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Sex(ism) still sells, apparently

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Anti sexism TFLCampaign groups are stepping up the fight against sexist advertising.

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.

  1. Romi Jain says:

    Interesting article. It cites London Feminist Network(LFN) that criticized such ads saying: “This is an issue of discrimination and harm, as opposed to public morals being offended.”
    But what about those women who claim it is their right to go nude, to use and show it off as they wish!

  2. Well said! I think the advertising makers are lazy, they go along the madmen lines of ‘women want to be her and men want to own her.’ Why not think of something new?? I agree that women are put down, called prudes, held back whenever they don’t like something which portrays women in a sexualised way. It is hard to complain to the self regulating advertising standards board, whose rules are totally lax and and have no incentive to change them because they are all invested in the industry. If only the new independent press regulation could extend to advertising! For example the fig leaves woman, who seems to be everywhere, is a hard one to make a formal complaint about as they are advertising underwear and there is a male equivalent, but does that make it ok? No.

    • vicki wharton says:

      I think ad men are more than lazy, they are discriminatory. They know the role of propoganda, anyone in the media has studied it, and they know the role of sexist stereotypes showing females as second place humans keeps women in a role that is sub slavery. Hence why we don’t get paid for our work in the family, paid less in the workplace, laws about discrimination are seen as political correctness rather than correct, and why the men’s media refer to us as bitches and whores. If it looks like hatred of our equality and smells like hatred of equality, chances are it probably is hatred … took me four years of therapy to be able to unpick my social training to know that!

  3. It’s sexism it is pandemic male contempt for women and girls which is the issue. Notice men and boys are not routinely referred to as ‘bitches or whores’ neither are males routinely sexually exploited by male dominated advertising industry.

    Wonder why racism isn’t acceptable but misogyny is accepted because only males are apparently human.

    • vicki wharton says:

      Which, psychologically speaking, is quite a long way down the line of psychopathic thinking … women aren’t human therefore killing/raping/hitting/insulting one isn’t like being a bad person …

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