Friday, April 29, 2011

I carry clout

Katja, not quite a teenager yet. 1966

When it was my sister, Katja's birthday in January, I racked my brains to think about what I could give her. I didn't want to buy her something useless, but I didn't have too much time to make her anything, either. At the time, I had been working with my students to get them to think about how consumer culture gives us many of the gender scripts (and race, class and sexuality scripts, too) that we take up. So I decided I would look for advertisements from women`s magazines from the 1970s, when my sister was in her teens and twenty something (this term, however, wasn't invented until 1990), so we could think about what were some of the media texts that influenced us to shape our identities as young women.

These were the years when we were learning to be young Canadian women, that is, not our mother. Our mother couldn't help us with this. We were on our own. As a working-class, non-English speaking Finnish immigrant woman, she was not like our "Canadian" friends' mothers; she was not like our female teachers; she was not like the women we saw in our school books, on tv, in films, in catalogues, or in magazines. She was not what we wanted to be. We wanted to fit in.
Mork and Mindy. tv series 1978-1982

As I needed to refresh myself on exactly what was in style what year, I did a bit of research on the net to find out who were the popular singers we listened to, what songs were our favourites, what movies and tv shows we watched, and what were the things we coveted to buy in the 1970s. Then I thought I`ll go look for some old magazines, look through them for advertisements targeting young women that I remember looking at, cut them out, and paste the advertisements in a scrapbook for my sister, along with bits and pieces of the media culture that was popular.

Later that day, as I walked down the hill to the downtown Bank of Montreal (BMO) to deposit a cheque for my daughter, I wondered to myself: where am I going to find some old women's magazines from the 70s now? I needed to have the scrapbook ready for the next night, so I chastised myself for once again leaving things until the last minute. By lucky chance (ain`t this often the case?), wasn't there a bookcase of second hand books and magazines at the BMO, with women's magazines from the 70s.

So, I collected about 5, left about $4, stuffed them in my bag, and left, not believing my good luck.

Later that evening, I set to work to cut out ads. I could not believe how many I remembered. The pile grew. One of the ads I cut out from a 1976 women's magazine was the same as this one:

I found this image from a 1977 magazine on ebay. Someone is selling this ad for $5.99 US. I guess if I have some time on my hands I can sell some of the ads I found in those old magazines and recoup my $4 and more!!

I gave my sister the scrapbook I made her at our RedShoes writing group meeting. The 1976 ad for the Master Charge card (it was renamed 'Mastercard' in 1979) was, as we looked at it closely and thought about it, one of the early campaigns to get women to use credit cards. We all used cash in those days. This particular ad uses the language of feminist empowerment to sell bondage to consumerism. As if buying things on credit will free you, give you status.

Well, 36 years later, Canadians are drowning in consumer card debt:

"In 2010, the average household's consumer debt reached $36,350, an increase of of 87.9% over the last 20 years."

It seems the ads have been highly successful.

At our writing group, we thought we would take back that clout from consumerism and re-feminist it. We decided to write for five minutes with the prompt:


Here's what I wrote:

I carry clout

in my Finnish face

in my blue eyes

that my Aunt Anja

stares back from

I carry clout

in my wide feet

that walk and run

and stomp and stand

tall in mountain pose.

I carry clout

in my loud voice

sharp and shrill

that cuts the air

and carries up to the third floor

to call my son downstairs.

I carry clout.

I pack a punch.

I carry clout

in a classroom

because I get to say

to a roomful of young minds

that we need to think about race and class

gender and sexuality

about power relations

about who is privileged

and who is disadvantaged

and why is that

and why we should care.

I carry clout

in my family

I carry clout

in my community

I even scolded

the new old mayor

In a Letter to the Editor

and told him that

he is an old-fashioned moralizer

who wants to use methods that never

worked in the past

for complex problems

of continuing colonization today.

I carry clout

like an old woman

who won’t shut up

who knows some stories

and isn’t afraid to tell them.

I carry clout.


Katja Maki said...

Yes you do carry clout! Love love your poem. Your scrapbook is one of the best birthday presents I have received! Funny how ads linger in the mind and bring back memories. What a different world back then but I can definitely see how those ads impacted and shaped our identities into the women we became and still are becoming.

Merche Pallarés said...

You sure do carry clout!! LOL... Beautiful poem and original gift for your sister. Hugs, M.

Merche Pallarés said...

Harper has won AGAIN???? I can't believe it! Canadians are completely brainwashed... How SAD. I'm sure you'll write an interesting post on this matter. Hugs, M.