Jan 27 2006

Litter Box Award

Just in case you were blithely sauntering through life with a handful of balloons, content with your pleasant thoughts that artsy types are just naturally more enlightened than the usual misogynist hoi polloi, take a whiff of this : Step Inside Design, a magazine that “takes readers behind the scenes to meet the creative problem-solvers that [sic] make it possible for us to move through the world in brilliant and dynamic ways,” covered its recent “Women of Design” issue with–what else–pictures of cute, guileless kittens.

Pissed off subscribers argued in letters to the editor that an issue showcasing men’s design (which, one suspects, is every other issue) would undoubtedly have refrained from insulting its subjects with cheap and, if I may say so, extremely hackneyed sexist stereotypes.

The designers of the kitten cover, both women, defended their stupidity with some asinine bullshit about “re-appropriating” degrading stereotypes. As though it were a matter of high social import that kittens regain their rightful place in modern intellectual discourse as symbols of brilliant, dynamic, creative problem-solvers. Yeah. 2006: the Year of the Kitten.

It goes without saying that if patriarchy didn’t have a white-knuckle grip around the design world’s throat, demanding allegiance to the ideal that the male designer is the default designer, the separate women’s issue–in itself an insult– would never have seen the light of day in the first place.

The girl ghetto has got to go.

[Thanks for the linky, Finky]


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  1. Dim Undercellar

    I strongly suspect that if it had been about male designers, the cover collage would have been pictures of *gasp* their faces.

    Apparently, kittens are more appealing to look at than the faces of real, live women who do jobs.

  2. Steph

    This makes even those “intelligent design” fucktards look progressive.

    WTF do kittens have to do with design?

  3. Hattie

    A friend of mine does paintings in which all the figures are cats or other animals. I love them.
    If it had been a men’s magazine, perhaps the pix could have been of dogs.
    I think men take women very seriously. Why would they spend so much time trying to keep us down if they didn’t?

  4. Kaka Mak

    Gaa. Now I’m having crazy anxious moments about that mad-ass kitty picture on my blog profile.

    But as usual I’m with Twisty 100%.
    (Can she do any wrong?)

  5. Amber

    Yeah, I was pretty appalled when this came in the mail. Both as a woman AND as a graphic designer. I mean that is just plain LAZY design.

  6. Tony Patti

    Oh ho! The design world! Something I know a little about, since I was a designer and art director most of my life.

    In no other business world are there as many women, and yet, they are all clustered at the bottom. Strange. I remember reading in the 90s that women outnumbered men in design by quite a bit, and still made less than all the men combined.

    Perhaps the most talented designer I ever knew was a woman. She did, last I saw her, rise to the top of the company she worked for. I’m sure that she is probably running her own shop by now, and if she isn’t she easily could.

    The naked raw fangs of the patriarchy can be seen in every single brain storming meeting in every design firm and ad agency in the country. There the aggressive nature of men can hardly be restrained from dominating and suppressing everyone else in the room, and the women, taught since birth to defer to assholes, have to fight their own training to get their ideas on the table.

    I was very guilty of this type of behavior myself, I’m ashamed to say. But that’s life in a patriarchy, where even the nice guys have absolutely no idea what bastards they can be when they are all excited by a good idea and trying to do a good job.

    The nice thing about a lot of design jobs, versus ad jobs, is that the meetings are more meaningless and the actual product from the cubicle is the most important product. So a woman, no matter how damaged she is by the patriarchy, can excel out of the sight and beyond the badgering of men and their egos.

    But the design jobs pay less. And a lot of talented women will all too readily dumb down their work to satisfy the expert men who enforce the fucked-up and idiotic rules of ‘good design’.

  7. thebewilderness

    I suspect, knowing perfectly well that no self respecting designer gives two figs for what uppity women designers are like, they decided to put kittens on the cover so no one would feel threatened by those uppity women. Also, they may have taken note of the movement on the internets to mainstream cat blogging and kitten wars. Or not.

  8. AndiF

    Okay, I really have had enough with the explanations of how playing along with the patriarchy is actually doing something really cool. From now on when I hear someone say any version of “I can do X even though it stinks of the patriarchy because when I do it, it’s transgressive”, I will translate it as “I am a fucking asshole who does stupid shit because I want to but am too much of coward to admit it.”

  9. Julia

    Are we talking about design, as in fashion design?

    As in the fuctards who think that hobbling a woman with “fashionable shoes” is any more stylish than Chinese foot binding?

  10. Kelley

    What a crappy cover. I wouldn’t even cut it up to use for cat litter. My cat has too much self-respect to relieve herself in litter like that. Do I even need to comment on how the long years of creative toil by these women have effectively been flushed down the crapper with that one offensive piece of shit cover?

  11. peacebug

    While today we see an unprecedented number of female designers, it is often difficult to trace the lives and work of the graphic artists, illustrators, engravers, binders, and typographers of the early- to mid-20th century. – aaris sherin

    using “female” instead of “woman”: just another indication that the patriarchy is uncomfortable with connotations of women’s power and sexuality.

  12. Clare

    The magazine is currently having a “Help Design a Cover” contest. Obviously they need all the help they can get.

    Maybe next year’s Women Designers issue can have pictures of a leg with a nice ball and chain attached to it.

    I emailed them and told them the “wee pussie” cover sucked but I’m never as articulate as twisty. So sad.

  13. st3ph

    You know what makes it even worse? This article from Step Inside Designs’s website explaining how the “Kitten Kover” came to be. It includes such gems of reasoning as: “…we felt that we have all seen enough pictures of women standing around proving how tough they are or how good they look in suits, and how well they can exist in a man’s world. Well, we decided to make it a kitten world because you know what? It’s not really a man’s world any more. We don’t have anything to prove. And we can laugh at ourselves too.”

  14. Jezebella

    Why don’t they just come out and call it: “Pussies Make Pictures, Too”? I mean, it’s not only all those other things y’all said, it’s just f’in vulgar. A cover full of pussies? Really? I mean, I try to *forget* that to most men, I’m just a vehicle for transporting a pussy. I bet the cover designers probably didn’t even realize they were invoking the kitten-pussy connection until someone pointed it out to them.

  15. manxome

    I don’t get what this has to do with BDSM. Ah, well.

    The cover is, quite simply, shitty design. Good design does not need explanation or exuses after the fact.

  16. mad woman in the attic

    So the designers of this sad cover think they’ve re-appropriated a degrading stereotype with humour, do they?

    Ok, I know I’m a feminist and so naturally have an under developed giggle gland but….where’s the humour?

    I’m totally with Jezabella – they probably didn’t even realise just how crass their ‘design’ is.

  17. kathy a

    heh — they have cleverly decided to make the issue go away by photographing a guy with a cat. http://www.stepinsidedesign.com/STEPMagazine/Article/28572

  18. Burrow

    From now on when I hear someone say any version of “I can do X even though it stinks of the patriarchy because when I do it, it’s transgressive”, I will translate it as “I am a fucking asshole who does stupid shit because I want to but am too much of coward to admit it.”

    HA! That is perfect.

    As per the designers, ugh. I hate it when people say that we’ve achieved equality and then go on to do something that demonstrates just how much we haven’t gained equality at all.

  19. Burrow

    “It is indeed true that kittens play into a stereotype of women (and have been used to represent women for centuries),” Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler wrote in a statement published in its February/March letters page. “But we honestly believe you can change connotations by re-appropriating them (especially with humor). That’s why it’s OK for Spike Lee to make a movie about minstrel shows but it would not be OK if Woody Allen did. Mel Brooks can get away for Springtime for Hitler, but Prussian Blue can’t … context is everything.”

    That’s their defence? THAT! WHAT???

  20. thebewilderness

    I’m luvin’ you Jezebella.

  21. piny

    Even setting aside all the other problems with that justification…no. You don’t “reappropriate” something by presenting it, unaltered, in a context close enough to its original as makes no difference. “Springtime for Hitler” is actually a pretty good example of reappropriating and loudly mocking Nazis. Had Brooks written a Broadway version of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will and presented it unchanged and unchallenged, that wouldn’t qualify. Wangechi Mutu* is engaging in reappropriation. This is same old shit, different place.

    *Twisty! If you haven’t already, go! Google!

  22. Violet Socks

    I just went to their website. Jesus Christ. They need a web designer.

  23. Twisty

    “Okay, I really have had enough with the explanations of how playing along with the patriarchy is actually doing something really cool. From now on when I hear someone say any version of “I can do X even though it stinks of the patriarchy because when I do it, it’s transgressive”, I will translate it as “I am a fucking asshole who does stupid shit because I want to but am too much of coward to admit it.”

    AndiF nails it!

  24. kcb

    Sadly, the first thing that sprang to my mind when I saw the cover was, “Wow. That’s a lotta pussy.” Which is the same thing that’s on most mag covers, one way or another. Not exactly radical redefinition of anything.

  25. renee

    It’s really hard to be a woman in this field. This cover just made it harder. I’m used to having my work downplayed and subtly degraded with adjectives like “feminine”, “cute” and “pretty”, but this is just a slap in the face. Well, at least they’re finally coming out and saying what they think of us and our work – nothing could be clearer than “Designing Pussies”.

  26. mcmc

    I’m with Twisty–the fact that they’re doing an issue on women in design says it all. thie kittens are just the frosting of contempt on the cake of oppressin’ me.

  27. BritGirlSF

    Kittens? Are they fucking kidding us?
    The art world is every bit as misogynist as the rest of our culture. Just look at the prevalance of female nudes and the near total absence of male nudes.
    Also, as Jezebella pointed out, the connotation really is unforgiveably crass.

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