Black feminism in the Caribbean involves encountering sexism in our daily lives. As someone whose work involves a fair amount of internet marketing, I can’t help but apply feminist thought to my life in the Caribbean as well as advertising that I may encounter. As Carnival approaches in Saint Lucia (as well as my beloved vacation), I can’t help but notice the sexism that is rampant in much of the advertising surrounding carnival. I don’t necessarily mean the ads for the costumes themselves; the costumes are what they are, and that’s not what I’m going to present to you today. Rather, I’m talking about all the events that lead up to Carnival, the imagery used and what it means about our culture.
The pictures I will examine were all screenshots taken from the Instagram accounts of popular carnival bands in Saint Lucia. The first ones I want to analyze involve the advertising for Red Rebellion’s Red Bikini Affair party. In most of these images, there are thin, women posing in sexy and “seductive” poses to advertise the party. In one of these images, the woman is posing with everything but her butt cropped next to a bottle of Campari. This imagery aligns the faceless (i.e. mindless) woman in the photograph with an object of consumption, indicating that she too is part of the consumables offered at the party.
“Sex sells!” people cry in retaliation. Is “sex” really what is being sold here or misogyny? “It’s a bikini party! What do you expect?” It may be shocking but it’s actually possible to advertise a bikini party without overly suggestive poses and photographs. No one is saying don’t wear a bikini, I’m asking you to question why a “bikini” party is suggested in the first place? Are women there to have fun or are they the bait, objects to lure men into attendance. When analyzed by a marketing expert, he said, “I can’t tell what’s going on here… I don’t see what time the party is or anything.” This suggests that suggestive posing and over sexualization of women does not make for good marketing on its own.
Another ad that we analyzed was this ad by Just4Fun Carnival Band:
One of the main features of this ad is a thin, white woman with long blonde hair. The first thing I noticed is that this woman doesn’t represent your average Saint Lucian woman at all. Again, it is intended to portray women as the “bait”, the product you should anticipate. Here, this woman represents the “ideal” bait — a white, visibly non-Saint Lucian, thin woman. This falls prey into anti-blackness because it does not represent the truth of our island but instead seeks to represent a white ideal.
Additionally, this photograph adds nothing to the advertisement. The name of the party is obstructed by a logo so it’s practically unreadable and the image itself tells you nothing about the party except maybe its location. (It does speak to the photoshop skills of whoever created this ad perhaps…)
This portrayal of women is objectifying and unecessary. This type of subtle reinforcement is a part of the reason misogynist thinking is so engrained in our culture. We don’t think twice when we see ads like this one, but all misogynist thinking is connected and we can’t ignore one instance of misogyny because “it’s just an ad”. Advertisements represent beliefs, they change people’s attitudes and invoke emotional responses in the viewers. They aren’t just ads, but representations of our values, our beliefs and more.
If we look at more advertisements surrounding Carnival related events we see similar motifs: women who look nothing like the average Caribbean woman objectified and naked before the camera, posing as objects for male party-goers to consume and female party-goers to negatively compare themselves to:
Objectifying women in your ads does not make them more effective. An effective ad presents the viewer with the information they need the most about the event they’re attending. It should not just be there for shock value…
Look at this Just4Fun ad below and then I’ll contrast it to other ads that do not rely on sexism to sell their events:
Notice that this ad is incredibly busy. There are half naked women on the front that add nothing to the ad, as well as all the relevant information pushed off to the sides.
The “busy” nature of this ad’s design takes away from the point. Relying on sexism and female nudity to sell not only reinforces a culture where degrading and objectifying women is normalized, but it can potentially take away ad space to actually get to the point of your ad.
Look at these other carnival related ads that don’t rely on sexism:
The first ad shown here by Legends Carnival Band has the effect of showing off the carnival costumes without throwing women under the bus. The women in the photograph are blurred out and the actual point of the ad is front and center. The point of an advertisement is to deliver information and this ad does a great job. The second advertisement is for a private event related to Insaniti Carnival Band. Despite the fact that the ad isn’t for a public event, it has all the features of an effective ad that doesn’t rely on sexism. You have the image of a pool and the image of a bottle of wine, but the rest of the ad is informative. You have all the information you need as well as the features of the party that will make it appealing — drinks for a good time, DJs and live performances. Women are not scapegoated as “party features” and objects you can use for a good time.
This week I challenge you to look at the advertising you come across for Carnival, or anything else. What are the subtle ideas this ad is reinforcing? Is this ad telling you that you are not the ideal woman, but rather, a white blonde woman or a thin light skinned girl with loose curls? Is that message true? (Hint: That message is false. Don’t buy it, fam!) Is the ad telling you that you have to be naked to be worth something, and then your worth will only be as an object to be desired? Is that message true?
This post is NOT intended to “shame women for their choices”. This is not about women’s individual choices on what to wear or how to behave. (This type of comment is necessary in a Puritanical place where messages are easily misconstrued to fit a different misogynist agenda…) This is not about women, but rather how women are used and how this negative objectification of women is pervasive in our culture and harms women by stripping them of their humanity.
Let’s take some time to be active consumers and consider what we are consuming and what we are endorsing in our culture. The impact of standing up to sexism can be nothing but positive.