Or: The Exploitation of Feminism by Advertising Here’s what we know: For years women have been objectified in advertising. Watch any of the many videos from Jean Kilbourne’s Killing us Softly series for a litany of examples over the past 40 years. (And these hilarious vintage examples.)
“Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extend they tell us who we are and who we should be.” - Jean Kilbourne
It has led to widespread body image issues, eating disorders, a culture of violence against women, and a media standard in which body types that do not meet these unrealistic standards are marginalized and embedded into our collective psyche as “normal.”
There has been progress.
Since efforts from initiatives such as Killing Us Softly, more of the world has become generally aware of the impact of this unrealistic body image on women, girls, and the male-identifying members of their lives who interact with them.
We see semblances of progress in the recent decision from London to ban negative body image in ads, (thanks Sadiq Khan) or companies like Aerie removing retouching from ads, and with sites like Modcloth supporting the Truth in Advertising Act.
But wait, before you burn your bra and start claiming the end of the glass ceiling, or the long awaited demise of the sexist norms in capitalism and business, something still just isn’t sitting with me quite right.
I’ve been noticing a new category of campaigns and ads that, on the surface, celebrate this sudden new narrative in our culture about the power of a woman (like that was ever really a new revelation.)
Let’s not forget the liberation from sexist labels in business that will come from a good clean head of hair:
And how much better I'll be at pay negotiation if I'm not sweating.
This actually does nothing to close the wage gap, Secret. I’m sure it wins you some good press and your ad agency some awards. Secret’s parent company P&G has an executive team that is 75% male (a stat they win awards for.) And it continues to try and change the world (oh, and sell more laundry detergent) with its #sharetheload campaign in India:
I watch these commercials… and though at first I’m encouraged, by second 27 there’s that shiny end package shot of deodorant or a razor blade or whatever else it’s meant for me to buy.
In the end, I’m just infuriated. We don’t need to be pandered to. Are we really fooled by faux-feminist marketing?
Marketers, stop trying to make a buck on the backs of women working to change the narrative of women in the workforce.
The struggle of pay inequality, workplace sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination is not just another trend to exploit in order to gain eyeballs. As much as I appreciate the intention, at the end of the day these companies are still trying to use this narrative to achieve one common goal: Sell more shit. They've lost sight of a very simple truth -
Women are not a commodity.