Complicitly exploiting young women NOW

I was starting to feel bad about dragging my feet in support of NOW (National Organization for Women), but not anymore. Well, I’ll let my letter speak for itself [link added]:

I’m a young feminist who has been aware of NOW for quite some time, but I haven’t made the decision whether to join yet. I was browsing through your catalogue and seriously considering buying a few items until I happened upon your “We do it for Money” shirt. I noticed that it was made by American Apparel and, frankly, I would like to know why NOW, a feminist organization, supports a company that exploits young women in a softcore porn-esque advertising campaign, has more than one sexual harassment suit filed against the CEO, and is known for it’s anti-union bullying.

I also added the following links to the bottom of the e-mail:

For information on AA’s advertising practices:

Info on the sexual harassment lawsuits:

I’ll post a reply when (if) I get one, but until I have a darn good explanation and/or they pull their support of American Apparel, they aren’t getting one red cent of my money, nor an iota of my support.

Update [2005/10/22]: I received a reply from Olga Vives, Executive Vice President.

Thank you for your comments. We are discontinuing the American Apparel
shirts. Looking for a comparable shirt.

My reply[link added]:

Thank you for your prompt response.

If you haven’t already, I suggest considering No Sweat Apparel as one alternative to AA’s gear.

I look forward to seeing the AA shirts replaced with those from a better company.

I’ll keep an eye on the site. Hopefully they’ll replace the shirts soon, ’cause some of them really were cute. Now if only I could find a really nice looking “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt…

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This entry was posted in Advertising, Companies Behaving Badly, Feminism, Pornography, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Complicitly exploiting young women NOW

  1. Anika says:

    Nice! No Sweat gets their apparel from US suppliers that pay their highest paid craft workers less than the average hourly salary paid at American Apparel. They also use apparel made overseas where workers get a generous 5% bonus above the pennies paid to non-unionized staff. Workers in a unionized Indonesian factory get $107 a month. Awesome!

    NOW’s myopic decision further entrenches their irrelevance in this feminist’s life. AA is a company that is more than just Dov Charney. It is a company that uses real models in its ads as opposed to the self-worth decimating airbrushed super models used by others. It is a company that employs many women and whose upper management is 60% female. Whatever NOW. Good job.

  2. tekanji says:

    Wow, thank you for your unnecessarily condescending and rude comment. I am so much more likely to take what you say seriously now that you’ve treated me like an ignorant child.

    I actually found No Sweat off of a feminist LJ discussion on alternatives to AA. Frankly, after your attidude I’m more likely to believe them over you. If you want to be taken seriously, cite your sources on NS and do it in a way that isn’t rude.

    Dov Charney is AA’s CEO, he dictates the work environment. Simply employing women isn’t good enough; the treatment of the workers matters too. If those women and upper management are there because Charney and his cohorts want to have sex with them (even if it’s consentual and not rape) then that isn’t exactly a blow for equality.

    And I don’t give a flying fuck about “real” models versus airbrushed ones when the advertising in question is exploiting said models. Exploitation is exploitation, period. AA sells clothing. C-L-O-T-H-I-N-G. What part of that word says “soft-core porn”? What part of that word says that advertisements that objectify the models are needed?

    If I want to buy clothes, I want to see the damn clothes, not watch some girl masturbate in front of the camera.

  3. Anika says:

    Sorry if I sounded condescending. I’m just soooo tired of reading the same regurgitated pap over and over again. My sources are easy to find – they are on no sweat’s web site in the suppliers section. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I don’t think taking a more critical approach is uncalled for. You paint a picture of a company that thrives on sexual harrassment and that is simply not the case. Scratch a little more beneath the surface and find out for yourself. It’s not that hard. Oh and I have yet to see a fat woman on No Sweat by the way. Love their shirts and socks though – njow where have I seen those before… Hmm.

  4. tekanji says:

    Taking a more critical approach is never uncalled for. Many companies have good things going for them, but that doesn’t excuse the bad things nor does it mean that we as consumers shouldn’t be critical of them.

    I’m not accusing AA of being a 100% bad company, but I do hold them to a higher standard because they tout themselves to be a “socially conscious” one. They use their no-sweatshop and “real” model lines in order to get more business, so I find it even more abhorrent when they do things that make it blatantly obvious that, for all their posturing, they’re no better than any other big business.

    If No Sweat indeed has the problems you described, then I hold them to the same standards. Since you told me “surf their site” instead of giving quotes and links, though, I can’t verify that at the moment because I don’t have time to go digging. Before I recommended them to NOW I did some preliminary research and I didn’t find anything like what you described, so obviously if it’s on there it’s not obviously advertised.

    Frankly, AA would be on my shitlist just for their advertising practices. I’m a sex-positive feminist, which means that I think that the consumption of the erotic isn’t inherently bad. However, AA isn’t touting the consumption of the erotic; it’s exploiting models (primarily women) to use sex, rather than its own products, to sell itself. While that’s no different from what other clothing companies do, the other companies don’t pretend to be some progressive, people-loving company.

    Dov Charney is also creating an inappropriate work environment, seeing as that’s what the lawsuits are about. When people are in your employ, you have an obligation to give them a safe working space that doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable. Right or wrong, a highly sexual work environment will make many employees, mostly female because of our long history of being harassed in the workplace, uncomfortable. It is unprofessional, and it is harassment.

    Beyond that, it is common knowledge that Charney has had sex with his employees. That, too, is inappropriate. Even if currently all of them claim it is consensual, it cannot truly be 100% consensual because it is a boss/employee relationship. Charney has power over his employees. Assuming he makes it clear that anyone refusing to have sex with him will not be punished because of it, there’s no guarantee that he can live up to that; it is no secret that interpersonal relationships (even just friendships) affect the way one’s job performance is viewed. That’s why many workplaces frown upon boss/employee dating situations. It takes whatever small sliver of impartiality that they might otherwise have and chucks it out the window.

    And, finally, the union busting. I can’t attest to how much AA pays its workers in relation to other companies, especially those who use American labour. If they are one of the best, then fine, but they don’t get a cookie for being one of the best of the exploiters. Using American labour isn’t special if it’s just an Americanized version of a sweatshop. Unions aren’t perfect, but there are more things to consider in worker’s rights beyond pure monetary concerns. Furthermore, the bullying tactics that AA has employed in order to stop their workers from unionizing is deplorable. Again, bullying your employees out of forming a coalition to protect their rights isn’t “socially conscious”, it’s the same kind of BS that all other big business employs.

    And, on the note of “fat” women; I haven’t seen any in AA’s ads, either. If they’re on the AA site, they aren’t on the first page of the models. The “fattest” one I saw was a girl who had huge tits, and that’s not fat, it’s genetics (or implants, for some). Again, AA is no better or worse than NS or any other major company out there on this front.

  5. Anika says:

    See what I mean tekanji? Look, I know you mean well, but you are simply parotting stuff you’ve read on the Internet without recourse to actual facts or basic fairness. So, in the interest of maintaining civil discourse and productive dialogue, I will attempt to set you straight as much as I can.

    NoSweat bills themselves as an open source apparel manufacturer. As such they list their suppliers and some (not all) of those suppliers have listed detailed information about their operations. For instance, the page on Universal Sportswear, one of their unionizeed suppliers, lists hourly salaries as low as $6.90 an hour. This does not compare well to AA floor workers who get on average, in excess of $13.00 an hour. The unionized Indonesian factory that produces NoSweat’s footwear pays their workers the equivalent of $107 +benefits… a month for a 40 hour work week. All the info is more or less there – it wasn’t hard to find.

    As for AA’s advertising practices, if I understand you correctly, they need to be subject to particularly harsh criticism because they’re not progressive enough? Because they use sex to sell their products? The fact that they do not retouch their images, that they promote the healthy notion that one does not need to be a flawless amazon waif to be sexy, that’s a bad thing? Uh… the models on NoSweat are unnattractive? Frankly, AA’s ads are revolutionary. Their often copied products are copied because they ARE sexy. Sex is part of what they are selling. This has not been lost on NoSweat who has out and out ripped off AA’s best selling items – sexy women’s baby doll t-shirts, form fitting yoga pants etc. etc. As a sex positive feminist, you sure do seem to have many caveats to that sex positive thing – and those caveats seem to only apply to AA.

    You also stated that Dov Charney is also creating an inappropriate work environment, seeing as that’s what the lawsuits are about. You might try to at least be fair by adding “allegedly” to that charge as the lawsuits are far from resolved and the company seems to be taking the high road by refusing to quietly settle any of them. With 5000 employees and Charney’s reputation for brazen sexual harrassment, you’d think there’d be hundreds of lawsuits by now! Making the statement you did does no justice to your ideas which have now devolved into the realm of petty gossip.

    Charney has indeed openly admitted to having relationships with his employees. Your take on the matter is that that is prima facie proof of sexual harrassment. Your position is that all office relationships are wrong and/or illegal. Well, I disagree. I am biased however – most of the people I have dated or had relationships with over the last 2 years are people I met at work. That’s not so unusual though. Given that we spend so much time at work, where else are we supposed to meet people? in bars? puhleeze! As long as a there is no actual coercion, or favoritism then really, there ought to not be a problem. I know that it’s a tricky balance to maintain and that’s why many companies forbid inter-office dating, but still – it seems a bit extreme.

    And then we get the union busting thing again. Each side has made allegations against the other. All I can do is point you to an article in In These Times, a well known progressive publication that printed an article about AA that made similar allegations. But when the facts came out, they had the integrity to correct their error as follows:

    American Apparel was not charged with any labor violations as a result of the complaint that UNITE filed with the National Labor Relations Board. As part of a no-contest settlement, the company voluntarily posted a notice informing workers that it would not interfere with their rights to organize.

    You can read the whole thing here since you’re a stickler for facts and quotes. The bullying charge was made by the Union, but they’re, you know, a little biased. AA offered to put unionization to a vote and the union did not take AA up on their offer, knowing full well that they would lose. Read the comments attached to the article. They are eye opening. Unless of course you just don’t care about facts. So tekanji, do YOU care?

  6. tekanji says:

    Look, I know you mean well, but you are simply parotting stuff you’ve read on the Internet without recourse to actual facts or basic fairness.

    And your linking me to internet resources that say the opposite is different… how? It’s the same idea, but the different side. So don’t start calling me a hypocrite when you’re using the same exact method in trying to prove your point.

    Also, insinuating that I’m an idiot incapable of forming my own opinion from the research by accusing me of “without recourse to actual facts or basic fairness” is not appropriate for a discussion, especially not a civil one.

    I will attempt to set you straight as much as I can.

    You know, that’s downright insulting. “Set me straight”? How about “argue your point”? Your version leaves no room for differing opinions, mine does. I don’t tend to want to listen to people who think that they are unequivocally right.

    You’ve made your point about the monetary wages of NS vs AA. Frankly, I don’t know enough about the specifics of factories to be able to fully understand the implications. I am loathe to have a knee-jerk reaction to a price gap; it’s quite possible that it is, as you say, a huge difference, but maybe not. You addressed the wage, but not the net worth of that wage when cost of living and whatnot was taken into account. You also didn’t address another part of my point about the concerns that go beyond the monetary. I would need to know what kind of benefits AA gives versus the various unionized workers that NS uses for its products. I’m not asking for a detailed chart of any of this or anything. All I’m trying to point out is that this is a more complicated issue than a “good versus bad” discourse can cover.

    As for AA’s advertising practices, if I understand you correctly, they need to be subject to particularly harsh criticism because they’re not progressive enough?

    No, I’m particularly harsh on them because they’re the worst brand of hypocrites. They exploit the sex-positive market by waving the good things they do in our faces, but then turn right around and exploit their models in photo shoots that look like softcore porn. That isn’t subverting the negative way our culture views sex, that’s perpetuating it. There’s nothing “revolutionary” about that. There’s nothing “revolutionary” in upholding the status quo, or being one of the few companies that push the status quo even further by continuing to normalize sex as something that belongs to the consumer rather than the person in question.

    In my book, when a company loudly points out “the fact that they do not retouch their images, [and] that they promote… that one does not need to be a flawless amazon waif to be sexy” that gives them a responsibility to not exploit their models, not an exemption from criticism.

    Uh… the models on NoSweat are unnattractive?

    You keep bringing up NS as if I’ve given it a “get out of criticism free” card. I haven’t. This isn’t an either/or argument, I just don’t have the time to find every bad practice every company does and complain about it. Let me reiterate my point: I hold No Sweat to the same standards as I hold AA, or, indeed, any company that claims to be better than big business.

    I didn’t turn this into an AA versus NS debate; you did. I just merely cited it as an example of a company worth checking out as a no-sweat alternative to AA. I said “worth considering”, which was in no way a statement of full support. I assumed that NOW would be smart enough to really examine the company they choose to use after what happened with AA. Since the links you provided are, according to you, easy to find, one would think that any sort of real investigation into NS would reveal that and weigh against the company as a potential source.

    I also never said that I think NS’s models are all that great. I have my criticisms of them, too, but the way they choose to represent their models isn’t as exploitative as what I linked to with AA. Most of the ads I found on NS’s site focused more on the clothing than the model wearing it. If you know of any of their ads that pushes their models’ sexuality over the clothing itself, by all means link me to it.

    Also, the entire question of “attractiveness” completely misses the point I was trying to make. Let me try to make a couple things more clear:

    1) It’s not about “attractiveness” (it’s just as sexist to say “look, we use ugly women for models!” as it is to narrowly define what is and is not beautiful), it’s about engaging in a sexist frame that exploits the sexuality of these women in order to sell products.

    2) It’s not the shapes, sizes, or what have you of these models that I object to. While I’m not convinced that AA is living up to its promise of a diverse model set, there’s no doubt that the models are more diverse than most companies. I object to the way in which AA has chosen to reap all the benefits of being seen as a “woman positive” company while shirking some of the fundamental aspects of promoting a woman positive culture.

    As a sex positive feminist, you sure do seem to have many caveats to that sex positive thing – and those caveats seem to only apply to AA.

    You don’t seem understand the part of the phrase that is meant by feminist. I am against exploitation. The “sex-positive” part of it means that I don’t see pornography as inherently exploitative, not that I don’t believe that pornography can exploit women.

    And seriously, focusing on AA on a thread that is about AA is not unfairly singling out AA, it’s having a discussion on a topic. Thusfar, I have done my best to address any specific concerns you have brought up about NS’s advertising. Indeed, in my previous response I said: Again, AA is no better or worse than NS or any other major company out there on this front. How is that, as you said, “only apply[ing]” my criticism to AA?

    With 5000 employees and Charney’s reputation for brazen sexual harrassment, you’d think there’d be hundreds of lawsuits by now!

    Yeah, because it’s so easy to speak up when one is being made uncomfortable. You’re assuming that these women are without internalized sexism, are unafraid of being ridiculed by society, that they are all able to deal with the fallout if their claim is dismissed or ruled against, or that it’s an easy thing to speak up against one’s superior.

    Whether or not the courts rule in favour of the women, the facts are that the work environment made them feel uncomfortable to the point where they felt it constituted harassment. It may or may not be illegal, but I would certainly call it unprofessional and inappropriate. The workplace should be a relatively safe space where employees are able to do their job without feeling unduly uncomfortable. An overtly sexual workplace like AA has (that aspect of the case is, to my understanding, not in dispute) is not even close to an ideal environment. Furthermore, because of the way sex dynamics continue to work in our society, such an environment disproportionally affects women, whether or not they speak up about it.

    Your position is that all office relationships are wrong and/or illegal.

    Yet again you misunderstand and misrepresent my point. There’s a difference between office relationships and relationships between a boss and hir employee. The power dynamics of the latter make true consent hard, if not impossible, to have because there’s always the fear that not giving into the boss will result in negative feelings that lead to situations that harm the employee’s chance at job promotion or even possibly cause eventual termination.

    As long as a there is no actual coercion, or favoritism then really, there ought to not be a problem.

    That is exactly my point. Because of the very nature of the relationship between a boss and hirs subordinate we cannot tell whether or not there was “actual coercion” or favouritism. Just because the boss doesn’t come out and say “have sex with me or I’ll fire you” doesn’t mean that the implication can’t be there. Favouritism is also something that is pretty much impossible to avoid; when you’re intimate with someone, you almost always view them differently. I’m not saying that most bosses who have relationships with their employees consciously choose to treat said employees differently, but seeing (and therefore treating) someone differently is something that happens in most relationships.

    it seems a bit extreme.

    What’s extreme about wanting to make sure that your worker’s rights are protected? I ask because both hypothetical possibilities you noted (coercion and favouritism) violate the rights of the workers, both the subordinate in question as well as hir co-workers.

    I concede the point about AA and unionizing. However, the assault on my integrity is uncalled for and will not be tolerated in the future.

    In fact, I’ve given you more leniency than strictly fits with the unwritten policy by which I run this blog, seeing as you’ve made continual ad hominem attacks and made it clear that you would rather preach than discuss. I really don’t see the point of continuing this back and forth posting if you continue in this vein. I’ve tried to be as understanding as possible, but I no longer have patience for your violations of posting manners and I in the future I will delete inappropriate comments or even ban you if necessary.

  7. Anika says:

    Oh my. Forgive me. English is not my first language and perhaps something was missed in the nuance. I was not trying to be combative. I really never meant to imply that you were a hypocrite or an idiot. And I certainly did not in any way wish to attack your integrity. I have in the past read much about AA. I was dismayed about the negativity because I really like their clothing and their overall approach. But I decided to be responsible and do some research. I also spoke to friends of friends who work for AA.

    The picture that resulted from this was quite different than what had been painted on the Web. The women I spoke to who work at AA told me that Charney was definitely unusual. But they also described a person of great integrity who really cares about his employees and about doing the right thing. None of them complained about a sexually charged environment. None of them complained sexual harrassment – they expressed indignation at the women launching the law suits and portrayed them as opportunists.

    Furthermore all AA employees have access to inexpensive health and dental care plans ($8 a week for healthcare), they have subsidized meals, subsidized transportation, massotherapists on staff for sewers, free english language and computer classes, free use of company bicycles (!!) etc. etc. AA also plans to convert 80% of their production to use organic cotton. 60% of AA’s upper management is female, half the photographers who produce the ads you dislike are female and again I could go on and on.

    I’m sorry. I don’t want to sound preachy. Really my entire point was that their seems to be much contradictory talk. The hard evidence i have come across does not correspond with much of the negativity. I believe it simply merits equal consideration. Again, please accept my apology for offending you. That was not my intention at all. I’ll stop posting if you find my language that offensive.

  8. tekanji says:

    I was dismayed about the negativity because I really like their clothing and their overall approach

    I think that’s one reason why the reaction was so negative, at least in feminist circles. When AA’s advertising practices were discovered and the details behind the allegations of sexual harassment, it was a slap in the face because many people had thought that the company was better than that. The Jane article didn’t help, either. Masturbating in front of an interviewer is a form of harassment, whether or not the interviewer was offended by it.

    None of them complained about a sexually charged environment.

    I wouldn’t expect that every employee would have issues, especially when we’re dealing with a society that views women’s bodies as inherently sexual objects. It may not affect them at all. On the other hand, it may affect them but they don’t want to admit it (even to themselves), lest they be seen as “anti-sex”, or “puritanical”, or even *gasp* “feminist”. We live in a society that shames women who are sexual and shames women who aren’t, and all of us (female and male) internalize those messages differently.

    Let me reframe the debate for a minute to try to illustrate my point. A male boss has five female employees in his office. He always asks them, and never the men, to get his coffee. Four of them don’t see anything wrong with the treatment, but one does. Does it still constitute discrimination?

    Legal systems aside (in modern US law, even if none of the women were offended, it still constitutes discrimination), are you saying that a potentially harmful act is ok if the majority agrees with it? If you extrapolate that line of thinking to an extreme, you would have to excuse the rapes and murders of women in some middle eastern countries. A harmful act is never okay even if no one speaks up, and an act that can be harmful or not depending of situation, in my mind, becomes not okay when it hurts even one person.

    The legality of the environment is currently being decided on. No matter how they rule, however, the facts remain that more than one woman felt that the workplace was not a suitable environment for them. Indeed, they felt harassed by the very nature of it.

    I would also argue that the lack of men launching any lawsuits attests to the unequal power dynamics created by a sexual environment. Men aren’t any less uptight about expressions of sexuality than women are, but they don’t have the onus on them to be gatekeepers of morality. Far from it, most of the time they’re given a free pass because they’re seen as “beasts” who have no control over their hormones. Given that, the workplace would automatically favour men even if Charney tried his best to promote an egalitarian company.

    None of them complained sexual harrassment – they expressed indignation at the women launching the law suits and portrayed them as opportunists.

    You’ve just illustrated one of the most powerful tools of the patriarchy – internalized sexism. And you wonder why more women don’t speak out? That’s your answer, right there. It takes a very strong person to fight against that kind of rhetoric, especially when it’s reinforced by society, your bosses, and especially your co-workers.

    Women in particular are taught from a young age to deal with their problems internally and not raise a fuss. Those who do are often demonized as “opportunists” or worse. I consider myself to be an outspoken, opinionated, unapologetic, self-righteous feminist. Even so, I often catch myself rationalizing away bad things that happen to me that I should speak out against. I keep quiet because I fear reprisal. If internalized sexism can still have such a powerful hold on someone like me, how much more does it hold sway over women who have never known anything beyond tradition and societal norms?

    I could go on and on.

    Point taken – AA does some good things. I know it didn’t come off that way in the terse e-mail I fired off to NOW, but I wasn’t trying to imply that AA was 100% no good. If AA was a completely horrible company then they wouldn’t have garnered so much support so far.

    I was actually more interested in how AA’s benefits packages compared to NS (since we were comparing the two when it came to wages), but an in-depth comparison of both companies would take way too long. I’m just going to say that I’m sure both companies have areas that are good and bad when it comes to worker’s rights, and neither of them are the bottom of the barrel.

    half the photographers who produce the ads you dislike are female

    Not sure if you meant it that way, but since you mentioned it, I’d like to point out that women doing the exploitation doesn’t make it any less exploitative. As I was saying with internalized sexism above, men don’t have the market cornered on oppressive behaviour. Our society instills different messages into the heads of men and women, but the messages are equally oppressive in their own ways.

    I’m sorry. I don’t want to sound preachy.

    Thank you for the apology. It takes a strong person to be able to see and admit fault. I also apologize for the tone I took in my original reply, and any subsequent reply that was overly hostile. I know with my final response, at least, I extensively edited it to remove any angry attacks I could find. I can only hope that it didn’t come across as offensive.

    I haven’t had much experience dealing with an angry poster (outside of the odd troll here or there), so I went with the knee-jerk response of sarcasm rather than the outright declaration of posting guidelines that I finally went for in my last post. Flames are easy to cope with, but it is a lot less clear cut when the person is arguing a point. Especially when, as you said, your intention was to make your point, not offend me.

    On the bright side, our exchange has lead me to consider writing posting guidelines for users and creating a code of conduct for me to follow when it comes to situations such as these. Hopefully that will help cut through the anger responses on both sides and leave the avenue open for what’s important: discussion.

    Again, I appreciate your response here. I do believe that both sides merit consideration. Indeed, I think that polite disagreement is the best way to foster growth on both sides of the argument. As long as you’re interested in participating in friendly discussion, I am interested in hearing your side. I suspect in the end there are some points we’ll have to agree to disagree on, but I still think that the discourse is valuable.

  9. Anika says:

    I really never wrote in anger. I will attribute the misunderstanding to nuance. I read your response and I am left only with the question of what company out there meets your exacting standards? It seems to me that American Apparel is suffering because of its transparency. I have yet to see any retailer or manufacturer be subjected to this level of scrutiny – to the extent that a well meaning person such as yourself demands that NOW boycott their products. I find it simply remarkable. AA is objectively very progressive in so many ways – I would think people would want to encourage it. Instead there is a massive backlash and frankly, I think it’s undeserved.

    I’m not comfortable going into people’s heads and making a determination of internalized sexism. It seems a little presumptuous. I know the women I spoke to seemed very articulate and intelligent. They described their work environment as being healthy and open minded on the basis of their own strong feminist ideals. None of them seemed addle minded. But who knows, maybe I too am not fully in control of my faculties and am thus subject to the insidious control of the patriarchy.

  10. tekanji says:

    I read your response and I am left only with the question of what company out there meets your exacting standards?

    None, probably. Well, maybe one angry girl designs, but she’s not exactly a typical “company” and I never quite figured out where her shirts come from so maybe I’d have some issue with that.

    But, really, I’m a critical person in general. I may endorse one thing, or criticize another, but that doesn’t mean I give anything a blanket endorsement, and it is very rare that I’ll say that anything is completely without merit. And my blog isn’t a feed that’s jacked directly into my brain. Sometimes I make crap little posts about things that annoy me without going into specifics, other times I spend pages discussing pros and cons. I don’t think anything/anyone, not even myself, should be above criticism.

    It seems to me that American Apparel is suffering because of its transparency.

    What you see as transparency, I see as a disconnect between touted ideals and reality. Either it’s violating it’s woman-friendly policy, or the policy is nothing but a market ploy to pull in more customers. Neither one is very flattering, although the former gives the hope that the execs will clue into the problem and fix it.

    I have yet to see any retailer or manufacturer be subjected to this level of scrutiny

    I have, but I’m firmly entrenched in the feminist blogsphere and I do a lot of lurking in the feminist LJs. You have to keep in mind, however, that unless a company is recently in the media for getting caught doing something heinous they aren’t usually talked about by name; in most feminist circles it’s a given that the vast majority of companies are sweat-shop using, woman-exploiting, sexist, racist, classist, etc. pieces of crap. Talking about it for the sake of talking about it is kind of like kicking a dead animal. One semi-constant venue of criticism, however, is the deconstructing of advertising images used by said companies. But if you want specifics, I can think of a few companies I’ve heard criticized recently: Wal-mart, Albertsons, and CNN.

    AA has recently gotten a lot of media attention; between the Jane article, the harassment suits, and their relatively new “slideshows”, one thing or another has brought the company into discussion more than once on a few different feminist forums I frequent. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have said anything about it except that I found it being used on NOW’s site. Which brings me to the second part of your sentence…

    to the extent that a well meaning person such as yourself demands that NOW boycott their products.

    NOW is a feminist organization whose primary goal is promoting equality and freedom from oppression. Undoubtedly, NOW began their contract with AA because of the good aspects of the company that you have outlined. However, there are the bad parts of the company to consider (specifically the work environment/harassment lawsuits and the chosen advertising strategy).

    Workplace concerns notwithstanding, the ads should be enough for NOW to withdraw its support of AA. As a feminist organization, NOW should not be involved in the exploitation of women. NOW’s position on that kind of advertising puts it on the list of things that constitute “exploitation of women”, and therefore they have an obligation to seek another company that does not go against some of the most fundamental principles of their organization.

    I would have had the same criticism if they had, say, sold shirts endorsing PETA or something. I use PETA as the example because of their “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign. The ads were also seen by NOW (and many feminists) as exploitative to women.

    AA is objectively very progressive in so many ways – I would think people would want to encourage it.

    And people do encourage the good practices that they see, but that doesn’t mean that AA gets to be free of criticism for the stuff it doesn’t do right.

    I’m not comfortable going into people’s heads and making a determination of internalized sexism.

    Ah, that’s not what “internalized sexism” means. Internalized sexism is basically being sexist towards oneself and one’s gender. It’s not a question of intelligence, either; awareness of sexism has nothing to do with how smart we are and everything to do with how we’ve come to understand the messages and values forced on us. None of us are exempt from internalized sexism, privilege, or other tools that the hierarchical institutions use to keep up the status quo. The way that the workers responded when queried about the women bringing the lawsuits was an example of internalized sexism because they reacted by demonizing the women themselves. Women, in particular, are taught to be viciously competitive with each other, especially when in defence of an alpha male (which could either be seen as Charney, as he’s CEO and if memory serves named in the lawsuits, or even the company itself which isn’t “male” but could take the place of an “alpha male” in this case).

    And what makes you think that feminists are somehow immune to all the horrible things that society indoctrinates into us? I have grappled with my own internalized sexism, as illustrated in my previous postt about not wanting to speak up when I’m wronged, and I consider myself to be feminist who is pretty aware of sexism. Frankly, since they’re feminists, then they should be able to realize how anti-feminist it is to turn on other women like that because they have chosen to stand up for what they see as their rights. It is not so hard to disagree without resorting to ad hominem attacks against the individuals, and calling the women filing the lawsuits “opportunists” is no less sexist, or wrong, than if I called Dov Charney a “beast” for having sex with his employees. I think his choice to engage in sexual relations with his subordinates is unprofessional and sexist, but it isn’t right for me to attack him on a personal level.

    And, just a warning, your sarcastic comment about not being “fully in control of [your] faculties and am thus subject to the insidious control of the patriarchy” is walking a fine line between civility and condescension. If you disagree with the amount that harmful messages in society can affect us, fine, but you can say so without treating me as if my belief that it has a big impact is stupid and without merit.

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