United Colours of Benetton- Uniting Women or Marginalising Women?

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This is one of controversial advertisements I have come across in my lifetime. It came out in 1989. But when I say that first statement, after spending about three weeks in this course, I wonder what is it that makes me subconsciously think that this ad is controversial. What seems obvious may not be that obvious. The contrasting skin colour is one of the many things that grabs my attention at first. Why is it that a Black woman is shown breastfeeding a White infant? Upon researching further, I found an abstract about this particular ad and a little bit of history of UCB campaigns.

Race is one issue that this ad is perhaps attempting to deal with. But embedded within that frame is the image of a woman holding an infant in her hands and this double framing is what problematises the perception of what it means to be a woman. Is being a Black mother to a White child a social problem? What if it was the other way around: a White mother to a Black child? What I have to question about this ad is the framing of woman as an entity that is often rendered anonymous in the wider political discourse most of the times. The controversial and sensitive issue about race is being dealt with in this ad through the image of a woman perhaps so as to not appear controversial. We do not see her face or herself as whole and the infant’s face is turned to the other side of the viewer.

The notion of patronising women discursively is, as seems to me, a way of marginalising women as someone who is weak and the only times a woman can contribute significantly is by appearing to be weak/vulnerable or not appearing at all. If being a mother is supposed to be one of the amazing things in life then why the anonymity? As Shepherd states that there are three discursive practices: i) biologically determined seperatism, ii) question of boundaries and political space and, iii) the role of ‘the child’ as metaphor and physical embodiment of vulnerability, I see elements of each of the three weaved in this ad. Often, women are made to appear in groups as if individuality is not something they will be able to carry off well. In this ad, the body is the site of contest. It struggles to find meanings for itself within the context within which it is presented. The context is complex in nature and it makes the struggle political. Even though this is a print ad, the image of the woman, as if she was real, goes through an ideological conflict in our minds as we process our perceptions/ideas as we read the ad.

It once seemed to me that images of naked people were things that one should not look at, at all. Then when I first saw this ad, that perception altered. Nudity is a privilege but the social benefits of it in terms of construction of one’s identity is debatable. Why is there nudity in this ad? Initially, I would think that, upon reading the history of UCB campaigns, the ad is trying to show a human interest side to the issue- whatever that might be. Or, alternatively, is the ad attempting to subvert the notion of a woman being a mother merely by highlighting it?

What do you think is happening in the ad?


L.J. Shepherd. 2010. ‘Sex or Gender? Bodies in World Politics and Why Gender Matters’. In Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations, ed L.J. Shepherd. London: Routledge, pp 8.


From: Ipshita.

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