truly make choices.

Sing on!

Andrea said...

You'd have to be a total narcissist
to really get a sexual thrill out of your own appearance.

Inspiring erections is not 'female sexuality', it's females imagining male sexuality is their own.

lost clown said...

great point!

Anonymous said...

I like the quote of Adam Neiman of NoSweatApparel.com: "In my opinion, one good boss is no more a solution to the problem of wage slavery than one good plantation owner was a solution to human slavery." Unlike companies like No Sweat, AA has no strict policies or principles against sweatshops and only cultivate their anti-sweatshot image only so long as it serves them--and they've actually tried to distance themselves from it. I think they've begun to realize that it's so effective to sell using women's bodies that they don't need to appeal to people's sense of ethics. I wouldn't be surprised if they quietly start sourcing from sweatshops.

J

lost clown said...

Wow, look I learned something new.

There's no defending that. (There's no really defending the ads either.)

lost clown said...

Why do we assume that women are weak and being taken advantage of when they allow their their sexuality to be shown? See, we all know women have no innate sexual desire, and don't want to be made to look sexy, and would NEVER get off on the thought of men lusting for them as their hot, normal, non-photshoped and perfectly realistic body is plastered all over the city streets, no, women wouldn't want that at all.

(I can't believe i missed this before)
I AM SICK OF BEING SEEN AS A SEX OBJECT AND A WOMAN'S BARELY CLOTHED BODY PLASTERED EVERYWHERE IS NOT HER SEXUALITY IT IS REINFORCING THE PATRIARCHAL IDEA THAT WE ARE SEX OBJECTS.

sorry about the yelling. I screamed it at the top of my lungs here.

miranda said...

Oh goodness. I think you allowed your anger to cloud your reason. Allow me to respond (your comments are in italics)

OK, again, as with the burlesque, how am I supposed to applaud and be happy that there are near pornographic ads for a company?

Near pornographic? Because they are unretouched? Low quality or amature porn uses the same technique because its cheap and/or the producers are unsophisticated. AA uses that techique because they do not want their modelss to look like impossibly perfect human beings with a standard of beauty that is literally impossible to achieve. The message is whoever you are, you can be sexy. This is a positive message - not like the bulimia/anorexia inducing images you see in glossy fashion magazines.

(Aside from the degrading comments from the boss, the Penthouse and Playboy covers (that to me is very hostile), and the having to whip out his dick and mastrubate in front of people?

Not all the stores are decorated with Playboy and Penthouse (and Playgirl) covers. The publishers of those covers are restricted by law as to how much they can show which is very little. They are as revealing as a workout video. If that still offends you, I can't help that you're kinda prudish. Charney has over 5000 employees. Do you honestly think he has the time to make degrading comments and whip out his dick to everybody? Don't you think you're exagerating a bit? One reporter is not "people."

And just because a sexual harrassment suit isn't won doesn't mean that the harrassment didn't happen.

These cases were civil matters where the evidentiary burden is much lower than in a criminal case. Also the accused had great lawyers - Gloria Allred (Google her, you'll see) and Keith Fink. Still, despite that, the cases were dismissed. That's pretty telling, if you know the least thing about law. To still consider Charney guilty after that is mean spirited and very illiberal. Your attitude basically defeats the purpose of a Justice system.

This guy is super sketchy (and although I did read the comments on the In These Times article I failed to find an author's retraction.)

Sketchy? I think he's been transparent to a fault. How many CEOs do you know by name? How many have been as forthcoming as he has been? It's clear he speaks his mind and that his words aren't dictated to him by some PR machine. As far as the In These Times article, look at the very top. The editors corrected some of the authors factual innaccuracies and the commentors took him to task for writing a crappy, badly researched article.

(And I prefer to buy my clothes that have the Union Made mark on them (being a staunch unionist myself)

That's your perogative, just as it is an employees perogative whether or not they want to join a union - any union, let alone one with as chequered a past as STAND UNITE's.

How easily do you think it is to say no when the boss wants sex? You and I may know that we have every right to do it and not get fired (and sue if we do), but not all women may know this.

Your research skills are lacking. None of the plaintiffs ever accused Charney of harassing them for sexual favors. That was not even remotely at issue. Also none of the women were unsophisticated or addle minded.

Might I add at this point that Minerva's points were certainly interesting and thought provoking. I know for a fact that the vast majority of AA employees - the sewers and factory staff, are not subject to imagery of any kind. The sewing floor is bright, spartan, clean and dedicated solely to allowing the employees there to make as much money as possible - which is why they are there to begin with. The design area and the stores are decorated with images but that does not prevent a woman from making a conscious choice. It's the fashion business. If you find that offensive, you are free to seek employment elsewhere... like in a patchouli farm or something. there's no shame in that. You have made an informed decision and no one will hold that against you. And yes, miranda's ideals are great, but if you can figure out a way to market a fashion company without sexy magery of men and women, please let AA know. In the meanntime, the people used as models are not professionals - they are too short/fat/unusual looking/old to be pros. The photos show blemishes, razor stubble, sweat etc. all the hallmarks of real people. There's something to be said for that.

Anonymous said the following:
I like the quote of Adam Neiman of NoSweatApparel.com: "In my opinion, one good boss is no more a solution to the problem of wage slavery than one good plantation owner was a solution to human slavery."

NoSweat uses unionized factories in the US where workers make significantly less than workers at American Apparel and have similar or less fringe benefits. They use a factory in Indonesia where workers make $117 a month!! Anonymous continues:

Unlike companies like No Sweat, AA has no strict policies or principles against sweatshops and only cultivate their anti-sweatshot image only so long as it serves them--and they've actually tried to distance themselves from it. I think they've begun to realize that it's so effective to sell using women's bodies that they don't need to appeal to people's sense of ethics. I wouldn't be surprised if they quietly start sourcing from sweatshops.

They've de emphasized the no sweatshop thing simply because Charney has said that he doesn't want to be seen as a great humanitarian. He treats his workers well because it makes good business sense. From the perspective of US manufacturing, thats pretty darn revolutionary. I would be surprised if they start sourcing from sweatshops because they've recently expanded their manufacturing capacity. They are now the largest clothing manufacturer in the US. If they start using sweatshops, I'll gladly eat my words.

I AM SICK OF BEING SEEN AS A SEX OBJECT AND A WOMAN'S BARELY CLOTHED BODY PLASTERED EVERYWHERE IS NOT HER SEXUALITY IT IS REINFORCING THE PATRIARCHAL IDEA THAT WE ARE SEX OBJECTS.

I think the issue here is that you are assuming that that is the message. Why is it that no one progressive takes umbrage with artistic nudes ie Robert Maplethorpe? because there is a context, a deeper meaning. Well, I've posited a context here - one that empowers men and women rather than infantilizes them. One that celebrates the diversity of what can be erotic and one that is a damning statement against the current state of airbrushed fake-ass advertising. try not to be so knee-jerk and unidimensional lost clown. Oh and most of the photograaphers as well as about 60% of the upper management at AA is female. Just so you know.

lost clown said...

And do not insult me by saying that my anger has clouded my judgement. Your idea that women being objectified as long as they don't look like the women you see in mainstream porn is ok is disgusting and anti-woman.

lost clown said...

Well, I've posited a context here - one that empowers men and women rather than infantilizes them. One that celebrates the diversity of what can be erotic and one that is a damning statement against the current state of airbrushed fake-ass advertising. try not to be so knee-jerk and unidimensional lost clown. Oh and most of the photograaphers as well as about 60% of the upper management at AA is female. Just so you know.



Again, see above. Objectiffing, even if it's "better" objectifying is still objectifying and contributes to our patriarchal women hating society. I suggest you read a few more hard hitting women's studies books. This isn't patriarchy blaming 101. It's 401.

lost clown said...

If you think images like this are not pornographic then maybe you need to research the meanings of pornography and objectification again.

Doctor Slack said...

If you think images like this are not pornographic then maybe you need to research the meanings of pornography and objectification again.

Or maybe you do. Pornography is not defined as "anything in which the unclothed or partially-clothed human form appears." And objectification is not defined as "what happens with any kind of possibly sexual image." Simply repeating, or shouting, otherwise isn't convincing.

lost clown said...

ANy kind of sexual image? How about one that means to turn the woman into only a sex object or the sum of her parts like the one I linked to.

If you do not understand that this is objectification you may need to take a step back, becuase like I said this isn't feminism 101, it's 401.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: How about one that means to turn the woman into only a sex object or the sum of her parts like the one I linked to.

Far as I can see you're intuitively assuming and declaring that that's the case, trying to shore it up through repetition and then asserting that the result is "feminism 401." As long as you expect this tactic to be convincing, you're going to find discussions like this one immensely frustrating, because the problem is that your intuition about -- or interpretation of -- an image isn't likely to be the exactly the same as another person's. And you're not going to be able to convince them that their variance from you makes their position "disgusting" or "anti-woman" or undereducated in comparison with your own. Interpretation is always a grey area.

If you can find a copy, I recommend reading The Reader in the Text, an anthology of essays on interpretation edited by Susan Suleiman and Inge Crossman.

lost clown said...

Again, go read here.

Just because you don't find it objectifying doesn't make it not objectifying. (Seriously, did you bother to look to the picture I linked to?)

lost clown said...

seriously, nothing saddens me more then women defending the patriarchy's objectification of women.

i'm done.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: Just because you don't find it objectifying doesn't make it not objectifying.

And vice versa. The book I referred you to is actually about reader-response theory, which -- put really, really broadly -- would contend overall that images cannot be inherently objectifying or otherwise without the intervention and construction of a reader. (That's much more where I'm coming from.)

(And seriously, you should check it out. It's a really good book.)

Yes, I saw Andrea's post over at vociferate. No, I don't find it very convincing, in part because she's badly mischaracterizing the arguments in the thread she's referring to (who exactly claimed "the male gaze in all its glory is a manifestation of female sexuality at its most powerful"?!), and in part because I find monolithic all-or-nothing descriptions of what constitutes healthy sexuality unrealistic.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: nothing saddens me more then women defending the patriarchy's objectification of women.

Nothing saddens me more than seeing women trash other women as "defending the patriarchy" without much stronger justification than you've provided here.

lost clown said...

Saying that objectification is good because no air brushes were involved? Clearly defending the objectification, and in my book, that's supporting the patriarchy. Becuase if one woman is objectified, and if it's happening to her because she's a woman, then it happens to us all, and I, for one, don't like it.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: Miranda said the images were a step forward because they weren't airbrushed representations of bulimics. The assumption that the images are "objectification" is yours, not hers. That you believe it is "objectification" does not automatically make it so (it could potentially be so, but you cannot make that case simply by declaring and repeating it).

teh rodzaps said...

Slack, you're clearly arguing from a bit of a sssquishy, ssssubjectivist ssssemiotic kinda sssstandpoint, which is clearly enough to defend the statement "this picture appears this way to me." but not much more than that.

to defend AA's ads from our Stately Clown's charges, you'll have to go a little further and demonstrate that a reading of these ads which objectifies women does not exist, which you clearly can't do and remain consistent. After all, if your reading is valid simply by virtue of the fact that you read it, you'll have to concede the same to anyone else who tells you they see objectification of women.

Anyhow, there's some objectification to be found from a more neutral point of view. Women are portrayed in this ad campaign as sexy, which is fine in and of itself, but the crucial bit is that they aren't portrayed as anything else. Just sexy. Same as the men in the men's underwear ads.

It's fair to say that, ignoring any social or cultural context, they're treating the genders roughly equally. (not totally. Even an isolated analysis of these ads shows more women in reclined, take-me sorts of body positions, and more men in assertive, go-get-em poses) But the crucial difference is that these depictions of men are part of a diverse range of stuff that shows men in both subect and object roles, most of them empowering, and the depictions of women add to an already overpowering canon of images where women are really only there for ornamental purposes.

So, were we already in a world full of diverse, liberated, universally equal genders, these ads might look more innocent and egalitarian. In this particular world, though, they just add to the already-burgeoning pile of ways to make women feel less human.

Doctor Slack said...

rodzaps: to defend AA's ads from our Stately Clown's charges, you'll have to go a little further and demonstrate that a reading of these ads which objectifies women does not exis

LC's charge AFAICT is that objectification is the only possible reading of the ads, not that it is one possible reading of the ads. The latter contention I'd be perfectly fine with. The former contention is something else.

The useful thing about these "squishy subjectivist semiotic kinda standpoints" is that it alerts one to the possibility not only that one's own reading can differ from others' -- which is relatively trivial, in a way -- but also to the potential fallacy in asserting that society can be comfortably assumed to be reading this or that image in a single prescribed way. LC's anger at the AA ads presumes that their viewership are collectively "objectifying" on the whole and would necessarily see the images as reductively sexual. I find this view reductive in itself, and highly questionable.

Women are portrayed in this ad campaign as sexy, which is fine in and of itself, but the crucial bit is that they aren't portrayed as anything else.

Many of them are portrayed as playfully "taking the piss", as it were. At the very least that should complicate the urge to claim they're merely "objectifying," though of course that charge can never be deflected entirely whenever there is sexuality involved (and there is some provocative sexuality going on there). Should we assume that provocative, playfully-executed sexy advertising is the functional equivalent of porn or near to it? Because that's what LC is contending.

the depictions of women add to an already overpowering canon of images where women are really only there for ornamental purposes.

Even if one were to accept that the women in the ads are "only there for ornamental purposes" -- which is quite dubious -- this statement seems to me to largely elide a cultural context in which a huge range of images across the media spectrum (television shows, talk shows, films, magazines, books et cetera) have been promulgated showing women in both subject and object roles, many of them empowering.

Is it conceivable that all of that work to change, augment and diversify the image of women might possibly have created a cultural context in which, from time to time, it's permissible for women to be "just sexy" without being seen as collaborators or gullible tools of "the patriarchy"? I'm not arguing that we're in a world of "diverse, liberated, universally equal genders" or anything, but it seems to me that it should be possible even in the flawed and unideal reality we do inhabit to have a reaction to things like this other than simply hitting the "outrage" button. This might even show some healthy respect for the women involved and their choices. Asking too much?

teh rodzaps said...

Many of them are portrayed as playfully "taking the piss", as it were. At the very least that should complicate the urge to claim they're merely "objectifying."

In a way, you're right. But the reason these ads work is still pretty heavily based on the perceived hotness of the models. A good litmus test is, "would this ad be as effective if the model were ugly?"

The answer here is still no.

Is it conceivable that all of that work to change, augment and diversify the image of women might possibly have created a cultural context...

I'm sort of with you here. One day we'll be able to see images like this without them evoking the same response because they won't exist in such stark contrast against the current shortage of depictions of women in other roles. We'll be able to say "Hey, she's sexy," with no more hidden connotations carried in the sentence than if we were to say "Hey, she's ambitious."

But we're not there yet, and it behooves advertisers (and everyone else) to work on that before they dive straight into sexysexysexy.

Doctor Slack said...

rodzaps: they won't exist in such stark contrast against the current shortage of depictions of women in other roles

Okay, I guess that's where we differ somewhat. Having grown up with images on screen and in print of women as everything from action heroes to lawyers to boardroom sharks to high-powered politicans, I don't see the shortage of depictions of women in other roles as being so acute that sexy imagery is inherently offensive or disempowering-- and, like Miranda, I find the unretouched sexy of the AA ads refreshing, a healthier phenomenon by far than what typically happens in the fashion and associated celebrity-mongering industries. (For my money, Paris Hilton's entire existence and "career" is orders of magnitude more offensive than anything AA does.)

I'm not saying the question of sexy is something advertisers shouldn't think about -- they clearly should. I guess I'm just questioning whether AA can really be accused of not having thought about it.

miranda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Where do you get the idea that AA doesn't retouch their images and that their models don't wear makeup, Doctor Slack? I can't imagine any ad out there with pictures that haven't been retouched--unless it's a amateur homemade ad from someone that hasn't thought to hire a photographer or ad company. It's pretty much standard practice. I doubt AA has a single image that hasn't been airbrushed. It also seems unbelievable to me that AA would bother to hire a model, then insist that she not put on any makeup. Look at the lines, shadows, and light in the ads. It is impossible that someone hasn't spent hours or days modifying them.

As for the ad that Lost Clown has posted, I don't think it's a far stretch to say that it's rather explicit. They're not even just images of a sexy woman wearing sexy socks. They're images of a naked woman having simulated sex.

Picture 1: Naked woman sitting on the floor looking up at you from vulnerable position. This is one of the most common ways that advertisers create "sexy" images--portray women in helpless or vulnerable positions, intimating rape or exploitation scenarios.

Picture 2: Compare the colour of the woman's skin in this picture to the others. This picture has clearly been retouched to make the woman's skin pinkish, pale, and flushed. It portrays her as not just sexually excited, but actually in the midst of enjoying some sexual activity.

Picture 3: Same as picture 2, only this time she has hair tossed over her neck, and her mouth and eyes are open. It's no accident that she seems to be looking straight at you. A naked woman in the midst of sexual activity looking at you implies that she's doing the sexual activity with you or *for* you, or inviting you to join her sexual activity.

Picture 4: Look at this picture and tell me the word objectification doesn't apply. Tell me the picture empowers this woman.

Notice how the socks barely appear in the first picture, and don't even exist in the second and third. In the only picture that shows them entirely, the socks are meant to blend into the white sheets. This is no accident. It's not the socks that are on display. It's the woman's skin.

The picture that I think is least objectifying is actually the most explicit second picture. It shows the woman sexually enjoying herself by herself. If this picture were in a women's sexuality zine, I would say it's empowering. But unfortunately it's in an ad for socks. If using a woman's body and her sexuality to sell socks isn't objectifying her, please tell me what the word objectify means.

J

Dubhe said...

Agree with J.

Miranda and Dr. Slack want everyone to think they're being all logical and objective and analytical, but it's hard to logically defend the practice of putting Penthouse on the walls as "not a hostile work environment" and "using women purely as sex objects to sell clothing" (because we know nothing about these women and their authority to speak about the orgasm-inducing power of textile products - which is ok, since they never speak at all, except that she's naked and wants to have sex with the veiwer) as "not objectifying".

If those ads are "not objectifying", then when I tell you to go fuck yourselves, I'm being "not insulting".

Dubhe said...

[mode=squishy subjectivist] The phrase "go fuck yourself" is only insulting if the reader INTENDS it to be insulting, and to be perfectly logical, the reading of "go fuck yourself" as insulting is not the only reading that can exist. Many people could read that statement to be empowering, and therefore you're just projecting your own insecurities onto an innocent, empowering statement. Furthermore, you're just an illogical a word-prude.
[/mode]

miranda said...

dim undercellar: You chose to use a legal term "hostile work environment." As such I will address your issue from that perspective. A sexually hostile work environment is not determined objectively. A man who works as a Chippendales dancer expects a certain measure of sexuality in the work place, whereas a librarian at a Nun's convent can reasonably expect less. The Chippendales dancer can expect hollering audience members and the wearing of slinky uniforms, the librarian - not so much. So what can someone working in a retail environment reasonably expect and what might constitute a sexually hostile work environment?

The display of magazine covers that one can see at any news stand would probably fail the test given that the industry is fashion and that standard fashion ads in glossy magazines show more skin and are more suggestive than a Penthouse cover. Exposure to this sort of imagery is to be expected if one chooses to work at an American Apparel store. AA is after all not the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

With respect to objectification - again, your attitude implies that any depiction of the female form represents objectification. Do the nude, suggestive photos of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe objectify the subject? American Apparel ads often inlude the name of the model and a little something about him or her. Models reportedly work with the photographers, most of whom are women, to set up poses etc thaat they are comfortable with. The final image is the result of a collaboration that is unheard of in most fashion photography.

And I don't care what anonymous claims, the final images often include cellulite, razor stubble, zits, stretch marks etc. The sock model is listed as weighing a healthy 150 pounds. If, and I say IF there is any retouching, it pales in comparison to what the typicaal glossy fashion pic goes through - please check out g!rlpower Web site - click on the Metropolitan Magazine flash pic and see what retouching a photo really entails. American Apparel does not do any of that. American Apparel models are real women with real bodies and skin and everything.

These all add up to statements about sexuality that are quite out of the ordinary in the fashion world. Sure they are meant to sell clothing, but they are also reflective of a culture that rejects traditional media and fashion - and THAT is refreshing.

Doctor Slack said...

Dim Undercellar: Thanks for the constructive engagement. Truly heartwarming.

J: My computer crashed in the midst of posting a reply to your excellent post, so I'll have to briefer than I was originally. (Cue sighs of relief!)

Briefly, then:

1) Your definition of "objectification" would seem to me to net everything from nudie magazines to the Sears catalogue. I'm not saying that's indefensible in and of itself, but I'd question how useful it is -- casting the net too widely can easily lead to cheapening the currency of the term, and to people simply tuning it out. It's worth being wary of this, and I personally don't find it all that helpful to claim that imagery occurring in an ad must necessarily be "objectifying."

2) On the question of re-touching, I certainly don't claim to be any sort of expert. The purpose of the practice as I understand it is usually to obscure blemishes and imperfections, which tend to be unusually noticeable in the AA ads compared to the norm, and it seems to me that differences in skin tone would be easier to achieve with changes in lighting angle or type... but I won't claim to know for sure.

3) Your close reading of the picture sequence is very good, though it's at variance with how I saw it. I'm not sure I can concur with Picture 1 "implying rape," for instance (though I do see how you get there -- maybe it's just that "vulnerable" body positions don't scream "exploit!" to me), and the overall impact for me was something closer to your note about Picture 2 and a woman alone enjoying her sexuality. Picture 4 in isolation would certainly be more reliably objectifying, but it doesn't occur in isolation.

4) Having said all of that... in the course of surfing back to the AA site to get a bit more context, I discovered another ad featuring the same woman, who apparently is a professional model. The ad identifies her as Lauren Phoenix and tells the viewer to Google her. I did, and found this.

And you know what? That actually completely changes my view of the ad. Not the images per se, but rather of the fact that AA would employ a porn star and specifically direct people to her pornographic work online. That, to me, is genuinely dodgy -- and while it doesn't indict the entire ad campaign for me, it certainly imparts more than a little wariness about what's going on and where it's ultimately headed. So, something to think about for the future.

miranda said...

Uh ... Yes, Lauren Phoenix is a Porn actress - not a model. But how many fashion models also pose nude in magazines and films? How relevant is all that really? Lauren weighs in at 150 pounds and despite her professional status actually looks like more of a real woman than anyone in this month's Vogue. You may notice on the Americaan Apparel site that Dov Charney, the CEO of AA, posed with his butt cheeks exposed for an ad that appeared in the back of a gay magazine.

What CEO does that? Decontruct that for me will you?

Doctor Slack said...

Miranda: By the looks of things, Lauren Phoenix does some pretty extreme porn. I don't judge her for that, but I question AA's judgment in bringing it to the table so aggressively. I'm not quick to shout "objectification," as you've probably noticed, but the porn industry as it currently exists is toxic and destructive to its workers and doesn't deserve promotion on the back of a company like American Apparel, IMHO.

I'm not thereby signing up for the "bash Dov Charney and AA" bandwagon, though, don't get me wrong. I'm just flagging it as something that deserves notice, and watching.

Dubhe said...

"With respect to objectification - again, your attitude implies that any depiction of the female form represents objectification."

Have fun beating up that straw man, m'am. When you're ready to address what I actually SAID, I'll be over here not holding my breath.

The funny thing is, YOUR attitude implies that NO depiction of the female form represents objectification! If using a woman's orgasm to sell socks, particularly sans any sort of knowledge of the credentials of the model in question to speak to the effectiveness of the socks at granting orgasm, is NOT turning her into a sexual object (ie, objectificiation), then there's no such thing as objectification.

Dr. Slack:
You sound offended. How dare you imply that YOUR reading of "go fuck yourself" is the only possible one!

Dubhe said...

"Lauren weighs in at 150 pounds and despite her professional status actually looks like more of a real woman than anyone in this month's Vogue."

Sounds a lot like

"He beats his whores MUCH less than that more popular pimp down the street, so therefore he's a great guy."

Doctor Slack said...

Ah, and it looks like we've finally gotten to some good invective at last. Pity I have to go and actually get some work done, but before I do:

Dim Undercellar says If using a woman's orgasm to sell socks . . . is NOT turning her into a sexual object . . . then there's no such thing as objectification.

Just so you know, this is the kind of thing that really marks you out as a crank. Basically, what you've just said is "if I don't assume my conclusion, then there's no such thing as my conclusion!" Feminist discourse deserves better.

How dare you imply that YOUR reading of "go fuck yourself" is the only possible one!

Yes, "go fuck yourself" is fraught with a multiplicity of meanings in exactly the same way as a photographic image. If you can demonstrate that in all seriousness, I'll be happy to return a hearty "go fuck yourself" your way. In lieu of that, I'll simply say so long, and good luck with the anger management.

lost clown said...

You may notice on the Americaan Apparel site that Dov Charney, the CEO of AA, posed with his butt cheeks exposed for an ad that appeared in the back of a gay magazine.

That image is not sexualized at all. It just looks like he's wandering around the house half naked. Now pose him in a sexually provacative postiion and we'll talk objectifcation. (Or better yet, let's post something about him having an orgasm cuz of a pair of socks)

And we all ready know he's a narcissist. So a narcissistic CEO is one who does that.

Dubhe said...

Dr. Slack:

I'm a crank for pointing out tha those photos are the textbook definition of "objectification"? Cute. Yeah, you're rational and objective. No, really.

You keep redefining all the words everyone's using to deny the reality of the situation.

You're basically saying: "First, the arrow must go halfway to the tree. Then it must go halfway from that point to the tree. Then it must go halway AGAIN from THAT point to the tree. And so forth and so on. Therefore, logically speaking, the arrow will never hit the tree."

Which is all well and good, unless you're the tree.

It might be some kind of academic chess out in the airy stratosphere for you, but that's only because you have the male privilege to think of it as such.

As for other readings of "go fuck yourself", try this: Much of pornography involves talking dirty, and much of talking dirty involves directives to "fuck me" or "let me fuck you".

Pornography is all about fucking women. Many "feminists", among other people, make the claim that pornography is empowering for women. Therefore, being fucked is empowering. So when I say "go fuck yourself", I could be saying, to someone who believes porn is empowering, "you have the capability to become self-empowered, and should exercise it."

Do you believe porn can be empowering? You must not, since you interpreted my statement as offensive and insulting.

Dubhe said...

Good point, Lost Clown! I'd forgotten to mention how portraying women as SO hypersexual and SO ready to have sex with anyone or anything that they can orgasm from putting on a pair of socks is pretty damned misogynistic in and of itself.

Do you ever get tired of going round and round in circles with these people?

lost clown said...

lordy, lordy yes. I'm trying to keep away from the burlesque thread before my head explodes from such circular logic. But who knows, maybe I'll get called puritanical again because I hate exploitation! Oh Goody!

Blargh. It's like a train wreck, i can't pull away.

Doctor Slack said...

Well, work can wait for a minute more.

DU: I'm a crank for pointing out tha those photos are the textbook definition of "objectification"?

No, actually, it's just crankish to assume your conclusion, pretend you've said something incontrovertible, and then proceed to self-righteously flame others on that basis. This isn't just "academic chess;" stuff like that really hurts your credibility and makes it harder for others -- male and privileged or otherwise -- to take your statements seriously. So it's a good idea not to do it.

You keep redefining all the words everyone's using to deny the reality of the situation.

IOW, it frustrates you that I'm not acknowledging what you believe the "reality of the situation" to be, because I keep questioning definitions. Well, sorry, but if political discourse is going to be useful and effective, we need to be prepared to question the definitions we're using and make sure we're using them wisely. I make no apologies for that.

You're basically saying: "First, the arrow must go halfway to the tree. [etc.] Which is all well and good, unless you're the tree.

Actually, I'm basically saying that using the term "objectification" too loosely cheapens it and can reduce its effectiveness when it really counts. (In fact, this has to a large extent already happened in much of our culture.) If you disagree, then fine, you disagree. But it should probably occur to you that there might be other reasons for insisting on this than "academic chess out in the airy stratosphere."

(Put another way, I've known women who have had their lives damaged by quite painful and direct forms of objectification, and I believe it does people in that position a severe disservice to treat cranking about American Apparel as a priority. Given that, you're going to have to forgive me if I'm unimpressed by attempts to shut off the discussion with anti-intellectual invective and invocations of "male privilege.")

As for other readings of "go fuck yourself", try this . . . Do you believe porn can be empowering?

In the current context, no. So, you've just demonstrated my point. Thank you.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: But who knows, maybe I'll get called puritanical again because I hate exploitation!

I hope I'm not wasting my time trying to point this out, but seriously -- I was characterizing your argument, not you. It was not personal.

But, I see the "these people" wagons being circled, which probably means no further actual discussion will be forthcoming. So long, then. Up until this point, it's been genuinely interesting.

lost clown said...

*headdesk*

Look, DS, you may find this a minor point of objectification, but it leads to and encourages an environment where that direct personable objectification comes in. To deny the link between the two would be to bury ones head in the sand. Any objectification in this culture and ANY commodification of women's sexuality in this culture ON TOP OF the gross oversexualization of women in this culture leads to violence against women.

If you feel like redefining the terms away from their definitions I suggest you get your own blog to do it on becuase this is not a productive use of anyone's time. Play philosopher elsewhere please. The definitions that we have been using are pretty standard and if you don't like them, fine. This is not the place to redefine the words. Why? Because that's not what this blog is about.

And don't take the high road with invective. You've all ready demonstrated that you will use iton this blog and then say that it's my interpretation that's making it bad. I feel Dim is doing the same thing you did with the go fuck yourself comment.

Dubhe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dubhe said...

Lost Clown:

We decided that blogger comments just didn't give us enough control of the trolls, over at the Den. You may want to look in to Haloscan.
It lets you actually ban people, which is probably the best way a woman can say "no!" and see just how many men respect it.

Slack:
"...cheapens it and can reduce its effectiveness when it really counts."

But for you, it will never count unless someone is lying dead in a ditch. So why should anyone cater to your definitions again? Oh, that's right, you're MALE, and men have the privilege of defining all the words.

We see how testy you get when a woman challenges your definition.

And I'm still waiting for your concession on the "fuck yourself". You said you'd give me one if I could produce an alternate reading. I did. Conceed.

Doctor Slack said...

Good grief. No worries; if you've just demonstrated "what this blog is about" I'm glad to go elsewhere. Have fun.

lost clown said...

Yes, this blog is about the NO COMPROMISE views on overthrowing misogyny and patriarchy.

Some people will compromise, I will not. Some people will say that AA ads are ok, I will not. This means I will attack all sexist/misogynist things I see including "ads that are better then Vogue ads" you see because they all have the same purpose. To keep women oppressed as a sex class. I don't care if one form of objectification is "better" then another. They're all bad and they're all destructive towards women and I won't stand for a single one of them.

Biting Beaver said...

Lost Clown,
Damn, looks like I missed it. It never ceases to amaze me how these trolls show up in absolute DROVES, I swear, they're either the same person or they just distribute 2-ways and call each other as soon as a feminist begins to speak out in a way that frightens them.

Oh, and I simply have to laugh at how they all put up their guns and went home when pressed on the 'Go Fuck yourselves' issue. Of COURSE it's empowering for WOMEN to get fucked, but for MEN to be fucked? Puhleeease, what's wrong boys, can't see the 'empowerment' in the phrase when it's directed at you?

Cute.

Keep up the great work LC!

miranda said...

I hope you all are proud of yourselves. You've added exactly nothing to the quality of the discourse. I mean seriously nothing at all.Doctor Slack brought up some important issues - had they been properly addressed it would have allowed us all to make far more compelling and logically rigorous cases against misogyny and sexism. Instead your reliance on bluster and self righteous indignation does a disservice to the cause. I am truly embarassed for you.

Dubhe said...

And see, insulting people on their own blogs is exactly the problem that "banning" solves.

You say horrid, cutting things and tell the blog owner she's overreacting or projecting when she calls you out on them.

I will go ahead and call you out. You act just like every other male MRA asshole with a female screen name who hunts down brand new feminist blogs to troll and hopefulle silence.

You are nasty and vile, your posts are laden with presuppositions, insults, and downright viciousness. You also seem to think we're to illiterate to notice that you're insulting and demeaning everyone, because you don't say "fuck".

And no, it's not in "how we read it". Men get to say that to women all the time, to excuse hurtful and cutting words and make it the victim's fault she feels bad over them. To make the victim feel crazy for feeling bad over them. And I'm not going to let you act like an abusive husband to a woman whose blog I enjoy without putting you on the ground over it.

I'm truly embarassed for you, that you have nothing better to do with your time than troll feminist blogs and tell them how they're going about it all wrong, and that everything is peachy-keen-hunk-dory-stop-bitching-stupid-whore.

You're a coward and a misogynist.

In conclusion, I'd just like to say this: You have the capability to become self-empowered, and should exercise it.

Biting Beaver said...

Miranda,
Here's an idea. Go Fuck yourself.

If he brought up such great points then why couldn't he explain why he took THAT little line as an insult? Afterall, it's in the eye of the beholder...right? OBJECTIVELY something isn't degrading unless you CHOOSE to be degraded by it.

So what's wrong? You must be all sex negative if you don't want to go fuck yourself.

Quite frankly I've never understood why you bother. This is a pretty new blog and yet, you trolls are here to scream the loudest.

Here's the breakdown. Porn, prostitution and the sex industry is rampant with rape and abuse on women. *I* don't find that to be acceptable. In fact, *I* don't think that an orgasm is worth ANY life, not even one.

And, don't come bitching at the feminists about it. Don't you GET it? It's not OUR fault that men continue to abuse women in these industries. If you're so pissed off about abuse then take on the men instead of just stroking their egos and telling them (and yourself) that pictures that cause abuse and degradation are fine and dandy.

In short, go back to your own blog. Oh and for what it's worth, speaking for myself, I don't give a rats ass about what YOU feel I added to the discourse.

And, take your manipulative little whine fest back to your own site. You ain't gettin' no sympathy here.

LindsayA said...

quite the interesting discussion here. Question tho- I dont remember this "doctor slack" ever referencing "himself" as male. Are you assuming "he" is, because "he's" a doctor?
What kind of feminist does that?

Also - about those socks. Porn star or not, that ad made ugly knee high gym socks sexy. And that's frickin marketing genius. Who else had made tube socks seem so hot?

In any case, everybody seems so damn sure that they know who is and who is not getting "abused" and "exploited" that it the whole exercise seems a little futile.

I think that there is much more of a grey zone than is being presented here tho.

Anonymous said...

Personally I don't need my cloathes to be "hot". Especially tube socks. The interesting thing about objectification is that something as simple as buying or wearing gym socks suddenly becomes a sexual act embued with a certain social/public morality of hotness/prudishness, virgin/whore, good/bad. Objectification isn't in the picture or in the model's simulated sex act. It's in the entire process of creating markets and consumers. It is essentially a message of "if you want or need to buy my product, you have to also buy my idea and portrayal of female sexuality, even if you know that portrayal to be abusive and antithetical to our own experience of female sexuality." No one is empowered by this type of portrayal of female sexuality because there is no choice in our consumption of it -- yes, we can choose to not purchase a product marketed in such a manner, but there is still a social price to pay for refusing to do so. Our own sexuality is called into play -- with hints at our prudishness or inexperience -- and our rational capacities are also denigrated.


Q-Grrl

lost clown said...

great comment Q-Grrl!!! Right on!

(plus I'd like to point out that I love my 70's gym teacher socks and have been wearing them for years. I've always thought that they were hot (but that's just me) To think someone will think of this ad when they see them..*shudder*..but mine are the 2 different colour stripes, i.e. better)

Dubhe said...

I assumed that dr. slack was male for the same reason I assumed "miranda" was male - they both acted like, well, for lack of a better description, penis-swinging gorillas with chips on their shoulders.

I suppose women could do that too, but statistically speaking...

lost clown said...

way to make me spit out my breakfast!

lost clown said...

LindsayA- They (to the best of my knowledge) don't even carry said socks. The point is to sell sex and objectification of women, not socks. (I know this because I saw some other AA ads that said, "we're thinking about carrying the socks" disgusting)

Sonia said...

"I hope you all are proud of yourselves. You've added exactly nothing to the quality of the discourse. I mean seriously nothing at all.Doctor Slack brought up some important issues - had they been properly addressed it would have allowed us all to make far more compelling and logically rigorous cases against misogyny and sexism. Instead your reliance on bluster and self righteous indignation does a disservice to the cause. I am truly embarassed for you."

hey Miranda?

you're an intellectual male sympathist.

love,
Sonia

Anonymous said...

Re: the model in the socks ad. That's porn star Lauren Phoenix. While AA is (rightly) concerned about exploitation of workers in third world sweatshops (at least they claim to be), they just can't seem to muster any concern when it comes to the sexual exploitation of women by the porn industry. In fact, by encouraging users of its web site to Google-search Ms. Phoenix, they're actively encouraging it. (WARNING: DO NOT perform this search if you don't want to see absolutely heart-breaking photos of a very young woman being sexually used - some would say abused - in the most degrading ways imaginable.) The sooner true progressives wise up and denounce this company to anyone who'll listen, the better.

Anonymous said...

I understand how people can argue for sexual emancipation for women with AA; women taking complete control over their sexuality, woot! However, as soon as that sexuality is used to hock an item for the masses of consumers, not only does it turn these women into sexual objects - no longer free women exploring their sexuality - but it also perpetuates the notion that women should only be seen in as sexual objects. It is not only degrading but also promotes an ideal of what it is to be female. The media sucks ass, it will only change if we change it.

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