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Mar 29 2008

Feminizers without borders: Moscow edition

vodka_girly.jpg
Photo of empowerful vodka originally uploaded at the New York Times.

The persistent feminization of unisex commodities certainly bodes well for Dude Nation; if every day weren’t already a big ole lap dance for patriarchy, I’d say they should book the Diamonds Cabaret and its lineup of prepubescent strippers for a giant Feminism’s-Goin’-Down pole-a-thon. Because the Empowerful Pink Marketing Juggernaut continues to cut a wide swath across the globe, and the meager cries of a few doddering spinster aunts are not enough to slow it down.

Cast your jaundiced eye upon this, a NY Times Fashion & Style piece about a new “women’s” vodka in Russia.

Recently, a new billboard has appeared [in Moscow], displaying a lavender-tinged bottle with a distinctive feminine shape, adorned in a white skirt billowing upward, à la Marilyn Monroe, to reveal the label, Damskaya.

“Between us girls,” is the catchphrase for this vodka intended for women, a marketing campaign as jarring as, say, a Super Bowl commercial for women’s Budweiser.

The vodka is apparently only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pinkification of Russian enterprise. To wit:

Scores of seemingly unisex products, from cigarettes to juice, breakfast cereals and even mobile phone plans have adopted a feminine flare [sic]. A fleet of pink taxis with female drivers spares the women here the callous flirtation of male cabbies.

The greater the sex-based dimorphism in commercial products, the easier it is to rationalize sex-based social discrimination. For it is upon the supposed enormous differences between men and women that our culture bases its wide approval of the concept that women’s essence justifies our ghettoization in the sex caste.

The shape of the vodka bottle is “feminine” because it mimics what is popularly imagined to be the most important part of a sexbot: a headless hourglass torso. Note that the name of the vodka appears under the Marilyn Monroe skirt, just where you’d find that naughty Marilyn’s cooter! The bottle is “distinctive” because ordinary vodka bottles are sex-neutral — that is, they just look like bottles — which makes the Damskaya bottle — and the rational expectation that it will appeal to those Russian women who have gotten the sexbot memo — a replication in miniature of the patriarchal verdict on the nature of women.

“Different.”

Behold the neat trick. First, you make women act like simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves before you grant them social approval. You call this behavior “femininity” and explain that it is their essential nature, and that any deviation from the program will be punished. Then you infantilize and ridicule the ones who get it right, and vilify and abuse the ones who get it wrong (you can also vilify and abuse the ones who get it right, because, let’s be honest; the world is your oyster).

With so much riding on it, whether femininity is performed right or wrong is an issue of enormous concern to women. That’s where the Empowerful Pink Marketing Juggernaut comes in. They package femininity, changing it a bit every so often so that the old version eventually becomes obsolete, and sell it to women as insurance against getting it wrong. This pink capitalist enterprise has the dual effect of diverting women’s income back to the male-dominated megatheocorporatocracy, while simultaneously reinforcing women’s investment in the bogus feminine identity and marking (with pink, the color of female infancy) the objects tainted with girl-cooties. The woman festooned with pink accessories, therefore, may be easily identified from a distance as a friend to Dude Nation.

Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff (which is one way of debunking the argument that it is an inherited sex trait). It is simply not possible for a woman without makeup and deodorant and lingerie and kitten heels and diet pills and clothes without pockets and anti-wrinkle cream that promises “glowing skin” and self-help books explaining the best ways to suck up to men and jewelry and razors and tweezers and lemon-scented cleaning products and boxes of Lean Cuisine in the freezer — all stuff that must be bought — to be fully feminine.

Femininity — selling it, doing it, approving of it, pinking it, drinking it — is antifeminist, fool.

42 comments

4 pings

  1. TP

    While everything you write is both amusing and thought-provoking, sometimes you tackle things, like femininity itself, that are so large it’s hard for most people to see them, like a huge weight crushing you that you can only see as a darkness in front of your face. There are so many tiny phrases in your posts that open up huge vistas of awareness, like your swift characterization of women’s roles (simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves), your calling femininity something that is performed, marketing it to women being noted as insurance against getting it wrong, how all the stuff needed to create this artificial femininity helps disprove that it is a biological fact of life.

    It’s a rare gift, to be able to see things so clearly, outside of our preconceived patriarchal blinders, that you can compress more truth in a few short phrases than whole books can explain over chapters of tedious explanation.

  2. osangjin

    I’m a dude. I’ll try not to be “yet another pedantic asshole.” (YAPA?)
    Just wanna say, day in day out, reading your blog makes it feel like the state of the universe has become infinitesimally more right. While the evils of patriarchy are rather easy to point out and attack, I can’t always articulate what it is that fills me with so much rage about the program of gender itself. Few of my friends dare defend patriarchy, but most still seem to have quite a bit of stock in gender, if only because, as you note, they think its natural. Your ever blistering attacks bring a sharp clarity to the amorphous rage. Ten thousand thank yous, dearest Twisty. I hope you never, ever feel for even a moment that your work is either un(der)loved or un(der)appreciated. No blogger moves me like you do. Okay, mash note over.

    Oh no, wait. One more thing. I never said thank you for your attack of the use of monosyllabic snarky grunts that are used to begin what are thought of as pithy ripostes but inevitably end up as banal observations. You know, like….

    “Um, but maybe I like push-up bras. Didja ever think of that?”

    Every time I see “um” or “uh” or anything written like that, I think of you, and feel less alone in the solitary burn of my white-hot disgust.

  3. Chiroptera

    I especially like the point that Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff (which is one way of debunking the argument that it is an inherited sex trait). I intend to use that in arguments.

  4. Jen

    A brilliant exposé of the unholy marriage of marketing and sexism. People wonder why I align myself as a Radical Feminist, or a Socialist Feminist, depending on the issue. This is why. Being female, I agree with Twisty, is all about buying more and more pink stuff. This female merchandise are usually products that men would be ashamed to own: sugary perfumes, pink underwear, high heels, and flowered hair clips. The most masculine products are things that everyone wants, regardless of gender: fast cars, lavish houses, and televisions as big as your wall.

    What all of this gender merchandising brings to mind is the a similar phenomenon in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s: “Separate but Equal”. Most assume that what women are is equal to what men are, but separate. However, the divide between the genders is a one-way street. To cross over to the female side is to become a faggot, to cross over to the male side is to become powerful and wealthy, as long as you make sure you still have a foot in the land of pink cell phones and kitten heels.

    Male and female isn’t what you are born as, it’s not the parts you have, and it isn’t even what you do anymore: it’s what you buy. Coupled with my overwhelming hatred of Globalization and American commercial and military Imperialism, it’s no wonder that I revisit Marxist theory time and time again and see materialism and the objectification of the female sex as our most heinous opponent.

  5. Ben

    Echoing Chiroptera here – “Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff” is an amazing statement.

    How’s the vegetarianism thing going? Do you think the vegetarian “movement” is marketed towards any particular sex?

    (I’d write a better question, but I’m about to scamper, and I don’t want to lose my place in the comments queue.)

  6. CafeSiren

    Behold the neat trick. First, you make women act like simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves before you grant them social approval. You call this behavior “femininity” and explain that it is their essential nature, and that any deviation from the program will be punished. Then you infantilize and ridicule the ones who get it right, and vilify and abuse the ones who get it wrong (you can also vilify and abuse the ones who get it right, because, let’s be honest; the world is your oyster).

    Too bad this is too big to get tattooed on me. I’ve never seen the sad catch-22 that is femininity summed up more concisely.

  7. Ginger Mayerson

    Wow. A vodka just for me? Just what I needed to go with those Virginia Slims.

    First they get my money, then they kill me. IBTP.

  8. atheist woman

    This a wonderful post, and shall be cited in much gleefully public blaming to come. I truly do not mean to nitpick *but* couldn’t someone still be ‘feminine’ even if she were walking about in the woods all naked? If she were still say batting her eyelashes and bowing her head subserviently or prostituting herself, would she not be ‘feminine?’
    Am I missing the point?

  9. Carolyn J.

    My personal micro-blitzkreig has been against the NHL’s pink and white jerseys just for the “ladies”. The sight of them makes me sad.

  10. Lauren O

    I have a question, the answer to which I haven’t seen in FAQs or previous posts. If it has been answered elsewhere, please direct me to that place.

    What do you think of male-to-female transgendered folks, who feel very compelled to choose socially constructed forms of femininity, even though it’s the opposite of socially sanctioned behavior for them?

  11. Lost Clown

    Carolyn: I had a post on that, but about the MLB Jerks.

    Also, why do women’s pants not have pockets? Or, even more annoying, they have pockets but they pockets are like 1/2 the size of a normal pocket so you can’t fit say, a wallet, in there. What the hell is up with that? WHY?

  12. the Omphaloskeptic

    atheist woman, I submit that you are probing the point, poking it with a stick even, but not “missing” it.

    I think that your hypothetical person doesn’t need accoutrements to be feminine because she embodies one of the archetypes of femininity – the damsel in distress. If you’re completely helpless and at the mercy of the first shmuck to trip over you, you’re pretty much set as far as femininity goes.

    Now, if you had any financial clout (within that very capitalist juggernaut (can you have clout in a juggenaut?)), you’d better hop to and start paying for poledancing lessons.

    That is to say: no matter what else, it’s always about power.

  13. atheist woman

    Lauren O, I believe you can view the trans-wars of doom by typing ‘trans’ into the search box to the right. Please make sure you have a map, sufficient water, a flashlight, a change of clothes, and a compass. Happy scrolling.

  14. Okapi

    I’m pretty sure there are tribal societies in which nothing at all need be bought to be feminine. Are we just talking about our own society here?

  15. Twisty

    Feminine behavior does not permit being naked in the woods alone. Femininity requires an audience. It is supplicatory behavior.

    Of course, a woman may perform femininity without accoutrements present; it is understood in this case the stuff has been bought and paid for and exists and will be utilized as soon as the naked eye-batting episode concludes. And certainly even a naked woman will have brought with her the results of her feminine practices: her dyed hair or boob job, or her manicure or perfumed skin. And without a doubt, shaved legs, pits, and god knows what else.

    In the damsel-in-distress scenario, it is understood that the accoutrements are only temporarily absent, until suitable replacements could be found back at the castle.

  16. Jen

    I think the Omphaloskeptic (what does that mean, by the way?) is on to something. There really does seem to be the trend that the richer the woman, the more womanly she acts. From personal experience, going to a poorer high school was my saving grace. My female friends played soccer, were President of the Debate Club, and petitioned the school board for more funding for music programs. Not only did we perform better than the boys academically, we were more visible, more political, and more empowered. Now in college, the girls I am friendly with say that was simply not Kosher in their upper-middle-class white neighborhoods. Being a girl was about mother’s Botox, buying Coach purses, and dating the quarterback. For all intents and purposes, the richer the school, the larger and more oppressive the gender divide.

    Which again, goes to show you that male or female, your success in your gender role is determined almost entirely on how much shit you can afford. This story does not have a happy ending, because the girls at the richer schools, cheerleaders and all, went to much more prestigious colleges than me, or any of my friends.

  17. atheist woman

    Aah, but of course. Thank you Twisty for the extra dash of enlightenment.

  18. PhysioProf

    Very excellent post, Twisty. I especially enjoyed the Mr. T “fool” at the end.

    One of the things that is so awesome about your analysis and writing is that you make it crystal clear that radical feminism is really just plain old fucking common sense.

  19. atheist woman

    Jen, that is a wonderful angle. Similarly, in medieval Europe while wealthy women (the wives of gentry) were being all feminine and delicate in their manors, peasant and serf women were out in the field lugging two-hundred pound sacks of grain.

  20. Twisty

    Did they even have sacks back then? Wasn’t the primary mode of conveyance for heavy, bulky items the standard-issue PA (peasant apron)?

  21. atheist woman

    Perhaps, but whatever it was, it was certainly made of burlap, and it certainly itched. If it did not itch, they might forget their place as the lowest beings in the sweating armpit of European history.

  22. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker

    But but but but it’s PURPLE, not pink! That makes it okay!

  23. the Omphaloskeptic

    Jen, omphaloskeptic is my takeoff of the word omphalokepsis, which is the fancy Greek-derived word for navelgazing. It’s one of my favorite occupations, in addition to skepticism and word-collecting. Oh, and I know it’s not at all relevant, but my sense of duty requires me to tell people about this whenever I remember: the word “jentacular” means “of or relating to breakfast.”

    The class divide in femininity performance crops up again and again through history. Funny that that particular kind of constraint should actually loosen as you go down the ladder of social class. Of course, it makes perfect sense in relation to Twisty’s thesis – you’ve only got femininity if you’ve got the cash and the time to spare.

    All that girly vodka and sports corsetry temper any power that the rich/noble women get, perhaps.

  24. Karley

    The most ridiculous things regarding women’s pockets are the fake pockets. Nothing’s worse than buying a blazer or something only to find out later that the pocket slits are just there for decoration. Just spotting one gives me a headache from the idiocy of it all. Why? Why sew a little pocket opening with no pocket?

    While they’re at it, why don’t they make cars with holographic representations of cup holders instead of actual cup holders.

  25. Cortney

    “The bottle is ‘distinctive’ because ordinary vodka bottles are sex-neutral — that is, they just look like bottles — which makes the Damskaya bottle — and the rational expectation that it will appeal to those Russian women who have gotten the sexbot memo — a replication in miniature of the patriarchal verdict on the nature of women.”

    Bottles are totally phallic!!!!

  26. Feminist Avatar

    Rich women gain social power as they have power over those who are of a lower social class and who work for them, either directly or by providing services. In order to ensure that women can still be distinguished from men who hold power, they need to behave ultra-feminine. In a sense it is a balancing act- women are only allowed x (x=y-z) amount of power so if they gain social power (y), they need to balance it with femininity (-z). Thus the more social power the more femininity.

  27. Holly

    Wow, a skirt!? There is so much wrong with that bottle, but you have pointed those all out, of course. I can’t believe that the skirt is up exposing a what-would-be vagina! This also caught my eye:

    “A fleet of pink taxis with female drivers spares the women here the callous flirtation of male cabbies.”

    So women in Russia, while not having to deal with flirtatious male cabbies get to be gender segregated and that is seen as a positive thing? How about actually enforcing a sexual harassment rule, or would that be too much work?

  28. SexPozBottle

    Excuse yourselves Radical Feminists of the NeoFascists-Bottle-Oppressor-Conspiracy Society–but I am a sexpozbottle!

    I am also the bottle model Twisty shows here and you know what? I *CHOOSE* to pose scantily clad in my label with a fan blowing up my skirt.
    I got a nice label, a nice upper botty and I celebrate it!

    It’s none of your damn business what I do with my botty!
    Leave us sexpozbottles alone!!!

    ::::storms off to go do a shoot with PETA::::

  29. Ron Sullivan

    The class divide in femininity performance crops up again and again through history.

    Paging Sojourner Truth! Ms Truth, to the microphone, please.

  30. goblinbee

    Brilliant post.

    Twisty, it is a tragedy if you don’t have a book deal in the works.

    I’m not usually a consumer or a gift-giver, but a Faster-work I would buy in spades.

  31. goblinbee

    Edit: of course I’m a consumer! I keep it down to a dull roar, but I’m certainly not yet the ascetic I think the world needs.

  32. Adrian

    Lost Clown, feminine clothes don’t have useful pockets because they are designed for proper feminine display. Carrying a wallet or keyring in a hip pocket would interfere with showing off the trim girlish figure, or womanly curves…whatever body shape happens to be fashionable, it’s not supposed to be lumpy, and showing it off is the most important thing a woman can do. (Of course. The clothing-design branch of patriarchy values women according to our ability to be decorative, not according to our ability to do anything useful, or our ability to reach the stuff we need in a hurry.)

  33. mearl

    I’d be more likely to drink out of a bottle of vodka that was shaped like a patriarchy-whacking club. Where’s MY ad? Huh?

    Aha, Omphaloskeptic, I always thought things that are of and relating to breakfast were “Breakfastacular.” I stand corrected!!

  34. Panic

    Three cheers for Twisty (with the gender appropriate beverage of your choosing of course). Capitalism is patriarchy’s greatest ally. I can’t even really figure out where one ends and the other begins.

  35. Karen

    I want to point out that the goal here is not to get Russian women to drink *this* brand of vodka instead of the manly brands. The goal is to get women drinking vodka at all. Mixed drinks are not big in Russia, and neither is the idea of women doing shots. When I was a student for a semester in the early 1990s, the only women I saw doing shots were other Westerners. Russian women drank cognac or wine. Probably part of why Russian women have a life expectancy almost 14 years longer than that of Russian men (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Russia#Population_data).

  36. MarilynJean

    Of course, Twisty is right as always. This post and the comments about it reminds of the fact that femininity refers mostly to white women. Femininity is white and women of color need to adjust themselves to appear more white (European) in order to be perceived as feminine.

    Also, I really appreciate the concepts of how femininity and class are connected. Great discussion.

  37. butterflywings

    A good point.
    The pink-ification of well, just about everything…it’s happening. What next – women have to have pink freaking toothbrushes?!
    *Sigh*.
    We have “flavoured” vodkas over here in the UK, you probably have them over there too; to make manly *liquor* palatable for ladies, see, as our palates are too delicate to enjoy the taste of alcohol. There is much hysteria about women drinking at all, but dammit, if we do, we have to drink pink stuff!
    That tastes sweet, so actually makes it easier to drink to unwise levels…way to combat actual binge drinking, but you know the panic is moral, about hussies drinking at all, not actual concern for women’s health.
    But yeah. That bottle. Euw.

  38. slythwolf

    It always blows my mind when they attempt to market something as “for women” and then pornify it. Surely pornifying the bottle of vodka would make it more marketable to straight dudes than to women.

  39. Lara

    Thank you MarilynJean, I was just about to say that definitions of femininity in our patriarchal white supremacist culture are based on white middle-upper class womanhood. Men of all colors today (black, white, yellow, brown) hate black women because they think black women are not feminine enough, and that they would rather go for White, Asian, and Latina women. Sexism, racism, and classism are all connected so it makes sense that women are the property of men, so they therefore have to be the representations of both class and beauty. Hence the white womanhood being the ultimate model of femininity.
    And yeah that ad would probably appeal way more to straight dudes than to women. Alcoholism among men in former Soviet states is a huge problem.

  40. Ryna

    1. I adore you and am getting that paragraph painted in big letters on my front door.

    2. Consumer Society, an awesome book which I stole from a friend of a friend when I was staying at their house, has an essay about conspicuous consumption and the housewife. Essentially, the author explains that rich people have essentially hired their womenfolk to do the conspicuous consuming for them in many cases. Rich womens’ jobs are actually to buy more shit to let everybody know how rich their husband is.

    This means that they are more likely to be into pointless capitalist expressions of gender, as this affords more opportunities to conspicuously consume. It also means they’re more likely to be raised to think of SAHM as an acceptable role, as this frees up their time for consumption while signalling to the world that their husband can afford to feed them.

  41. Liz Henry

    Oh you really sum it right up with your glorious unstoppable sentences. This is beautiful… and so true.

  42. wordvenus

    I FUCKING LOVE THIS BLOG. and this entry in particular. thank you for clearly, eloquently, and amusingly rousing these complex issues with that exemplary clarity i’ve so come to love. as a post-women’s studies student i flail to find such thinking on the interwebs and elsewhere and shudder at the parade of pink surrounding my supposed consumerism. thank you, thank you, thank you!

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