Sexist Advertisements: How to see through the soft sell
Research by Barbie White from Erving Goffman's
This article originally appeared in Issue# 49
Everyone has seen blatantly offensive advertisements that portray women
as sexual toys or victims of violence. Such irresponsible advertising has
rightly touched off cries of protest and organized action. The following
are some of the more subtle ways advertising reinforces cultural values
of subservience, domination and inequality between the sexes.
Three common tactics used to establish
superiority are size, attention and positioning. Notice how
both men and women in the Hanes ad appear subservient because
of their positions below and behind their partners. The Gable
Film Festival poster lends historical reference to the stereotype
that women, like the one in back, fawn over men yet cannot hold
Women's bodies are often dismembered and treated as separate
parts, perpetuating the concept that a woman's body is not connected
to her mind and emotions. The hidden message: If a woman has
great legs, who cares who she is?
Shown alone in ads, men are often portrayed as secure, powerful
and serious. By contrast, women are pictured as playful clowns,
perpetuating the attitude that women are childish and cannot
be taken seriously.
People in control of their lives stand upright, alert and ready
to meet the world. In contrast, the bending of body parts conveys
unpreparedness, submissiveness and appeasement. The Capri ad
further exemplifies head and body canting. The woman appears
off-balance, insecure and weak. Her upraised hand in front of
her face also conveys shame and embarrassment.
The tragic abuse-affection cycle that many women are trapped in is
too often glorified in advertising. Is the Revlon ad selling lipstick
and nail polish or the idea that a woman must be kept under control?
Note the woman's affectionate reward for her pleasant cooperation
in being choked with her own pearls. It's not funny, Frank.