Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gender-Flipping the Commercials

Last night, I did an impromptu, detailed ninety minute analysis of t.v. commercials and gender, which I will write more about tomorrow.

A quick thought for now is that I saw this ad for Breathe Right Strips in which a woman came towards a snoring man with a roll of thick masking tape in her hands.

Okay, now, reverse the roles for a moment. If you saw a man approaching a woman with a roll of thick masking tape, would you assume it was all just innocent and safe? Or would you be frightened for her and thinking that maybe she was in great danger?

So I thought of a few other role reversals. I thought of the Pepsi ad a few years ago in which Cindy Crawford tilts her head back to drink a Pepsi and a couple of prepubescent boys ogle her. What would people think if there were an ad with prepubescent girls ogling a grown man? Disturbing? I believe there would be outcry. In fact, I remember a diet Coke ad in which a group of office women gathers near a window at the same time each day to watch a beefy construction worker outside take his lunch break (that link says it was made in the 80s, but it was the 90s). I remember that conservative groups were outraged by that and that there was some public debate about the ad, including charges of reverse sexism (wow - it took a commercial with an objectified dood for people to notice that objectification is indeed what's going on in advertising). The one with Cindy Crawford, a grown woman, clearly being objectified and sexualized by little boys? Not a whimper from the "values" crowd.

Finally, last night I noticed an ad for Lazy Boy recliners. A woman walks into a furniture showroom and when the male sales associate tries to speak to her, it becomes clear that she is on a cordless cell phone headset. She speaks, but he eventually realizes it's to her telephone partner and not to him. As she moves past him to sit on the Lazy Boy sofa, he rolls his eyes behind her back. Eventually, she gives up the phone call and sounds like she is being sexually pleasured by sitting on this furniture.

So, question one, when have you ever seen a woman roll her eyes behind a man's back in a commercial? I've seen some commercials in which the woman is bossy in a way that stereotypes women, especially wives, as domineering bitches, but I realized last night that I've never seen one where a woman shares condescending body language with the viewer, engaging the viewer in a conspiratorial moment at the man's expense. I don't think we will ever see such an ad. As has so often been repeated, studies show that women's biggest fear in regard to men is that a man will kill them while men's biggest fear in regard to women in that a woman will laugh at them. Hence, I don't think we have seen or will see any eye-rolling by a woman (which for some reason reminds me of this story in which a man was in a bar and hit a woman "in self-defense" because she blew smoke in his face).

Second, have you ever seen an ad in which a man expresses pleasure over a product by moaning sexually? I've seen women screaming with pleasure over everything from food to shampoo (more at Faux News). We don't ever see men like that. Of course not. Everyone implicitly gets it that the men would look ridiculous.

For more on the male gaze, and to see some examples of role reversals and teh menz looking silly, see the male gaze slideshow. For more on gender in ads generally, see gender ads

By the way, from the Faux News article, linked above:

"Until relatively recently, until Dr. Ruth in the '80s, you didn't even talk about orgasms on TV. A lot of people didn't even know what a female orgasm was."

Well, speak for yourself there, Sparky. Did you figure out your orgasm without assistance? WTF???

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