In my last Oh bother, posted just minutes ago, I briefly discussed how I was bothered by the new Target Everyday Collections ad campaign. Here’s another reason why I’m bothered by it: it hyper-sexualizes and hyper-masculinizes African American women.
One of their ads, titled “under pressure,” features an African American woman brandishing and “firing” a water hose at a package of oatmeal. The actor is hyper-sexualized (with how she looks and the accompanying Wolfmother music) and hyper-masculinized (she’s holding a phallus and releasing its fluid). It’s significant that she’s African American; tons of theorists, like bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins, have detailed the history of how Black women are depicted as overly sexualized. They are also depicted as not being feminine enough—too strong, active and powerful; more masculine. Oh bother!
This depiction of the African-American woman as hyper-sexualized and hyper-masculinized is even more disturbing when we place the oatmeal commercial beside another Target Everyday Collection commercial for laundry. In this ad, a very white woman (dressed in white) gracefully and serenely moves through a set of white, flowing sheets. She’s represented as pure, desirable and desiring (but, not desiring of sex; she just wants to find the other missing sock). Wow, it’s like right out the Cult of True Womanhood!
I want to put these commercials beside another ad that I encountered while watching football yesterday for iPhones, featuring Venus and Serena Williams. In this commercial, they play an intense game of ping-pong with the ads’ narrator, presumably a white male.
I’m not sure what to make of this. I’d love to read what other people think about the representations of the Williams’ sisters here.
For more reading: I talked about the Williams’ sisters in my Politics of Sex class two years ago.