Front page Hobby Lobby photo sends faux feminist message

When I originally saw this photograph, my response was a chuckle while shaking my head. But there is far more going on here than most of us realize. [and I have often complained about how the right ‘messages’ their positions while the left just doesn’t get it, and here’s a perfect example] Subtle but effective…
Here’s a far more serious discussion on Hobby Lobby and the photos that accompanied many of the stories that inhabited the internet sites earlier this week. The link in here but I have copied the blog in it’s entirety:

Sometimes a picture is really worth 1,000 words: it can tell a better story than reams of prose. An example appeared on the front page of The New York Times, above an article reporting on the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. A close reading offers an interpretation of how supporters of Hobby Lobby not only want you, the observer or reader, to feel about the ruling, but also how they want you to feel about its supporters and about women and women’s roles in American society. A thousand words indeed!

The photo depicts a group of supporters of the ruling joyfully demonstrating before the Supreme Court building. In front, not by chance, are several women; some men, as well as other women, are scattered behind them. The women in the forefront are waving signs.

The woman in front at the left has a sign reading: #WomenInControl/Don’t Want/Bosses’ Handouts. The sign totally obscures her face. But she is wearing pink nail polish, so we know she is a lady.

What strikes me first is the pound sign. I must confess that I am unable to give it a literal reading, being technologically back somewhere in the twentieth century. I do know that it has something to do with Twitter, but that’s as far as my expertise will go. But I do know (more or less) what Twitter is, a recent communicative innovation much favored by the young. So carrying a sign that starts with a Twitter tag says: I am a modern woman. I am trendy – “with it,” as the old fogies like to say. Christian women like me are not mired in the past – we are new, vibrant, now. Ours is the new message. Theirs is so over.

The tag itself, “WomenInControl,” is also telling. The words are run together without spaces, another signifier of the colloquial and trendy. But what do the words mean? How does losing the ability to control what goes on in your body (because of not having access to contraception) put you in “control”? Not in control of your body. Not in control of your identity as a woman or a human being. Not in control of your mind. Yet the words suggest a compelling equation: opting out of contraception is being in control. And while this statement doesn’t make a lot of sense (some would consider it oxymoronic), it sounds good because it is stated with certainty. The phrase also denies a common assumption about Christian women. Such women, it says, are not helpless slaves of their Church and their men: they are in fact in control of everything they need to control. There is no evidence in the sign or elsewhere of the validity of that proposition, but the very fact that it is stated, and in the trendy way in which it is stated, is tacitly persuasive.

The main message makes its point by inference: “Don’t want bosses’ handouts” means, of course, that paying for an employee’s contraception would be a “handout”: demeaning, reducing her to the status of a beggar. This too immediately evokes in a reader an unwillingness to be such a person. But don’t give in to that first impression: it, too, makes less sense than it might seem to on superficial inspection.

Why is contraception a “handout” when other medications – Viagra, for instance – are not? Why does wanting contraception transform a woman into an object of disgust? I am reminded of Rush Limbaugh’s demonizing of Sandra Fluke as a prostitute for making just that demand. Of course Limbaugh’s rant goes far beyond the sentiments of the well-behaved sign, but both make the same threat: ask for contraception and you are contemptible.

At the far right, also in front, is a similar sign, held by a woman who is shouting and raising a fist defiantly in the air. Here again the viewer comes up against an apparent contradiction: the devout Christian woman who is also active and defiant: strong and powerful, her posture suggests. The message on her sign is similar. #WomenInControl/can Manage their/fertility. The last word is written in cursive script , quite feminine, but at the same time childishly round and legible, perhaps unintentionally suggesting that the bearer of the sign has a sort of childlike innocence (or childish naiveté) – which may be good or bad.

The message itself, though, is neither childish nor naïve, but disturbing. How, precisely, does any woman (even one who is InControl) “manage” her fertility without the aid of contraception? Shades of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock – the Republican candidates for the Senate in 2012 in Missouri and Indiana who talked about how, in a “legitimate” rape, women’s bodies did something spooky so that they never got pregnant. (And, by the way, remember what happened to them.) That is at any rate the only sense I can make of the signage: that women “InControl” don’t need contraception to keep from getting pregnant. I didn’t think it was Christian to bear false witness.

Between these two sign-bearers is a third, carrying a smaller, purple sign on which is written: WOMEN for/[drawing of the Christian fish symbol, with an eye on top of which are curly eyelashes]/RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. The curly-eyelashed fish (and perhaps the purple color of the sign) evoke traditional female and “girly” stereotypes: the good Christian woman is the stereotypical girly woman.

On the surface, these women might appear both holy and wholesome, worthy role models for other women. But upon close interpretation (and this is the job of voters), their messages turn out to be neither of the above.

Robin Lakoff, professor of linguistics, UC Berkeley

Thanks to SPM!


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17 thoughts on “Front page Hobby Lobby photo sends faux feminist message

  1. Not to mention the uniform skin color of these “in control” women. Interesting analysis. Thanks.

  2. As a Catholic father, it is discouraging to me how little this “professor” understands the dynamic between a catholic man and his wife. The Catholic woman does indeed have the final word on connubial sex…whether it’s rhythm, or some other form of contraception–or abstinance, she has the final say. She has control.
    Even more discouraging is the professor’s disdain for the catholic woman’s conscientious objection to taking of life through civil abortion laws, and in fact, not mentioning that the “morning after pill” or abortion was the ONLY thing the Hobby Lobby management was against–not contraception. You wouldn’t. I venture to say, hear our professor voice objection to the many who protested against taking of life in Vietnam or Iraq.

    1. As a sentient being, it is discouraging to me how little you understand the dynamic between a purportedly Christian owner, a for profit corporation, and the thousands of women who work for Hobby Lobby (or Conestoga) who aren’t Christian.

      btw: is Hobby Lobby Catholic or another Christian faith? All I keep seeing is Christian. Conestoga is owned by Mennonites.

      1. To answer your question, I never heard of Hobby Lobby before this controversy arose with such vituperation. Is it no longer possible for someone to own a business and have any control over the morality of its culture? Is it not now possible to buy any type of health insurance supplement one wants? Is it not now possible to choose where one works? Is “for-profit” or “Christian” now a slur word? I thought this was a democratic republic.

        1. This is a for profit CORPORATION…not a sole proprietorship. This makes is a public entity. A public entity with stores across the nation.

          The distinction here is the difference between a company in business to make money and actual religious organizations like churches and religious charities who already get a religious exemption.

          “Is it no longer possible for someone to own a business and have any control over the morality of its culture?” And now it’s all right to impose your morality and culture on another person?

          Freedom OF religion is just that…you may practice your religion…and you may not impose it on me. And once you enter the realm of public enterprise…you don’t have the luxury to ignore the laws of the land.

          1. “Is it no longer possible for someone to own a business and have any control over the morality of its culture?” And now it’s all right to impose your morality and culture on another person?

            Let’s look at it a little differently. Would you not wear a yamaka at a jewish funeral? Would you not remove your shoes in an oriental home? Has someone in these cases “imposed their religion on you?” I think not.

            If you want to work for Hobby Lobby, should you dictate they provide insurance which violates their consciences. Or should you simply find another job or buy an Insurance supplement. This weather the owners form a corporation, LLC or sole ownership locally or nationally. Now if the company were disguising the fact that their working environment was unsafe, I’d say sue them. But I maintain that, in America, it is always the owner’s preogative to choose employees and culture.

            1. Once again you are confusing social and cultural interactions with commerce.

              And the employees weren’t dictating to the owners…the owners were looking for a way to avoid a federal law. Not anywhere near the same thing.

              And quite frankly, I am starting to think that Hobby Lobby imposing THEIR beliefs on employees may violate a few labor laws. You can’t discriminate on the basis of religion.

  3. Lakoff has a good eye. Her analysis is, I think, what Noam Chomsky might likewise conclude if he addressed this particular matter. These women display support for Hobby Lobby’s view via the sidelong tactic of attacking an unidentified opponent, in a way that makes them look like they’re being rescued from big government by the five male justices representing … big government! The implicit message in those signs amounts to: “Please empower the Constitution to dis-empower me.” The political right’s marketing genius is in making it look like its victims are being oppressed not by giant, male-dominated and religiously intolerant businesses and interest groups but by someone else — by implication, in this case, some breed of secular heathens. As Lakoff noted, all indications are that this is not some spontaneous outpouring of like-minded individuals but a carefully orchestrated, viral marketing campaign. Of course, in reality, “bosses” don’t hand out birth control; the women employees themselves would pay for that through their insurance premiums — if, thanks to the court’s ruling, their authoritarian bosses deign that.

    1. Any person who professionally instructs others today and doesn’t know what a hashtag is, or how it is used, is clueless: at least on this subject.

      And any person who uses the word weather for whether isn’t a good journalist.

      1. Ok…now I am totally confused…I don’t see the word/s hash tag anywhere except in your reply…not the misuse of the word weather except in your earlier reply.

        And nary a journalist is in sight…

        1. How paranoid we all are. Was referring to the “professor” who confessed she had no idea what the hashtag represented. The second reference was to MY typo, no one elses. I hate the fact that I labor so with words. One cannot know how difficult it is for me to try to explain myself. Though I used words for over 40 years to make millions for my clients and employers. Yet you and I are not communicating at all.

          1. I think the pound sign discussion was more to set up the premise than an actual deficiency on the part of the professor. To people of a certain age # is a pound sign and to IT people it represents the word number in specs. She is probably like me…I know what Twitter is, I now that # is a hash tag but I could care less and don’t partake.

            1. I know what Twitter is, I now that # is a hash tag but I could care less and don’t partak

              And that’s the crux of the problem. These women are desperate to be understood. They developed the #WomenInControl hashtag so that people could enter the hashtag on their computers and get more complete and nuanced information on their position. But you don’t care, nor do the mobs condemning them.

              1. I care. I care a lot. They are being lied to, misused, abused and maltreated. And they are having their personal rights restricted in the name of ‘religious freedom’ for the sake of a corporation.

                When I said I don’t care…I meant that I don’t care about Twitter or using it. And if you are going to twist my words as readily without remorse as the women in this photograph, you are no better than the riff raff taking advantage of them.

  4. Quit splitting hairs, folks. Why is there nothing in this discussion about the ever increasing rapaciousness of corporations? Over the course of nearly two centuries, American corporations have used the U.S. Supreme Court to advance their control over our society. Starting with *Trustees of Dartmouth College versus Woodward* in 1819, these institutions have successfully sought to obtain the absolute power of monarchy.

    Then followed *Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad* (1886) which was the beginning of corporations having constitutional rights. Seven more cases came to pass before the Supreme Court dealt our democracy a death blow with *Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission* in 2010.

    The *Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties versus Department of Health and Human Services* case is just more of the same.

    For a more complete understanding of the real issues, I refer readers to my essay “Putting Corporations In Their Place”.

    1. Thanks JRB,

      You’ve gone well into the weeds for most readers (not myself) to make the point, excellent. In reading various pieces from people who know, the diary and this comment by writer Hugh,

      best express the simplest, most immediate remedy to Alito’s religious based preferencial treatment of the case:

      This case would never have arisen if we had a universal payer Medicare for All healthcare system, instead of the employer based one Obama saddled us with.

      The decision is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and could be reversed simply by amending this act to say that nothing in it should be construed to take precedence over the ACA. Politically, it is a win for both the Democrats and the Republicans since both can run on it in November with no real likelihood that either will have to do anything about it.

      The OP is excellent also and read to the end of Hugh’s comment to see who helped install this court. Cheers.

    2. Correct James- The corporations > people is the truly alarming part about Hobby Lobby. But it also ties in with how wrong-minded the people in that picture are, because it’s allowing a corporation to decide their level of access to birth control, instead of having that decision available for themselves to decide. You know, like they do with MANY OTHER TYPES OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE.

      Allowing a corporation to limit your choices doesn’t sound like “personal religious freedom” to me.

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