Archive for the ‘ Visual Culture ’ Category

Towards a Feminization of the Workplace?

The feminine-masculine dichotomy defines and divides every aspect of society and human life, from linguistics to common interests and aesthetic preferences. It has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with artificially created boundaries in which society takes refuge.

Spaces in which we carry out our lives have often been divided between the “masculine” and the “feminine”. Public spheres where public speaking and transactions take place are considered masculine, whereas the private sphere of the home is considered feminine. Offices are considered masculine and are often decorated in a hyper-modern and sterile way that boasts efficiency. If one observes spaces designed for women, such as spas and beauty parlors, the décor is homely and comfortable. Men will prefer an interior design that will impress or intimidate while women prefer a comfortable environment that will bring people’s guards down.

The Atlantic recently published an article “The end of Men” which claims that women are taking over the workplace by being a majority in the workforce and earning more more university degrees than they’re male counterparts. The article discusses many of the cultural consequences that this will have on society, but doesn’t discuss any significant shifts in society’s aesthetic preferences. One can wonder if traditionally “masculine” spaces will become more “feminine” and if the go-to recipe for designing modern and intimidating office spaces will shift towards a more feminine ideal of comfort and hospitality.

Even The Oval Office, arguably the world’s most famous room, was redecorated by Obama this year and striped down of a few elements that boasted grandeur, such as the starburst carped designed by Laura Bush. The Sofas and chairs selected look like belong in a comfortable den rather than a formal place where the world’s most important issues will be discussed.

Changes might also happen for work-appropriate clothing. Women’s city-wear and work-clothes have been modeled off men’s tailored suits. During the 80’s, the broad-shouldered “power suit” was a strong trend in woman’s city-wear as women wanted to be respected by their male counterparts in the office. Since then, women have been dressing to blend-in with the men in the workplace. Now that there might be a majority of women in the work force especially in careers where university degrees are required, will there be a significant change in what is deemed appropriate clothing in the office? On the runway, there is no lack of menswear/womenswear hybrids but will the trend cross the threshold of the conservative office space?

Perhaps a heightened feminine presence in offices will also dilute the belief that dressing too feminine at work is provocative and inappropriate. With the model worker being a woman instead of a man, will menswear become more feminine as well?

Men haven’t always dressed so simply and monochromatically. Perhaps this example goes a bit far back in history, but Baroque and Roccoco society had very strong “feminine” tastes in art, architecture and fashion. Men wore make-up, powdered wigs and adorned they’re clothes with velvet bows and lace. We can partially owe this to the fact that upper-class social and intellectual exchanges were taken place in private “Salons” that were held by influential self-proclaimed “Salonieres” from the nobility and bourgeoisie. These women entertained influential men from all cultural sectors and encourage exchanges of ideas. They set the stage for the “think tanks” of the 17th century in they’re private, feminine spheres and ultimately influenced the innovations and aesthetic preferences of the time.

That being said, I don’t think society will ever go back to preferring anything too fussy and impractical. Time is money and even though alternative colour palettes and diaphanous materials might sneak their way into city-wear, efficiency is still the number one priority.


On social media…

In 1967 Guy Debord criticized extreme capitalism and media culture for hindering people from fulfilling their quest for personal happiness (or something like that). He declared that authentic social interactions were being replaced by their representation. And that was before we were viewing the word through computers, digital cameras, i-pods, cell phones…

With so much information being at our disposal with just one click, are we all becoming more worldly and more knowledgeable, or are we increasingly becoming more narrow-minded, as the screens through which we see the world become smaller and smaller?

Food for thought?


“The tipping point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple. Ideas, and products, and messages, and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

Malcolm Gladwell

United Colors of Benetton: Branding your Face.

We are bombarded by various types of advertizing every day, and have been participating in the domino effect of Viral Marketing by wearing logo-clad clothing and by participating in online social networks. Given how fiercely they compete for advertising space in which to expose us to their imagery, it’s not surprising that companies have come up with new, effective ways to promote they’re brands. The new trend in Viral Marketing seems to be the creation of online competitions in which participants upload pictures of themselves on a website or bog in the hopes of winning prizes or representing the brand. You can find a substantial amount of these types of competitions online. I’m a bit of a contest junkie and I often enter these in the hopes of getting free stuff (I LOVE free stuff). Brands that have been organizing such competitions are Got2be Hair products, where the most popular hairstyles would win free hair products, and FCUK where participants would upload pictures of themselves in the brand’s clothes in the hopes of winning a fashion spree (this competitions was unfortunately only open to UK residents).

In February, Benetton pushed the online picture-uploading contest concept even further by making it part of a full-scale advertisement campaign. “Its My Time Gobal Casting Competition” is promising the 100 most popular profiles a place in the next Benetton book and a 200$ shopping spree, and promising 20 winners a spot as the new faces of Benetton in the next fall/winter 2010 campaign.

“The Competition intends being a global representation of style, an interactive search for new faces, new looks, new ways of being that fully convey the values of the United Colors of Benetton brand.” writes the Promoter in the Terms and Conditions of the “It’s My Time” competition. 

I applaud the “Promoter” who came up with this marketing ploy. Benetton is known for it’s controversial add campaigns photographed by Oliviero Toscani’s. These images had shock-value and were acute social commentary about racial issues, gay and lesbian rights and HIV awareness. In a world where the president of the United States is black, women have equal rights and Gay marriage is being legalized in many places of the world, these adds have sort of lost they’re relevance. This is not to say that the fight equal rights is over, far from it, but these adds do not have the same effect today as they did in the 80’s and 90’s.

With “It’s My Time”, Benetton has found a way to renew its relevance in popular culture by using the ever-growing online community as a means of viral marketing. However, I can’t help but find these new means of advertising slightly disturbing. The “It’s my Time” has reached 48000 entries (including my own), which means that right now thousands of individuals around the world are uploading images of themselves in the hopes of being the one that will “convey the values of the United Colors of Benetton Brand“. Which means we are fully prepared to be branded with the Benetton stamp and will participate in an advertizing campaign for free. Let’s not take into account the prizes we are competing for. Every time we post a link to our competition profile, we are actively participating an the advertisement campaign.

 I’m not an advertisement or marketing expert, but I’m pretty sure that the cost of the prizes offered to the winner will come up to a lot less then setting up an international advertisement campaign. Let’s not forget that the “Promoter” plans on including the 100 most popular profiles in the next Benetton Book and that they will already have the rights to all the pictures uploaded by the participants. Maby someone more knowledgeable can enlighten me:  I’m not an expert on copy right laws or ownership laws when it comes to publishing, but I suspect that including the following passage in the Terms and Conditions was kind of sneaky:

All submitted material will be kept by the Promoter and will become the property of the same Promoter, who from that moment on will be free to use the aforesaid material regardless of whether or not the Entrant is selected as a Finalist or Winner. The Promoter may also use the submitted material, should the occasion arise, within the scope of advertising, commercial or communication activities connected with the Competition. With the acceptance of these terms and conditions, Entrants waive all intellectual property rights relating to the submitted material.”

Now I didn’t READ the Terms and Conditions before I created my profile and uploaded my pictures, and I’m pretty sure the greater part of the 48000 participants didn’t either. Which means that close to 50000 people gave away the rights to their image for a company to use whenever they want without really being aware of what it implied. It’s pretty amazing that by creating these contests, companies are inciting thousands of individuals to actively participate in the construction of the brand’s image and help it acquire new spaces for advertising possibilities (your blog, you’re facebook page, your myspace… your entire e-mail address book). I’m not against such marketing strategies, nonetheless I’m  disturbed by how easily people can be coaxed into being used in an advertisement campaign for free.