Meta Sexism

Sometimes I wonder if not having a television impedes my ability to critique advertising from a feminist perspective-

Then I remember that the average person is exposed to hundreds of advertisements a day and I worry I’ll never have enough time to tackle even a slice of the stupidity.

Truthfully, advertising is the one thing I miss most about television. Thanks to DVR, many choose to cruise past commercials and step right into Dancing with the Stars. Not me! I love advertising as much as I hate advertising. I am fascinated with it as much as it disgusts me.

…Which brings me to the three strategies that annoy me most in the wonderful world of advertising.

Recursive Advertising

Recursive advertising is when advertisers make fun the absurdity of their own system. Think of it as the wink that lets us know that they know that we know what is going on. The ads spoof marketing tactics and imply that the viewer is far too smart to fall victim to snappy advertising campaigns. Make no mistake; they are still trying to sell you something even if they are using a meta joke to do so.

Take for instance this new Kotex ad for a new line of brightly colored feminine hygiene products:

The ad pokes fun at the ridiculousness of tampon commercials in an admittedly hilarious fashion. Who hasn’t wondered about the ambiguous windshield wiper fluid substance used to demonstrate absorption? I don’t buy it, so I won’t buy it.

Retro Sexism

Retro Sexism can be defined as modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past in an ironic fashion. Advertisers seem to think that if they use sexism in an over the top way viewers will know that they aren’t condoning such activities. Ironic sexism is still sexism.

Take for instance this Twix ad:

The father in this ad is caught ogling teenage girls. This is borderline disturbing because the girls are presumed to be underage. An ad with a woman ogling a group of teenage boys would not be as warmly received.

Men are Morons

Advertising often calls upon the common stereotype that men are incompetent and helpless without their wives. For every ad that features a babe in a bikini standing next to a speedboat there is another that depicts a woman cleaning up after her dolt of a husband.

Take for instance this Roomba ad:

This poor woman’s husband is a literal jackass. Good things we have these magical products to lessen the blow of our husband’s inadequacies!

Whether they let us in on the joke or not, sexism is still a key pawn in an advertiser’s bag of tricks. Even in jest, sexism is still harmful to those who aren’t yet old enough to grasp sarcasm.

Advertising isn’t art. Advertising isn’t created to entertain you or make you laugh milk out of your nose. At the end of the day, advertising is meant to sell you tampons, candy and the SUV of your choice.

For more information, check out these links:

Retro Sexism and Uber Ironic Advertising

Recursive Advertising–The Joke’s on Us

Top 10: Worst Male-Bashing Ads

About Sarah James

I am a senior public relations student at Kent State University. I hope to one day work for a nonprofit. I enjoy knitting, writing and biking.
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2 Responses to Meta Sexism

  1. Jamie says:

    Dude- the sexism kills me. The one that is really bothering me is the 5-hour-energy commerical featuring a woman coming home from the store with her kids. She says she didn’t trust 5-hour-energy at first because her husband suggested it, then says he knows best because it really works for her “two jobs.” There are so many housewifey commercials that are annoying.

  2. Sarah says:

    While I agree with you about the other two tactics, what do you have against the Recursive Advertising? I think it’s a fresh way to market towards women. Ads aimed towards men have been doing it for years while marketing for women has typically been pretty dull or dumbed down. It’s a nice change of pace to see a company making light of the monthly cycle and I’d take an entertaining ad over a boring one any day.

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