“… 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 feminist, post-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.
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.
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.”
For some reason that link is a bit dodgy – click here for Part I https://planosophy.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/essentialism-gender-as-a-science/