note: I wrote this post in the last week of September, but never finished it. It’s still not completely finished, but I wanted to post it anyway.
This blog post is inspired by my visit to FWA’s 3rd grade classroom last week. In one corner, the teacher has posted a quotation from George Bernard Shaw:
Some look at things that are and ask “why?”. I dream of things that never were and ask, “why not?”.
At first when I saw this quotation, I was a little annoyed. I like the question “why?” a lot. And I’ve written about its value a lot on this blog (like here and here, for example). Asking “why” is crucial to being curious about the world and to refusing to uncritically accept “common sense” assumptions about the world and how it functions. Asking why can give us critical distance from those ideas/ideologies that shape and regulate our behaviors. Why can encourage us to ask questions and to be open to other ways of being and doing. So, why diss on “why”?
Having spent a little time reflecting on this quotation, I’m not as bothered by it. In fact, I really like Shaw’s promotion of imagining other worlds and ways of being. To me, it speaks to our need to be creative and imaginative and encourages us to develop the skills for transforming our worlds in ways that could potentially make them better (more just, more beautiful, more caring). But, I wonder, why does the critical (the “why”) have to be in opposition to the creative (the “why not”)? In my own work/life/practices, I’m currently struggling with putting my critical and creative spirits together—or least finding ways to put them beside each other. Maybe I should explore this struggle in the winter, when I have more time to write?
Last night, RJP and FWA needed to get haircuts for school pictures. As I waited for them to finish, I browsed through some magazines: Shape (september 2011 issue) and Cosmopolitan (october 2011 issue). While I anticipated that there would be tons of “oh bother!” moments in the magazines, I wasn’t interested in paying attention to them. Then, I saw an ad for a sports bra in Shape and I couldn’t help but take a picture with my iPhone.
The copy is what got me the most: Finally a sports bra that treats boobs as individuals. Oh bother! My immediate response to STA was, “yes, they will treat boobs as individuals but not the person with the boobs.” (aside: boobs, really? well at least they didn’t say boobies. The bottom copy is cut off, but it’s interesting to note that when they go into their more technical explanation of the product they use the term “breasts.”) Notice how the ad cuts off the head so you can’t see this body as a person. The ad also focuses on one body part as the object of our gaze; it’s Jean Kilbourne,101–from her excellent Killing us Softly movies. In terms of how this bothers me, I also want to add that I’m put off by the language here and its implications for the U.S as a neoliberal state (is this a stretch? Perhaps): yes, here in the U.S we are so democratic that we even treat boobs as individuals! Hmm…not sure if that explanation is quite getting at my problem with the language, but I’ll keep it for now…
After seeing this boob-as-individual” ad I was a little wary of skimming through the magazine. So I switched to Cosmo (ha!). It didn’t take long before I came across an ad for running shoes that bothered me just as much as the first ad. (Did I mention that I have recently become obsessed with running. I started running in June and I’m hooked). The copy reads: A Lady is never is a hurry but can still out run you. Lady Foot Locker. It’s a lady thing. Again, oh bother! What is a lady? Why is she never in a hurry? How is never being in a hurry and being able to out run others a lady thing? Why use the term lady, which connotes a whole history of behaviors and images of what it means to be a proper woman (cult of true womanhood, perhaps)? Maybe you could read this copy as attempting to challenge stereotypes of woman, I mean “ladies”, as gentile and delicate (they can still kick your ass)? Or maybe, it is invoking the stereotype of the woman who takes forever to get ready. If this is the case, is the “you” in the phrase, “she can still out run you” a man (and presumably the partner, boyfriend, husband)? hmmm…maybe that’s another part of my problem with this ad. As the one reading the ad, I should be the “you,” right? I don’t like how the “you” here is attempting to hail me into existence (yup, Althusser and interpellation–see #3). I could probably say a lot about the “you” and how this ad bothers me, but instead I’ll just leave you with a picture of my reaction to these two images: