Where the Learning is
Feminist professor and author, bell hooks—she doesn’t capitalize her name—says she studies popular culture because “it’s where the learning is.” The images we see and the words we read or hear in all media available to us have the power to shape our everyday thinking, to have impact on what hooks calls “the politics of difference.”
Last week I tuned into some of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts— the major Canadian women’s curling event. CBC’s coverage on the weekend was particularly educational if you’re a student of popular culture and particularly frustrating if you’re a feminist.
It opened with a comment about the depth of the talent in the women’s tournament and brief interviews with skips who were former junior women’s champs—Kelly Scott, Jennifer Jones, Marie France Larouche. So far so good, except the interviewer asked the women to talk about the men: why aren’t there as many former junior men’s champs on the men’s tour? Who gives a rip? (The inference, by the way, was that men’s curling is more competitive.)
Next: at one point in the semi-final game between
And then there were the M&M Meat Shop commercials. Cute, entertaining spots depicting a woman in her cubicle at the office realizing she’s running late – “gotta make dinner.” Rushing to leave, she gets into all sorts of predicaments: hair in the shredder, car keys and glasses sucked into a pneumatic tube, knit skirt caught on a drawer and unravelling. The last scene in each spot shows her delivering to the table a beautifully presented M&M purchased meal to her anxiously waiting two children and her apparently incapable-of-opening-even-a can-of-soup husband. Men should be just as insulted as women by those commercials. (Last year’s M&M campaign included a spot in which husband and sons hide in the attic whenever wife/mom calls them for dinner until she starts cooking good stuff from M&M.)
Throughout the broadcast, we were treated to previews of CBC shows “The Week the Women Went” and “The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives.”
I was considering hara-kiri until the Quaker Oats commercial featuring a man who chooses a healthy diet because of the people he loves. Wow! A man who feeds himself and puts his family first. Such men do exist (I live with one), but you rarely see them on TV.
So here I am harping on something I started harping on more than thirty years ago. If the CBC curling cast is an example of “where the learning is,” we learn that, in popular culture, women are still defined by their reproductive roles and their relationships to men. We learn that men’s curling is more “interesting” and that women “get” to curl only if they have supportive husbands. We learn that women are still responsible for family meals but also get to work in offices. (That’s a bit of “progress” from thirty years ago.)
Maybe this is reality for many women who watch TV and advertisers and commentators are simply holding up a mirror to their lives. Maybe there’s just no way out of what bell hooks calls our “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
Maybe I should just give it a rest. Thanks for listening.
Photo: Skip Jennifer Jones from