For a while there, things were looking up. It seemed the message about negative representations of women in advertising was finally getting though, and while not actually being acted upon, wasn’t being argued about. It appeared that one day we might actually not be plagued with boobs and bums plastered across billboards, televisions and newspapers. That day wasn’t coming soon – but the suggestion, if not the promise, was there.
I know, I’m a hopeless optimist – and it appears, without foundation. Just this week, freelance writer, Sarah McKenzie wrote about the recent ads for Brut, a men’s deodorant. In these ads, women, dressed provocatively, are ogled by men. The message of the ad is that this ogling should be shared between mates – ie, that it’s a duty for men to gang up on women walking along the street.
“According to the Pharmacare and Unilever (responsible for the equally bad Lynx deodorant advertisements) these kinds of ”lads’ ads” are simply using humour and playfulness to sell a product. They claim they only depict women looking “comfortable” and “happy” (read: semi-naked, with coy, moist-lipped smiles). These campaigns manage to walk a fine line, at various times being found to breach the Advertiser Code of Ethics in their portrayal of women, while at other times getting away with questionable content under the defence that they are just being ”ironic” (the subtext being that objectors are just uptight, joyless wowsers).”
The comments on McKenzie’s article complained that there’s nothing wrong with this sort of behaviour, and that the presence of semi-naked men in advertising, in similar positions negates any objections women might have. While a case can certainly be made that men are also increasingly being sexualised in advertising – that doesn’t make it right. For either gender.
And worse, the underlying message Brut is delivering appears in the tagline, ‘Still brutally male’. McKenzie again writes,
“But putting aside the contribution that such images make to a view of women as nothing more than a source of entertainment and titillation for men, try as I might I can’t find the irony or humour in the tagline – ”still brutally male”. Since when did being a ”real man” involve violence? And since when was brutality such an aspirational quality that it could be used to entice us into a product choice?”
I have two other issues with these points. The creators of these ads claim the images of women are ‘ironic’. Can somebody please explain to me where the irony is? Although the ad is clearly intended to be humorous, these images are too similar to so many others in advertising as to provide zero difference. Saying these are ironic implies that all such images are ironic – which is also clearly not true.
Secondly, in addition to the point McKenzie makes above, isn’t ‘Brut’ meant to mean ‘very dry’? Why has that suddenly been transitioned into a violent image? And why is that image being used to advertise a product?
Interestingly, also this week we see the release of a new video game called Hey Baby. As Nina Funnell describes,
“On first blush the game appears to be a revenge fantasy developed for embittered, sexually harassed women seeking a cathartic outlet. But the game is not for women. It is actually an interactive artwork and social commentary designed to develop male empathy — and it appears to work.”
The description of this simple game is quite confronting.
“Men approach you (a woman) and say something like “I like your bounce baby” or “Excuse me, do you have a boyfriend?” They also yell obscenities and threaten imminent sexual violence. You can either shoot them or you can say “Thank you, have a great day”. “
At first, New York Times games reviewer, Seth Schiesel thought the game is a little pointless – how can simply complimenting a woman in the street be seen as offensive or threatening? But the more he played it, the more his appreciation developed. As Funnell says in her article:
“Initially he [Schiesel] was offended by the idea that saying “wow, you’re so beautiful” to a woman, should give her licence to kill you. Schiesel also points out that it would be “culturally unthinkable” to have a game in which a man can only shoot women.”
Schiesel’s own comments go further.
“I came to realise that it is unrealistic and absurd to suppose that saying, ‘Thank you, have a great day’ is going to defuse and mollify a man who screams in your face, ‘I want to rape you’.”
And unlike other intensely violent and anti-female video games out there – this one doesn’t have an end. It just goes on and on, showing, among other lessons, that violence itself is no answer.
“After hours of playing Schiesel found himself throwing up his hands in frustration and saying: “Well what am I supposed to do?” Which is, of course, what countless women think every day.”
Apparently the Brut ads have been something of a flop. Perhaps the advertising executives should play a few hours of Hey Baby in the hope of understanding why.
There is absolutely nothing ironic about sexual harassment. And we should be all well aware of that by now.