Boys, Girls - this is not a competition. Sexist ads are bad for everyone.

As noted already by adrants, Alex Leo (great name) has listed the Five Sexist Trends the Advertising World Just Can't Shake over at the Huffington Post.

Do check that article out, and watch how the comments immediately go straight into the usual arguing "but men are portrayed as doofuses/inept/helpless in advertising too" gender-war. It derails fast. You can practically play gender-stereotypes-in-advertising-arguing-bingo with the comments as the first thing I see is the Diet Coke women ogling men ad mentioned. BINGO! What do I win? Please let it be a red Ferrari.

Lets get one thing straight off the bat: two wrongs don't make a right - applying a negative behavior equally still does not justify the behavior. Stereotypes are bad all around - all of them. The women as object for the male gaze as well as the dad is a doofus are equally crap. Nobody wins. We clear on this?

Now, something really grates me when I see those comments rolling in - I've see them all before and filled in all my bingo-cards - every time someone writes an article about how sexist advertising can be against women, comments about how men are portrayed in ads take over the threads like Kudzu. Quelling a females complaints about the male oppression seen in ads, with "we get it too - I am also oppressed, boo HOO!" is just another way to silence women's critique of society and reinforce gender norms. You guys have problems BIGGER than mine, as usual. Ain't that grand?

You can practically set watches by this, someone writes about misogynist or sexist advertising and how it affects females, and some (presumably) men immediately jump in and complain about the dad-is-a-doofus stereotype they have to endure when watching advertising. See what you did there guys? You made it about men again. I can picture you at the breakfast table with yanking your little sisters hair yelling "But MooOOom, she started it!".


Oh don't get me wrong, guys, I am not a girl saying "We've been putting up with this shit for generations, but when it happens to you guys you get all upset about it..." as if you men should not complain. As if your genders silent approval of sexist ads in previous generations nulls any voice you have today about it. Quite the opposite, how we will ever move forward if we don't move forward? I know that we've already come a long way, baby, women can vote, wear slacks and get lungcancer as much as men these days, quite a step up from the era when we couldn't even open ketchup bottles.

And yes, there are men being portrayed as super hunks with shiny oily six-packs in advertising as well, and young boys are becoming anorexic, dependent on steroids and blowing their weekly allowance on back-waxes and whatnot. There is no doubt that men are sex objects in advertising as well, often for the male gaze again, but a bit of near bondage with men gets the ad yanked in no time at all. Can't have buggery in public now can we? And yes, while women couldn't open ketchup bottles, pipe-smoking dad in advertising worried only about the shine on his car (depicted with a woman draped across the hood of it mind you).


Think about it for a little while, as much as any ad guys hates being portrayed as Mr Doofus can't do anything right, the helpless man who can't cook clean or look after children (or for that matter operate heavy machinery) that we see so often in advertising and sitcoms, this image of helpless man is actually harmful to women as well. And more often than not written by men, who might even benefit from the idea. If men can not be responsible parents, it's clearly up to women to pick up the slack, take the kids, balance the checkbooks, use the right cleaning stuff in the right place and cut the grass because you've seen what happens when man-stereotypes like Tim Allen gets their hands on anything with moving parts. Don't let him hold your purse in the mall for too long, he'll enter a Daddy daycare sports bar and buy a home entertainment system full of games with your nest-egg, ladies. Amirite? Doofus man is man-child that supermom takes care of along with the other children.


Hand on your heart, did you ever write an ad that was sexist toward either gender? I've had a guy kicked in the nuts in a commercial I worked on, everyone thought I wrote that in, but it was my male partner who did. I fully expect male adgrunts to comment here with their personal anecdotes from their unicorn-special ad agency where there are more women than men in the creative department and they hire male strippers every friday. The fact that you work at the end of the rainbow does not negate the mass of mass medias sexist portrayal of women, and again two wrongs regarding those Chippendales.


If anyone feels the urge to throw the usual mud my way for the above, the argument that I can only be offended by women as sex-objects in advertising because "You're an ugly fat flat chested wallflower" or similar, I know that I shouldn't stoop to that level and never have before, but may I defuse that right now? I'm a little red hot firecracker of sex on wheels with a double-D cup and a mind so sharp I can slice your dirty hands right off only by looking at them, but that does not give my voice more authority to speak out against objectifying females in advertising than any other womans. That line of defense is just a male way of objectifying me as a female, yet again. You are ugly woman, your voice doesn't count. Or you are prepubescent girl-woman, you'll get this when you're older dearie. Or, You are mom-woman, your hormones are making you overly sensitive. Or you are elderly woman, you're just jealous that all the chicks of the next generation get to have all the free sex fun you missed out on. I get it - it all translates to you are woman, shut the hell up. No, Mister, you are alpha-man, and all you are doing is trying ever so desperately to hang on to the Patriarchy where you actually have a role, because you're scared that you can't handle a world where individuals are human first and genders will only be biology as you are devoid of anything original and lack a real sense of self. I should pity that but frankly, there are kids armed with guns fighting wars in the bush and entire families dying from viruses science can tame in far off lands that deserve my pity more than baby brother who can't look up from his own navel long enough to see what his self-centered whining is doing to the world. Grow a fucking spine, attach it to a working brain, and be part of the solution instead of wasting your time on the intarwebs belitteling women you little shit.


I've heard it all my life. Yes, you guys are hurting too. I know as much about what it is like being a man as I know what is is like being another color than cracker white. All I can do is empathise, try to see it from your point of view and quit judging people by gender or color before I know who that person really is and I really wish everyone on the planet would do the same. I don't know what it is like for a boy.


But I do know first hand what its like to grow up surrounded by imagery that tells me to be pretty girl, I should have Farrah Fawcett's hair and red bathing suit, Cover Girl will make the boys notice me, and boys noticing me is all that I ever need to be happy. Math is hard. My happiest of my life day is when I get married. Popular culture showed me that I shouldn't be in a band for the sheer joy of music and dance funky-goofy like Dan Akroyd in Blues Brothers, I was supposed to be smoldering sexy like Blondie. Everything tells me that girls should look hot, for we are always judged by the way we look. Oh, and when you do look in any way presentable (forget hot, you'll get this shit wearing a Hawaiian shirt and army pants on laundry day) some men you pass on the street will make sure to get into your personal zone, cat-call, whistle, comment, yell "smile baby", or my personal favorite make the "kissy kissy" noise as if you are their puppy, just so we don't forget, walking out there, who really owns you girl.


I know you guys worry about getting mugged late at night in some neighbourhoods, and bar fights target you more often than me, and I am sorry about that - some people can be such dickheads. Meanwhile, it's not dark streets and material things that are my main concern when I stray from the house, in broad daylight, on crowded public transport, in the public library and the allyway with the bad light they are the same danger-level, and the object coveted by strangers is my body which I can not leave at home. The dudes hanging on the street corner are just as frightening to me as the man dressed in a police uniform. Have you ever felt that? The guy with a map on the high street is not stopping me to ask for directions, the guy pointing to his left arm is not getting my attention to ask what time it is. I've been tricked into giving guys like that a second of my life so often, I am now a street-tank that never budges from her path because frankly dudes, get a decent cellphone with GPS, you ain't getting into my space. Street harassment is real. Don't walk behind me for too long on the street either, I have a very itchy mace finger, and if you cross when I cross, you will taste it. This paranoia did not spring up from nowhere, I am the pavlovian dog trained to react this way by years of street harassment. Ah, but now I'm being too harsh on men right?


Even reading debates on Muslim women's head scarves, written by men, in Danish newspapers focuses on women's looks, as one journalist declared his love for the Muslim woman's choice of covering herself up by describing in several paragraphs how pretty and lovely their faces were so clean from makeup and unobscured by fashion-whim hair. You'd think that somewhere he might realize how fucking ridiculous his defense of the clothing item designed to protect a woman from the mans gaze on the street was when he defended it by using that very same male gaze, but this was of course applauded for being oh so open minded and progressively PC. It's quite the opposite.


Ah, but the chicken and the egg - I forgot - is advertising mirroring society as it is today? After all you do see guys holding handbags in the mall almost as often as you see it in advertising (actually I've never seen this phenomena, but I trust that somebody has). Arguing what came first is a red herring, media is a powerful speaker and feeding junk into it which screams louder for each turn only creates a feedback loop that amplifies as we go round and round. I truly believe that media can change the world, I sincerely believe in the power of advertising, and I know that the feedback has got to stop somewhere so why can't we just call it quits right here? You and me mate, lets draw a line in the sand and declare "we quit". I don't post the most offensive sexist pieces of rubbish uncreative so called 'viral' crap that we are sent daily, not even to mock it, even though I know full well I could rake in the traffic on crud like that because, do I really want to add to amplification of that crap? It's like pointing out dogshit on the street - look, dog shit! Lets stick a flag in it! - without picking it up. Remember dear old Bill and his aversion to measuring public opinion? Remember that "...we forget we can mould it."? Yeah, start moulding people.


No, I'm not on the rag, auntie Flo is not visiting and if you thought that even for a nano-second while reading this please kick yourself in the nuts from me. ktxbye.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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purplesimon's picture

I've written and deleted several responses.

All I can say is, I didn't have to kick myself in the nuts.

Dabitch's picture

The Art Director made the copywriter speechless? :)

alex's picture

Happens all the time, doesn't it? Along the lines of "you can't clutter my nice layout up with all those words". ;)

alex's picture

Wow. A stunning, gripping piece of writing, and I couldn't find a word to disagree with.

The tricky bit for men these days is figuring out what the hell we are: most of us of any intelligence know what shouldn't do, or be – our traditional (caveman) gender identity has, quite rightly, been eroded by feminism, if not destroyed outright. It's just that a suitable replacement has been a long time coming, and I quite often find that women are just as confused as men are about what that should be. For example, many women expect their men to behave with a post-feminist sensiblity, as long as they don't stop being 'manly.' I don't know what that is - I tried smoking a pipe, but that wasn't it, and I look merely okay in tweed. Women don't seem to have any trouble being simultaneously feminine and feminist. For men, it's not so easy to work out what being masculine means, if it's not patriarchal and sexist. And lets face it, most men are not feminist even now. So until a clear post-feminist sexual identity for men can be defined, it's going to be hard work targeting them through advertising, let alone molding them.

An inadequate response to a great post, I know.

Eric Karjaluoto's picture

Hi Åsk,

It's a good post--something we'll be linking to with the new project, which should go live later today (fingers crossed).

I think this is a big part of the difference between a lot of design firms and many ad agencies. I (and my peers) would be embarrassed to make this kind of rubbish, and frankly, it has never been an option. More than that though, it's remarkably low-level advertising.

I want a BMW, but I want it how beautifully it's designed (and because I'm kind of tired of how stinky the bus gets in our rainy little city). Seeing a "done-up" 16 year old doesn't do anything to interest me in the car. It's a shortcut, and a weak one at that. Honestly, doesn't it seem like a campaign conceived of by a twenty-year old boy?

I think that's why we still adore all of that old Bernbach work. It's smart--and by smart I mean: to the point. Not just "holy shit--look at how clever I am!" and certainly not, "I know Bob, let's put a hot chick in it!"

Frankly, I'm not offended by men being represented as doofuses in advertising. I am, however, offended by what ads demeaning women say about men. It allows a couple of horny, adolescent ad-guys to make all men look like simple-minded assholes.



mpared's picture

as the title of the post clearly states Sexist ads are bad for everyone but still we use them to sell products ..go figure the damage inflicted on our society ...evil ad people we are ;0(

Dabitch's picture

Thanks guys for your input, and reading it, pardon me for preemptive striking out against arguments I know you lot wouldn't dream of using (IE; you're ugly, so you must be jealous of the pretty women in the ads etc) but I've actually seen this argument again and again in real - that is professional - advertising forums, pretty much every time sexist ads are discussed here in Sweden, whose progressive reputation is just that, a reputation but not the truth. Hate to break it you, but not everyone here is blond either.

We are all very aware that we work in a pretty sexist - and ageist - business (advertising is much more so than the pure design business it seems to me), and like you imply it is likely that such tart lowest common denominator ads like the "not first" BMW ones are written by 20 year old blokes straight out of portfolio school. One wonders what the logic is that barely wet behind their ears lads are working on such prestigious accounts targeted toward people with enough money to buy such a car (= older and wiser folk), and perhaps the bad habit of awarding one-off "funny haha" ads are part of the problem. The tone of voice is not BMW in the least, and as I recall that 'campaign' was just three different executions of the same exact idea, another pet peeve of mine.

As for the role of the man in a post-feminist society where as Alex points out, feminists have no problem being feminine as well, I don't know what to tell you. I think it's manly to dare to be yourself, and not what anyone else expects you to be. Men are after all, individuals as well. There are asshats who think the BMW is the cleverest ad since "Think Small" and there are people who are way smarter than that. I would really like to see a revival of the "product as hero" advertising born in the era known as the creative revolution. Selling without insulting is a fine art.

adlib's picture

That BMW ad is the perfect example of how sexist ads are offensive to men as well. It practically screams "HELLO CAVEMAN WE OWN YOU WITH HORMONES". I've got news for BMW, my reptilian brain does not make expensive car purchasing decisions and I'm truly insulted you thought that it did.

adbroad's picture

Whoa. Great post.

One of the points most interesting to me is how commercials that make guys look like doofuses (doofi?) in the kitchen/laundry room/grocery store might actually be benefitting them, as someone so inept clearly should be relieved from doing those chores.

A (female) art director I work with bemoaned the fact that every briefing meeting we go to for a product targetting women has the same strategy: Ladies, you have no time, here's a way to save a few seconds. And for a product targetting men: Guys, here's what to do with your leisure hours and disposable dough.

Hilarious (horrifying) that Advertising Standards pulls an ad because a guy can be construed to be buggering another guy, but has no problem if he does the same to a woman. (See Dolce & Gabbana ad on Huffington Post)

Don't any women serve on that thing?

malin grön's picture

I've been thinking about hiring that male stripper for the office. It's just that... male strippers are so darn expensive compared to female ones. Great, and quite to the point, rant. Made my evening.

CptParadox's picture

You work in marketing, yet you speak of ethics, are you unaware your industry is evil in any capacity, sexist or not?

Also if you pepper sprayed a man who just happened to be walking behind you without him making a move on you or acting towards you in any fashion other than walking in the same direction you are would be assault with a weapon. The fact that the world is sexist and you're a woman doesn't mean you have the right to use violence as you see fit, not everyone is a rapist.

Other than that I agree with everything you said.

caffeinegoddess's picture

"You work in marketing, yet you speak of ethics, are you unaware your industry is evil in any capacity, sexist or not?"

Blanket statements only keep the ignorant warm at night.

You missed the point being made. It was about being so ogled that it causes paranoia. Paranoia leads to the fear of having these ogling men follow you on the streets.

Oh and, PS - Marketing is not the same as advertising.

Dabitch's picture

Hey CptParadox, I appreciate you taking the time to add your two cents, and think we agree quite a lot even if I dramatize to make a point.

I can't agree on the industry being evil however. Saying advertising (or marketing) is evil right off the bat is a bit like saying physics is evil. Edward Teller used his skills to invent the H-bomb, and the use of that bomb can most certainly be argued to be evil (and even the bomb itself can be called evil) - the physics used however were neutral. Same with advertising. Advertising is only evil when it sells evil things. (see. Propaganda)

Also advertising ≠ marketing, however they're related just like breakdancing and ballet are.

James Trickery's picture

I'm a bit stunned. You bring up a very good point about incapable doofus man, it never crossed my mind that this stereotype could actually be benefitting lazy-man. I'm just insunlted when I see them.

AnonymousCoward's picture

What have you don't to make the world better today? - if nothing, forget leaving a comment and get out there and volunteer.

AnonymousCoward's picture

"Popular culture showed me that I shouldn't be in a band for the sheer joy of music and dance funky-goofy like Dan Akroyd in Blues Brothers, I was supposed to be smoldering sexy like Blondie"

I don't think that's quite fair. Judging by your cultural references you grew up around the same time as me, and we had Chrisie Hynde, Patti Smith, The Runaways and the great Tina Weymouth, who was literally just another band member, not eye candy. Just sayin.

But yeh, it woudnt hurt to point out that there are a helluva lot of dumb men ads out there.

AnonymousCowardess's picture

You read the post, but you did not understand it.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Not sure who you're refering to, but my point was not that the article didn't mention dumb men, but that saying "what about the menz" isn't always a bad thing.

And I'm over at the Good Men Project a lot, and they HATE dumb men ads. They certainly don't look at it as "yay, we get to slack off!"

AnonymousCowardess's picture

Her point is still two wrongs don't make a right. Even the headline says both are bad, but please stop bringing up the dumb men ads as soon as sexism against women is discussed in advertising.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Except that the original article was "five sexist trends," not "five sexist trends against women."

My point is mt "two wrongs" but closer to her point that sexism of any kind hurts all genders, except that I think that it means theres nothing wrong with alo pointing out dumb men stereotypes, and that doing so doesn't diminish the other sexism.

But I really question where dumb men stereotypes help lazy men. That doesn't make sense to me.

Dabitch's picture

The original article "five sexist trends that the advertising world can't shake" uses five examples of women used as visual/sexual eye-bait in various ways. The comments to that article all whined that there were no examples of doofus-dad in her lineup. My post is a response to that noise. I have nothing more to add to this other than what I have written in this post, and am afraid I can not make my point of how the doofus-dad stereotype can be useful to men, who are then absolved of all responsibilities and chores, any clearer. The headline I put on this, which succinctly asks both genders to quit competing in which gender has it worse in the non-existant sexist ad competition, is my entire point. Both are bad, and talking about who has it worse is a navel-gazing waste of breath that distracts from instead of resolves the issue.