Shopping ethically is rewarding but it can be a challenge at times! When it comes to ethical practices there are various aspects to consider - slave labour, humane treatment of animals, impact on the environment. But what about ‘sexploitation’- when companies use sexism and objectify women to sell products and services? Many of us choose not to financially support exploitative companies- should this extend to companies who sexually exploit women in their advertising?
“Advertising is a very powerful educational force. Advertising’s influence is quick, cumulative, and for the most part, it’s subconscious. Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, a sense of normalcy. To a great extent they tell us who we are and who we should be.” – Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly 4
It’s 2016, and yet women’s bodies are still being used to sell everything from beer to burgers to organ donation.
Hyper-sexualised representations of women in advertising and mainstream media are everywhere, whether it is women posed as passive, decorative objects, being reduced to a collection of sexualized body parts, being defined by their sexual availability, or even depicted as victims of violence- but what does this mean for women and girls?
When women’s value is determined by how hot they are and what they can offer to men sexually, this isn’t a good thing for women. When women are reduced to sexual objects, when their value is based on their physical beauty and sexuality to the exclusion of other characteristics, skills and attributes, this harms women. This objectification is at the roots of many forms of gendered oppression, such as sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination and violence against women. It reinforces women’s status as second-class citizens rather than intelligent, valued people with something real to contribute to the world and as such, undermines gender equality.
“Sex sells” is the all too common refrain, but it’s not really sex that is being sold- we’re not seeing men objectified and subjugated in these same ways. What is really being sold is the sexual objectification and subordination of women, and this should be cause for concern. It is worth noting also that research by the American Psychological Association concluded that sex does not actually sell, that it does not help brand memory- it either has no effect in marketing or it hurts.
Yet given all this, advertisers continue to use sexploitation to flog products. Sure, it’s lazy, lacks creativity, potentially alienates at least half of their potential consumer base and indicates a lack of confidence in the merits of their product. As the saying goes ‘If your product was any good you wouldn’t need sexism to sell it’.
At Collective Shout, we call on advertisers, marketers, media and corporations to be better. We believe that companies have a responsibility to act ethically and to exercise corporate social responsibility to act in the best interests of women and girls. We even have our own Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge that we invite ethically minded companies to sign up to, pledging to not sexualize girls and objectify women to sell products and services.
In the lead up to Christmas we release our annual ‘Crossed Off’ list a blacklist of corporate offenders who sexualized girls and objectified women to promote themselves during the year. We encourage our supporters to vote with their wallets and refuse to financially support companies that sexually exploit women for profit- see also our Brands page for a more comprehensive list.
It’s time to hold these companies accountable for their treatment of women, and show them that sexploitation does not sell. Join us at www.collectiveshout.org to be part of our movement. If you are part of a company that values women and girls, sign up to our Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge today!