Hey there, long time since I wrote anything related to advertising, but here’s a quandry I’ve been mulling over. Can you sexualise without being sexist? It’s easy to sit there and say that rampantly sexualising people is always sexist, as it reduces them to nothing more than a sex object. We can all see that being reduced to nothing more than sex objects is a bad thing.
The advert that has got me mulling this over is this advert for underwear, I believe. My french isn’t great however, so I might be entirely wrong. I only stumbled across the advert because of someone mentioning it was sexist on my Twitter. To which I took offense too, I am the one who posts about sexism!
The advert is a really simple idea, and even without being able to read the French around the video, I think I have a good idea of how it runs. In summary there’s a woman and a man who is writing a novel maybe? The woman comes in and playfully struts around him, distracting him from his novel-writing, through the medium of wearing underwear and uhh… lawn… mowing?
First of all, the advert is for underwear, there’s not really any good way to advertise underwear other than wearing it. So a mostly naked woman was always on the cards for this advert. If that’s all it takes for an advert to be sexist – then surely any bikini ad, or anything that shows women not wearing many clothes is sexist? Right? Except that clearly isn’t the case, we have been able to show women wearing little without them being reduced to a sexualised object. Therefore without it being sexist.
With a naked lady established as necessary and not sexist in and of itself for this advert, we move on to the rest of it. The way she uses her body to distract the writing man and get his attention. Is this sexist? She struts around playfully, wearing different pairs of underwear, and the man clearly tries to fight off her charms from distracting him from his writing. Eventually, he finds the woman too damn sexy and just gives up trying to write with all that distraction around. Is this sexist?
Yes. Just not in the way you would think. It paints men as unable to control themselves, simple, mindless, sex objects. Dangle a naked woman in their face and they won’t be able to control themselves. They’ll just drop whatever they’re doing and start giving their attention to the naked woman instead. However is this the sexism that King & Tuke up there were worried about? Doubtfully. We’re all too eager to pounce and protect women in today’s modern society, while ignoring the actual rules of what we’re enforcing.
Prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of sex. Whether its about women or not is regardless. Is it not stereotyping of men to say that they can’t control themselves around a naked woman? Isn’t this a prejudice to say that they will be distracted and have to come touch a woman once he’s seen her somewhat unclothed in front of him? On the flipside, do we see prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination against women in this ad?
I can’t really see that. The naked woman would be absolutely sexist if it weren’t necessary to advertise the product itself. So that alone can’t make this sexist. There’s no stereotyping because not only does she appear naked, she also mows the lawn – something that’s stereotypically left to the male of the house. (Or my mum when my dad gets too drunk in the summer). This advert really isn’t sexist against women at all, despite first glances, whereas on the other hand it’s quite sexist against men, yet nobody will bat an eyelid about that.
So to answer the question I posed at the start, can you sexualise without it being sexist? Yes, I believe you can. Just not in this case. The sexualisation lead to the sexism we see with the male who couldn’t control himself for more than the 30 second run time. I get that it was light comedy and so nobody should really care that much, and I don’t really. I just know that people will be looking at this advert as if its sexist against women, when really? It’s definitely not.
It feels kind of wrong to put this advert in the BADvertising section, because its not a bad advert. The sexism is light and for the purposes of comedy, unlike the other adverts I’ve written about. Where the sexism is purely to frame men as being rapists and bullies. Still… I guess it fits somewhat.