Friday, May 23, 2008

Sex In The Media: How It Defines Us



The society we live in today is one of a free market. Big conglomerates are constantly looking for new and effective ways to market their products to their target audiences. Throughout the twentieth century, advertising has progressed into using “sex” to sell products. This has included everything from fully clothed, submissive women, to naked women used as billboards for product names, all the way down to displaying only part of a woman’s body for whatever reason the advertiser deems necessary. All of these methods have one thing in common; they play on and perpetuate popularly held, negative gender ideals about women. Perhaps one of the most irking aspects of advertising in this form is that the ads don’t even portray real people (dove commercial). Most of the time, the images are doctored to represent perfect, unobtainable forms of beauty and cause misaligned views from the consumer’s point of view. Therefore, the following discussion will analyze just how “sex” is “selling” and the effect that this “sex” in the media has on the ideals and values of both males and females.


The use of “sex” in the media may be most notable in advertisers’ placement of provocative, sexy women in ads in order to sell their products. These images can have adverse effects on both men and women. For example, consider the Trojan ad where the girl with big boobs has a condom sticking out of her bra. First of all, only her boobs are shown in the ad which hiddenly says something negative about the message being sent to guys about what’s important about a girl. Second, the more overt message is clear: Use Trojan condoms and you’ll sleep with big-breasted girls. This is a terrible message to be sent because it’s promoting the physical attractiveness of a woman as her only purpose; completely devoid of any intellectual attributions to the female sex. The problem for girls, as Kilbourne argues, is that they are adopting lifestyles based off these images: “They [girls] are even more powerfully attuned to images of women, because they learn from these images what is expected of them, what they are to become.”(Kilbourne 263) So as a girl views this same condom ad, she may be thinking, “I need to make my breasts bigger (or make some other cosmetically enhancing change depending on the ad and/or the product) if I want any guys to like me or sleep with me.” It is this fact that may lead to eating problems such as anorexia or bulimia for girls who are trying to achieve some socially accepted standard of beauty.

The ad for BMW in which a girl’s face is replaced by a magazine picture of a BMW is especially degrading. The message being sent to guys is clear: Drive a BMW and land hot chicks (like the one in the ad) in bed. The fact that her face is covered is a reminder to men that any eminence of personality which she may possess is irrelevant; only her body matters. Like Jhally states, “Advertising promotes images of what the audience conceives of as ‘the good life’.” (Jhally 251) The problem with this is that ‘the good life’ is often, and becoming ever more clearly, portrayed in advertising at the expense of women. These images are touching upon widely held gender ideals (male superiority, sexuality of women as dominant attribute) in society and as Jhally puts it, “Images having to do with gender strike at the core of individual identity; our understanding of ourselves as male or female is central to our understanding of who we are.” (Jhally 253) Consider the ad for shaving cream: it shows only a woman’s legs. A girl seeing this ad may be influenced to believe that her legs are an overwhelming defining characteristic of herself and must be kept in pristine shape by shaving with this shaving cream; that her sexuality is a core, if not sole, component of her identity. In the same idea, a male exposed to this ad is only exposed to one part of a woman’s body thought to be a sexual one. Therefore, this ad actually helps and perpetuates the idea in men’s minds that women are and should be thought of as sexual beings and sexual beings alone (which is obviously wrong). Perhaps nobody can articulate the effects of these advertisements better than Jean Kilbourne: “Certainly the cumulative effect of these images and words urging girls to express themselves only through their bodies and through products is serious and harmful.”(Kilbourne 264)

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

2 comments:

Jessiebg said...
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Jessiebg said...

Dan-
I think your decision to tackle both ends of the sex selling issue is a good one. Clearly the effects are felt on both the men and women who live in a society that view these ads as a matter of daily routine. Your collage is great and you make good points. One area of caution prior to the last assignment, is to avoid looking at the production of images in binary form as having equally binary effects. The categories of "men" and "women" are created and perpetuated in the production of these ads...and certainly the product can be seen in the propagation of sexual subjectivities seen as either/or (male/female). However, don't foreclose further analysis by assuming that male/female depictions (or seemingly so...since a penis in a large pair of breasts is sexualized, dismembered objectification of both male and female genitalia) end at such a binary pair of outcomes...more than just male and female is involved in the production of ads using notions of sex. However, the next question to ask is how the two-sex system translates into multiple, conflicting representations that don't neatly play out as an opposite-based pair :o)

Nice work Dan!
:o)
Jessie