Sex Sells, So Does Rape
How far have we really come?
An examination of sexist trends in media gives us the answer, not very.
In an era of post feminism it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking the contemporary perspective of gender relations is what liberation for women really looks like. Indeed we are now led to believe women are going too far in their unquenchable desire for equal rights. A brief look at advertising campaigns spanning over the last few decades, reveals the falsity of such thinking.
In 2007 Dolce and Gabbana showed their true misogynist colours in releasing a print ad depicting gang rape. A woman restrained by the wrists bucking her body off the floor and staring blankly off camera makes the scene unambiguous in it's violence. Further, the men who stand around in various states of undress gaze dispassionately at the spectacle before them. A not so subtle allusion to the voyeuristic nature of sexism in advertising.
This ad was first banned in Spain and then later in Italy. On being forced to pull this particular example of rampant misogyny Dolce and Gabbana commented Spain was "behind the times". Like there is anything progressive about the eroticisation of violence against women.
In 2008 Duncan Quinn launched an advertisement featuring a woman in her underwear sprawled lifeless across the bonnet of a sports car. A fully clothed man stands over her holding in his hand a tie looped leash-like around her neck. This is a clear promotion of masculinity being connected to sexual dominance of women.
In 2010, not to be outdone by Dolce and Gabbana and Duncan Quinn, Calvin Klein released it's very own gang rape advertisement in Australia. The most marked difference between the two ads is in the latter the woman is restrained by hair rather than her hands. This campaign was also banned and short time after it's introduction.
It is tempting to view the banning of some of the most vile campaigns as indicative of social progression of sorts. To do so however would be to ignore the vast majority of sexist advertisements which are completely overlooked and even justified. These are just the extreme examples, the exceptions proving the rule. Such an assumption would also ignore the persistent sexist depictions of women as submissive recipients of men's sexual desire and justification of violence towards them. Business as usual really.
Such as the 1962 coffee ad designed by Chase and Sanborn, showing a woman receiving a spanking from a husband not pleased with her domestic abilities. Or the tie advertisement featuring a man leaning back in bed while his wife kneels and serves him breakfast. Or the 1953 advertisment of an innovation in bottle lids drawing a not so subtle connection between a woman opening a sauce bottle and performing fellatio. Or a 1970's cigarette promotion titled "Blow in her face and she will follow you anywhere".
These types of advertisements are often referred to as vintage, but there is nothing obsolete about sexism in advertising or society more broadly. The association between a woman's domestic duties and her sexual duties to men may not be as strong as they once were, but the romanticisation of sexual violence is a constant. It shows quite clearly the quest for profit ensures sexism never goes out of style.
The products may be different and the manner in which sexism is packaged may be changed, but the message coming through loud and clear is unchanged. The 1972 advertisement appearing in Playboy pictured a naked woman lying on the ground next to a shoe, asserts this most clearly in it's title "Keep her where she belongs...". A woman's place as the submissive counterpart to man is unaltered, indeed one could argue unchallenged.