• Natalie Helsel

Beyond The Ads: Gender Visibility and Community on Campus


Illustration by Mara Nicolaie

Layout by Brianna Carlini


As a Pratt student, I can’t help but notice the intersection between making art and tackling social and systemic issues. Our art can bring social change, but often, if our work isn’t deemed profitable, it isn’t seen at all. Advertising campaigns are the biggest example of art under capitalism. As students deconstructing gender, it’s hard to bring change into the industry.

“That’s why many of my students come from fashion design or other creative industries...the gender question is absolutely central to the way we create these regimes of power,” says Zhivka Valiavicharska, Associate Professor of Political and Social Theory at Pratt Institute.

Men’s and women’s hygiene ads are one culprit upholding gender norms. While big corporations advertise men’s products to convey dominance, women’s products convey gentleness. To not address my gender feels almost impossible when gender expectations are so visible and everything I consume is defined by it. It’s also important to consider as students creating work for a new generation.

“Many artists here go into industrial production, so it is important to intervene,” says Valiavicharska. “When we have an industrially-produced product that has the capacity to reach millions of people...it’s important to work harder in terms of offering alternative ways of visualizing [gender].” Pratt offers courses that allow us to do so. Classes such as Gender & Capitalism or Theories of Gender aim to broaden our perspectives and provide us with an inclusive space to create. They are also a great way to fill your 15 required credits of general studies electives.

With gender being such an integral part of consumption and advertisement, spending time in places where corporations benefit from this also leaves me with a longing for community. Since gender is an intersectional topic, it’s important to find groups that discuss it close to home. At Pratt, student organizations like Black Student Union, Chinese Student Scholars Association and National Organization of Minority Architecture Students, among others, are available to join through Pratt Engage.

“[Community] is where one can anchor themselves...where one can restore the energies that are needed in order to live in these conditions of violence,” says Valiavicharska. “In autonomous spaces, you are free to share without the gaze of the oppressor...this is where the conditions for liberation begin.”

With the support of our peers, faculty and chosen families at Pratt, we can create art that breaks gender norms and encourages the visibility of gender expression.