Cal Poly Student Lindsey Franz Examines Objectification of Women in Ads
This is the second of a two-part series of postings of blogs by my accounting ethics students on the Ethics Sage website. I selected the two because they illustrate the quality of writing and thoughtfulness of students in the Orfalea College of Business at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Today's blog is by Lindsey Franz on the sexualization of women as portrayed in media advertising. Yesterday's blog was by Carleigh Lake on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Alright, I get it. Sex sells. Advertisers and executives alike know that nothing sells a product better than tying it back to the old “hanky panky.” The question is, however, at what point does sexuality in advertising become reminiscent of soft porn? At what point do women go from empowered, sexy females to objectified possessions only useful for male pleasure? And at what point do these advertisements truly affect young, vulnerable female minds?
As Julia Wood, author of Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, suggests, “Highly sexual portrayals of women and, increasingly girls, of all races pervade advertising...(Advertising) repeats the cultural view of women as dependent, ornamental objects who exist to look good, to please men…and to be sexually desirable and available.”
Opening a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, the first thing I notice is the innocence attempting to be portrayed. The women are, of course, clad in lingerie and swimwear, bodies exposed. That isn’t what bothers me though. There is nothing wrong with being a beautiful, fit female. What bothers me is that each of these women maintains a very submissive pose. Many of them look very young and vulnerable, waiting for a man. They fit into the stereotype that 21st century society has developed over time: to be a real woman is to have your worth based on your sexuality. You must be hot, sexy, appeal to men, and follow their orders. Buying these Victoria’s Secret bras and panties will make you that woman. All you need is a credit card and an all-liquid diet to look this good!
Even worse than advertisements featuring adult women as sex objects are the products and advertisements directed at young girls and preteens. In an article published in USA Today, researchers reported that advertisements and toys, such as the popular Bratz dolls, “may make girls think of and treat their own bodies as sexual objects.” If you’ve ever seen a Bratz doll, I’m sure you’ve noticed the rather striking resemblance to a blow up doll. With huge lips, excessive eye makeup, and very revealing clothing, these Bratz dolls are marketed to girls as young as age four. A report by the American Psychological Association says, "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality.” Additionally, the increased likelihood of developing eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression is a very scary reality.
Abercrombie and Fitch, a trendy American clothing store that we are all familiar with, has also contributed to the increased sexualization of young girls. In 2002, the company was criticized for promoting a line of thongs for seven-year-old girls. Eight years later, A&F has introduced padded bikinis for the same age group. I believe Washington Square News columnist Atticus Brigham said it perfectly when he made the following statement in his article discussing the bikinis: “Those with undeveloped minds are least deficient in such surface level judgments, and thus it is most dangerous for society to depict their bodies as the paradigm of sexual attractiveness. A developed sense of consciousness and intellectual depth differentiates humans and animals, and thus must be an essential aspect of human sexuality. Children lack these qualities through no fault of their own, and thus should be out of bounds for corporate marketing ploys.” It is one thing to portray an adult woman - who can decide for herself what type of woman she wants to be - as a sex object, but to make an innocent child feel as though she isn’t good enough is completely irresponsible! Media, advertising, and society as a whole, are constantly insulting women and femininity with such images that tend to broaden the gap of inequality between the sexes.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking. Wait, wait, wait! That’s not true! Men and women are equal! Women’s suffrage! Men respect women! Now, don’t get me wrong; I will be the first to agree with anyone who says there have been significant improvements in gender equality over time. Today, however, we are so engulfed in fighting this inequality that we fail to recognize it. We don’t see the forest from the trees. We don’t look twice at the provocative ads in every magazine on every newsstand. Our society is so used to sex that it doesn’t even faze us anymore. Instead, we buy into these images of right or wrong, hot or not. Sexuality in advertising is as common as beer at a college party.
What I want, then, is not for every sexy ad to be removed from the media. I know that these ads sell products much faster than an ad featuring a bald, beer-bellied South Dakotan would. My hope, however, is that men, women, and children alike can look at these ads, understand their implications, and choose whether to follow this mindset of the idealized, yet rather derogatory, roles of females in society. Even more so, I hope that parents constantly remind their daughters that they are beautiful just the way they are, and continue to encourage healthy sexual development, without padded bras and thongs!
We all must consciously understand that media often belittles women, and understand that it is not okay. Some companies go so far as to use sex as a blatant selling point for their product. One such company is Obscene Jeans. This is a statement from their website. “In his extensive travels through the party capitals of Europe and the U.S., Obscene Jeans founder Robert Federowicz discovered a simple truth about women’s fashion: No matter how late it gets, there is nothing sexier than the perfect pair of jeans. He developed a vision to create sleek, stylish, great fitting, eye-popping jeans with an irresistible appeal for the world’s sexiest women." Now, you make the call: Clever advertising or the blatant use of the message that women are sexual objects to sell a product?
Blog by Lindsey Franz posted on Ethics Sage, June 10, 2011