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Progressive Images of Women

I became aware of the feminist efforts of the women's creative team at Nike many years ago. At that time, I was working on my dissertation using the Modern Advertising History archive at the National Museum of American History. The recorded voices of Janet Champ and her team at Wieden and Kennedy told the story of young women struggling against both the prejudices of a profoundly patriarchal corporate culture (Nike) and the imperatives of contemporary media. Despite the odds, this group produced a compelling, inspiring campaign that depicted women in fresh, challenging ways.

This story was impressed on my memory for several reasons. One was that I knew, from personal experience, that the women who work in advertising often consider themselves feminists and sometimes try to use their work in a way that advances the interests of women as a class. [See Volume 4, Issue 4 of Advertising & Society Review for original interviews documenting such efforts going on today.] However, the obstacles these "market feminists" must overcome to achieve their ends are often quite daunting. Every success of this kind that we, as consumers, finally see in the media has a long story of struggle and even tears behind it. So I was struck by this particularly powerful narrative of achievement. I was also struck, however, because of the difficulty of telling this story in any but the most compromised way in the academic press. The scholarly journals of that time were so intransigent in their anti-market attitudes, particularly in the context of feminism, that it was simply unthinkable one might write up such a tale. No one would publish it.

So you might imagine how pleased I was to receive the article by Jean Grow and Joyce Wolburg that appears in this issue. Grow and have conducted hours of interviews with this group and the wonders of online publishing have allowed us to support their analysis by inserting all the television and print advertising discussed in the text. I am proud to be able to provide a venue for this brave story and path-breaking advertising.

In the years since I was a doctoral student, I have developed a stream of historical research in which I often came across stories of women who worked through the market to achieve feminist ends. As a result, I became frustrated by the scant, often jaundiced attention that such efforts received from academic feminism. In order to articulate an alternative view of feminist activism that would include this long tradition of market-based work, I published "Market Feminism, the Case for a Paradigm Shift," in a collection by Routledge. I am reprinting that article here in order to provide a rhetorical grounding not only for the Nike article, but for the other works in this issue, particularly the instance of contemporary activism provided by the "Still Miss Understood" speech from Leo Burnett.

I have had the privilege of working with Denise Fedewa at Leo Burnett on several projects over the past few years. She is a committed feminist and has done much to elevate research on women at her own agency. She and others at Burnett, including especially Cheryl Berman, decided a few years ago to try and use the Cannes festival as a platform for calling the industry's attention to the sad state of creative work aimed at females. Their speech, "Miss Understood," first given in 2004, was a big success, garnering lots of attention and comment. They reprised that speech at Cannes again in 2006 and I was pleased to be given permission to reprint it in Advertising & Society Review. Notice that the Burnett work is supported by video and images, particularly two clips that ran behind the speaker at the event but do not have sound. I decided to include these primarily for purposes of historical documentation (so that readers of the future would be able to imagine how the actual speech played), but hope the lack of sound will not confuse today's visitors to the site.

Because academic publishing seldom provides space to show ads that depict women in more forward-looking ways, I suspect many readers are unfamiliar with the Phoebe Snow campaign that is documented by Margaret Young in this issue. This article narrates the progression of this campaign, which, in its initial years, was an example of the Gilded Age's "New Woman." It is often difficult to see the images of the past as anything but conventional or sentimental; however, the situations in which Snow was shown—traveling alone, participating in sports—were clear references to the new roles for women emerging at that time.

Linda M. Scott
Editor

 

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