This Needs To Be Said: Americans Look Like Everyone

Who didn’t watch the news coverage of the senseless terrorist bombings in Boston with a mixture of horror and sadness? After coverage shifted from deaths and injuries to the Federal Bureau of Investigation releasing photographs of the suspects, some news anchors suggested that you couldn’t tell by the pictures if they were American or not.

Clearly, this needs to be said: Americans look like everyone.

Americans come in every skin color, hue, and shade that pigment and sunlight know how to put together.

Americans are girls, women, boys, and men. There is not a gender identity or sexual orientation that doesn’t look American – in military uniform, in scouting uniform, or in casual clothes.

Americans have faith. Americans don’t have faith. The Constitution contains a declaration of faith that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means that Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and EVERYONE get to look like themselves and look like Americans at the same time.

And American hairstyles, oh so many variations! Sometimes hair is curly, nappy, straight, short, long, or not there for you to see under a traditional head covering.

Americans are short, tall, skinny, fat, and every shape and size that life is able to put together. Americans have ability and disability. There are more than 11 million people here who already look like Americans and are waiting on documents to back them up. Good people are working on that, because diversity is our strength, not our weakness, and it’s freaking amazing gorgeous.

Americans look like everyone. There is not a single American who doesn’t look like an American, because the bottom line is that diversity – which includes so much more than the most privileged white men whom journalists are used to talking to on television – is what America looks like.

Difference, and diversity, and standing up for diversity are what make us look like Americans.

Standing against racism, and sexism, and homophobia, and xenophobia, and ableism are what make us look like Americans.

It is laws and assumptions that separate us on the basis of our skin, on the contents of our underwear, on the accent in our voice that look, frankly, un-American.

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This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival – we invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

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Team Peggy: Super Bowl Ads Are So Sexist Because We Need More Women Creative Directors

As anyone knows, watching the Super Bowl ads are part of the sport itself. During these spots, it is typical to see the blatant sexism flag fly. Last night viewers on my Twitter feed took particular umbrage with an Audi spot depicting a surprise kiss sexual assault, and a moronic Go Daddy spot divvying up two sides of the business with a “sexy” woman and a “smart” man.

Glorifying male aggression and casting women as idiotic objects is stupid business — women make 85 percent of consumer decisions, and 91 percent say advertisers don’t understand them — Mad Men indeed.

As a former advertising creative myself (I was a copywriter), I can tell you the problem isn’t because agencies don’t have access to sophisticated research or smart people to make ads. The problem is that creative departments are overwhelmingly male. White male, to be exact.

A few numbers:

In 2010, 94 percent of Super Bowl ads created by advertising agencies were done under the supervision of white male creative directors. The remaining six percent were led by white women creative directors.

In 2011, the numbers didn’t get much better. The creative directors of the Super Bowl ads were 94 percent male and 93 percent white.

Less than ten years have passed since legendary creative director Neil French shared his opinion that women don’t make it to the top of creative departments because “they don’t deserve to.” This is quite contrary to what I saw in my experience as an advertising creative. The few women who make it into creative departments tend to work harder and produce better work than everyone else, because they have to to earn their spots.

First, advertising agencies tend to be so segregated by gender that it’s easy to guess that virtually any woman you see in an agency belongs to account or any department but creative. A friend, a woman, is one of the most talented and creative visual artists I have ever seen. Her talent is exploding; she is better than most of the admittedly talented men I have worked with. But instead she is an acclaimed account executive, meaning she works with clients. That is just what women do in advertising. We really haven’t progressed much far from the days when Peggy had to hope to get noticed. There are exceptions, but not enough.

Second, it is all in the hiring and the assignments. People tend to hire, mentor, place and promote people who look like them. In advertising creative departments this tends to play out in a similar fashion. This business relies upon camaraderie, the ability to “hang out and be cool,” and many times beer and games within the team. Not all, but many, creative areas in agencies have the feel of a frat house.

Now I know that some of my friends and other advertisers will read this and say this leaves out the women who are doing great work, and that is not my intention at all. I acknowledge and celebrate their work. But having been in that position, and having also left the industry, I know that I’m also in a space where I have the freedom to say things that maybe some of them can’t.

I will never forget a time when I saw some comps on the table that were going to a client who sold small project paints. The concept on top had a photograph of a glistening, practically naked woman with an arched back. Knowing the creative team (all men, like I said, they almost always are), I walked into one office, slammed it down on the desk and yelled: “What the fuck is this?”

Watching the ads last night it was very easy to tell there remain very few women — much less a critical mass — there to yell “What the fuck is this?” within the advertising industry’s glorified (and very fun, let me tell you it is a great job) creative departments, and even fewer in leadership roles that lend more power than peer pressure. It is reasonable to expect that correcting this problem would help profits go up, not a bad thing in a struggling economy.