After the initial explosion of female sex appeal in advertisement and being a raging success, in the 1930’s it stepped up and became much more visual and daring. ‘The first advertisement with a nude was a color ad for Cannon towels in 1933, revealing the backside of a woman’s body’ (Lont, 1995: 115). Slowly and efficiently women’s bodies were being used very objectively and advertisements were becoming much freer and much raunchier.
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A slight change of events happened during World War II (1939-1945) where women were portrayed as efficient workers and glamorous accessories while they’re husbands were at war. Oakley stated ‘with the notable exception of the war years, women’s role as housewife has been continuously affirmed as the proper use for female energy. Her dependence on men is an accepted fact’ (Oakley, 1974: 56). When the men would return, women would fall back into the role of a mother and a homemaker. Notably the advertisement changed to display how women should be acting and behaving while they’re husbands were at war, magazines particularly showed images of women carrying out such things as looking after their children and being the perfect mother.
Moving into the 1950’s after World War II had ended. The female housewife image slowly faded away from the advertisement scene. Studies have shown ‘that women in magazine adverts prior to the 1970s were rarely shown to be in paid work, and when they were it would usually be a stereotypical role (the smiling secretary or hairdresser). The number of ‘housewife’ images began to decline slowly after the 1950s, but the image was still common in the 1960s and 1970s’ (Gunter, 1995: 34). Linking in with my previous paragraph mentioning females from 1900 to 1920 were being shown as fragile and weak, it is evident that this was still present 50 years later. It shows that women were still being portrayed in a sexist and belittling manner.
In modern methods female sex appeal in advertisement has become much more graphic due to technology and the advertisement industry expansion through the digital revolution. A common technique in modern advertisement is to ensure the male’s attention is not distracted and the objective of the advertisement stays intact. ‘Advertising that depicts women’s bodies without faces, heads, and feet implies that all that is really important about a woman lies between her neck and her knees. The lack of a head symbolizes a woman without a brain. A faceless woman has no individuality. A woman without feet is immobile and therefore submissive’ (Cortese, 2004: 38). So without a face it brings up the question of what is the advertisement showing, and what portrayal of the female is trying to be connected with the target audience at hand? Illustrated in appendix figure i, I found this to be a great example of how the male focus is purely on the female torso. The advertisement displays the words ‘wash me’ on the females body to create a mental image in the males mind of cleaning the women. This also encourages the male to view the advertisement and connect no personality to the female, and purely as a sexual object.
My attention was drawn to an advertisement for an American Burger King advertisement illustrated in appendix figure ii. America’s advertisement industry is enormous and I wanted to include this in my body of research to show the range of how female sexual objectification is used. My reason for focusing on this advertisement in particular was that it was advertising sex in a very abrupt and indirect manner. The woman is wearing lipstick and has a wide open mouth with red lip stick. ‘Lipstick ads often use lipstick as a phallic symbol to represent oral or anal sex’ (Cortese, 2004: 33). The advertisement reads ‘It will blow your mind away’ which is implying that eating the new burger will have similar effects to sexual pleasure. The advertisement gained negative responses and Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University said the ad was very desperate. Miller said “This is objectionable because it’s outrageously exaggerating the pleasure of Burger King. It’s not that good, even as food, and therefore nowhere near as gratifying as an orgasm. There’s no doubt they intended a double entrendre.” (Miller, 2009) Putting the desperate attempt aside this shows that female sex appeal has spread across a wide spectrum of advertisement and shows how it has adapted to modern culture.
resulted ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/ male and passive/ female…women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mulvey 1975 cited in Gauntlett, 2008: 41).
‘men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight’ (1972: 47).
It is argued that women are perceived by men in two very simple watered down stereotypes, they are ‘women into Madonna (pure, gentle, artless, white) and whore (passionate, temptress, red)’ (1985: 108). In modern advertisement the women commonly advertised as feminine and soft, but have been cleverly manipulated to hold sex appeal and still appear very appealing to the opposite sex. A typical modern display of female sexual objectification is to show a reflection of a male’s fantasy or a so called ‘dream girl’. ‘The exemplary female prototype in advertising, regardless of product or service, displays youth (no lines or wrinkles), good looks, sexual seductiveness and perfection’ (Baudrillard, 1990 cited in Cortese, 2004: 53). This could be from a simple stereotypical dumb blonde to a busting brunette, as long as the characteristics is focused on the sexual objective and personality does not interfere, the advertisement speaks for itself.
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On May 1, 2007 CFA law firm released a series of billboard advertisements stating ‘life’s short. Get a divorce.’ This is clearly illustrated in appendix figure iii. Although this falls into both the category of female and male sexual objectification, I found it a relevant and interesting advertisement which shows a very modern up-to-date method on how sex sells. There was a lot of reaction and business raised by almost 400% due to the advertisements, Corri Fetman, the woman behind the ads said “If you think somebody’s going to look at a billboard and go out and get a divorce as a result, you’re insulting the intelligence of people. If that’s the case, our next billboard is going to read, ‘Gimme Your Money.” (Corri Fetman 2007) Corry’s outspoken behaviour and the public’s mixed reactions caused discussions for the general public and the advertisement industry.
In summary female sexual objectification in advertisement is used for males to stare and fantasise. It is purely a physical selling point, be it the stick thin blonde or the half-naked women selling a bar of soap, it is all for the purpose of sex selling a product. ‘The ad spends no time discussing her qualifications for sexual desire – her mere existence is enough’ (Sex Appeal in Advertising 1996). I think this quote summarises that a women’s sex appeal is the selling point and the only importance for the nature of the advertisement.