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Feminist Writings$

Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret A. Simons, and Marybeth Timmermann

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039003

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.001.0001

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Women, Ads, and Hate

Women, Ads, and Hate

Chapter:
(p.273) Women, Ads, and Hate
Source:
Feminist Writings
Author(s):
Marybeth Timmermann
Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.003.0042

Abstract and Keywords

If it weren’t so disturbing, the flood of misogyny set in motion by Ms. Yvette Roudy’s anti-sexist law would warrant peals of laughter.1 These gentlemen—and ladies—who reproach feminists for lacking a sense of humor are showing that they regrettably lack one themselves. With much pomp they call on their sense of responsibility and professional conscience in order to claim the right to cover the walls with images that—in their minds—will best fill their pockets! They are quick to invoke the highest cultural values: according to them, advertisements shower us with beauty, and it would take a complete lack of aesthetic sensibility to not compare these creations with the most famous paintings of the Louvre and their “messages” with the greatest works in French literature....

If it weren’t so disturbing, the flood of misogyny set in motion by Ms. Yvette Roudy’s anti-sexist law would warrant peals of laughter.1 These gentlemen—and ladies—who reproach feminists for lacking a sense of humor are showing that they regrettably lack one themselves. With much pomp they call on their sense of responsibility and professional conscience in order to claim the right to cover the walls with images that—in their minds—will best fill their pockets! They are quick to invoke the highest cultural values: according to them, advertisements shower us with beauty, and it would take a complete lack of aesthetic sensibility to not compare these creations with the most famous paintings of the Louvre and their “messages” with the greatest works in French literature.

Such weighty pretensions are astounding! But, above all, they claim to be inspired by the respect for sacrosanct freedom—what freedom? The law that allows women to freely choose their maternities is supposedly “an interference in personal life” and therefore an attack on freedom. (It is true that one hundred years ago when the first high school for girls opened up in Rouen, there were men who declared that it was an attack on freedom.)

(p.274) Freedom! What idiocies are uttered in your name! Freedom is used as an excuse, for example, to compare Yvette Roudy to an ayatollah, yet I am not aware that she has demanded her compatriots to cover themselves in veils, nor called for the stoning of adulteresses. And what connection is there between Queen Victoria and the woman who spearheaded the legalization of free abortion? I see nothing humorous or cleverly witty in these clumsy and hateful sarcasms.

Some prefer arguments that seem to them to be more serious. La croix,2 whose continued efforts in favor of sexual liberation are well known, accuses Yvette Roudy of wanting to forbid love and pleasure. Ms. Giroud, among others, reproaches her for curtailing “the right to fantasies.”3 Does this mean that people are only able to invent their dreams from the flat images of advertisements? It is not necessary to be a great psychologist to know that fantasies have altogether different origins.

However, “knowing winks” and complicit “nudges” are not sufficient to respond to these attacks because this small minority of profiteers, who have gone mad like dogs threatened with losing their bone, might cause harm due to their solidly orchestrated campaign. They are supported by many journalists since the printed press—except Le canard enchaîné, which has not really taken sides in this campaign4—lives in large part off advertisements. We must therefore denounce more precisely the bad faith of the arguments they muster.

First of all, they overlook important distinctions. The law does not affect books, films, paintings, or any artistic creation; it does not go after reviews or magazines. Only advertisements are targeted because only they, instead of being offered to [individual] freedoms, are imposed upon all eyes that are subjected to them, willingly or not. No one is indignant about limiting the freedom of exhibitionists, and certain advertising exhibitions are no less shocking. It seems logical to me to protect the passersby. Besides, this protection is very discreet. They brandish the word censure, but it is not at all a matter of censorship. The law simply accords women who feel attacked the power to dispute an ad, i.e., the right of opposition [contre-pouvoir] in a democracy. In the end, there will be judges to decide whether or not their protests are well-founded.

Why women? Because they are the ones in question: they are the ones depicted in the degrading images displayed by advertisements in order to sell products, never a man. Except, in the past, Blacks. But the antiracist law made Banania’s “y’a bon” ads of my childhood obsolete.5 They tell us that laws can do nothing and that racism has remained just as alive since the (p.275) antiracist law. There are a thousand reasons why it has not been eradicated, but at least it can no longer be expressed without any punishment at all. Certain public displays have been removed from our walls. After some lawsuits, cafés no longer dare to refuse to serve “bicots6 or “niggers.” A law does not change mentalities overnight, true. But it plays a part in forming them. One fool asked in Le nouvel observateur,7 “Will burning images be enough to liberate women?” Of course not, that would be too simple. But it is not useless to act on images. Children also have eyes, and the images make an impression on them. Preventing these images from inspiring in them a scorn for women would already be a victory.

It seems inconceivable to these gentlemen that a woman’s body could be used as “advertising material” without inflicting a degrading attitude upon her. To refuse this degradation would be to forbid any image of a woman, and by extrapolation, any image at all. A world without images? That would be the tyrannous austerity of the Eastern Bloc countries! The gulag is not far behind! These absurd insinuations find a receptive audience among the enemies of the regime because we must not forget that this campaign is also—and perhaps essentially—political.8

However, this aspect is more or less hidden. Loudly denounced are the excesses that feminists will carry out if the Roudy law gets passed. Advertisers repeatedly insist that we must have confidence in women. So? So then feminists are not women. The most far-fetched arguments are used against them. They are “tormented and sexually maladjusted,” declared Mr. J.-F. Fabry, the eminent inventor of the ads featuring a bound woman wearing Buffalo jeans. “They are intellectuals who have no contact with reality,” diagnoses another. I know feminists who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and full-time mothers. It does not seem to me that the director of an advertisement agency has, a priori, a better connection with reality, unless “reality” signifies for him money with which he certainly has a more enriching experience. In any case, and I repeat, associations will not settle anything, but judges will. All that we hope for is that the prospect of a lawsuit will have—as with racism—a deterring effect.

What is disturbing in this whole affair is the real reason behind this general outcry.

Under duress, men are giving up openly boasting about their superiority in the economic sphere and are leading a more underhanded fight against equal pay and against ending job discrimination based on sex. But they remain deeply convinced that woman is an object to manipulate and that they are the masters of this manipulation. They will not be changed so easily. (p.276) But every step that hinders their claims to domination should be welcomed with gratitude, not only by feminists, but by all women, at least by all those who refuse to let themselves be ruled by an iron fist, even if that fist is full of diamonds.

Notes

“La femme, la pub et la haine,” Le monde, Wednesday, May 4, 1983, 1, 10; © Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir.

This article was preceded by the following editorial introduction entitled “The ‘Anti-sexist’ Bill”: “At a press conference on May 2, Ms. Yvette Roudy, Deputy Minister of women’s rights, stated that she would ‘pursue to the end’ this ‘anti-sexist’ bill presented—by herself—on March 9 to the cabinet of ministers. Here, Ms. Simone de Beauvoir presents the reasons that, in her opinion, should convince women to support this bill and respond to the uproar it has incited, particularly from journalists and advertisers.”

(1.) Yvette Roudy (1929–) is a French socialist politician and feminist who was the Minister of Women’s Rights at the time of this article. Roudy was also a delegate to the European Parliament from 1979 to 1981 and a delegate to the French General Assembly and mayor of Liseux from 1989 to 2001.

(2.) La croix is a French daily newspaper associated with the Roman Catholic Church that covers topics of general interest.

(3.) Françoise Giroud (1916–2003) was a French journalist and writer who served as Secretary of State for Women (Secrétaire d’État à la Condition féminine) from 1974–76 and French Minister of Culture from 1976–77.

(4.) Le canard enchaîné is a satirical weekly French newspaper known for its investigative reporting and featuring bogus interviews, political cartoons, and inside information about French politics and politicians.

(5.) Banania is a popular French chocolate breakfast drink whose packaging and advertisements featured a smiling Senegalese man saying “y’a bon,” which was supposedly the way the Senegalese soldiers said “It’s good” in pidgin French.

(6.) This is an extremely offensive racial slur used against Arabs or French people of Arab descent.

(7.) Le nouvel observateur is a prominent French weekly newsmagazine for general information.

(8.) François Mitterrand, President of the French Republic from 1981–95, was the leader of the Socialist Party, and the first socialist president of the Fifth Republic.

Notes:

(1.) Yvette Roudy (1929–) is a French socialist politician and feminist who was the Minister of Women’s Rights at the time of this article. Roudy was also a delegate to the European Parliament from 1979 to 1981 and a delegate to the French General Assembly and mayor of Liseux from 1989 to 2001.

(2.) La croix is a French daily newspaper associated with the Roman Catholic Church that covers topics of general interest.

(3.) Françoise Giroud (1916–2003) was a French journalist and writer who served as Secretary of State for Women (Secrétaire d’État à la Condition féminine) from 1974–76 and French Minister of Culture from 1976–77.

(4.) Le canard enchaîné is a satirical weekly French newspaper known for its investigative reporting and featuring bogus interviews, political cartoons, and inside information about French politics and politicians.

(5.) Banania is a popular French chocolate breakfast drink whose packaging and advertisements featured a smiling Senegalese man saying “y’a bon,” which was supposedly the way the Senegalese soldiers said “It’s good” in pidgin French.

(6.) This is an extremely offensive racial slur used against Arabs or French people of Arab descent.

(7.) Le nouvel observateur is a prominent French weekly newsmagazine for general information.

(8.) François Mitterrand, President of the French Republic from 1981–95, was the leader of the Socialist Party, and the first socialist president of the Fifth Republic.