News & Politics

Bondage, Cum Shots, Violence -- Sexist Ad Trends That Refuse to Die

The advertising world continues to use stereotypes and violence to prey on our most vile desires.

This was a big year for women: The first serious female presidential candidate, the first predominately female state senate, the first female Top Chef. Yet the advertising world has not caught up to the advances of half our population and continues to use stereotypes and violence to prey on our most vile desires. Here are the worst of them -- the trends that won't die despite our cultural outrage, and personal boredom.

BONDAGE - This year Remy Martin debuted its "things are getting interesting" campaign that features a mediocre Website and a series of billboards/magazine spreads depicting women in degrading bondage positions. You may think, "hey this one shows two women, there aren't even men involved, how can it be sexist?" But most of the ads (not available online) have men between the two women in controlling positions. And even without that, these women are obviously putting on a show for an outsider, not having a passionate lesbian love affair for themselves. These types of ads gain traction in cultural periods of female advancement -- capturing the fantasy of "putting us back where we belong."

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Remy Martin describes its followers as "influential, social, and multicultural urban males, ages 25 to 35." Men of this ilk and age range (read: over 16) should know better than to fall for this kind of pandering. If we switch the view from this being sexy, to this being a pathetic attempt to make an undersexed male feel powerful in the face of female accomplishment, the image loses its appeal. I would like to start a "things that are not interesting" campaign, which would include men insecure enough about themselves that they can't talk to women who aren't physically degraded. I would also include cognac.

RAPE -- The world of high fashion has been the worst offender in the violence-as-art game. Cavalli had pirates, Chanel had a wife beater, and now Dolce and Gabbana has this.

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Let's get this out there now: It's not edgy, it's ridiculous. This is a gang rape, and any woman that sees those shoes instead of that message deserves those shoes. Any man who doesn't see that this is rape is probably looking at one of the hard bodies in the background and therefore not really a threat to women.

 "SLUTS" -- Much like the Calvin Klein ads of the early 90s -- you remember the ones that made you feel like you were watching child porn, cause you sorta were -- this ad offers a young woman (with the face of a small child) posed in a sexually suggestive manner. They are offering you a virgin in looks and expression, and a slut in the tagline: "You know you're not the first." She's been fucked before -- she knows what she's doing. She's been used so you can do whatever you like to her.

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That's the implicit message of this ad. She's young and nubile, but not prudish. She's the ultimate fantasy: a virgin who won't say no to anything.

This combination of the Madonna and the whore is ultimately a fantasy of degrading both body and mind. This girl is in no way a threat: she's young and won't say no, no one has to offer her anything, she is just there for your needs, just like a car.

GIRL ON GIRL ACTION -- Oh my god is this played out. We get it, some men find the idea of two women together appealing. MTV has reality shows devoted to it, casual and exploitative lesbianism is now a part of our culture. But aren't companies like Nikon supposed to be better than that? They bring us goofy Ashton Kutcher commercials (not that those are okay either) and sponsor the Boston Red Sox (yeah, that's pretty bad too). But they are a staple of the photography world and should be held to a higher standard than Tila Tequila. There are many meanings to the term corporate responsibility and one of them is not to fetishize female sexuality.

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CUM SHOTS -- Forgive me that lewd term, but I didn't know how else to phrase it. I can't open a magazine anymore without seeing a thinly-veiled coital moment posing as an advertisement for some sort of beauty product. Jezebel tracked these for a while, rounding up the worst offenders.

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The images and tag lines reinforce the idea of women sex receptacle, and therefore simply a receiver of sex, not one engaging in an equal process. This ad reads "I Want You All Over Me," which is as subtle as it is sexy. As Jezebel points out, women like orgasming too, sex is not just about male pleasure, it's a two way road and all of these ads find their own way around that truth.

The fact that these trends are so widespread is not the fault of the advertising world -- these people are paid to appeal to our ids, they are often self-aware in their tendency to make the world harder for women, that's the life they've chosen. It is mainstream companies like BMW, Mitchum, Nikon, mainstream publications that host these images, and mainstream readers who use these products despite their appalling treatment of women that are truly to blame. The advertising world reacts to client demands and consumer activity -- we have control over only one of those fields.

 

Alex Leo is an associate editor for 23/6, where she is allowed to pretend she has a superior sense of humor. After graduating from Wesleyan University in the spring of 2004, Leo began her career in media as an associate producer at ABC News. She left when she realized it was a reputable news organization.
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