Styling womanhood


[Headless Woman – Rodin]

The Australian College of Midwives is looking for a new logo. And they’ve been looking for a while. It’s been a long, slow, bumpy process, and they’re now at the point of asking members for ideas. Why?

The brief was simple:

* The College has corporate colours (green and purple as on this website) it is envisioned that the logo would incorporate one or both of these but also look professional in black and white.

* If the logo stylises a woman, pregnant or otherwise, it must be a woman with a head, rather than just a symbolic belly or breast.

* The logo must comply with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes

* The logo to be based around the ACM philosophy statement for midwifery

Four criteria. Not a lot to hold in your brain at once.

The philosophy statement clarifies further the ACMI mission, including:

[Midwifery] encompasses the needs of the woman’s baby, and includes the woman’s family, her other important relationships and community, as identified and negotiated by the woman herself

[Midwifery] is holistic in its approach and recognises each woman’s social, emotional, physical, spiritual and cultural needs, expectations and context as defined by the woman herself

[Midwifery] recognises every woman’s right to self-determination in attaining choice, control and continuity of care from one or more known caregivers

[Midwifery] recognises every woman’s responsibility to make informed decisions for herself, her baby and her family with assistance, when requested, from health professionals

Clues: women-centredness, holistic approach, self-determination, informed decisions. Combined with the explicit line in the brief explaining no headless women or floating wombs – were these enough? No. The College received five proposed logo concepts from the chosen company, and you can see the trends.

The logo concepts went out for member comment, and the members were unimpressed. ACMI explains:

Many thanks to those members who took the time to provide comments on the designs presented. Like every search for identity, it is taking some time to pin down exactly what image is representative of the College. The overwhelming consensus from feedback is that the designs were not quite right.

No kidding. Sixty percent of the logos – sixty percent! included stylised headless women. Members on the ozmidwifery group responded in unison – “awful”, “horrible”, “cold shudder”, “where is the woman?” There were two logo concepts that represented stylised women with heads:


But the College remained unimpressed. If you’ve got any ideas, drop them a line, eh? The deadline is this month:

The proposal at this stage is to open the floor to members. Members are invited to put forward any ideas that they feel are suitable. Any level of drawing expertise is fine. Where necessary, a graphic designer will be used to translate the idea from rough draft to a professional image.

The symbolic decapitation of women has been a dominant theme for centuries in Western history. The head may be completely removed, or women are depicted as faceless, veiled, without features or expression. The powers of thought, of sight, of speech are symbolically removed, styled into non-existence. Symbolic decapitation is yet another way in which women are dehumanised. Women are portrayed as passive medical or sexual objects (or both), as collections of body parts to be viewed and acted upon by others.

The issue of symbolic erasure of women’s subjectivity seems to be most prominent in healthcare fields dealing with women’s reproductive system.

Some breast “awareness” literature:

The patriarchal construction of motherhood involves the loss or removal of a woman’s self. Masculinist biomedical notions of technological domination over nature are strongly tied up with the male clinical gaze, the construction of a woman’s body as an object for display, surveillance and manipulation. Manipulations (from cancer screening to obstetric intervention) occur according to a series of rigid protocols and often without seeking meaningful input from the owner of the body itself, beyond a signature on a “consent form” for more invasive procedures (note: not a “request form”!). The mechanistically-constructed body is separated from the self, or mind, or spirit, by the excision of the symbols of these – the head and face.

This is the kind of thinking that allows a woman to be scolded for paying insufficient attention to her “pre-pregnant” status when choosing what to eat, take, or do. This is the kind of thinking that reduces a woman to nothing more than a “uterine environment”. This is the kind of thinking that allows obstetricians to foist massive rates of birth violence upon women without anyone turning a hair.

Props to ACMI for standing up and refusing to collude in the symbolic erasure of women as whole persons. I hope a new logo emerges soon.


[Hans Bellmer, via Junk for Code]



Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health, Politics

Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. That advertising agency really sucks. I hope the ACMI refused to pay more than 40% of their fee.

  2. How could they just ignore one of four points in a brief? Did they not read it, or did they just skim it and think “Oh, they couldn’t possibly be serious about that.”?

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