Every now and then, I’ll stumble across a Buzzfeed-esque article exclaiming ‘You’ll never BELIEVE how sexist these adverts from the 1950s are!!’ (spoiler alert: I absolutely can believe how sexist they are) and I’ll facepalm so hard that I nearly knock myself back into the 1950s.
I get the point of these articles, I do. The point is to highlight how far we’ve come in 60 (nearly 70… oh god, how is it nearly 2020?!) years. The point is to pat ourselves on the back for being so much less sexist and so much more progressives than our predecessors.
And at first glance, these articles are right. When you first look at adverts from decades past, you’re immediately smacked in the face with blatant misogyny in a way that you’re just not with modern adverts.
But whilst adverts nowadays are less likely to explicitly tell a woman that her place is in the kitchen, or that she’s only valuable to society if she can marry a man, produce babies, and bake a cake, that doesn’t mean that they’re not still horrifically sexist.
Last year, Protein World stirred up a social media storm when they urged Tube-riders to get ‘Beach Body Ready’, as if women are physically incapable of setting foot on a beach if they’re larger than a size six. And just a few short months ago, Dove — a brand that prides itself on its supposed body positivity — sparked rightful outrage when their ad questioned whether breastfeeding in public was acceptable.
While these adverts aren’t quite as explicit as the ads of the 1950s and 60s, that doesn’t mean that they’re not just as sexist.
Indeed, while advertising has largely moved away from a ‘women belong in the kitchen’ rhetoric, it seems to have hurtled towards an equally damaging and sexist idea: that women should be ashamed of their bodies. It might not be as blatantly misogynistic–after all, it’s not telling women that they are inferior to men — but it’s certainly rooted in the patriarchal ideas that a) there is one ‘right’ way to have a body as a woman and b) that women’s bodies are public property to be consumed and criticised at will.
Even when modern adverts aren’t outrightly sexist, they still tend to play on gendered stereotypes.
Take food, for example. Food, you would think, is universal. Everybody eats food. So why then is food marketed along gendered lines?
Think about it. How many times have you seen a yoghurt advert with thin, white, happy women? How many times have you seen restaurants push men towards meat and women towards salad? Gendering food might seem more bizarre than sexist, but it’s undoubtedly linked to the patriarchy–the patriarchy that demands women be thin (hence salad) and men be strong (hence steak).
“There is no product on earth that is ONLY for men or ONLY for women.”
And it’s not just food. Everything — from clothes, to cars, to razors, to pens — is marketed along gendered lines.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the children’s toy sector. Anyone who’s ever set foot into a toy store knows this. Wherever you go, you’re met with pink aisles and blue aisles, filled with princesses for the girls and toy guns for the boys. Just this month, a range of Silver Cross dolls prams launched under the slogan ‘Play Like Mum’.
The advert, complete with frilly pink tutus and the assumption that all young girls love playing with makeup (and apparently, dolls), feels like a massive step backwards for equality. ‘Play Like Mum’ not only suggests that all girls should want to be mothers, but that men are somehow exempt from pram-pushing duties — playing on the exact same stereotypes as the sexist adverts from the 1950s.
Gendered adverts like these are, quite frankly, ridiculous, because there is no product on earth that is ONLY for men or ONLY for women (even menstrual products, which are regularly referred to ‘feminine hygiene products’ can and are used by men). And yet we’re more than half way through 2017 and companies still insist on pink and fluffy and thin marketing for women, and blue and bold and strong marketing for men.
So yes, adverts nowadays might be less slap-you-in-the-face-with-it about their sexism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not rife with misogyny.
Just ask any woman who’s had the misfortune to flick through a traditional woman’s magazine.