By Erin U.
It is no secret that sex sells when it comes to media advertisements in the current market. "An effective advertisement works best when it strikes a chord in the needs and desires of the receiving consumer," (Sexism in Advertising, Influence of Beauty Industry on Women), and in the current day and age, American advertising culture has shaped itself around a world that looks to meet sexual needs and desires through the usage of products. In fact, "at the cultural level, their relationship [sex and advertising] has been appreciated since the 1960's ‘Mad Men’ era, when the sexual revolution coincided with the golden age of advertising, and marketers realized that sex sells," (Access: Sex, Mutations, and Marketing). Within the past fifty years, advertisers have changed their tones drastically from portraying wholesome and family-approved images to advertisements that show a visually explicit culture driven by sexual fantasy and jaw-dropping depictions of how products can help make you more desirable to the people around you. However, advertising hasn't ever perfectly portrayed products to the viewing audience. Before using explicit sexism to sell products, media advertisers had relied on other forms of sexism like sexual prejudice to connect with their viewership. However, researchers can't help but notice the increasing trend in advertising becoming that of an exploitation of explicit sexism, with each advertising team trying to outdo the next for the most visibly sexual ad, without overstepping the boundaries of offending their audiences.
Until around the 1970's, advertisements in the media leaned heavily on the support of sexual prejudice to sell their advertisements. This was depicted by advertisements such as cooking-brand television ads which had men say slogans such as "The harder a wife cooks, the cuter she looks!", and women prejudicing men in advertisements like that of a 1950's Christmas ad for Dormeyer, which once read "Wives. Look over this ad carefully. Circle the items you want for Christmas. Show it to your husband. If he does not go to the store immediately, cry…He'll go," portraying men as the 'easily manipulated' sex by women. This began to change as women and men both started to shake these sexually prejudice stereotypes. This had a great deal to do with the Women's Movement of the 1960's and 1970's which begged for the recognition of the importance of women in society and outside of the kitchen, and also helped women to break the mold of needing to console their husbands for every little thing. This inadvertently helped men shed their 'main provider' image in advertisements as well, as women were given more of a role in society.
According to Barbara Berg, author of Sexism in America, "The 1970's helped [America] shed the notion of women as second-class citizens in America. And yet, one could say that sexism is probably America's default setting, and we're occasionally jerked back into that setting," (Advertising's Man Cave). This is exactly what we are experiencing in our modern-day advertising market. With major companies like Abercrombie & Fitch using shirtless male models to attract women into their clothing stores, products like Axe Body Spray using commercials of women fawning over men who spray on Axe to sell their products, and places like Carl's Junior using nearly naked women eating cheeseburgers to attract customers, there has never been a previous time when sexism has been so heavily relied on to keep products circulating. The shift in sexism has suddenly changed from that of sexual prejudice to objectified sexism. But audiences have gotten smarter about sexism, as anti-sexism media outlets have run articles on the use of sexism as a manipulation tool in advertisements. “'Sex sells', is a very well known term in the advertising world, but now it is a much less powerful technique than before, due to the ethical dilemma surrounding it," (The Effect of Sex Appeal in Advertisements on Adolescents). So, what advertisers have done in the past few years is figure out how to hide their use of sexism, so that they are not accused of deceiving their audiences. What researchers are coming to find is that this new usage of disguised sexism in advertisements, comes in two different forms. According to The Atlantic Magazine in Boston, Massachusetts, modern sexism in advertising can be broken down into two different categories, which they refer to as Winking Sexism and Boomerang Sexism.
Winking Sexism is described by Atlantic Magazine as an implication of the video advertiser saying "Yes, objectifying women in spandex [in a yoga class] might seem sexist, but the instructor's castigating glare represents our moral awareness that these guys are wrong to ogle, even though sneaking in to yoga classes to spy on women is, let's all admit, a real hoot!" (Atlantic Magazine). By acknowledging its own ridiculousness, the advertisement is inadvertently sidestepping any explicit charge of sexism, by calling itself out on being sexist. These types of advertisements have become growingly popular as the modern audience has become more aware that they're being exposed to sexism. Boomerang Sexism, on the other hand, is the declaration that men must declare their manhood as they are not allowed to act sufficiently manly with women in their lives. The implication used in these types of ads are a man's inner thoughts that "Adult relationships are an eternal parade of emasculation. Thank heavens for [insert product]," (Atlantic Magazine).
Because of these two new tactics being so heavily recycled within the advertising market, sexism in advertising is becoming harder to spot or rise against. Advertisers are showing that they know they are in the wrong and are making fun of themselves for it, all the while still relying on sexism to sell their products. In order to now overcome this advertising strategy, anti-sexism brigades must find a way to fight back against a self-admitted monster that is the new advertising market, which knowingly uses sexism to sell products and gloats about it in the face of disapprovers. And with the audiences' new approval of these funny commercial strategies, it will be easier said than done for anti-sexism movements to win their support for stopping these tactics from being used.
Miller, Geoffry. "Access: Sex, Mutations, and Marketing." Science and Society (2012). Embo Reports. 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v13/n10/full/embor2012131a.html
Motwani, Dharmesh. "The Effect of Sex Appeal in Advertisements on Adolescents." International Journal of Applied Services Marketing Perspectives 2012. Volume 1.1 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. http://www.pezzottaitejournals.net/index.php/IJASMP/article/view/77
Szabó, Kinga. "Sexism in Advertising, Influence of Beauty Industry on Women." DEA Journal (2013): DEA Journal. 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. http://dea.lib.unideb.hu/dea/handle/2437/157476
Thompson, Derek. "Are TV Ads Getting More Sexist?" The Atlantic Magazine. 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/are-tv-ads-getting-more-sexist/247545/
"Advertising's Man Cave." PR Women. 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. http://prwomen.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/a-matter-of-elevation/