Part III – Relativism: “Speaking as a Woman from a Strategic Point of View”

Elusive 'Insights'

“… that gender is a choice, or that gender is a role, or that gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a ‘one’ who is prior to this gender, a one that goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.” – Judith Butler in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity


 (Place Hand on Chin Pensively + Cheeky Smile that Suggests you Know More than the Ignoramuses Around You = Generic Philosopher Pose 5)

Judith Butler is a third-wave feministpost-structuralist and post-modernist philosopher. These post-x-y-z credentials basically mean that she’s at the forefront of current philosophical debates that have a funny habit of returning to the issue of identity. Relativity underpins much of post-modernist thought – it’s most obvious manifestation is Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The APG talks managed to underline clearly that one woman does not speak for all women. One planner does not speak for all planners. One mum does not speak for all mums. A lot of what planning does is categorise people. I am always mindful of who lies outside the target audience – these are the people you can potentially alienate. Why are women alienated by advertising? We make sweeping generalisations about some women that might alienate others.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 00.36.43

As the topic at hand is about identity, female identity specifically, its seems vital to me that you evaluate how your own identity affects your views on identity. Planners don’t just go into a meeting and declare: “Well I hate Heat Magazine so our target audience will too.” They are supposed to discount their own identity so that they can adopt the identity of the target market. Richard Huntington confronted his own beast when he pointed out whether being a man would be a problem when discussing marketing to ‘Mums’. He didn’t have to step outside of being a woman/mum in order to get some critical distance on what this might be. I think this is why, for me, he had the most objective response of the evening to what being a woman, specifically mum, is (or rather is not) and the one most in line with most recent feminist theory.


If you want to talk to me about where I am coming from, visit ‘egotism’ to email me. Whilst I realise that I should be deconstructing my own point of view, I am very conscious of boring people.

Relativity and Social Constructs

If I say I have a large red circle drawn on my computer screen, you don’t know how large that circle is. If I say that red circle has a 30cm radius, you still don’t know what shade of red it is. What if you don’t think in metric measurements?What if you’re colourblind? Is that circle still red? Is my idea of red the same as yours? Might you have called it dark pink or reddish-brown? If you said it was pink and I put a lighter shade of red next to this circle, would you have still called it pink? This is relativity: approximations made relative to other approximations of approximations ect ect.

red light

Postmodernist philosophers like the phrase “it’s just a social construct.” Every concept out there is constructed by people. We construct meaning by weaving a web of associations between bits of a code. Have you ever looked up a word in a dictionary only to have to look up another word contained in the definition of that word? Well, this is what our brains do all day, but really effing quickly and with a dictionary we have written for ourselves throughout our lives. We all read the code differently dependent on our past experiences, our past learnings of the code. This is one big reason why planners exist.

Planners explain how different people’s past learnings of our world affects how we have coded our world and consequently how we could use this code to communicate more effectively with people. We should, however, understand that this is a two-way process. Planners are also responsible for influencing the construction of a lot of these ‘social constructs’ or ‘codes’ as well as analysing them to see how we could use them to communicate with society. If you type ‘construction’ into an online thesaurus, it throws out the words ‘planning’ and ‘plan’.

Butler argues that gender, when we consider what it means in the abstract (ie, not whether we have tits and a vagina or not), is a ‘social construct’ relative to other ‘social constructs’. Gender, and all aspects of our identity are, quite simply, states of minds we have constructed for ourselves from the web of meanings in the world we have been exposed to. We position ourselves relative to these webs of meaning. I believe I am the product of how I have reacted to every person I have ever met, every film or TV programme I have ever watched, every book I have read. We understand ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, be they friends, family, strangers, celebrities, characters in novels and films, and, most importantly for us planners, people in adverts.

Advertising and Dominant Discourses: Do Planners have a Moral Responsibility? 

“Bound to seek recognition of its own existence in categories, terms and names that are not of its own making, the subject seeks the sign of its own existence outside itself, in a discourse that is at once dominant and indifferent. Social categories signify subordination and existence at once. In other words, within subjection the price of existence is subordination.” – Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power


The messages we feed people through adverts might, if we’ve done it right, affect the way people interpret the world and how they position themselves relative to the world and other people in it. We want these thoughts to influence what ideas people subscribe to, what they want to buy in to. This is a fuckload of responsibility. Popular culture, which includes adverts, is a ‘dominant discourse,’ but planners are there to stop it from being an ‘indifferent’ one. We should never ever forget that.

Advertising is an input into popular culture just as much as it looks to popular culture for inspiration with regards to what to talk about and how to talk about it. So, advertisers, do we want to lead social change or follow up the rear? Do we make culture or regurgitate it? Do we actively challenge stereotypes or reinforce them?

Huntington urged us to execute ‘Marketing Mum’, that god-awful saccharine multi-tasking, apron-wearing, child-nurturing, household-chore-doing bastion of unattainable motherly perfection that brands are still trying to get women with children to believe in. Well guess what, women with children don’t want to believe in it anymore.

“What is most important is to cease legislating for all lives what is liveable only for some, and similarly, to refrain from proscribing for all lives what is unliveable for some.” – Judith Butler, Undoing Gender.

Huntington was asking us to cut through deeply ingrained stereotypes, to reconsider our ‘social constructs’ about motherhood. He wants us to replace ‘Mums’ with ‘women with children’. The idea is that a ‘Mum’ thinks of herself as a independent woman first and foremost and a mum second. I think we can extrapolate this sentiment and align it with Judith Butler’s. I consider myself to be an independent person, first and foremost, (something Neko Case was keen to point out about herself to Playboy over twitter) before I would consider myself to be a woman: “there is a ‘one’ who is prior to this gender, a one that goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.”

Part I – Essentialism: Gender as a Science

For some reason that link is a bit dodgy – click here for Part I

Part II – Patriarchy: It’s a Man’s World, and The Shoe doesn’t Fit The Other Foot

3 thoughts on “Part III – Relativism: “Speaking as a Woman from a Strategic Point of View”

  1. I’m a strong advocate for people to identify as independent people before anything else comes into it: gender, sexuality, race, faith, etc. I actually arrived at this through thinking about successful relationships (which tend to be formed of two individuals sharing two lives, not just two vessels sharing a single life or goal – to put it simply).

    I think about this in relation to masculine identity too: I am a person before I am a man, I just also happen to be a man. Now depending on who you talk to you might back anything from “Oh that’s nice…” to “Who cares, your gender is on top and holding ours down” or something to that extent.

    But one gender is relative to another, men don’t exist in vacuum (which I am awfully grateful for). And with the shifting role of women in society, which I believe continues to improve or at least it seems that way from my perhaps skewed perspective, the role of men has changed – or at least it needs to. Conventional masculinity continues to be hawked at us, and after the peak of ‘metrosexuality’ in the early 2000s mingling with the lumberjack trend of the last few years we’ve wound up with some sort of weird hybrid of men with beards who dress like men from history who worked harder in one day than they ever will in their life who also moisturise and file their nails (I know this because I am one). And although I’m happy with where I am, I wonder about society in general: our gender has been commodified. Masculinity is now just a tagline. Buy this because it’s manly, do this because it’s manly.

    Now these are often archaic notions of manliness, but none of them catch what I believe to be a crucial part of conventional masculinity: doing something because you want to do it, or because of its inherent value. Let’s make it modern though: do I buy this moisturiser because it says it’ll ‘energise’ my skin (whatever that means), or because it’s called BULLDOG and there’s a bloody bulldog? My personal choice is the former, because I liked the science-y stuff and it sounds legit, because I don’t like that whole thing of defining my gender or self through what I perceive to be nationalist imagery but also heavy-handed attempts at defining a manly product.
    Of course, you could then argue that invoke science-y, techy packaging and copy I’ve bought into a different kind of the same story… Why don’t I just buy Dove over in the womens’ aisle, it’s the same stuff right?

    I feel like these gender roles are inescapable, but I certainly feel there’s room for what you could call gender-neutral products. Natural source did that quite well, but I wonder if they seemed to drop off the radar because the consumer demand is for the ‘manly’ or for the ‘girly’. And that raises the question of who can lead us toward more gender-neutral attitudes.

    Obviously that then raises the question, where does gender-neutrality end and begin? Because would this then interrupt sexuality? I’ve heard plenty of female friends query when men went soft…

    There’s also the impact of the non-dependent woman on the male psyche – men aren’t needed any more as bread-winners, what do we do with that? My view is that we start doing it for ourselves, there needs to be a major attitude shift but do we have a slow transition with all the difficulty that may come along the way or is this something that needs really looking at? Or is the correct way for men to express independence from conventional gender roles to play more video games and get drunk with their friends.

    I think I’m trying to say to much here so I’ll stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are constructs that exist in relation to each other. With what I have read so far there seems to be very little that I agree with on this topic. I think this is because lots of them have built on the erroneous foundations that Freud left them with, including his horrendously misleading ‘Penis Envy’ and ‘Oedipal Complex’.

    I think what your comment has proved is that there needs to be a ‘Why are men alienated by advertising’ post. I plan to tackle a bit about men’s appearances in some ‘Brand Old’ thinking on Brands in a few weeks. I definitely agree – ‘buy this because it’s manly’ is a bit much sometimes.

    Gender is a tagline for many brands and people. Do you think someone like Amy Childs would buy into a gender neutral product? I don’t. I think she would buy a lot of things because they are pink.

    Nonetheless, I think who Amy Childs is is more important than the fact she is a woman. Amy will buy products that follow not just ‘a conception of femininity,’ but rather, specifically ‘Amy Child’s conception of femininity.’ Her conception of ‘femininity’ just so happens to be quite mainstream and pink. At the same time a lot of women would find Vagazzles more than a bit disturbing.

    I think there are more defining categories out there than ‘woman’ vs ‘man’. I think we should define people on their attitudes towards being a woman or a man. The person comes before the gender proscriptions, because they choose which stereotypes they want to buy into.

    Its nice to have the ability to pick and choose with what you proscribe to. The metrosexual meets lumberjack is a case in point. You are free to choose whether you want to buy the ‘energizing’ facecream or the one with the bulldog. I don’t necessarily think that women have been as lucky with respect to your “crucial part of conventional masculinity: doing something because you want to do it, or because of its inherent value.”

    I think this was mostly due to patriarchal gender constructs, like Gilette’s shave your armpits or you aren’t feminine blag. This patriarchal order can still persists because women haven’t learnt to “do something because they want to do it.” Do women get onto the board of hoover because it is something men want to do and they feel left out? I’m still not decided on this.


  3. I agree with you a lot here, “defining people on their attitudes towards being a woman or a man.”

    Of course, you have every right to take ownership of what you were given, whether that’s the set of genitals you happen to have (or want to have) or a lifelong disability, or even just something really weird that you’re really into that no one else gets.

    And I see what you mean with gender constructs, they do definitely lean more heavily into things women can and can’t do than the other way.
    This has made me think of something from my own past. I went to a single-sex school, which, and some may disagree with me here but this is my observation, I believe allowed me a certain freedom towards choosing what to do with my life. And I noticed this in my friends at the girls’ school too. I’ve read about this too. To a degree, in single-sex schools boys are more likely to pursue conventionally ‘feminine’ fields of study, and girls more likely to pursue conventionally ‘masculine’ areas. What I found a bit disturbing though was just that my school was desperate for us to study maths and engineering and the girls school really pushed languages and the arts…

    And doing fashion design now, I’m sure you can guess the demographic make up of my course. I do actually sometimes wonder how much weight it carried in my application for my course that I’m a heterosexual male. But by all accounts the numbers are a lot more balanced compared with the last few decades, and I’ve heard similar things in the sciences, so perhaps we’re getting somewhere. (Though conservative governments and recessions seem to have a habit of pushing traditional gender values back out, I’m sure you didn’t miss the 50s housewife look boom just after the last general election).


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