Guest Post: Women Are Your Reward for Being Awesome!

A Guest Post by Perfect Number

Perfect Number wrote this post after watching the Super Bowl, but the themes are fairly universal. I am reposting it here because I think the “women as a reward” motif is both incredibly ubiquitous in our culture and horribly insidious.

I just watched the Superbowl and I gotta write this. The ads. Misogyny and objectification, as always. And it’s freaking disgusting.

I’m not going to write about GoDaddy, because we all knew theirs was going to be over-the-top blatantly horribly disgusting misogyny. No, I want to point out one theme I saw in several of the ads: Women as rewards. The message is, “If you buy this product, you’ll be awesome, and you can have a woman as your reward!”

Examples:

Axe: A (male) lifeguard rescues a woman who’s swimming in the ocean. She looks up at him and is about to kiss him, but then she notices, in the distance, an astronaut! And she goes over to the astronaut instead. Buy Axe Apollo!

Mercedes Benz: Some wise-looking guy who’s probably a famous actor I should know offers a guy “the car and everything that comes with it.” Then we see a montage of this guy enjoying the car- including scenes of him driving around a bunch of girls and being chased by girls.

In other words, if you do good things- like save a swimmer’s life or buy our product- you should of course be rewarded with attractive women.

(Oh, and obviously “you” are a straight guy. Everyone who watches football is a straight guy, right?)

This “women as rewards” theme is SO FREAKING COMMON in commercials that a lot of people probably don’t even notice or realize what it’s saying. Sometimes I don’t even notice- I’m so used to these montages of “good” things that supposedly happen to someone who buys the product being advertised, and one of those “good” things is beautiful women wanting him.

That’s not how it works, okay? No matter how awesome you are, NO ONE IS OBLIGATED TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU, or date you, or like you, or whatever. Certainly people who have more positive qualities will be more attractive to potential partners, but it’s not some vending machine where you put in your awesomeness and a girlfriend automatically comes out.

Women are not dumb and shallow like that. Women are not a symbol of favorable events happening to someone. Women are PEOPLE- you know, like men are. And did you know women buy cars? Seems like none of the Superbowl advertisers knew that…

And how could I not mention THE WORST commercial I saw during the Superbowl? Okay, it’s an Audi commercial where a boy is all dressed up to go to prom, with no date. He drives the Audi, and it gives him so much confidence that when he gets to prom, he goes right up to a pretty girl and kisses her before she can even realize what’s going on. Then another boy (presumably her boyfriend) sees him, and it cuts to him driving home with a black eye, with a smile like “that was so worth it.”

The message here, kids, is that Audi gives you the confidence you need to violate a woman’s personal space and kiss her without her consent, as if her body is public property. As if beautiful women are a reward for those who have the guts to just go up and TAKE WHAT THEY WANT.

(And maybe this is a stretch, but it also kind of implied that the reason kissing her might cause some trouble is because she had a boyfriend- he’s taking what belongs to another guy. Not because, you know, women have a right to their own bodies or anything.)

Disgusting. So disgusting. I repeat: No matter how awesome you are, you are not entitled to anyone’s kisses. (For the feminists out there: SO MUCH RAPE CULTURE in this commercial.)

What if some guy came up behind me, held me down and kissed me, and felt like a TOTAL BADASS, instead of the colossal jerk he truly was? What kind of world do we live in, when a commercial like this can air on national television, and most people don’t say a thing? I don’t feel safe if there are people out there that would really think that was okay.

And one more thing: So, in the days following the Superbowl, a lot of people will be talking about how awful the objectification of women was in the commercials. And then a lot of other people will tell them to quit talking about it, that’s just the way it is, because “sex sells”, end of discussion.

To which I say this: Okay, it may be true that “sex sells.” It may be true that portraying half of the human population as objects that exist only for men’s entertainment, whose only use is in their sexuality, somehow causes people to buy more of whatever you’re selling.

But if that’s true, something is terribly terribly wrong with our society.

And as a feminist, I have more respect for men than that. I believe that change can happen, that our culture can move toward equality and justice, that this is not an unchangeable “just the way it is.”

When you say “sex sells” and dismiss my argument, you’re saying that it’s unreasonable to expect men to treat women as people instead of objects. You’re saying that men can never learn to respect women, that our culture will never change. As a feminist, I believe that there are a lot of men out there who really do respect women. This is NOT some unreasonable standard, this is BASIC HUMAN DECENCY.

And it is ONLY in feminism that I have encountered this idea that “no, men ARE capable of respecting women and treating them as FULL HUMAN BEINGS.” Everywhere else, the message seems to be “men are just controlled by their sex drive and that’s just the way it is- we can’t have equality because men would never be able to do that.”

Feminists respect men more than that.

My challenge to you: I want you to notice when you’re watching TV and this “women as reward” theme appears. When the commercial wants to get across the message “good things are happening to this guy” and they show a beautiful woman wanting him.

Because this is dehumanizing. Women are not your reward. Ever.

—————

Perfectnumber628 grew up evangelical in the northern US, and is now trying to move to China. She loves engineering and robots, and blogs at Tell Me Why the World Is Weird about Christianity, feminism, Chinese, and everything else.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Hilary

    First that means I have to watch TV . . . . But yes, feminism means I have more respect for men then that *IS* the money quote, IMO. Because I do have more respect for men then that. I learned it from my father.

  • ganner

    These sort of commercials always pissed me off because they told me, as a man, that my value as a person was in my material possessions and that if I want any woman to pay attention to me, I have to conspicuously consume. Obviously it also insults women by not just turning them into prizes but by presenting them as so shallow as to be primarily motivated by men’s material possessions.

    Unfortunately so much advertising directed to both sexes is based on “you’re not good enough, you need our product or men/women won’t pay attention to you and you be lonely and sexless and sad.”

  • fwtbc

    Mitchel and Webb do a great sketch about the differences in gender-targetted advertising.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwrK-foCTaQ

  • saraquill

    My rebuttal to “sex sells” is “Way to alienate half of the consumer base.”

  • Sue Blue

    I’ve always questioned those car ads with “sexy” women draped all over the car. You see it at car shows and rallies, too. Scantily-clad women posing with cars. Once I told the man I was with that, being a horny young woman, I’d like to see cars with hot young guys wearing next to nothing posed provocatively on the hood or caressing the doors. He looked at me like I was some sort of perverse freak, then said that no one would buy cars with that image in mind. Like women never buy cars – or if they do, they only buy unsexy vehicles like minivans and family trucksters. And only in pink or teal.

  • Edward Gemmer

    Women as a reward? I hadn’t particularly thought about it, because I’m pretty cynical about marketing. But, you are right. Women are used as a reward. And not just women, but beautiful, perfect women. This seems like a message to men and women. Men desperately want to be with the most beautiful woman, so they are receptive to the message, and women want to be the most beautiful woman? Maybe. Thus, the ad is effective for both men and women, even if we don’t like what it says about ourselves.

    • jose

      Marketing creates tendencies. Ads aren’t just innocently following tendencies that appeared out of nowhere. It’s often used as an excuse: “hey, I didn’t create the jungle, I just live in it”. It’s not true. They have their degree of responsibility.

  • Sue Blue

    Thankfully, I don’t watch TV anymore at all. Ever. And I don’t miss it one bit. There’s still plenty of misogynistic, patriarchal stuff elsewhere to outrage me, though.

    • The_L

      People look at me funny when I say, “I don’t have cable. When I want to watch TV, I watch reruns on Netflix.”

      It’s like they’ve forgotten that commercials exist.

      I sure haven’t. Especially now, when commercials are always way louder than the shows themselves. I have to brace myself when I’m going to visit my parents, because their living-room TV is always on when I get there, whether anyone’s in the room to watch it or not.

      • Sue Blue

        Yeah, I watch news, movies, and select TV shows on the internet if I feel like watching something. And I don’t have to get my eardrums shattered by commercials or be forced to put up with whatever tripe someone else is watching. Yay for technology!

      • Kat

        You’re not the only one. I got rid of cable after realizing I’d paid for it for three months in a row and never actually watched it. I don’t watch commercials and I have extra spending money. I also don’t get a lot of references to current shows, but that’s not really a change from how things were before. :)

  • Katherine A.

    It’s not just commercials sending that message-it’s all of pop culture. Most of the time in popular media- the male hero gets the girl. He accomplishes his goal and the girl he wants becomes one of his rewards. It doesn’t matter if she had a relationship before the hero met her (that guy ends up being bad for her) or even if she objects to being with the hero (well at first) the hero will get her in the end. Everyone sees themselves as the hero/heroine of their story. When most media tells people the hero gets the girl for being awesome, men get the message that they too will be rewarded with the girl they like eventually because they are the hero, right? And then we have the ugly attitudes of entitlement to sex.

  • http://markkoop.blogspot.ca Mark

    “…one of those “good” things is beautiful women wanting him.
    That’s not how it works, okay? No matter how awesome you are, NO ONE IS OBLIGATED TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU, or date you, or like you, or whatever.”

    I’d just like to point out that there’s a big difference between obligation and desire. I absolutely agree that no one is obligated to have sex with me, and I am not obligated to have sex with anyone else.
    But as far as wanting to be wanted? Oh yeah. Definitely like that idea, even if nothing comes of it because I am already in a stable, loving relationship. That’s okay, right? Wanting to be wanted? Liking to be liked? Loving to be loved? Needing to be needed? For me, all of these things are still miles away from entitlement, because, while I WANT to be wanted, I don’t feel entitled to being desired.
    Hopefully that makes sense and is in no way offensive to anyone, because I’m a stereotypical Canadian.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      The thing is, this is often sold as a sort of equation. Drive our car and women will want you. Wear our scent, women will want you. And some guys seem to take that to heart and when women don’t want them, they feel cheated (rather than like they were fed a false set of expectations). I don’t know that many of them think that anyone is obligated to have sex with them, but I do suspect a lot of them think they deserve or have earned sex and get confused when A + B doesn’t get them that result.

      These narratives tend to be demeaning to both men and women. They assume that women are an algebra equation and entering the right variables will get the answer they want, but they also assume that a man’s highest priority is getting laid. I was watching CSI last night and there was a comment about a guy working on his bike with two hot women in the house. I dunno, maybe sex isn’t the only thing that’s important to him!

  • Staceyjw

    Libby,
    Have you seen the article “5 ways modern men are trained to hate women”?
    “http://www.cracked.com/article_19785_5-ways-modern-men-are-trained-to-hate-women.html”
    You should read it, as it describes this phenomena exactly (plus 4 others).

    Bitch mag did a response to it that you might also be interested in:
    “http://bitchmagazine.org/post/open-thread-crackeds-5-ways-modern-men-are-trained-to-hate-women”

    (I really love” Cracked”, sometimes the most insightful things are said as humor. This is not funny, its way to accurate.)

  • swimr1

    Is anyone else also absolutely creeped out by commercials like the current Jack in the Box one where “Jack” gets the hot blonde by being an awesome rocker? It is really creepy and demeaning to me when they show (human) women fawning over puppets or animals or anything inhuman. That, to me, is particularly degrading for some reason. We aren’t only the (obviously sexual) prize for men but for dogs and puppets too?

    • Rae

      Me too! In fact, almost all of the Jack in the Box commercials always strike me as So. F*cking. Creepy.

      For me, the Scrabble one was the worst – like, it portrayed the woman as some kind of manipulator who was unfairly withholding the sex that the commercial implied that the clown-thing ought to get for whatever reason. But most of the rest of them are pretty bad in that they usually portray the woman as becoming the stereotypical straight male’s fantasy woman (sexy, willing, perfectly pleased with whatever the man does) simply because the whatever-it-is brought her a $6 fast food sandwich and some soda.

  • ScottInOH

    Even the phrase “sex sells” (more accurately, “sexiness sells”) is demeaning and distorting. These ads are meant to appeal only to the sex drives of straight men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 35. The message is that only those men are horny and that only their libido should be tickled by commercials. Women allegedly don’t respond to visual stimuli, and of course, gay sexiness is gross.

    • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

      Why limit it to 18-35? Ever hear of the term “trophy wife”? Older men want hot babes just as much as their younger counterparts.

      • Sue Blue

        Yeah, and it never seems to matter if the older guy is bald, fat, unibrowed, or has more body hair than King Kong – he still thinks he deserves that smokin’ hot young babe and can get her as long as he has enough money, a hot car, a fancy house, and plenty of Viagra. Older women, if they’re wealthy (and not fat, bald, or hairy), can hire gigolos I guess, but you rarely, if ever, hear about “trophy” husbands. Just another aspect of patriarchy, I suppose, where a woman only has value through her looks and ability to reproduce (i.e., youth) and a man must be a provider of material security.

      • ScottInOH

        No doubt, AztecQueen. I was just referring to the demographic that advertisers on major sporting events are going after the hardest. There are other ads that are more obviously aimed at men entering middle age and those nearing retirement.

        My real point was that the “sex sells [so we have to do this]” argument is a cop-out. They’re not responding to some general drive in humans, as they claim, but only to a particularly cultivated aspect of that drive. In doing so, they reinforce the idea that men are entitled to women, and women respond to power and money, not looks.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    Did the Calvin Klein ad run everywhere? It was basically just shots of male chiseled body. What did people think of that? Does it suffer from the same problems as the ads calling attention to women’s looks?

    • Justina

      That got banned in Singapore, my home. /sigh
      Nevermind that far more female skin is showed in everyday ads…

  • Aimee

    I’ve been raging every time I see the Genie commercial (for direct tv?) which is similar. The Genie dvr system is being advertised as a pretty (if sort of creepily vacant looking) woman in a shiny dress. Which isn’t really a reward for being awesome or manly, but it is a product that the people are buying being personified as a woman.

  • http://bumpersuckers.blogspot.com NeuroNerd

    Colin Stokes did a really good TED talk. I’m linking it here. http://www.ted.com/talks/colin_stokes_how_movies_teach_manhood.html. He compares Star Wars to The Wizard of Oz and discusses what movies teach boys about manhood.

  • alr

    This goes both ways, though. I don’t understand why we can’t call it out in all cases. Some examples of men as rewards:
    *Eat the right yogurt and your male partner will turn into someone (allegedly) hotter like John Stamos.
    *Whiten your teeth and you will get a man. (Worst one ever IMO as women are told that they must look good enough to get the perfect man “to say hello”. Because heaven forbid a woman make the first move)
    *Use the right shaving cream to have hot sex.
    *Wear the right clothes, perfume, makeup, etc… to get attention from men.
    And in the sexism against men department, there is the plethora of ads that imply that men cannot cook, clean, or take care of children competently.
    The reason that the Super Bowl ads skew the way they do is because football programming is aimed at men not women.

  • Appellategirl

    The glorification of grabbing an unwilling woman you don’t even know and kissing her has a long history:

    http://cratesandribbons.com/2012/09/30/the-kissing-sailor-or-the-selective-blindness-of-rape-culture-vj-day-times-square/

  • http://www.sandygulliver.com Sandy Gulliver

    <>

    This is where you lost me. No woman ‘belongs’ to anyone.

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