Sex(ism) still sells, apparently
The advertising industry may appear to have come a long way since the Mad Men era, when a woman’s place was most definitely in the home and the only reason to let the wife pop in to the office was when it needed a spring clean.
But has it?
Slogans like ‘Don’t worry darling, you didn’t burn the beer’ and ‘Christmas morning she’ll be happier with a Hoover’ may be laughable today, but big businesses are still using sexism to sell everything from breakfast cereals to banking.
Last year Christmas advertisements from Asda and Morrisons attracted complaints for reinforcing sexist gender stereoptypes, portraying mothers doing all the work to make the festive season a success.
Both retailers were cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA); neither advertisement was thought to reinforce negative stereotypes.
I can only presume this means ‘woman alone in the kitchen’ is a perfectly acceptable stereotype in 2013.
But the blatantly sexist ads of the 50s and 60s, where women cooked, cleaned and still managed to look pretty for their husbands, have given way to more blatantly sexist ads where women, if they are not in the kitchen, are always up for it, and even if they are not, it is probably still ok.
Women are being sexualised and degraded in the name of consumerism in a way that men just aren’t.
And from glamorising domestic violence to imitating pornography, advertisers are failing women and girls today.
Just take a look at this short clip from American campaign group Missrespresentation for a selection of the worst offenders last year.
One place you can’t escape the barrage of sex-in-adverts is on the London transport network, and a new Facebook group has sprung up for commuters to share their experiences of sexist advertising on the city’s tube, rail and bus network.
The group – ‘Anti-sexist advertising on TfL – was created in response to ‘the bombardment of advertisers using sexism and sexualised images of women to sell their wares.’
It encourages commuters to share pictures and report the offending ads to Transport for London (TfL) and the ASA.
In response to the group, TfL have claimed all advertisements on the London transport network adhere to the standards set by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committee of Advertising Practice.
The problem here is that the standards are defined by taste and decency, not the underlying discrimination.
The objectification of women has become so normalised in our society that sexualised images are no longer seen as indecent and anyone who objects to a girl in a bikini on an underground poster is accused of being a prude.
Campaign group Object, set up to challenge the sexual objectification of women, met with TFL a decade ago to address the problem of sexist advertising on the London transport network.
Object claims progress has been made since, although the guidelines put in place are not always adhered to.
In a parliamentary debate on sexualised imagery in advertising last year, Object outlined the impacts of sexist ads on all members of society:
“As well as stifling the self-esteem and aspirations of girls, the persistent portrayal of women as objects to be judged negatively, impacts the attitudes of boys and men and the ways in which they are conditioned to view and treat women and girls.”
“Indeed, emerging evidence suggests the sexual objectification of women and girls is reinforcing the views of many young men that women are always available for sex.”
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, the London Feminist Network (LFN) set out to identify sexist ads displayed on the TfL network.
Examples included a scantily clad Katy Perry helping to easy the guilt of eating crisps, a Virgin Atlantic-branded burlesque dancer and a businessman with a much younger woman in a bikini, and a blatant euphemism for sex, advertising Pow Wow Now’s conference calling service.
In a letter to the transport company, LFN said: “We believe [these advertisements] perpetuate and reinforce negative and harmful attitudes towards women and girls.
“This is an issue of discrimination and harm, as opposed to public morals being offended.”
“These offensive advertisements must be considered within the context of systematic harassment and violence towards women.
“These adverts contribute to normalizing such behaviours.”
Another project aims to highlight endemic sexism in the British media.
In a similar vein to the Everyday Sexism project, Everyday Media Sexism provides a space to share stories, speak out and object to sexism in newspapers, magazines and adverts, online and on television.
You can post stories to the website or on Twitter; find them at @MediaSexism.
Sexism may have changed over the last 60 years or so, but it is still rife today and continues to create barriers to female happiness and success.
As long as the – lazy and unimaginative – media perpetuates the idea that women are objects to be looked at and judged on their looks, we will never be on an equal footing with our male contemporaries.