Title: Women outdoors: Advertising, controversy and disputing feminism in the 1990s
Journal / Publication: International Journal of Cultural Studies
Pages: 27 – 55
Authors: Winship, Janice
In this article I engage with three British advertising campaigns of the 1990s: the Wallis (clothes) ‘Dress to kill’ campaign, the Nissan Micra car, ‘Ask before you borrow it’ campaign, and the Wonderbra ‘Hello boys’ campaign. Targeted at so-called ‘winning women’ and pivoting around either a mocking sexual confidence in relation to men or a symbolic violence, I attempt to understand the controversy courted by these campaigns by placing them in the context of (some) women’s changed position and shifts in femininity and feminism since the 1970s. Approaching the ads as fantasy texts organized around tensions, I suggest that their scopic regimes are different from earlier ads. The campaigns play across the domains of public and private space to disrupt more conventional modes of femininity and masculinity. This play provides humour, but also anxiety because it contrarily associates femininity with public space and the ‘freedom’ of outdoors, while masculinity is constrained and trapped in enclosed spaces. However, controversy is further engendered when the ads literally cross over from inside magazines to the outdoor and more public space of billboards. The campaigns enter ‘media event space’ where they are variously judged and discussed, and in this way develop a ‘thicker life’. Moving from a commercial to a civic domain and into a ‘public sphere’, these advertisement communications are diversely mobilized within the media, unhinged from their ‘original meaning’ to become part of a shared currency through which the shifting and tense relations between women and men, and women’s continuing bid for autonomy, are articulated. The article thus contributes to debates about feminist approaches to media representation and to wider critical discussion about advertising.
Public and Private