Senator Valeria Valente from the Democratic Party (PD) and President to the Parliament Commission against Gender Based Violence expressed her disconcern, “These forms of subtle offenses against women need to be fought against.” She also points out how absurd it is having another version of the ad “against” men, “…as if there was not enough work to be done to educate people on respect, regardless of gender.”
Common (sadly) throughout history, sexist ads are not a recent phenomenon. What is present now is that social media gives companies direct feedback to keep them into check, at least with the current public opinions. However, we should not be giving feedback on these ads since they shouldn’t exist at all. Which marketing director agreed to this and thought it as a good idea? We shouldn’t need to advise the companies — often through social media comments — on what was sexist about the ads and how to fix it; we should be past this kind of obliviousness.
Bicky Burger, a fast food chain in Belgium, promoted their hamburgers by showing an illustration of a man punching a woman for serving the “wrong” hamburger. Some found it funny, others sexist; regardless, the company was heavily criticized. According to the fast food company, they wished to promote their hamburger against other fake ones. “Be realistic,” stated Bicky, “preserve peace and do not hit anyone! We want world peace and the true Bicky in power.” The company’s reply only brought on more antagonism.
Nawal Ben Hamou, Secretary of the State of the Region of Bruxelles, described the advertisement as, “nauseating and totally irresponsible.” It seems that the United Kingdom, although stuck in its own Brexit debates, decided this June that its Advertising Standards Authority would stop any advertisement that, “…connects any physical characteristics to success placed in a social or romantic context and assign men or women any stereotypical feature.”
The European Union and Italy
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has collaborated with Google for an analysis of over 2000 commercials in English and discovered that between 2006 and 2016 the number of female protagonists remained unvaried, while the number of men was 4 times higher, and they also spoke 7 times more than women.
The concern, explains Elisa Giomi Professor of Media and Advertisement Communications at the University of Roma Tre, is that reducing a female body to simply its erotic aspect limits the vision of a woman to just a sexual object.
In the 27 member countries of the European Union, there are 61 regulations against sexist advertisement. However, at the national level in Italy, for instance, there is no law specifically dictating any rule. The role is instead carried out by the Institute of Self-Disciplined Advertisement (IAP) which has operated since 1966 to make sure commercial communication is honest, truthful, and correct towards the public. Unfortunately, there are many mediums that can be used; TV is only one, we often forget newspapers, billboards, and even writings on t-shirts.
Carrefour: problem solved
Carrefour, a French supermarket chain which is widespread in Italy, released a t-shirt with two separate squares set side by side. The first one on the left showed an illustration with a woman shouting to a man and “problem” written underneath, while to the right, in the other square was a man pushing the woman outside of the illustration’s defined square boundaries with “solved” written underneath. The backlash was quiet strong, so the company publicly declared that the t-shirt was sold by mistake and would be taken off the shelves.
Waste of money
Depending on the medium, the perception of discrimination changes. It seems people are more inclined, or at least were more inclined in the past, to be offended less when women’s portrayal in movies looked stereotyped or offensive, yet an advertisement or clothing item was immediately criticized. Nowadays, any discrimination is now pointed out.
To our advantage, we now have social media, and one of the few good things that it does, is that the backlash can be directed towards the company online and supported by the rest of the users/customers. Promoting good ideals will be useful not only for the company, but certainly for younger viewers. Younger viewers should see an ad that (hopefully) reflects a form of reality: respect for others regardless of their ethinicity, race, sexual orientation, and, obviously, gender.
Something I do wonder about is that we can surely criticize and keep companies in check, but do these companies not have a good marketing team? Behind all of these sexist advertisements, there was someone or a group of people who approved it and at least one person who came up with the idea (another issue we will have to deal with seriously), and therefore, ironically, that money used for the ad was only wasted.
It is both a serious concern that someone came up with the idea and that someone else thought it was funny and not a waste of time and money. But in the end they are all just wasted money on bad decisions to encourage sexist views in society.