Although media images — and perhaps particularly commercial advertising images — go largely unnoticed, or are often regarded as irrelevant, apolitical background noise, where liberal political analyses of media images are performed, commercial advertising is generally analyzed within a context of consumerism, where the assumed intent is to create and drive desire and to get people to spend money. A liberal analyst might also correctly note that racist, classist, sexist, or other offensive images and messages are often used toward that end. But even liberal feminist media criticism fails to analyze how and indeed whether any alleged “sexism” or offensive stereotypes in media images support patriarchy, including men’s individual and collective power, and does not reveal or examine the root of women’s oppression by men, and how all patriarchal media — including advertising — is collectively used as political propaganda against women, and toward specifically patriarchal ends.
And indeed, liberal analysis is not intended to do that. Like all politically-liberal analysis, liberal — and liberal feminist — media criticism is a limited, equality-based discourse that only intends to examine various -isms and perceived positional slights, based on the belief that -isms and slights are undesirable on their face. Thus, in liberal analysis, it is just as valid (if not just as likely) to point out how media images may be hurtful or offensive toward men as toward women, as in discourses centering gender or criticizing “gender representation” of both women and men. And for liberal analysts, it is just as valid or likely to point out “sexism” in media images as any other -ism, without ever acknowledging or analyzing how sexism and indeed all -isms and slights make specifically women more vulnerable to misogynistic abuse at the hands of men and male institutions and conventions; and how all -isms therefore ultimately benefit patriarchal power structures by decreasing women’s power relative to men, which benefits all men, even men who are members of oppressed political minorities based on, for example, race or class.
By contrast, radical feminists do not believe that a liberal “equality” analysis is adequate because it does not expressly center or activate towards women’s liberation from men, and for women’s right to be free from misogynistic institutional and interpersonal abuse. We believe that activating for women’s freedom from men is a full-time job and that it deserves our full attention.
We observe that in its efforts to eradicate various slights and perceived slights without centering women’s sex-based oppression, liberal feminist analyses — including media analyses — deemphasize “men” and “women” as political classes. The result is to privilege an allegedly “neutral” yet decidedly male-centric perspective and reality where girls and women can potentially be made more comfortable, and thus more able or willing to fulfill the roles dictated to us by men to benefit men, but where girls and women are never to be made free. Because women’s oppression by men is in fact class-based, meaning that women around the world share the experience of being enslaved and oppressed by men because of our sex, and because the nature and mechanisms of sex-based oppression make our oppression unique where only women experience it, we believe that class-based analysis is critical and the only one that will benefit women and inform a political platform that holds any promise to free us.
Please see this page for our breakdown of the inner workings — or “gears” — of the patriarchal propaganda machine. We identify 17 categories or themes that frequently appear in media images — including commercial advertising — and show how each one illustrates a distinct mechanism of women’s real-life oppression. We conclude that normalizing and invisiblizing the nature and mechanisms of women’s oppression through the sheer volume and pervasiveness of media images that mirror reality supports patriarchal institutions and male power at women’s expense. Then, through additional radical feminist analyses presented in regularly-featured posts, we seek to further raise awareness of — and name — these mechanisms, because it is the truth, and in order to facilitate clear issue-framing and point-making in reformist political activating, and to sow the seeds of feminist revolt.