March. A month filled with events, such as the change from winter to spring or the international Women’s Day (IWD). In both case, this is a cyclic event: a change that occurs repeatedly, around the same period but to only remain temporary. Spring represents the renewal and the coming of nicer weather. The IWD is now the day on which women are celebrated and their position in our society in terms of rights and struggles endured is highlighted. But every year, the story restarts, flowers bud and some of them are offered to women on IWD. Like these natural and calendar cycles, communication strategies and society’s reactions towards “women cause fight” are also being repeated over and over again, even if it is presented as something new. Just on the web, I think there are enough materials to become lost or schizophrenic regarding the consideration of women in our society, and this, beyond the regions. So dear reader, like Morpheus asked Neo, here is my question to you: do you want to face the truth of reality (red pill) or remain in the comfortable illusion (blue pill) of our schizophrenic world? You may ask back: Why not taking both pills and get a purple effect?
This purple effect can be observed where both blue and red pills are available; i.e. in countries having quite developed economy, and not suffering from war or other terrible problems. But what are the characteristics of the purple effects? Well, there are many stages. At first, you may remain in a kind of illusion of a comfortable world, which has made amazing technological progress such as sending a probe (Philae) into space to study comets, to then, make you cry in front of news showing war refugees’ living conditions or some people having no access to potable water, to again, put you back to a state of amazement in front of emerging smart cities, where distribution of electricity is monitored based on needs. Well, the image and the perception of women are also a result of this purple effect.
Dove campaigns / For more than 10 years, Dove aims to encourage people to accept them as they are, reminding that “beauty is a state of mind” and how manipulated we are by following what we think are beauty standards. Over the last years, especially with the spread of selfies, we could observe some emulation among celebrities, showing themselves naturally, just awake or without being retouched. Recently Cindy Crawford and Lara Stone were all praised by women’s magazines for showing themselves as they are. In April 2009, ELLE France magazine had already made a special issue with celebrities photographed without any make-up and retouches.
“Natural is the best”? Really?? Come on! / Praising natural but actually going on with Photoshop, here is the real truth of our society. Why? Simply because it is easier to sell by using what is accepted as perfectly beautiful. Even though canons of beauty are different based on regions and exist for millennials, staying natural and being natural is not part of today’s selling tools. Praising natural photos is only a punctual phenomenon otherwise why praising it?
Everlast versus Catcallers / Being harassed in the street is something unfortunately common for many women in the world. Everlast, the sport brand, wanted to point this out in Peru by disguising mothers, so that they will be catcalled by their own sons. The mothers’ reactions were immediate, they burst out and give their sons a lesson they will remember.
Outfit association / Made-up or not, the trick highlighted the power of objects. Some outfits or accessories like a ring worn on the right finger work like a shield against catcallers. Perception influenced by stereotypes or not, we give objects particular meanings. Even Marshall Eriksen likens Robin Scherbatsky’s engagement ring to Bilbo Baggins’ ring in The Hobbit and the cloak of invisibility in Harry Potter; once worn you disappear.
But does it justify aggressive attitudes? Besides, from the very beginning, we all come from a woman. A reminder for the skeptical ones, Junior movie remains, so far, a pure fiction.
Never-ending contradiction / The ad world is by definition full of contradictions, since we are making this world exist and be. Besides, with social media, we are giving more and more importance to others’ opinions; at a point that according to the Daily Mail there is more than 17 million selfies uploaded to social media sites every week. But this attention given pushes us to do something and tell the opposite, as a way to be accepted by others? We can read in one magazine, articles promoting bare face women and others promoting all must-have cosmetics to be beautiful. We are shocked when breasts are not properly blurred on a photo, but enjoying very suggestive and racy music videos.
We are saying that women are not selling objects, but we are buzzing over Carl’s Jr.’s ad.
Not just a symptomatic effect, but an ∞ effect
Beyond the purple effect, it seems that there is no learning curve, but an infinite and cyclic curve repeating the same things. Over the past 50 years, when you look at the use of women’s image in communication campaigns, well… there is no real change. In marketing, the objective has remained unchanged: remember and talk about a product/service. Trigger a word-of-mouth – or word-of-Twitter today – works well, when reactions are created, such as surprising or shocking people. So far, what seems to work the best is showing provocative and racy images of women. We all know the ropes and tricks, but we still go on supporting such approach by going on using these same ropes and tricks, and thus, keeping on contributing to a certain perception of women in our society. This is how we create “from-sweetie-to-slutty” phenomena like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and yet to become Martina Stoessel (?) Though, this is a sustainable marketing strategy, no? In parallel, speeches made about women rights and gender inequality, are the same; which means that nothing has changed but everything is repeated… again.
A bitter world rather than a better world…
Last summer, Bülent Arınç, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, said women should not laugh loudly in public; creating waves of reactions in media all over the world. Shocking? Yes. But what about a non-working woman sipping her coffee in Nişantaşı*, dressed up with luxury brands paid with her husband or her parent’s money, discussing with her entourage about women rights and cause in the world, pretending to know about the subject? Not only men may influence today’s women’s perception, but women do it even better! Women are part of the process of change or maintenance of the stereotypes that exist today. At the 25th Crystal Apple Festival, Mercedes Erra, founder of BETC, said that “If women’s stereotypes remain as they are in women’s mind, so how can our own world change to reach actual gender equality?” Pointing out men as sole and main responsible is the easiest way to discharge our own responsibility as women.
*Nişantaşı is a rich area in Istanbul