At first glance, it may seem like this advertisement actually has a very pro-feminist message. It mentions women’s choice in regards to reproductive health and it is a message about a woman’s career success. Nonetheless, this advertisement has many underlying assumptions about the women they are targeting that show that it is actually using ‘feminist’ issues in a very anti-feminist way. There are three main assumptions that I will critique beginning with the primary issue of women’s health, then the fragile way women are portrayed in the ad based on the rhetoric used, and finally I will speak to the undertones of neoliberalism in the ad.
Women’s health, and particularly women’s reproductive health, is a complex and controversial issue. A main area of concern is that women should have choice. This ad doesn’t have anything to do with health or choice at all. Its main message is economic success. It positions this pill as the “magic pill” that will make everything better in your life and it does not promote a healthy discussion with a doctor.
Second, the culmination of the word choices such as “Um… I don’t get it” and “don’t be shy,” along with the fact that a major event has been reduced to a set of emojis, portrays women as inarticulate, unassertive and voiceless. In this way, it actually subverts the message of ‘choice’ in a way that assumes women don’t have the confidence to advocate for themselves.
Finally, there are major influences of neoliberalism in this advertisement. First of all, I must mention that this advertisement was placed in a women’s washroom on campus at UBC. I believe this is important because, as I previously mentioned, the main message of the ad is economic success. Since birth control cannot magically provide you with your dream job, it assumes that it’s audience already have a certain set of skills or access to training (post-secondary) that will put them on the path to economic success. In essence, this ad is not promising economic success because of its product, it is speaking to an audience who already have that possibility. Related to the issue of access is the fact that birth control is not cheap and since we can assume that the woman in the ad is not employed yet, it is likely that she is middle class (and judging from the emoji, white) as she will not have the benefits to subsidize the cost and can afford it out-of-pocket. Going further to bring in the subject of neoliberalism, this ad makes the assumption that pregnancy is in the way of economic success. It positions childbearing/childrearing as an impediment to the economy and to the woman (as a productive capacity in the economy). In this way, it shows that the woman can only fit into the male-centric workplace if she becomes more male (unable to have children). In this way, the company has appropriated ‘feminism’ to promote a male-centric, neoliberal agenda.
Jammed version of ad
In the jammed version of the ad, I have highlighted the underlying assumption that this “magic pill” will provide you with economic freedom. In particular, the “less woman, less economic problems,” is meant to show that employers in a male-centric workplace still prefer male workers as they won’t need the ‘hassle’ of maternity leave. Likewise, it illustrates the message to women that birth control can only be about one thing: economics. On the contrary, there is a myriad of reasons why a woman chooses to use birth control which may have nothing to do with money or work. After all, birth control is a medication, therefore, the discussion should be about the woman’s health. Instead, what the jammed version truly shows is that the company dehumanizes the woman to the point of being only dollar signs, both as a consumer of the pill and as a producer in the economy. Birth control is no longer about health, sexual freedom, or family planning. The woman has been dehumanized by the pill to only a productive capacity, only ‘flesh’ with no ‘body’. I believe this shows how the pill is used to control women as means to economic ends. I specifically left in the wording “don’t be shy” and added “your dream job depends on it” to show how the neoliberalism subsumes ‘woman’s choice’ into a rhetoric of ‘choose it, or else…’ which really is no choice at all.