The use of sex, predominantly female sex, has become a staple in all forms of media whether it be the music videos we watch or the daily news.
The fetishization and sexualization of the female body have become the main source of a woman’s identity, in the sense that it is viewed as both her source of empowerment and yet demands a never-ending kind of surveillance that penetrates each and every aspect of her being.
The post-feminist woman isn’t merely sexualized by the culture and media she is portrayed in rather she is actively responsible for her own sexualization viewing it as being sexually liberated). Therefore her attitude to hyper-sexualized and demeaning portrayals of women is not one of discontent. She is no longer critical of her own exploitation and as can be seen in various television series such as “Younger”, as long as she can pull off the illusion of being a 20 something, attractive woman she will have complete sexual freedom and control over her body.
The main lead in Younger is portrayed as winning at life because even though she is a middle-aged single mother, she has achieved the ultimate goal of fooling everyone around her and has bagged a very hot and much younger boyfriend. She hangs out with “the girls” at parties and we see that although she struggles with her lie, that very lie gets her everything she desires.
The advertisement industry, having gone through the various stages of what is acceptable and unacceptable to the masses is well aware that it can no longer pull off ad campaigns such as the 1952 Chase & Sanborn Coffee advertisement where we see a husband spanking his wife because she hasn’t bought their product.
However, staying true to its “Madmen” past, the ad industry today opts for a much more sinister method in order to get away with being inherently sexist and racist. Retro sexism can be defined as a strategy advertisers use to distance themselves from being outright misogynistic by incorporating irony or humor within their content.
So if Twix can advertise a sleazy husband ogling at a group of teenagers and pass it off as him “looking for potential babysitter so he can spend more time with his wife”, the companies are ensuring that everyone is in on the joke, we already know how far-fetched and ridiculous this sounds and therefore we have the liberty to laugh it all off since they’re not “actually” being sexist and “we” would never fall for the same thing.
The fairly recent “My Tide” Tide commercials campaign can be seen as a perfect example of retro sexism as consumers in the ad are seen somewhat struggling with “modern” concepts such as stay at home dads(the Dad Mom) and letting your kids color outside the prescribed gender norms of society. However, it is important to remember that their primary goal is to sell soap and any joke or reference to relate with the audience is so that it can get them to buy their product.
Advertisers have even started using prime time shows and music videos for their product placement and in order to get away with simply advertising, the promotional content is written into the content of the shows. A very popular example is of one “30 Rock” episode where Tina Fey hilariously advertises Verizon cell coverage and then turns towards the camera and says “Can we have our money now?”
Happiness can only be achieved when a purchase has been made- for a brief moment in time we feel fulfilled and relevant, however this is short lived as the constant bombardment of media messages to keep buying things we don’t really need has successfully created the illusion that in order to fill the stark emptiness within our lives, we need to buy the new iPhone, even though we just bought one a few months ago and it works just as fine.
We have been ingrained with a consumer culture that makes disposable products and in doing so tells us that our worth is defined by our ability to buy more and more. The advertising industry not only helps feeds the insecurities it has created, but since we were born in an exceedingly fast-paced, consumption-based society where every second of our lives we are exposed to companies trying to sell us not only a product but a lifestyle which has become so interlinked, we perceive this as something natural and acceptable.
By creating images of “the good life”, advertisers wield great power in the way we go about our daily lives and more importantly in the meanings we give to the relationships we build with people and ourselves. The way the female body has been used to sell commodities since the advent of advertising is linked to the idea that a woman is only relevant till she falls into the category of the “ideal woman”.
As long as a woman is young, slim and conventionally beautiful, she is an empowered individual, as she grows older she may try to slow down the aging process, however soon her time will be up and she becomes as disposable as the products she uses.