We’ve spent a fair amount time on Information Ethics Report criticizing advertisers for perpetuating female (and male) stereotypes. For example, we’ve talked about how ads can objectify women, as in the case of Axe (above left), Kate Upton’s poster for Skullcandy headphones (above middle), and Ford of India (above right). As I’m sure you know, ads like these perpetuate well-worn female-as-sex-object stereotypes. All of these ads were seemingly aimed at men, so it should unfortunately come as no surprise that sexual appeals were used. After all, in our culture it seems that nothing will motivate men more than cleavage.
But here’s a point that sometimes gets lost in the discussion: Women see these ads too. So as much as ads like these reinforce sexual stereotypes among men, they do the same among women. In doing so, in the words of media and technology writer Douglas Rushkoff, they “tell women that their bodies are their most important assets.” In other words, they powerfully suggest to women that their roles in life are to be subservient sexual objects.
This week, one company caught the attention of the media for the way they’re trying to break such stereotypes, telling young girls that it’s their brains that are their most assets. GoldieBlox, a company that markets interactive construction toys for girls, came out with a web-based video promoting their brand (see below). On one hand, it’s refreshing to see a marketer actively breaking female gender stereotypes—particularly since (according to GoldieBlox) only 11% of the world’s engineers are female. Thus the argument could be made that more girls need to be made aware of such historically male-dominated fields as engineering. GoldieBlox seems ideally positioned to make that argument. On the other hand, GoldieBlox is certainly profiting from this. In the end, however, this seems to be an ideal quid pro quo, one that clearly benefits young girls and, arguably, society as a whole. Will this effort bring an end to the use of sexual appeals in advertising? Of course not—the battle isn’t over yet. But it’s a start.
Source: Ford of India, Skullcandy.com, Slate.com, Unilever
Update (November 29, 2013): Goldieblox has removed the video from YouTube as a result of being threatened with a copyright infringement lawsuit from counsel representing The Beastie Boys, whose song is used in the video.