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the vintage trend: sexist advertising – how far have we come?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury. My last article discussed how the vintage trend could be represented as a new form of feminism. I also said that we should avoid looking at the past through rose-tinted retro spectacles, and I’d now like to elaborate on this with further evidence pointing towards why this is the case.

Wikipedia defines advertising as “a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience (viewers, readers or listeners) to continue or take some new action”. Women’s magazines are stuffed full of adverts urging that if they can just lose those last twenty pounds, and buy that expensive super cream – they’ll have it all—the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career. Eighty years ago, we were told much the same thing, but perhaps in a more dangerous way!

By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain; the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of economic growth and profit. It’s no accident that youth and thinness have always been promoted as essential benchmarks of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, then we all have to fight the aging process. It is hard to believe that once upon a time society dictated that we needed to gain a few pounds to attract men!

I find the effect of advertising on young women especially alarming. I teach twelve year old girls who want to ask Santa Claus for a boob job for Christmas.  I sit in professional meetings where bright women discuss having to rush home to bake a cake, feed the kids with some organic home-made concoction, walk the dog, fit in a gym session, and get their faces on before hubby comes home.

Are we really expected to believe that we should be grateful for living in the present where women’s lib has triumphed and advertising is reflective of that? Yes, there may be something faintly amusing and silly about the kitsch vintage adverts from yesteryear, but is it really still funny that sexism exists in advertising today?

Of course the exploitation of women’s bodies continues but in the past ladies tended to be fully clothed and ‘properly’ turned out. It was their societal role expectations that advertisers mostly exploited in the good ol’ days of patriarchal domination, plus the fact that apart from the family and kitchen, profound thought from women was neither expected nor wanted.

A ridiculous Barbie image still pervades the advertising world today; young girls are starting to believe that a boob job is the only way to attract a boyfriend, as opposed to a degree or enough savvy to set up their own business, for example. Some men now think that wearing a certain type of aftershave will transform them from Weedy Geek to Sex God in seconds, where women drop everything and run to be with them, usually wearing no more than a cavewoman outfit and a gormless smile.

Notions of femininity and masculinity are perpetuated by the media frequently. There is a thin line between blatant stereotyping and marketing to a particular demographic group. Just look at this recent shocking Reebok advert advising men to cheat on their girlfriends.

Nowadays we see misrepresentations made where one sex is portrayed as inferior to another, and that means the lines have been blurred, if not crossed. ‘Humorous’ images of sexism can be seen everywhere, and they are not only tolerated but actively enjoyed. What is funny about trivialising the rights of people that have been marginalised and have struggled for progress for years?

I use this PMS/Milk advert as evidence, astute jurors.

Are advertisements at large less sexist or just repackaging old ideas in an overtly sexualised fashion? I mean sure, it’s great that women are no longer confined to their homes and society accepts that we need more than a vacuum or washing machine to keep us content.

Nonetheless, I would argue that now we’ve gained some power in the outside world, advertising has just found another way to take us down a peg by portraying women as stereotypical sex objects or PMS driven monsters, where men need to take cover and drink Dr Pepper.

Advertising is still as unashamedly sexist as it ever was, whether it portrays women as sex objects or men as idiot victims of sly female manipulation and control. Man has to make his last stand against us feminists and reclaim his stolen manhood. Some chocolate bars and fizzy drinks are ‘just for men’ or ‘not for girls.’ That will sort it all. Grr.

The flashy, modern spin on it just makes sexism seem more righteous. This is not progress. These ads are all essentially the same. Vintage or Modern. Women are portrayed as naturally inferior, be it physically, emotionally or morally. To be a woman you must be sexy, but also be a good cook and have lovely shiny hair. Look after your kids but also your husband. To be a man you must own a masculine car, drink masculine drinks and snacks, use some hair dye and wear teenage boy’s aftershave to attract younger, hotter, dumber, imaginary air-brushed women.

I rest my case.

One thought on “the vintage trend: sexist advertising – how far have we come?

  1. I really enjoyed this article, but one you missed that really irritates me are the laundry add for stain removers, washing powders etc. There is always a husband who dirties something and then the happy housewife who comes running with the miricle product. Well maybe not running but the male and female characters on the ads basically have the same job. Men dirty things and women worry about washing them´.

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