Advertisers need to ditch the age-old sexism

Amy McNeel

Recently, I came across a campaign series by Saint Hoax, a Syrian artist and sociopolitical activist. The campaign, called “Making America Misogynistic Again,” is a collection of old, sexist advertisements whose original headlines have been replaced by quotes that President Donald Trump has said about women. All of the advertisements are classic examples of the misogynistic advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s, and Trump’s quotes fit them almost immaculately. In one ad for Van Heusen ties, a woman is kneeling down in front of her husband, who is in bed, setting a fully prepared dinner in front of him. Hoax paired this ad with the quote, “Must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees,” which Trump said live to a female contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2013. 

Hoax’s series is incredible and very eye-opening, but what surprised me most is that Trump’s quotes, however disgusting, actually aren’t far off from the original headlines of the advertisements. The ad I mentioned above was released by Van Heusen in 1951 and was originally headlined, “Show her it’s a man’s world.” As I continued my research, I realized that sayings and advertisements like this were not atypical during that time, and many advertisements did indeed represent a power deficit between men and women. 

Another ad that caught my attention was a 1953 Alcoa Aluminum advertisement for twist-off bottle caps. The advertisement is a picture of a surprised-looking girl holding a bottle with the words, “You mean a woman can open it?” written across the bottom. Other popular themes of ads during that time were women in the kitchen, women sewing, women being beaten by their husbands and women being looked down upon by their husbands. These advertisements made me feel angry and astonished, and I know that today they would be nowhere near acceptable. 

However, these advertisements made me think a lot about present-day marketing. While sexism isn’t as blatant as it was in the 1950s, I believe it is still a marketing strategy used in a lot of advertisements today. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in the old adage “sex sells.” Female bodies are regularly sexualized in advertisements; their bodies are there for no other reason than to be ogled. 

An example of this sexual objectification of women in ads is a 2007 Dolce & Gabbana advertisement where a woman is being restricted by a man, surrounded by three other half-dressed men. This advertisement not only degrades and objectifies women, but it also glorifies sexual abuse. When I look at this advertisement, I do not see marketing for a fashion company: I see an advertisement for sexual assault. 

Furthermore, today’s advertisements often contain some of the same stereotypical conventions of the 1950s. In April 2017, Co-op released an advertisement for its chocolate piñata egg that said, “Be a good egg. Treat your daughter for doing the washing up.” This advertisement exemplifies the outrageous conventions our society is accustomed to seeing; throughout the years, misogynistic advertisements have become normalized. 

Today, many of the underlying messages in advertisements are no worse than those seen in the 1950s and 1960s. While technology, worldviews and equality have evolved, misogynistic advertisements have stayed consistent. It’s disgusting that marketing techniques still utilize the objectification of women. In the past 70 years, we have progressed by leaps and bounds in so many ways, but we still have a long way to go. It’s time that advertising techniques catch up with the equal-power society of today.