Sexism in Advertising

Sexism in ads and the media as entertainment and humour

Sexism in Advertising

Sexism in Advertising and the Media as entertainment and humour.
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The Advertising Social Club Article, published April 18, 2104

Is the New Veet Ad Really Sexist or Have We Lost Our Sense of Humor?

18 Apr 2014 Posted by Kateryna Topol

Everyone has that brief they dread getting.

But there is one in particular no one wants to work on: female products. It doesn’t matter what the product is. It could be tampons or soda water. What makes this brief particularly dreadful is the target market.

She is concerned with her weight, she diets, or does not diet, she counts calories but loves chocolate and sweet flavored everything, she is concerned with how others perceive her, she has a dream jean size, a dream man and so on and so on. You get the point.

All of these briefs are the same.

Despite the fact that women, just like men, pets and exotic animals, come in different shapes and sizes with an avid range of interests, the advertising industry tends to put them/us into a very small box as a single group.

The scary part is many of these briefs are written by women, keeping us in that same box watching the same ad over and over: “be original, be you, be comfortable with your weight,” and so on and so on.

What happened to our other likes, hobbies and sense of humor?

Why are there so few ads that appeal to women in a none generic way?

I have been pondering the issue for a long time but the solution never seemed clear enough. Today, however, I think I finally got it.

While browsing the web for entertainment and creative inspiration, I came across the new Veet ad “Don’t Risk Dudeness.”

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Immediately, I thought to myself: “this is some funny stuff.” While the concept isn’t all that original, the idea approaches female waxing products with a humorous perspective.

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But, sadly, the concept will not live on. Veet’s marketing team had to make a public apology to the angered women of North America who immediately begun furiously accusing the brand of sexism and encouraging stereotypical gender constructs. Admittedly it’s not the most amazing concept but to say that this idea reinforces stereotypical gender constructs more than all of the women doing laundry in detergent ads is a bit aggressive.

We, as women, have fought so long for freedom of speech and opinion, the right to vote, and equal wage opportunities (still fighting that one), that we seem to have lost a sense of humor.

Men don’t get up in arms when their counterparts turn into Betty White when hungry. It’s funny. But no, not when it is women turning into bushy men. Women felt insulted, infuriated, misrepresented and swore off buying Veet ever again all because the agency pushed the idea of feeling a little less like a woman when unshaved into the funny park.

The stream of comments on the Veet Facebook page is astonishing:

“I’ll never buy Veet if this is how you think women should be portrayed in the media.”

“You intended to be funny, but what you ended up being was sexist, homophobic, body-shaming and transphobic.”

“You have no right to shame a woman who doesn’t follow what’s considered the norm.”

“I’m headed to Shoppers Drugmart right now. I’m going to write a short note explaining this event and post it on the Veet section of the store in the hopes that people will reconsider buying it.”

I know for a fact that I am not a particularly unique person. Like most people, I surround myself with alike individuals and while there are things that offend my female circle as women, this is not one of them so find it hard to wrap my head around how many women felt offended by this ad.

Women often complain about how bad ads targeted at them are but it’s now clear to me that it is all their own fault.

Not all of us are alike. Some women exhibit a rather generous sense of humor (just read the comments for the BIC Pen for Her). But if this is a mass response it’s no wonder the industry is afraid to reach the edge of the box towards creative and funny.

So here is my question: how is it that in a world fueled by creativity, much of which comes from women, we tend to rise against everything that’s funny under the guise of feminism?

A majority of the comments on this ad were in regards to cosmetics ads telling women what they should look like and what the norm is, comments like: “Do you know why women hate themselves? It’s because you, the cosmetic companies, TELL US TO.”

But ladies, you know that saying: guns don’t kill people, people do? The point is we all have a mind of our own, you are all free to make your own decisions, you can chose to shave, or not shave, no one will stop you from going natural year round (and yes, there really is someone for everyone). No ad out there, in the 21st century, said “shame, shame, you forgot to shave!”

The real norm is what majority of the people do, not what the ads show. It’s no secret models are not “regular” people (but if you look closely they too have scars, stretch marks, cellulite, and all of those other same things we “regular” women do).

If we are going to be upset about this ad should we be upset about make up companies telling us to have longer eyelashes or plumper lips and to smell like tropical fruits and vanilla. Shouldn’t we than be also upset about women eating mostly salad and yogurt in ads? Why aren’t we this equally outraged about it being mostly women in capris and cardigans doing laundry on TV – I don’t see anyone taking their rage out on the Purex or Maybelline Facebook Walls.

Men may already know all of our dirty secrets and this is simply an exaggerated joke based on an insight that I am sure the agency, and some research organization, invested a lot of time in, talking to women like us.

They don’t go around complaining about the ads where they are shown fat, whipped, tired, feminine, or dumb because they see the humour in them, they can take a joke.

So why can’t we do the same?


Discussion Questions

Where is the line between humour and sexism?

Would some of the ad's be considered sexist if they were portraying the opposite gender?

If you removed the sexist portions of the ad, would it still be effective?