While listening to the radio the other day I heard an advertisement that caused my blood to boil. In the ad, designed to promote milk consumption, two school-age boys are negotiating the exchange of various lunch items. One boy offers to trade his unhealthy lunch items to the other boy for his healthy lunch items. Among the healthy items in the exchange is a container of chocolate milk. After they complete their trade, we hear the voice of a girl expressing how much she admires boys who choose healthy drinks. She indicates that the boy who has made the healthy choice will be rewarded by her at recess in some unspecified manner.
This advertisement offends me because it perpetuates the tired and sexist meme that women are the reward for particular choices. Put succinctly, drink milk, get the girl. This meme has been and continues to be used to advertise an untold number of products. Drink this beer, buy this car, wear this clothing and this sexy woman (or these sexy women) will be all yours. Women are a commodity—objects who exist only to reward men. That the milk producers chose to perpetuate this exploitative mentality to sell milk to boys only makes it more offensive. By choosing this meme to market their product they continue to instill in boys and young men the idea that girls/women are the reward they will get for their choices.
We find this meme all too frequently in advertising. It dominates beer advertising and is a common theme in car advertisements. One need not ponder long to think of several Super Bowl advertisements that used this appeal. I will not provide links to such advertisements because I do not want to give them any more attention than they already receive. I appreciate the campaign promoted by MissRepresentation to call out these sexist advertisements through their “Not Buying It” campaign. Businesses respond primarily to one thing—revenue. So our most effective response to sexist advertisements is to make it clear that we will not purchase products advertised through the objectification of women. If enough of us make it clear to them that we will not tolerate and support such demeaning stereotypes, we can make a difference. Carl's Junior stands out in my mind as a particularly egregious abuser of women in their advertisements. As a result, I avoid eating at Carl's Jr. although I do like their hamburgers. I can list numerous other businesses as well.
Thanks to MissRepresentation and other articles I've read from feminist writers I have become much more aware of the extent to which women are objectified in the media, not only in advertising. Becoming aware of this is the first step. Now I must choose how I will respond. I don't want to support anything that removes or denigrates the worth and dignity of women actively or passively. Of course this takes conscious effort and I cannot say I am fully successful yet. But I am growing in this area. If this idea is new to you, I would encourage you to check out the MissRepresentation website and learn more about how women are routinely portrayed in the media in ways that demean them and treat them as objects for male gratification. We don't need to tell boys that they'll get the girl if they will drink milk. Nor do we men need to tolerate those who tell us that women are our reward for our choices. Surely advertisers can find ways to sell their products that affirm the dignity of all people.