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Degradation of women in today’s advertising

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0096 2251 2110 8105
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I’ve been asked to do a little analysis of the impression that women give and how they’re depicted in some of today’s advertisements. The general viewpoint in my class is that women in these ads are shown in most of the cases as “easy”, “slutty”, vulgar sex objects, and that this leads to degradation and humiliation of women in general. Some were from local publicity, but you may be familiar with the AXE commercials, for example, where women always appear to engage in these lustful and vulgar acts with a complete stranger, and also approve and follow his “invasive” behavior just because of his deodorant, and that all this is shown as a sign of his audacity and masculinity, encouraging society to behave in this manner, spreading a degrading image of women and destroying moral values (I’m just quoting all this from memory.) However, they also say that women in those ads are the ones provoking men to act this way, and that they seem to want to be harassed, so others might think that therefore all this is justified. Do you agree with this assessment? What do you think of this kind of advertising?

Edited by 0096 2251 2110 8105
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Do you agree with this assessment? What do you think of this kind of advertising?

I don't think it's proper to say there is anything sexually degrading about such advertisements. "Vulgar acts" is a fancy way of saying "sex makes me uncomfortable". Sex shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable. What is degrading, I think, is trying convince people to buy a product because it is the "trendy" thing to do, or because guys are "supposed" to be trying to attract hot women whenever possible.

Edited by Eiuol
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I do not agree with the premise (that advertisements set cultural norms).

If an advertisement showed, for example, somebody going on a rampage with a knife - then drinking a can of coke, it wouldn't make coke *or* murder seem cool by association.

The advertisement has to resonate with an audience to get its attention, and then present the product. It does not dictate, it follows. Advertisements are like Gail Wynand - seemingly incredibly powerful, until they try to disagree with the crowd.

Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure women are degraded by adverts. I've never seen it. Axe (or Lynx, as its called here in the UK) has the theme that by smelling like their product, women will be magnetically drawn to you. Obviously this is a (comical) exaggeration, it's meant to be a little bit funny - while at the same time saying "This makes you more attractive"

Obviously it would be stupid for the advertisement to depict a scenario where the man wears Axe/Lynx, meets a woman and they value each other immensely, and her perception of him is slightly improved by his scent, so they have sex. That would be ridiculous, it wouldn't sell the product at all. It might make a good novel or movie, or a aspirational real life scenario, but in these cases the scent would be irrelevant!

We all know that smelling of the latest fragrance to come from the Axe/Lynx factory isn't the primary motivation when it comes to choosing a partner, and we all know that women aren't going to run to us like animals, throwing their clothes off, because we spray this stuff. The point is that the advertisement takes what is good about the product, and what may well be someone's motivation for buying it (a nicer scent to make yourself more attractive when finding a partner) and exaggerates it.

Edited by tito
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Given Rand's uniqueness among major female figures of the last hundred years in terms of gender identity and relations I look forward to seeing someone really tackle the OP and give an Objectivist critique of the portrayal of women in these 'sexist' ads.

PS - I personally find the ads heterosexism and delegitmization of the Lesbian aesthetic a step backward in the struggle of liberation. I mean come on, lesbians rock! :)

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Do you agree with this assessment?

No, as far as the only commercials you mentioned, that I've seen (the ones for Axe). There's nothing vulgar about the Axe commercials, nor do they attempt to emphasize a negative quality in women. Obviously, literally behaving that way would not be appropriate, but being appropriately sexual, depending on your context, is. Any critique that rejects women's sexuality as unbecoming or vulgar, or the depiction of women behaving sexually on TV as harmful, on principle, is misguided.

The only valid argument then remains that those women are being inappropriate in the context of an elevator ride in public, or a public sidewalk, and that is wrong. Which would be a good argument, if the commercials weren't meant to be humorous. But therein lies the humor of the commercials, that inappropriate behavior is intended to be out of the ordinary, in other words it is funny precisely because something inappropriate is being done. All comedy is based on saying or doing the wrong thing, and all comedy requires the audience to fully recognize that the wrong thing is being said and done, with the express purpose of ridiculing that "wrong thing".

In this case, the women's behavior is absolutely being ridiculed, and an audience that does not fully agree that they are wrong to behave that way would not even understand the joke, so those commercials neither cause nor reflect any immorality or even a tiny error in anyone whatsoever. Obviously, those commercials have a secondary element to them, as well, which is independent of the main joke: to the extent that they are sexual, they are aimed at ridiculing puritans and creating outrage among goody two shoes who are afraid of sexuality, and therefor wish that I be protected from it at all cost as well. And if you ask me, that's half the fun of those adverts. Sorry to go on so long about a bunch of commercials.

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The general viewpoint in my class is that women in these ads are shown in most of the cases as “easy”, “slutty”, vulgar sex objects, and that this leads to degradation and humiliation of women in general. Some were from local publicity, but you may be familiar with the AXE commercials,...

Women are not depicted positively in those commercials but they are just collateral damage in the attack on the male target audience. This product is presented as a substitute for social skills and a shortcut to romance sex. It is a fantasy of getting a desire filled for almost no effort, and certainly not in response to any personal attributes. It also depicts the "men are dogs" idea of men pursuing indiscriminate sex. And since it is selling to men, it expects the message to be accepted. Screw AXE.

(And I do see the humor in the presentation, but that does not change the content of message in those ads.)

If an advertisement showed, for example, somebody going on a rampage with a knife - then drinking a can of coke, it wouldn't make coke *or* murder seem cool by association.

No, but it would be an endorsement of bloody violent agression by the Coca-Cola corporation. Fortunately no mere corporation is recognized as a moral authority, but there is a message. There is always a message. Whether it leads or not depends on the person who receives it.

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Women are not depicted positively in those commercials but they are just collateral damage in the attack on the male target audience. This product is presented as a substitute for social skills and a shortcut to romance sex.

Advertisements sometimes do a little humorous exaggeration. I would say the message is simply that "Axe has a really, really attractive scent."

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Sex shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable.

Additionally, I don't see why a woman should be viewed as slutty because she appears to enjoy the idea of engaging in sex. I'm sure certain segments of our society think that way and that a woman should only have sex with her husband for the purposes of making babies and to satisfy his 'sinful' urges... when she's not cooking in the kitchen, of course.

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I disagree with the assessment that such ads portray women as slutty. But I do think all these fads, which change almost every week, are quite silly. Axe smells like shit and you see every douchebag on campus wearing this stuff. It seems these idiots really do believe the ads and think that women will flock to them just because they wear this fowl smelling stuff.

There's nothing wrong with sex...or portraying men/women as liking sex. But believing a deodorant is going to get you sex? That's just plain silly.

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But believing a deodorant is going to get you sex? That's just plain silly.
I doubt most men and boys who wear Axe actually think it will "get" them sex, but they probably think it will at least increase the chance of the opposite sex finding them attractive. That's probably due to the advertising, which means the advertising was good and worked. The whole idea of a good smell is to get other people to notice, in addition to enjoying it yourself. Most men seem to not have a first clue about that kind of stuff, so Axe is just helping them along. Axe is a step in the right direction of making one's self better, even if it doesn't actually smell that great.
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I doubt most men and boys who wear Axe actually think it will "get" them sex, but they probably think it will at least increase the chance of the opposite sex finding them attractive. That's probably due to the advertising, which means the advertising was good and worked. The whole idea of a good smell is to get other people to notice, in addition to enjoying it yourself. Most men seem to not have a first clue about that kind of stuff, so Axe is just helping them along. Axe is a step in the right direction of making one's self better, even if it doesn't actually smell that great.

I agree with this, and also with the fact that probably a lot of guys wear Axe because a.) it's one of the few aggressive commercials for a product to help them smell better that they see, and b.) they don't have a highly developed sense of smell or any particular tastes along those lines, so they just go with the Axe that smells decent to them because they're at least AWARE of the existence of the product. I'll give them points for TRYING, at least.

The problem, then, is that OTHER male-smell-enhancing products AREN'T being advertised well enough to COMPETE with the popularity of Axe. Personally, the only thing I find irritating about scent products is when people try to use them in lieu of bathing. Whew!

As for the portrayal of women in these (and other) commercials, I don't really care. I think it could be done in a more appealing way, personally, but I'm not remotely the target audience of these ads. In general, it's flattering to receive positive attention from (attractive) members of the opposite sex even if you don't have any personal interest in them. It's hardly DEGRADING to the people showing you the attention--in fact, it indicates that they have values and are willing to pursue them, even if they do so in a dopey fashion.

I'll take the Axe commercials any day over some of the advertising I see for women's products, where the main thrust is more along the lines of: "You're ugly! You must be fixed! This product will fix you! BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT!!! LOOK AT ALL THE GUNK THAT COMES OUT OF YOUR PORES!!! AND GOD FORBID YOUR BOYFRIEND DUMP OUT YOUR PURSE AND FIND A TAMPON!! BE ASHAMED!! BE VERY ASHAMED!!!"

Bleh.

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I doubt most men and boys who wear Axe actually think it will "get" them sex, but they probably think it will at least increase the chance of the opposite sex finding them attractive. That's probably due to the advertising, which means the advertising was good and worked.

Perhaps I am overestimating the intelligence of the typical college kid :D but I think a normal person would know that ALL fragrances are meant to be attractive to the opposite sex, and Axe is just one company's attempt at achieving an attractive fragrance. Their own advertisement obviously says that they did a great job, but it remains up to the buyers to judge the merit of each competing product.

At least that is how I always interpreted these ads myself...

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The problem, then, is that OTHER male-smell-enhancing products AREN'T being advertised well enough to COMPETE with the popularity of Axe.

Maybe they aren't advertised as much, but they are there on the shelves, and anyone wishing to buy a deodorant can test them and compare the scents. I've never bought Axe myself because 1) I think it smells so-so at best, and 2) it's quite obviously the Ford T-Model of the deodorant market, and it's always been clear to me that that wouldn't send the right message about who I am. I think if anything, the reason Axe dominates the market is that the average guy simply doesn't invest enough time into shopping for deodorants, because they aren't aware of the importance of scents in being attractive to women. (So one might say that the ads actually do a "service" to the "community" by "raising awareness" of this "important issue." :D)

As I'll take the Axe commercials any day over some of the advertising I see for women's products, where the main thrust is more along the lines of: "You're ugly! You must be fixed! This product will fix you! BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT!!! LOOK AT ALL THE GUNK THAT COMES OUT OF YOUR PORES!!! AND GOD FORBID YOUR BOYFRIEND DUMP OUT YOUR PURSE AND FIND A TAMPON!! BE ASHAMED!! BE VERY ASHAMED!!!"

Even the hottest chicks need maintenance; I don't think there is any implication that the buyer is ugly. Think of it as you would of a home cleaning product--would you blame the advertisers of those for first showing a dirty floor, then demonstrating how nicely the product can clean it up?

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Even the hottest chicks need maintenance; I don't think there is any implication that the buyer is ugly. Think of it as you would of a home cleaning product--would you blame the advertisers of those for first showing a dirty floor, then demonstrating how nicely the product can clean it up?

Some advertisements (such as the ones for, say, natural mineral makeup) do follow the dirty floor/clean floor model--they are informative and attempt to be demonstrative. Some are even stylish. (I liked the commercials that ran for Olay Regenerist, I think it was, where they showed still-attractive though wrinkly and saggy older women NUDE. It was very tasteful and I thought the 50+ women looked good--age happens to everyone, after all, but my housemate was shockingly rude about it.) But many--particularly the ones directed at teenagers, are aimed at capitalizing on women feeling *embarrassed*.

Granted, now that I think about it, I've seen a few commercials like this targeted at men--commercials for "fitness" equipment, for instance. I may be overly sensitive about it because I'm one of those women who, on a good day, aspire to be mediocre. I don't think I should be *ashamed* of this. I don't expect to be rewarded for it, but I damn well DO expect people to be polite enough not to ATTACK me, either. Apparently there are jerks in this world who feel like an unattractive person is ASSAULTING them by their very EXISTENCE.

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A lot of people will take anything they are given as an excuse for why they "don't get to realize their full potential". It keeps them from having to fully develop the idea they know somehow to be true: that of the things standing in their way, they are the biggest.

Edited by Alexandros
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"Slutty, vulgar sex objects"

Wherein lies the problem? :P

Exactly.

Seriusly.

Sure, "slutty" and "vulgar" are derogatory terms here, but what I think those terms refer to here are women as sexual beings. And sex-objects, what's wrong with that? I think the term sex-object is a great compliment.

The problem, then, is that OTHER male-smell-enhancing products AREN'T being advertised well enough to COMPETE with the popularity of Axe.

Are Axe products really popular?

I can't think of anyone I know who would use their "fragrances". Everyone seems to buy designer products(and some niche fragrances seem to rise in popularity also). But on the other hand, I think us europeans - and swedes in particular - are perhaps a bit more metrosexual than americans. :D

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Could you expand a little on what you mean by "harassed" here?

Well, I’m just quoting what I can remember from an article written by one of my classmates. I don’t know exactly what he meant by this, he was just trying to be extravagant and witty in his use of language. I agree that most of this assessment is a little exaggerated, but they all love to find victims in every single piece of advertising. For example, this week we were asked to analyze this ad:

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Of course, the purpose of this is to make huge fuzz about it, get all disgusted and complain about how this publicity is spreading a horrible conception of women into society. The general attitude towards this piece is that this is supposed to be a description of the “ideal” woman, so those girls who don’t fill these requirements will feel hurt or upset, affecting their development in some areas of their lives, and therefore it is immoral. The last sentence didn't help either. I’m not a girl, and I’m personally not offended by this particular piece, but most of the girls in my class were, and I really don’t understand why. I mean, they take it so personally.

Does anyone here feel any offended by this advert, or find it to be offensive?

Edited by 0096 2251 2110 8105
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This new ad is identical in substance to the Axe ads.

I remember taking a course like this in high school. They called it "Economics". Really, all I did was look at ads and determine things like message, intended audience, etc. When it came time for class discussion, the teacher would open with some remark about what things were obvious and were to be taken for granted, such as "this ad is degrading towards women" and "this ad is degrading towards blacks." At the time, I bought it all, hook, line, and sinker (not suprisingly as I was a socialist and hardly ever questioned anything that "seemed self-evident", so long as it coincided with my pre-existing beliefs).

Take everything you are taught in this class with a grain of salt. Instead, consider it a chance to observe and learn about the enemy. Don't take my word for it, just be alert. What you are witnessing is postmodernism at its finest.

Edited by Alexandros
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You can like or not like an ad purely as a matter of aesthetics. You could say: this ad is too loud, this one doesn't get it's point across, etc.

But when you start saying "this ad is offensive," you're no longer talking about the ad but about yourself. Ads can't offend you unless you let them. Surely no rational person would believe in the nonsense that ads make children do or buy things; it's deterministic nonsense. So why would you then say that certain ads offend you? You don't have to be offended if you don't want to. Turn the ad off, don't look at it.

Now, I don't smoke, so I wouldn't buy those cigars no matter what, but it's still an effective ad.

Also, what's wrong with being a "sex object" when it's with the man/woman you love? Sex is supposed to be an expression of mutual love, so wouldn't you want to feel sexy with your partner? I should think so. As a man, I would hope that my woman would find me attractive, sexy, etc. And I would expect her to expect me to think the same way about her. This doesn't mean that the only way we know each other is as sexual partners. In fact, for a rational person, it takes a lot of emotional and intellectual knowledge before you're ready for the sexual.

Edited by Krattle
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No, but it would be an endorsement of bloody violent agression by the Coca-Cola corporation. Fortunately no mere corporation is recognized as a moral authority, but there is a message. There is always a message. Whether it leads or not depends on the person who receives it.

Exactly, about leading.

Selling a product sometimes means selling the lifestyle that consumes that product, to encourage its consumption. A rational person needs to understand that advertisements sell both, and not fall for it. Sexuality is good, but also a powerful incentive towards irrationality. I think certain ads have an effect of distorting perceived desired values in women, from the point of view of men and their desires, and women and their self-esteem.

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