In Celebration of International Women's Day: Some Sexist Opinions on Sexism

Axe is simply Lysol that can be sprayed directly onto teenage boys.

Posted Mar 08, 2011

My student Samantha Buzzelli and I made a deal: "Here are the questions for my Women in Violence course. Our group project's focus is on how advertisements use sex to sell their products as part of gender-specific marketing strategies. I understand that you'll use our questions and your answers for the blog. Okay, here goes!"

Here goes, indeed-Sam's questions and my honest, if not always politically-correct, answers:

1. Does the media encourage sexist opinions toward women? And if so, is it an individual or social problem?

---Our culture encourages us to stereotype everyone.

We put people into categories: not only do we stereotype women and men, but we stereotype short women and tall men, fat women and skinny men, women who dye their hair, men who are basically bald but who have one lock of long stringy hair which they wear in a pony tail, women with puffy ankles, guys who have funny ears.

Actually, the guys with the funny ears deserve stereotyping, but the rest we do for mere convenience and out of intellectual laziness.

The job of the media is to classify people into groups in order to sell products. They are experts at exploiting our laziness and willingness to categorize and stereotype. That's what they do-it's the their job. Women are just particularly visible because women are used to sell products both to women and to men.

You want to sell soup to men? Show a woman cooking it. Want to sell soup to women? Show a woman cooking it.

Want to sell a beach vacation to a couple? Show a woman walking on the sand.

Want to sell perfume? Show a woman. Want to sell an aftershave? Show a woman.

Every time we see or identify a woman as being exploited we should also recognize that those creating the advertising copy are exploiting a man perhaps more subtly, but just as readily.

(Please note that I just left the keyboard to replace a battery from a clock that was given to me at a medical conference by representative hawking Viagra. It's a nice blue plastic clock-no woman on it-- but it stopped as I was writing about sexual stereotypes, as if in protest. )

2. Do you personally believe that advertisements depicting women as animal-like, hypersexual, and lusty beings liberate women or reaffirm sexist opinions?

---The construction of this question doesn't leave much room for doubt about which way a sensible person would answer. I believe that making women into Playboy bunnies or into Kittens with bikini waxes is not exactly going to help push us towards gender equity.

Nor do I think, however, that adults should be policed by other adults and told what is acceptable in terms of behavior.

The most effective way a consumer can exert power is in the spending or not spending of money.

Let's take St. Pauli Girl beer for example. It wasn't a new idea to start using women's bodies as a way to sell products even when Beck's brewery came up with breasts = beer in the late 1800's and introduced the famous busty women of St. Pauli Girl.

Sex sells, and sex must sell St. Pauli Girl because the brand has used pinups as their "Spokesmodels" since 1977. I suspect, although I can't say for sure, that the "modeling" rather than "speaking" part is the most important function provided by the young woman representing the brand each year.

If the St. Pauli Girl campaign wasn't popular, they would change their advertising tactics. If breasts=beer stopped being an apparently reasonable equation, a mathematical certainty, for their target audience, then they'd have to change. Maybe a good way to make this happen would be for the ordering of any St. Pauli Girl beverage to be met with outright and prolonged laughter by those surrounding the one making the request.

3. Do you think Axe commercials produce different responses depending on the viewer's sex? Is it an accurate depiction of society's perspective on women and their regard for sexual partners? Is the media shaping men to believe that all it takes is an overpowering scent from a can to get us aroused? How does that portray women?

---If all it took to get women aroused was a scent from a spray can the world would be a very different place than it is today. Way more women would be staying home with their cans of Pledge and Endust than would be out working for 68 cents on a man's dollar, going to the gym, or, for that matter, raising children.

Axe is simply Lysol that can be sprayed directly onto the persons of teenage boys.

This is not in and of itself a bad thing.

But in no way is it arousing to the average female.

Of course, women spraying 75 lbs. of foaming gel mousse product into our hair on a daily basis is not arousing to the average male, either, and yet we keep doing it.

Basically, the Aerosol people have us in a headlock (or perhaps an underarm lock) and we should admit our own complicity when we purchase these products.

4. Why do you think sex sells? Would you believe that living in a patriarchal hyper-masculine society influences this? Is capitalism correlated to sexism? If we lived in a more gender equal society would these advertisements be existent and popular?

Are you asking me whether advertising would exist if women had the same access to the corridors of power as men? As Sarah Palin might say, "You Betcha!"

Put it this way: Lucky magazine calls itself the "Ultimate Shopping Guide" and "The Magazine About Shopping" and is, after all, marketed exclusively to women. Although we could, perhaps, argue that the reason why women are so enthralled by the idea of perpetual consumerism is perhaps because we are encouraged by the culture to be chronically insecure.

We think each new product, item of clothing, piece of furniture, etc will be like, Prince Charming, rescue us from ourselves. We're always looking for something to make us better, not because L' Oreal tells us "We're worth it," but because we think we are nothing without it.

5. Would you consider these sexist commercials as acts of violence against women? Against men?

---No. To define advertisement as "acts of violence" diminishes actual acts of violence against women and men. I would not coercive rhetoric in the same category as a fist at the throat. I think that, what we need to do help everyone become aware of the expert con jobs perpetuated by people who are paid good money to figure out how to get us to spend our own good money.

But, I do not think that there should be a policing of authority out there infantilizing women, looking out for us on behalf of our own good, telling us we are not smart enough to figure things out for ourselves and therefore shouldn't be exposed to certain kinds of language or images because they are too powerful for us to resist.

I actually believe the same thing goes for men.

Instead I believe that we can use our senses of humor and more accurately develop our sense of irony and sense of the absurd and point out the ridiculousness of certain kinds of ads (beer = breasts) without exercising censorship.

Of course, that could just be my girlish way of looking at things.

6. Would you say that these commercials and print advertisements are influencing boys' and their treatment towards girls? Do these commercials affect the dating world and expectations in a relationship?

--- If they do for more than twenty minutes, then you are in the wrong relationship.

Let me clarify.

I do believe that prevailing images within a culture affect how the members of that culture define, perceive, and judge others. They are not insignificant and they are not trivial.

But neither are they the most important markers or signs.

We have the power to absorb, perpetuate, and encourage these images, but we also have the power to undermine, ridicule, and ultimately disenfranchise them. It is not something that people are doing to us; that victim mentality is another stereotype I refuse to perpetuate. I believe that we construct and collude with the forces of power in our world. And as we continue to develop guts, stamina, and wisdom, we'll figure out how to use that power more effectively for better causes, better reasons, and for a better understanding of our world. (Except for the guys with the funny ears; let them drink St. Pauli Girl.)