They’ll Use Violence to Sell You Ideologies, Too

1 Aug

So here I am, happily reading the Ms. Magazine Blog like a good feminist, when I come across this article called “Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Women” by Susan F. Feiner, and it’s got this fantastic picture of John Boehner up at the top, and I’m like, yeah Washington – what the hell is wrong with you guys?

Until I read this:

Watch out, women.  Lock the doors and pull the shades.  Congress, using the debt ceiling crisis manufactured by Tea Party radicals, has declared war on American women.

And I’m like… huh.  That’s kind of weird.  And then it gets weirder:

The looming possibility of the first-ever U.S. government default – a “crisis” that was deliberately created by the Republicans – has morphed into a bipartisan carte blanche to commit gender violence.

Look, I know that it’s common practice for activists to appropriate violent rhetoric to impress upon the public how serious their respective issues are.  This is not a new phenomenon.  However, it’s somewhat of a different story when we’re talking about “an assault on the environment” (for example), because that’s figurative – that statement personifies “the environment” and makes it something capable of being assaulted.  When you’re talking about figurative “gender violence” – well, that’s something that really happens.  This is a much, much different dynamic.

Furthermore, the fear-mongering tactic used in the first quote I pulled is the same advertising ploy used to get women to buy home security systems, as demonstrated (hilariously) by Sarah Haskins on Current TV’s Target Women:

Fear is an effective advertising tactic, but it’s especially effective – and insidious – when used against women.  Consider the following LifeAlert ad from 1988:

Is it any coincidence that the seniors in the commercial are women?  Of course not.  According to G. Sakeld, et al (2000) in their study examining quality of life and hip injuries in older Americans, “[O]lder women place a very high marginal value on their health. […] The single most important factor (threat) seems to be the loss of independence, dignity, and possessions that accompanies the move from living in their own homes to living in a nursing home.”  Not only is that LifeAlert commercial tapping into older women’s fear of falling and breaking a hip, but also into the fear of losing their independence.  And because LifeAlert wants to continue to sell those little remotes, it continues to use women in its advertisements.

So why is Feiner employing this violent rhetoric to make her point?  If it’s meant to be parody, it falls kind of flat for me.  More likely, Ms. Feiner is using violent rhetoric to frighten and intimidate women into caring about the U.S. credit crisis.  But like, that actually happens.  In real life and stuff.  The National Organization for Women states that “women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.”

This is more than a rhetorical flourish – this is the intentional utilization of legitimate fears that women have been taught to internalize over years of socialization to trick them into buying into an ideology.  It is little different from what Broadview Security and LifeAlert do.

I think you can do better, Ms.

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