Animal Rights

6 Tactics Advertisers Use to Objectify Women and Animals in Similarly Horrible Ways

This phenomenon is so ingrained in our culture that it often slips under the radar.

Photo Credit: Fisher Photostudio/Shutterstock

The concept of woman as property emerged around the same time as the agricultural industry. Today, advertisements still reflect society’s attitude that women and animals are both commodities to be traded in; collections of body parts, rather than whole and free individuals.

Once you open your eyes to the ways in which animals and women are objectified in advertising using similar tactics, you’ll start to see the phenomenon everywhere. Here are some of the many overlapping ways they are degraded.

1. Are women and animals really 'asking for it'?

"It'll Blow Your Mind" (Burger King)

Valio Milk Cum Shot (Valio)

"Best Tail I've Ever Had" (Alberto's Bar & Grill)

In ads like these, women are depicted as willing participants in their own objectification. Animals are also shown as cooperative in their own exploitation (the “happy cow" myth) or even death (a phenomenon known as "suicide food"). It’s no wonder, then, that depictions of women “asking for it” so often overlap with ads for hamburgers and cow’s milk.

2. Women and animals are used to reinforce male gender norms.

“She'll Tell You Size Doesn't Matter” (Carl's Jr.)

"For Me It Has to Be Well-Hung” (Rustler's)

Both women and animals are objectified to reinforce harmful male gender norms, such as eating meat and dominating women—and with those, patriarchy and carnism.

3. Women and animals are depicted as parts to be consumed.

“Everybody Loves Big Breasts” (Carl's Jr.)

"We've Got the Best Racks” (Bavarian Beer Cafe)

"We're About to Reveal Something You'll Drool Over” (Arby's)

"Ours Are Real” (Arby's)

It’s no surprise that a culture that so often reduces women’s value to their butts and breasts also uses women to advertise animal parts like a "rack of ribs." Animals raised and slaughtered for food are also objectified to the point of inanimateness—one eats not a chicken but "chicken breasts"; not a cow but a "lean cut of beef."

“A fragmented body becomes something to be used but not something that has inherent worth,” feminist theorist and vegan activist Carol J. Adams tells AlterNet. "So when an animal is killed and fragmented for consumption, everything unique about the individual animal disappears, and when a woman is shown fragmented, or it's implied that she is nothing but a piece of meat, her disempowerment is being communicated."

4. Ads show nostalgia for the captivity of women and animals.

"Win a Russian Bride” (42 Below)

"Can She Make You Lose Control" (Lynx)

"Not Just the Where but the Who and Why" (Organic Valley)

"Nest Fresh Free-Range Eggs" (Nest Fresh)

You often see images of beautiful, green pastures on milk cartons; unfortunately, these images are false advertising. In reality, nearly all cow’s milk today comes from factory farms. According to a recent study, fewer than 5 percent of the 10 million lactating cows in the United States have access to pasture during grazing season.

The “stanchion barn" where cows are tied up and have little freedom of movement and usually no access to natural light, is the most common type of housing for cows—even “happy, organic, grass-fed” cows.

The dairy industry’s misrepresentation is not unlike the images of women above that glorify a simpler time when women were relegated to the kitchen as sex objects without reproductive freedom.

5. Both older women and animals are erased by society.

“Get the Skinny” (Skinny Cow)

"Drink What She's Wearing” (Fairlife)

Laughing Cow image (Laughing Cow)

Advertisers know that no one wants to see an "old cow” whose milk has been used up. She’s no longer valuable and soon to be slaughtered. Her labor and life are rendered invisible. Meanwhile, older women are all but erased from advertising, reinforcing the idea that a woman's worth is her fertility and adherence to beauty standards.

6. Mocking violence against women and animals suppresses empathy.

"Look Good in All You Do" (Fluid Salon)

Ford Kidnapping Ad (Ford)

"Eat More Chick'n” (Chick-fil-A)

"Mom, Is That You?” (Arby's)

The angry chicken, the conformist sheep and the sloppy pig are familiar memes. Animals raised and slaughtered for food are frequently (and falsely) depicted in degrading ways so we can suppress our empathy for them. The reality is that farmed animals are quite similar to the dogs and cats we cherish as family members, but these falsehoods spare us from reckoning with this truth.

"What that does, in a sense, is it protects the beneficiary, the abuser, the user, of ever questioning their own motives or actions," Adams says. "It kind of becomes their alibi for bad behavior." Whether we’re victim-blaming women or animals, we feel guilty to some degree, so we degrade them.

Nobody should be exploited for profit or for pleasure. That means we must stop supporting brands that objectify women and animals. Go vegan, shop ethically and call out exploitation wherever you see it. 

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Rachel Krantz is lead writer for Mercy For Animals. A founding editor of Bustle, she is also the host of the podcast Honestly Though. Follow her on Twitter @RachelKrantz