Dear South African Advertising Industry
We have had a long relationship, but I’m afraid it’s time we called it quits. That, or something (you) has to change. We’ve had our laughs but your attitude is starting to piss me off, specifically your attitude regarding women and gender roles in general.
We aren’t in 1960 and you aren’t on Mad Men. You don’t have to rely on outdated tropes to sell something or try to elicit a laugh. The thing is, most of us have realised that arbitrarily assigning a chore, activity, colour, hobby or whatever to a certain gender is just plain ridiculous.
“What tropes?” you ask innocently. Let me break it down for you. The idea that all men are bench-pressing, promiscuous “free agents” (not slutty, that’s only for girls obviously), dominating, gaming, immature macho guys. That women are: stay-at-home, doing-all-the-chores, have-it-all moms, nagging girlfriend/wife/mother, or looking to be either of these. Both of these portrayals are incorrect and harmful. Wait a minute before you scoff at ‘harmful’ and let me explain.
Advertising is supposed to represent someone that consumers can relate to. So you, as the advertising industry, make use of representations of the everyman or woman. By using stereotypes in these representations, you perpetuate the idea and send the message that every man/woman acts or thinks in the way that is portrayed in the ad. This in turn may influence the ideas people have, their expectations and they might actually start to believe the trope you are selling! And that is why it is harmful: it reinforces these ridiculous ideas that should have been extinct by now. Please, stop.
“But I don’t do any of these things you accuse me of”, you protest. Oh yes you do. In one advert for instance, you portray that men only look like they’re crying when actually they’re enjoying a particularly spicy burger. But then, appearing to be sensitive, they score hot chicks! Yes, KFC, I’m looking at you. In reality this ad sends the message that men don’t cry. It’s for sissies, or even worse, girls. It also sends the message that men can manipulate (scantily clad) women to fall for them by appearing to be sensitive and crying over puppies.
KFC you are by no means the only guilty one, but your ads just get under my skin. Steers, my old friend, you are also guilty even though in a slightly different way. Hoohah! I notice only guys in your King Steer ads. Girls, chicks, women, people of the female persuasion, also enjoy eating burgers. And it pains me that you would advertise yourself in this manner because I really like you. I thought we had something special.
You want more evidence? In some ad for a bleach or washing powder one women moans (because what else do women do, amiright?) that it is so embarrassing for her husband when he wears dirty shirts. Poor man. He must not have hands which is why he is incapable of doing laundry so his wife has to clean the shirts that embarrass him so. Same goes for all other products advertising how easy it is for MOM to do the dishes (no idea what product) or make sure the kids brush their teeth (aquafresh).
No two women and no two men are exactly the same, with the same interests. To imply otherwise is to lie. Your interests are not determined by your sex or gender. I like cooking, I’m female. I don’t like cooking because I’m female. I like cooking because I like eating. And according to adverts the only things women eat are nutritional supplements and breakfast foods that regulate your bowels. Is there something wrong with me because I eat burgers and do not like pink? Is a man who cares about his bowel movements less of a man? I think you’ll find the answer to both questions is no.
I realise that adverts rely on certain generalisations to convey more information than can fit into an advert. But I also believe this is entirely possible to do without using sexist stereotypes. Instead of advertising something for men or women, just advertise it to the people who use it, regardless of sex. Men want to lose weight too, women also want to buy cars.
To conclude, let’s play a game. I’ll describe an ad and you spot the sexism.
· OLX – a pregnant woman is being all responsible and selling her husband’s childish things to prepare for the arrival of Baby. The husband is engrossed in the sports match on TV and has no time for women things like babies and cribs and stuff.
· Castle lite – there is a party in the snow. The men are in jeans and shirts. The women are in the shortest shorts and revealing tops. I’ll give you a clue: if you are going to objectify people, do it to everyone; make the men shirtless. I believe in equal opportunity discrimination.
· Shield roll-on – in the ad for the women’s roll-on, a young lady sweats because it’s a little warm, she makes a few ‘light movements’ and is anxious because her boyfriend is late. These are actual reasons for sweat as listed in the ad. In the ad for men, a man is involved in a high-action Inception-like chase, reminiscent of James Bond.
· Cell-c – women as cellphone deals.
My dear friend Advertising Industry if, by now, you cannot see what is wrong with this picture then we shall have to end this friendship. It’s for the best. It’s not me, it’s you. Until you’ve grown up a bit and stopped relying on tired stereotypes to get your point across, until I see an ad for a household cleaning thingy and a man is doing the cleaning or women are portrayed zipping through mountain scenery in a fast little car, consider yourself unfollowed and unfriended.
Lizl Morden is a generally anti-social yet outspoken bibliophile and text editor, fighting the myth that pink is for girls and blue is boys one day at a time.