Thursday, February 23, 2012

On retro-sexist advertising and idiotic commentary

"Thus, the male myth-masters fashion prominent and eminently forgettable images of women - images intended to mold women for male purposes." (Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology)

Those of us a bit longer in the tooth can recall when advertisements for stuff almost always featured attractive young women draped over/pouting at/making sexually explicit gestures at the item in question. It was brain-dead advertising: advertisers didn't need to say anything clever, and there was no need to bore a fickle public with details of why they should buy one product in preference to another. It was advertising that was explicit in its message that women had no purpose in the world other than to drape themselves over the possessions of men (women were never the targets of such advertising). They were ads like this unsubtle garbage (circa 1969):
 Underneath this was the message that women had no intelligence, no aspirations, and no autonomous will. And at a deeper level, this objectification of women and their offspring provided the unspoken justification for domestic violence that went on unhindered in New Zealand for many years because men were deemed to have some claim of right over a woman's body, and the bodies of her children.
Nasty feminists worked hard to stamp out this sexist advertising, and to bring to public attention the horror of male-on-female spousal abuse, and over time the ads disappeared (driven also in part because advertisers realised women had their own money and were therefore consumers), women moved into the professions in larger numbers, and hitting your spouse and sexually abusing children was no longer OK. So far so good.
But just as radical women were taking off their knuckle dusters, retro-sexist advertising was making a comeback, particularly in alcohol and energy drink advertising. In these ads, advertisers have reprised 1970s Woman - passive, brainless, there only for male gratification. The ads are entirely male-centred: again, women are not viewed as consumers except in the case of some more sophisticated liquor ads (because real men don't drink Baileys).
Finally, in response an Auckland women's group has called on Tui (and no, we're not going to show a pic of their vile advert) to drop its television advert which, as the press release notes, "feature women in skimpy clothes and sexualised poses, who are relentlessly depicted as more stupid than the dorky group of men who try to infiltrate the brewery".
Now this has got some of New Zealand's brighter minds quite exercised, apparently. I say brighter because the topic made it onto Radio New Zealand's The Panel, thus:
  • Jim Mora: DB Breweries has refused to drop this Tui beer television ad, despite pressure from a feminist group, Auckland Feminist Action, saying its planning to launch a campaign - tonight, I think - to get the ad taken off air. You know the ad...(blah blah)...Whaddaya think about it?
  • Gary Moore: I think it's terrific but I feel slightly resentful because when I first started in an accountants office we were the accountants for DB Tui Mangatinoka, and if I'd known those women were in that factory I would have spent much more time trying to get a job...
  • JM: They are not in the factory, you know that.
  • GM: I can't believe...you mean advertising isn't true?
  • LInda Clark: I just so wish you were running for office and had said that. I just so wish you were. The female vote would have just fallen through the roof. That ad is appalling, I hate their ads, I'm so not their target market, but the ad that makes me more mad than this one is their previous one with the girl and the girl - even I'm saying it - the women, fully grown women, probably with a university education, who's got the orange bikini on and goes down the chute. I loathe that ad, I loathe it with every fibre in my body, and I can't believe that it's 2012 and it's funny to depict women in such a way. But I'm 125.
  • GM: Can I tell my 125 year old colleague that if this group really wants to actually make a difference, they should be starting to look at the small, the few small number of women holding high office in this country. They should start looking at the small number of women on boards, they...
  • JM: Well maybe, I suppose a contrary argument would be that there might be more women holding high office in the country of they weren't just being portrayed as dull machines or sex starved, Gary, that's the riposte. 
  • GM: Oh, I just think if you don't like it don't laugh, you know i just think that the most important thing is to actually...
  • LC: I'm so not laughing. 
  • JM: I can tell you're not laughing...
  • LC: I'm so not laughing.
  • GM: Listen. Can I tell you that there's a Bexley resident, Lianne Dalziel, sitting outside the tent waiting for me and I'm going to be beaten up for my...
  • LC: I hope so. Sh'es known for her right hook, or is it her left hook, I can never remember. You'll be mincemeat and rightfully so. It is the most appalling sexist, it is just shocking, just a retrograde step. But it's all over telly, it's not the only ad that depicts women as stupid and mega-breasted. That is the depiction of femalehood these days. 
  • JM: I can't believe Gary Moore that you've brought this calamity on yourself...(blah blah)...
  • GM: Well humour has its role and different people see different things.
  • LC: Yeah, denigrating women's hilarious, Gary.  
  • JM: Well at least we ended humourously on a day when we could have used some humour.
Just as well Gary Moore isn't running for office. On listening to the full audio, it was great to hear the women's corner vigorously defended by Linda Clark. But rather than just roll over and sigh that "that is the depiction of femalehood", we suggest Linda and anyone else who prefers not to get dragged back to the dark ages supports the campaign. Yes, Tui are not the only culprits, but they are the most shameless, and forcing them to withdraw the ad would put other would-be lazy advertisers on notice.