I watched all of E!’s red carpet on Sunday, the whole two hours of it. I didn’t expect to be surprised. In my tenure at The Representation Project, I’ve critiqued a lot of awards show with #AskHerMore and this red carpet felt pretty typical.
I was surprised though – not by Giuliana and team, not by the gowns, not even by vaguely missing Ryan Seacrest’s inane smile. No, I was surprised by the ads. They seemed evenly split between fem-vertising (when corporations use the idea of female-empowerment to sell products) and sexist spots that relied on outdated, negative stereotypes about women.
So on one hand, you have Dove and Kotex celebrating diverse body types and skin tones, asking us to accept ourselves as we are, and strive to be better leaders, women, and humans. While on the other, you have teasers for Keeping Up With The Kardashians and WAGS where the women all rely on their looks, beauty, and sexuality to find personal power, where one type of body is understood to be the best type, and where the script literally says “everyone’s aspiring to be a wife” as if that were the end-all of female ambition.
These ads presented me with products that were almost as limiting as they were repetitive. Please don’t tell me to love my body and then try to sell me a lip kit. Dancing in my underwear in front of people sounds like my top circle of hell, no matter my healthy self-concept. And if I don’t want to go to yoga, I don’t have to.
You see, the message I got was that us women watching the red carpet are somehow supposed to be/have/do it all. We’re supposed to celebrate body diversity in others while striving to maintain the Kardashian silhouette ourselves. We’re supposed to demand our products reflect our values and tune into WAGS often enough to have an informed opinion about it. We’re supposed to encourage reporters to #AskHerMore online while serving as armchair fashion police IRL.
And that sucks. It’s impossible, this double, triple bind we put women in. Feminism is supposed to relax those expectations not add to them. So while I encourage companies to use their powers for good – please, create ads and corporate cultures and boardrooms that treat women and minorities and people of all body types and LGBTQ folks and really everyone as fully human – we can’t pretend that the answer is going to come from them. Corporations are using feminism as a device to sell products (and will abandon it when they find a way to sell more).
You see, in corporate hands, feminism is becoming just one more set of expectations that we can’t live up to. One more thing we have to buy to become whole.
Let’s not fall into that trap. I’m going to start by muting the commercials. And then I’m going to call my Senator about protecting Title IX, teach my daughter that how she looks is the least interesting thing about her, and finish reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Sounds fun, right?