Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 12, 2018

"In This Country of Billboards Covered in Tits"

‘Embarrassed’ - A spoken word poem by Hollie McNish

In this spoken word poem Hollie expresses the embarrassment and ridicule she and many other mothers have felt whilst breastfeeding in public. Hollie emphasises how the sexualisation of breasts is normalised, whereas something as natural as breastfeeding is criticised. She creates a strong argument for why women should not feel like they need to hide away in public toilets to breastfeed their children if they choose to not bottle feed.  As a mother who has breastfed I am well aware of how these women in the video feel, but was lucky enough to be surrounded by very supportive friends and family. Other women are not as well supported outside of their home, with attitudes of breastfeeding being ‘common’, stemming from the outdated idea that poorer women breastfeed whilst rich women can afford the ‘luxury’ of formula milk. Also, within the poem Hollie criticises formula companies for encouraging women in developing countries to formula feed when water is not clean enough to safely do so. In addition, Hollie utilises the rhythm of the poem to emphasise key points, quickening the pace and building up momentum to put her message across in a powerful manner.

Hollie and the other mothers shown within the video all appear to be ‘normal’ or ’typical’ mothers, in an attempt to present the message that similar others are going through the same situation and feel the same embarrassment as mothers in the audience may. Festinger’s social comparison process theory (1954) outlines that those who are similar others are more likely to influence than a dissimilar other as choosing a similar other is perceived to increase self-evaluation accuracy. The similarity-attraction effect (Bersheid & Walster, 1966; Bryne, 1971) outlines that people tend to like those that are more similar to themselves, with even irrelevant or trivial similarity increasing compliance and impacting social influence. Other typical mothers watching the video are likely to feel similar to Hollie and feel a connection to her, meaning they will take on board her message more than if a dissimilar other was presenting it. Hollie’s aim is to empower other breastfeeding mothers to not be ashamed of themselves for breastfeeding in public, as there are so many other similar mothers that feel the exact same way.  

The presence of someone demonstrating a behaviour has been shown to increase the probability that observers also do this given behaviour (E.g. Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1961). This is known as social modelling, outlined in Social Learning Theory (Bandura & Walters 1963; Bandura, 1977). One of the most famous social modelling studies is by Bandura (1977) whereby children who saw adults acting aggressively towards a 'bobo doll' also acted aggressively towards the doll.
Throughout the video mothers are presented as breastfeeding their children. This at first may seem surprising or uncomfortable for some who are not used to seeing this. However, as the video continues, the audience listens to the mother’s message more, with the breastfeeding imagery becoming normal. This is done intentionally to convey the message that breastfeeding should be normalised and not be a novel sight. In accordance with the idea of social modelling, presenting images of breastfeeding mothers will potentially encourage other mothers to also breastfeed freely (if they so wish to).

Hollie uses imagery and repetition of key messages throughout the spoken word poem. The key repeated message is:
In this country of billboards covered in tits
And family newsagent’s magazines full of it
WHSmith top shelves out for men
Why don’t you complain about them then?

There is a strong emphasis on the absurdity of breasts being everywhere in the media, but not accepted when they’re used for their natural purpose i.e. feeding an infant.
Petty, Cacioppo and Heesacker (1981) found that the use of rhetorical questions increases message attention when the message was strong. Ahluwaklia and Burnkrant (2004) explored the effects of rhetoricals on perceived message quality, finding that quality was rated as higher in a non-comparative advert with rhetoricals compared to its statement equivalent.
In the poem Hollie is prompting the audience to question why society is more accepting of breasts in a sexualised way, and why society accepts sexualised adverts or magazines ‘for men’, but chooses instead to complain about mothers breastfeeding in public.
Furthermore, repetition has been shown to increase acceptance of the message through the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968).
As Hollie varies the way in which this message is repeated at times the audience does not get bored of the message (Schumann, Petty & Clemons, 1990).

By telling a story of her own experiences of feeling like she had to breastfeed in public toilets, paired with imagery of other women doing the same, makes the video more memorable due to the storytelling format (E.g. Anderson, Lepper, & Ross, 1980). Schreiner, Appel, Isberner and Richter (2017) expanded on the idea of storytelling and how the strength of the argument impacts persuasion. They found that stories with strong arguments were more persuasive than ones with weak arguments.
In addition, this could be considered as a 'shared story', which many mothers can strongly identify with. This relates to the concept of connecting with similar others as previously discussed.

Hollie conveys that she does not wish to scorn mothers who do not breastfeed, and instead wants to raise awareness that formula milk is not a safe option for some.

Which is fine if you need [formula milk] it
            Or prefer to use bottles where water is clean and bacteria boiled
But in towns where they drown in pollution and sewage
Bottle kids die and they knew that they do it

She gives women the right to choose which option suits them. Giving people the freedom to choose has been shown to increase compliance (Gueguen, Jacob & Pascual, 2017).
However, it is not Hollie’s intention to persuade all women to breastfeed, instead she wishes to persuade women to consider the potential dangers of bottle feeding where water is not clean.

The contrast between religious figures being breastfed and the ‘modern mother’ having to breastfeed in public toilets creates a strong vivid image. It is an especially memorable part of the poem as this is the only instance Hollie uses a true expletive instead of a softer variation (e.g. ‘shite’).
Jesus drank it, so did Siddhartha
Muhammed and Moses, and both of their fathers
Ganesh and Shiva
Brigid & Buddha
And I’m sure they weren’t doing it sniffing on shit

The almost shocking nature of the expletive after the list of religious figures makes the audience more attentive and creates a more memorable message due to its vivid nature (Nisbett & Ross, 1980).
Bostrom, Basehart and Rossiter (1973) found that greater attitude change can occur if females use profanity in communication as opposed to males. Although credibility can be decreased when swearing is used, in this case it creates a strong and memorable message.
Additionally, the use of a long list of religious figures being breastfed creates a strong argument for breastfeeding being normal. It has been shown that the larger the number of arguments, the more the message appears to ‘say something’, especially when the message is strong (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977).
The pace in which these lines are delivered are also captivating, with the pace quickening as if to build to the climatic message of ‘sniffing on shit’ as today's harsh reality.
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