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’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!”
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.”
(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.