ADM serves Car Dealers, Automotive Marketing Pros and Internet Sales Managers
Remember that spoof video that showed up on YouTube with a car salesman provocatively undressing, not all the way, of course, but in a way that turned the tables on all of the advertising that sexualizes and uses women's bodies to sell cars? Remember? They were forced to pull it by the car company. Why? Because it was too sexually suggestive? Because it was a man writhing across a desktop while pulling off his tie and unbuttoning his shirt? In my opinion, it was pulled simply because it was a spoof. It broke some important societal rules of gender.
This spoof reveals something about our society that has become so normalized that we take it for granted. The spoof broke the "codes of gender" that our society strictly enforces. Advertisements communicate normative ideas about masculinity and femininity, and this spoof went against those norms. And because it went against those norms, it made people uncomfortable. It generated a lot of buzz on ADM.
Another piece of recent advertising also caused considerable buzz on ADM. Remember the "Top 10 Sexiest Women in the Auto Industry?" That also generated a lot of discussion, but how do the two instances compare and contrast?
My lesson to you all. Gender is not our biological sex. Gender is ritualized cultural performance. The way we display our bodies communicates normative ideas about masculinity and femininity. Women wear dresses, not men. Women play with their hair if they feel flirtatious, men don't. What other codes of gender have become so engrained in our culture that we don't even notice them as socially constructed codes? I'll get to that in a minute after I say something more about advertising.
In a nutshell, advertising isn't just a medium or a tool used to sells products. It also becomes a vehicle for helping us understand the two-tiered terrain of identity and power relations. Advertising also helps us focus on the fundamental importance of gender, power, and how our perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman get reproduced and reinforced on the level of culture in our everyday lives. In the case of my examples above, we can see how socially constructed notions of femininity and power play out both in the spoof and the "top 10" list as well as the discussions they generated. All combined, these tell us what is "normal." Advertising is a part of our culture.
So what does our culture hold up as "normal?" Based on the first example I mentioned, a man writhing on a desk and voluntarily undressing for an unknown audience is not normal. Finding pleasure in being looked at in a stance typically reserved for women is not normal. That is why this is a spoof. We can laugh because we know it's not serious. On the other hand, women choosing to pose as objects of display for an unknown and presumably male audience is normal. Yes, these women had a choice, but the luxury of choice they exercised is another topic for another blog.
The actions of the man and the women in both examples are just a short-hand language for our society's rules and behavior about gender. Gender expressions in both instances reflect the identity of women and men– not as they are, but how they should be, according to a societal norm. As is typical in this kind of gender representation, some of the women are posed laying down, which suggests powerlessness, submission and dependence. In this pose, women become sexualized and accept their helplessness. They embody both men’s desire and subordination to them.
In contrast, society dictates that men should be portrayed as active. Their poses typically suggest power, strength, and control. The man in the spoof broke these codes. He voluntarily made himself vulnerable, submissive, and a willing object of the gaze. That's a no-no!
To understand how these codes have become so engrained in our culture and normalized, take any representation like the ones above and replace the man with a woman or replace some of the women in the "top 10" list with men. Keep them in the same poses and doing the same things. What is the difference? Granted, some of the women in the "top 10" list are in neutral positions, so any replacement would look fine. But what would we think of a man posing in the positions that Cyan Banister, Veronica Belmont, Fuchsia McInerney, or Heather Meeker have chosen to take?
Anyway, I just saw this commercial tonight, and it made me think about the debates over the two forms of gender representation above. We know this is a spoof because there are men and women of all shapes and sizes that feign sexiness. There are men and women that we typically wouldn't think of as beautiful. They are breaking the codes of gender and the standards of beauty in our culture, so we know it is a spoof. Enjoy the commerical!
What did I want everyone to consider in this mini lesson of mine? If you want to empower women, place them in ads that you would typically reserve for men. Don't imitate Go Daddy and ask a strong and successful woman like Danica Patrick to dress in a bikini and throw her body across a race car. Would we ever take Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt seriously if we saw them in Speedos looking like this?