Youth in Action

Advertising: a system of sexist oppression

By TRISHA GROVER (Duluth, Minn., YSA)

Advertising frequently uses the image of sex or sexual pleasure to sell a product that has nothing to do with sex. Women in advertisements are almost always the ones to provide the sexual pleasure.

They are shown to be willing and ready-in almost any circumstance life has to offer. More often than not, the body position of women becomes one of a passive and vulnerable person, rather than one who takes an active participation in her sexual affairs. She is shown with her finger in her mouth, looking coyly to the side or down, with the passivity of a little girl. This is not an image of power.

The way men are portrayed in advertising is quite the opposite. They are most often shown in an active stance: legs apart, firmly on the ground, with arms crossed. If they are not standing, they are portrayed doing something active, like sports, or taking hold of a passive woman.

Women are also “pieced up” in advertisements a lot of the time. In those instances, it is not just a woman on display, but rather her legs, waist, butt, or breasts. By doing this, women become literally an object rather than a full person. This is sometimes done to men as well, but not as often and with fewer consequences.

The fact that women are so frequently displayed as passive sexual objects has consequences for them in real life.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, women get raped at approximately 13 times the rate of men, and 18.2 percent of American women will be victims of sexual assault during their lifetimes. We have to keep in mind that statistics are based on reported cases, so the number could very well be much higher.

I am not proposing that advertising directly causes women to be victimized, but it contributes to the overall system in which women are viewed as objects that can be bought and sold, taken and used.

While advertisements on the surface sell products, through their secondary discourse they sell normalcy, values, and ideas. Not only does advertising tell society what a woman/man is, it creates an image of the “perfect” woman or man.

The women in advertising are representative of less than 5 percent of the population. They are incredibly thin, with big breasts, and flawless skin. Almost always a person with a thin body is not born with big breasts, so most of the images we see with this body type have had plastic surgery.

Not only this, but people in advertisements are air brushed and doctored to appear “perfect.” With this in mind, women are given an unobtainable ideal. Though the average woman can never look like this, how might she be able to? By buying the products, of course.

It does not end there. Eating disorders are a huge problem, with an estimated 5-10 million girls/women in the United States and 1 million boys/men affected.

Not only does the unobtainable beauty stereotype create physical consequences, but mental ones as well. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

Not only are they dissatisfied, women are obsessed with how they look and this prevents them from participating in other areas of life. In my opinion, this serves as a great tool to keep women out of the political sphere and public areas of life.

The institution of advertising is just one more example of how people are harmed by the profit motive under capitalism.

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