Bloggers don’t shop at Target, says Target

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ShapingYouth recently posted about a potentially offensive ad from Target. I say “potentially” because it’s another one of those that, if you could divorce it from a world full of ads using sexualized images of women to sell crap, probably wouldn’t seem like a big deal on its own. AdRants does a good job summing up the issue:

Ready for everyone to tell us we’re reading way, way too much into this Target billboard that places a certain area of a woman’s body highly targeted by men right in the middle of its signature target logo. But you can’t tell us not a single soul at Target or its agency looked at this and didn’t see a certain interpretation that could be construed as objectifying to women. There’s just no way.

So far, so good. Target’s done a thing. People are discussing it. And then Target responds to ShapingYouth:

“Good Morning Amy,

Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.”

Which begs the question: who the hell is Target targeting? The ad shows a young woman in young women’s clothes. Are they expecting to sell that outfit to elderly men who don’t know what blogs are? Because last time I checked, the most likely people to read blogs were the younger demographics, and I would hazard a guess that women read them more than men. Hmm. Cover story much? Yep, it’s like the ol’ “we make movies for men because  women don’t spend money – oh, the Wall Street Journal says they do? Well okay, we make movies for men because women will watch anything and besides, our advertisers don’t want women watching because they don’t spend money and – oh, wait, Business Week says women spend money, too? Um, I gotta take this call. Bye!” routine.

Also of note: read the comment thread at Shaping Youth. It’s mostly comprised of people telling her that the ad is not offensive and she’s dirty for thinking it is, so shut up. Gee, where do we hear that regularly?

Comments

  1. Jennifer Gandin Le says

    I saw this discussed over at Feministing, and although I agree that there are far more offensive ads (esp. in the fashion world), it is pretty unfortunate imagery for Target, an all-ages, generally ethically run corporation.

    And it’s also ludicrous and short-sighted to think that Target guests don’t read blogs. I sent Target an e-mail on their website, saying that I’m a “core guest” and that I read blogs and am disappointed with their ad. Within 12 hours, I got this response (which I’ve seen verbatim on other blogs as the response they received, too):

    “Dear Jennifer,

    I’m sorry to hear you’re disappointed with our billboard ad, but I hope you’ll accept our apologies.

    As our Target guest you expect great products at a great value, and we want our advertising to send the same message. That’s why we try to represent our merchandise in a manner reflecting our company philosophy and image as a family-oriented store, while serving many guests with diverse tastes and interests. Of course your thoughts and comments are a big help to us; that’s why I’ll be sure to let our Advertising executives know what you’ve had to say.

    Have questions or want more information? Give us a call at (800) 440-0680. You can also drop by the Guest Services Desk at any store, or visit us on Target.com. Either way, we’re here to help!

    Thanks for shopping with us. We hope to see you again soon at Target.

    Sincerely,
    Kristen
    Target Guest Relations
    http://www.target.com

    Sigh.

  2. says

    She’s making a snow angel. The sinister subtext that is supposed to be jumping out at me isn’t jumping. Maybe I’m just really lacking the “mind in gutter” gene?

  3. Laura says

    I agree that she’s merely making a snow angel. I’m sure the advertising people never saw it in a dirty way. The “target” symbol appears in ALL of their ads, because that’s the name of their store. Are they also “targeting” the body parts of men, children, and pets?

    I agree that it’s ridiculous that some idiot in Customer Service decided that Target doesn’t care what bloggers think. But I also imagine that was just one person, not to be representative of the company, who probably gets numerous inane customer complaints daily (“why do you sell Harry Potter merchandise when that’s witchcraft and devil worship?!” for example) and has probably received correction already for their flip comment that has outraged the blogosphere.

    But note the form email Jennifer received, which apologizes for the ad being found offensive and for the original unsatisfactory response. I think it’s obvious that Target does care what their customers think. But this was also much ado about nothing.

  4. says

    John, you probably do lack the mind in the gutter gene and that’s great, but an awful lot of people have it, and women have to concern themselves daily with whether the people in their lives have it. Whether they see women with respect, or as something to be used. Because our culture teaches us all that men exist to use and women exist to be used.

    I want to react as you’re doing – if no one had pointed out that her crotch is in a bullseye I don’t know if I ever would’ve noticed – but I find it hard to imagine people who work in advertising for a living, who know that every nuance and square inch of an image has to put across a message that will translate into sales for the client – I can’t imagine it never crossed their minds that some people might see it that way.

  5. says

    I’m sure the advertising people never saw it in a dirty way.

    Really? One of the commenters in the original thread said he works in advertising, and has no doubt they were aware some people might interpret the ad that way because part of their job is to sit around and discuss various ways the image might be interpreted.

    Are they also “targeting” the body parts of men, children, and pets?

    I’ve never seen an ad where the bullseye was specifically on a man’s, child’s or pet’s crotch. I also don’t live in a society where the crotches of men, children or pets are routinely sold for a living on the street. Nor am I aware of men’s or children’s (except where skanky women’s clothing looks have penetrated into girls’ wear) bodies being used to sell everything from toothpaste to movies on a daily basis.

  6. Jennifer Gandin Le says

    John, I agree that there are innocent ways for viewers to interpret the ad, and I love that you only see that aspect of it.

    For me, it’s less about “thinking dirty” than it is about “thinking responsibly.” A marketing department came up with this ad, and marketing executives are in the image-making business. As BetaCandy said, it’s their job to explore every potential nuance of an ad, so I can’t imagine that no one raised their hand and said, “You know, this could be misconstrued in an unfortunate way. Let’s try something different.”

    And BetaCandy, I couldn’t have said it better, especially:

    “Women have to concern themselves daily with whether the people in their lives have it [the mind in the gutter gene].”

    A lot of the response to this ad reminds me of typical response to women’s street harassment: “Men mean it innocently; why don’t you take it that way?”

  7. Gina says

    you probably do lack the mind in the gutter gene and that’s great, but an awful lot of people have it, and women have to concern themselves daily with whether the people in their lives have it.

    They do? How do you figure? I’m a woman and can honestly say that the thought doesn’t enter my head very often, if at all.

  8. says

    Gina, what I was trying to put across in not so much detail was:

    Women frequently have to try to guess whether a man they know is thinking like a psycho or not. Is that potential date a nice guy or a rapist pretending to be nice? Is that guy who follows you around at work a stalker or just a harmless crush? When the boss comments too often on how nice you look, is that harmless or is it leading up to demands for sex if you want to keep your job?

    Because society defines men as users and women as things to be used, we’re always in that defensive position of trying to predict the thinking of creeps in self-defense.

    As Jennifer Gandin Le said above:

    A lot of the response to this ad reminds me of typical response to women’s street harassment: “Men mean it innocently; why don’t you take it that way?”

    We can’t afford to, because for every however-many men who mean it innocently, there’s one really does mean it, and thinks all the other guys do, too. There’s a great post about this from Kate Harding:

    I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

    But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates women–to the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.

    And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

    As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women.

  9. Gina says

    BetaCandy Says:
    January 19th, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Gina, what I was trying to put across in not so much detail was:

    Women frequently have to try to guess whether a man they know is thinking like a psycho or not. Is that potential date a nice guy or a rapist pretending to be nice? Is that guy who follows you around at work a stalker or just a harmless crush? When the boss comments too often on how nice you look, is that harmless or is it leading up to demands for sex if you want to keep your job?

    Because society defines men as users and women as things to be used, we’re always in that defensive position of trying to predict the thinking of creeps in self-defense.

    But that type of thinking presumes two things:

    1. You’re so hot that obviously no man would be able to resist you so he’s obviously just trying to get into your pants instead of wanting to praise you for a job well done.

    2. If it has a penis, it must be inherently evil.

  10. says

    Gina, this isn’t the first time you’ve deliberately misconstrued other people’s points to start a fight. That said, I’m answering your points in case there are people reading who actually do want to understand the concepts involved.

    #1. Sexual harassment works two ways. (1) A man, not realizing the power and privilege he has over women, thinks any and all tactics are fair game in his pursuit of sex he wants to have, and (2) a man wants to put a woman down and show her “her place”, and so uses sex as a weapon. In the second instance, he may not even want to have sex with her, but may do so anyway (or may just terrorize her with the threat of sexual extortion) to prove his point. Therefore, there is no reason at all whatsoever to assume a man who harasses you finds you remotely attractive. This is why women who find acts of harassment “flattering” are… deeply misinformed, to put it mildly.

    Your #2 is just a blatant attempt to incite something. Statistically, men account for the vast majority of convicted criminals. The vast majority of rapes (including sexual assaults against men and children) are committed by men. So statistically, it makes sense to consider the possibility a man is prone to violent behavior when you encounter him.

    But beyond statistics – beyond ideals about innocent until proven guilty – is the fact that women are held responsible for avoiding rape, abuse, harassment, cheating boyfriends, etc. more often than men are held responsible for their bad actions. It becomes a matter of self-defense for a woman to look at every strange man as a potential rapist/abuser/whatever. It sucks, but there it is. The quickest way to change it would be for our culture to perceive women as having equal value to men; from there would flow the attitude changes that would lead to equality in action.

  11. Jennifer Gandin Le says

    I have to take issue with this statement too, Gina:

    2. If it has a penis, it must be inherently evil.

    For myself, that is absolutely not what I’m presuming. (And this is a classic anti-feminist accusation: “You all hate men!” Yawn.)

    I actually believe that a great (often unspoken or unheard) majority of men deeply respect and care about women. I believe that many, many men are working to end violence against women (one of my favorites is Founding Fathers). I think that if feminism is to survive in its next incarnation, we are going to have to engage with men and ask them to redefine masculinity as we have struggled to redefine femininity.

  12. Ruby says

    I apologize if I’m stepping on any toes, but… Where on earth are you getting the idea that all acts of sexual abuse towards children are committed by men? Or am I misunderstanding what was said? If so, I apologize, but feel the need to share some information, in case anyone else confused the claim as I did.

    Just from a quick search, found on the Canadian Children’s Rights Council page (an advocacy organization): The percentage of women and teenage girl perpetrators recorded in case report studies is small and ranges from 3% to 10% (Kendall-Tackett and Simon, 1987; McCarty, 1986; Schultz and Jones, 1983; Wasserman and Kappel, 1985). When the victim is male, female perpetrators account for 1 % to 24% of abusers. When the victim is female, female perpetrators account for 6% to 17% of abusers (American Humane Association, 1981; Finkelhor and Russell, 1984; Finkelhor et al., 1990). In the Ontario Incidence Study, 10% of sexual abuse investigations involved female perpetrators (Trocme, 1994). However, in six studies reviewed by Russell and Finkelhor, female perpetrators accounted for 25% or more of abusers. Ramsay-Klawsnik (1990) found that adult females were abusers of males 37% of the time and female adolescents 19% of the time. Both of these rates are higher than the same study reported for adult and teen male abusers.

    There are also articles from journals available on JSTOR that deal with this problem, and also with why cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by a female are less likely to be reported or considered abuse. The most obvious explanation is the stereotype that women do not abuse sexually, and the idea that a man cannot be coerced, manipulated or forced into sex.

    As for the ad itself, I can’t really see anything to be offended by in it – the woman is covered, and I can see someone choosing that positioning simply because it allows both the full target symbol and the full snow-angel making woman to be completely visible. And yes, I honestly think that it could have slipped through without anyone seeing a sexual interpretation, considering that I have since shown it to somewhere around fifteen people, and not one of them has noticed a sexual connotation, even when instructed to study the image carefully. However, I respect that other people may view the ad differently, and should complain and make their case as to why it’s offensive… The ones presented thusfar just haven’t convinced me.

  13. says

    Ruby, I re-worded it to: “The vast majority of rapes (including sexual assaults against men and children) are committed by men.”

    I meant that I was including “all sexual acts committed against children” in my definition of rape, not that men commit “all” such acts. For some strange reason, we don’t call it “rape” when children are “molested”, but my definition of rape includes all unwanted sexual acts by or against anybody, and that’s what I meant to make clear. Sorry for the poor wording.

    However, thanks for the stats you presented. There definitely is a stereotype that women aren’t abusive and men can’t be forced into sex (or that they always always always want it), and not only does that keep some kids from getting support in recovery, it may perpetuate the abuse cycle. (Of course, it’s naive to imagine that every child sexually assaulted by a man gets anything like the support they need – the vast majority don’t. While it’s very in vogue to start witch hunts for nasty strangers or priests diddling the neighborhood kids, people tend to go very deaf when a child gives them every indication that his or her own family member is sexually abusing him or her, so most kids internalize this shit unless they are lucky enough to stumble onto a source of support.)

  14. says

    After reading Jennifer’s last comment, I want to clarify my own thinking on a couple of things I said.

    Statistically, men are more likely than women to engage in violent crimes and forms of abuse. Though I do think violent women go underreported, I still think the vast majority of these crimes are committed by men.

    But not because men are bad or testosterone makes them like that: because of entitlement. Our society teaches certain people they’re entitled (or not) to certain things. Men on the top rungs (rich, white, etc.) are entitled to more stuff than men on lower rungs, but all men are entitled to take out their frustrations on women. While clearly a lot of men and women do not take that message to heart, those who do find loads of support in cultural messages, which exacerbates the problem.

    And that’s why it’s not enough that many men make a moral choice to treat women well. Men who don’t treat women well don’t just have bad morals: they are behaving exactly the way a significant voice in our culture has told them to. It was at one time standard for men to smack wives around when the wives got out of line – it was a man’s job. I have trouble judging men who did this in what they believed to be a judicious manner, the same as I have trouble blaming parents who spanked their kids only because they were trained to believe it was their job as a parent. While we’ve changed these messages and gotten some positive results, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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