First Impressions – Sexism in Advertising

There’s an old joke which you may have heard:

Why do women wear make-up and perfume?
Because they’re ugly and they smell.

I had always thought that this was just a sexist male joke but I’m no longer so sure that it is: it strikes me that it is more the mission statement of the glossy magazines and marketing gurus, because their intent is to sell paranoia. The media sets out to destroy people’s self-confidence in order to sell them illusions.

To elaborate: advertising of fashion and fragrances often tries to make you think you can buy something that simply isn’t for sale: generally charm and mystique or the attentions of the opposite sex (or the same sex, whatever you prefer). You can’t. Human emotions and passions are probably the last remaining things which still truly belong to us – and yet the media and marketing industries would have us believe that women need to be packaged as product and that all men need to shell-out for gratification.

The thing is – and this is so stupid and obvious that it’s almost frightening – we choose to allow ourselves to believe this even though we absolutely know that it is a lie. Years ago, it was quipped that companies would try to sell us solutions for problems that we didn’t know we had; nowadays, the business-controlled media actually creates problems – dreams them up in the corridors of influence and power – so that they can market ineffective solutions for them to us. And yet we know, we know beyond any doubt, that nobody gives a rat’s arse what perfume or cologne we are using – just so long as we are clean – and that no-one is defined by what they wear.

…Having said which, first impressions last [Damn advertising for appropriating yet another commonplace expression as their own!], so there may be at least some justification in using certain techniques to construct an image of ourselves to be presented to the world, lest we be judged. But where did this requirement come from? We surely didn’t have it as kids – although kids may now have it, as televised marketing targets ever younger audiences – we just used to meet other kids and form bonds based on character and personality. The divisiveness crept in later, almost unnoticed, as we were exposed to sexism, racism and snobbery – because, even if you don’t hold with such bigoted nonsense (as indeed you shouldn’t), it will nonetheless have tainted your perception of the world and will hold sub-conscious sway over your thinking, as merely trying to resist its influence simultaneously makes you aware of it. Thus our separation is initialised and we become ever further apart even as we are assimilated into the whole that is human society.

Thankfully, most prejudices are now deemed unacceptable by the majority of people, but somehow this doesn’t mean that they’ve disappeared altogether: they are still just as present, only now they are played ironically – as if that somehow makes them alright – and this seems to be especially true of sexism, which has somehow managed to be deemed the last acceptable face of socio-political segregation. Perhaps the most insidious form of this is evident in the inverted sexism of television commercials in recent years, where men are often made-out to be the underdogs – relative simpletons governed by nothing more than their primal desires and base fears (at least, I presume this is intended as irony: it might well be merely a literal representation of the truth). Whilst this reversal initially came across as refreshing, it increasingly now feels like an artificial construct, played-out in deliberate contrast to the more common depiction of women – both to men and to themselves – as love-hungry airheads with no further ambitions than to look pretty and to snare a partner. One can almost envisage the advertising execs nudging each other and saying, “Look what I’ve done here – this’ll make the little dears feel empowered.” It’s patronising because it quite deliberately insults our intelligence whilst perpetuating demeaning stereotypes in an underhand manner. More than that, it’s damaging because, even as a comic device, it does little more than to magnify and crystallise unconscious misogynistic prejudices in men whilst belittling women and reducing the feminist cause to a joke.

It’s important to see through the devices and lies which are foisted upon us because here’s the truth: you are enough – you are beautiful if you can only believe in yourself and see through the plastic shrink-wrapped construct that the corporate world is trying to sell you. You don’t need to adorn yourself with anything more to realise your own potential and identity.

About Fles

Early middle-aged (oh yes I am!), no longer long-haired but still speccy and decidedly still an increasingly opinionated git. I’m basically a believer in individualism, that everybody has their own perspective and inner-beauty. I try to find humour in every situation. I enjoy reading and writing poetry.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Marketing, Media, Sexism, Society and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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