A comment on my last post prompted this question: why should we expect the world (the world of manufacturers- advertisers, at any rate) to care about women's intellectual/sartorial/physical/financial needs, as long as they can induce us - through promises, false or...well, legal - to buy what they're selling?
In an ideal world, this question would have been different. In an ideal world, manufacturers of cosmetic products would not tell lies, and nobody would try to suppress research. But this is not an ideal world and profit is god.
In such a world, should the simple rules of demand and supply apply?
If there was, for instance, a huge demand for child sex workers, would it be acceptable to allow their supply? What if the children themselves agreed to be sold: maybe they're poor and hungry?
If there was a surge in the demand for, say, shark meat, and sharks were endangered, would it be acceptable to hunt them until they disappeared?
If all children want to learn, but not all have family resources, should we simply cater to those who can afford to pay?
If there's a famine, should only those who can pay, eat?
Demand and supply are not sacred, in my opinion. If manufacturers or suppliers or even buyers lack a conscience (for the lack of a better word... call it a moral compass, a set of ethics, a soul, whatever) we have to act in ways that lead to minimum damage for most people.
Some may argue that it is unfair to compare famines with women's magazines. I can only quote Steinem, again. The art of behaving ethically is to act as if everything you do, matters.
To come back to women's magazines and advertiser 'inserts':
Do advertisers have the right to dictate where their ads will be placed?
I'm not sure.
Do they have a right not to advertise in magazines that have fashion advice for non-supermodel-sized women?
Does that mean that one has to look elsewhere for funding?
Is it okay to expect that women will pay higher prices for 'niche' magazines with something other than nauseating articles about the charming benefits of brazilian waxes?
Magazines (all media) are information. Are a source of knowledge, a shared cultural space and a reference point and a means of opinion formation and are - however lightly - looked up to as a source of truth.
Just like it is unethical to suppress news - no matter how unpalatable it may be to advertisers or readers/viewers - it is unethical to suppress a certain kind of reality. Even if it is something like the need for different sizes to suit different shapes. Or the fact that you age, get wrinkles and die. The constant suppression of myriad realities leads to distorted reality. It is not for nothing that anorexia needs psychological treatment. The victim no longer has any sense of truth about his/her own body. Large numbers of women no longer have any perspective on shape because they are force-fed a constant visual mush of super-skinny women.
Should we assume that all women who want an alternative will find it?
I still have not found one. There was a time when I no longer found Femina and Cosmo amusing, and wanted other magazines - something that was about women, and not cars or sports or celebrities. I still can't find an alternative.
Am I willing to pay for an alternative? Yes.
Steinem brought out Ms magazine, for instance.
But do I have access to it? No.
If I order imported magazines, will I be able to afford them? No.
Forced into a situation where I must choose between the crap the advertisers want me to see or no magazine at all, I take the latter. Do I think it is right?
As a consumer, I would much prefer it if advertisers simply had no control over editorial content. As a consumer, I expect this, actually, from non-fiction media.
The advertiser does have a right not to advertise at all, or to specify the size/length of the ad. But I am not convinced that the advertiser should have a right to decide what sort of article the ad appears next to.
Does this require that media and marketers re-think the way they do business, or that media reorganise its formats, and develop a common code or something?
From a media perspective, I know this is very, very hard to do. But I also know that, often, we buckle not under pressure, but because of our fear of pressure. That we don't even put up a fight.
Is that a done thing?
In my opinion, No.