Saturday, September 06, 2008

Banning sexism in ads in the EU?

I get fairly annoyed at "Look at my boobs!" ads, no matter what they're advertizing. They don't endear me at all to the companies using this type of advertizement, but apparently they work - at least, they get people's attention, kind of like those annoying "Stop staring at me! Advertize here!" posters. It would be nice if they'd just disappear, but should the government ban them? Do the Europeans need the government to save them from their shallow masses?

Eva-Britt Svensson thinks so. Ms Svensson said: "Gender stereotyping in advertising straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles that are often degrading, humiliating and dumbed down for both sexes."

Um, no, actually, this individual isn't "restricted," but thanks for your concern. Of course people are influenced by ads, but that's one of those things your kindergarten teachers and parents teach you when you're little - it's on TV... it's in an ad... it's not REAL. We nevertheless go through phases (the stupidity of youth) when we think these images mean something, and some of us never leave ("OMG, my Prada bag is so out of season! What will the neighbors think?") - but changing ads won't eliminate the problems of obsessing over a particular vision of womanliness/manliness because the ads were never the source of these attitudes - the ads just reflect ideas that are already out there.

Clearly, these ads don't work for everyone, like Svensson and me. If enough people say, hey, we're annoyed, the advertizers will choose new campaigns to appeal to more people (like Dove does). The solution should come from the people, not from on high.

And anyway, what if such restrictions were to go into effect? Would only men be allowed to advertize skillets? What happens when THAT becomes a gender stereotype? "Oh, you know, men and their skillets!" Who knows.

Svensson also said: "Gender stereotyping in advertising is one of several factors that have a big influence in efforts to make society more gender equal. When women and men are portrayed in a stereotypical way the consequence may be that it becomes difficult in other contexts to see women and men's resources and abilities."

Well, if you look more at ads than reality, sure, it could be difficult to see men and women as individuals with overlapping skill sets. And THAT is a problem. But controlling what people are exposed to isn't going to make them better at seeing through the stereotypes.

I'm curious to know what Svensson's idea of "gender equal" is. Does she really mean "gender equal" or "gender same"? I don't think she could be called a "difference feminist" - the feminists who acknowledge inherent differences between men and women. I guess in her perfect world, 50% of construction workers would be women - anything less would be "unfair" or the product of some enforced patriarchal blah blah blah.

The important thing is to make it so that when people want to cross the usual gender lines, they can and can do so without being harrassed. That's why we have anti-discrimination laws, which basically tell people not to be douchebags, and help women break into new fields in the REAL WORLD (as opposed to in ads). The more the real world changes, the more 1) ads will change, and 2) ads that are sexist won't be able to hold people back because fewer people will buy into what those images represent.

By the way, prohibiting ads that show sexist (including, OMG, people in traditional gender roles!) images is not the same as prohibiting discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws make it less difficult for people to do what they want - they don't FORCE them to break out of certain molds. That's the problem with Svensson's idea - its real world equivalent is some government official telling a stay at home mom that she's a bad influence on society and had better put her kid in day care and get a job. Or telling a construction worker that he has to give up his job, and starve himself so he can fit into skinny jeans because his current job and body represent that old kind of manliness.

Fortunately, the Advertising Standards Authority isn't buying Svensson's plan: "The Advertising Standards Authority however had said there are already checks in place to prevent 'discriminatory or harmful' material. A spokesman said: 'Although the ASA supports the overall objectives of the report... the approach suggested is inflexible and impractical.'"

What Svensson SHOULD do is start her own campaign - some "think outside the box" ads with women as breadwinners and men as stay at home dads and women building houses and men sewing (aside: there is TOTALLY nothing unmanly about sewing. At all.) Instead of trying to control what's out there to be seen, Svensson should join in the conversation and compete fairly for the attention of the people.

In conclusion, fuck anti-freedom totalitarian fascists. The end. ^__^

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