Buying and Selling on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, so for the past couple of months we’ve been bombarded with advertisements (mostly targeting the male buyer) for chocolate, roses, and, more than anything, jewelry.

What is frustrating and perhaps even ignorant about such advertisements is their direct link between gift giving and getting something back. That something is most often physical contact, such as kissing, or hopefully intercourse. Kay Jewelers is a prime example of such messages; their ads feature not only Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day gift giving, but marriage proposals and Christmas gifts as well. Not only are these advertisements extremely stereotypical–they most often portray women and men in the exact same roles, one passive and one active–but they endorse the notion that women are very likely to use their sexuality as a resource to attain material things, such as expensive jewelry.

Men, on the other hand, are depicted as being very likely to pay large sums of money to attain sexual “favors” from women. Overall, the roles depicting men as the buyer (of jewelry, to start out with) and women as the providers of sexual favors, echoes the notions of prostitution. Not only is it annoying that Kay Jewelers’s slogan is “Every kiss begins with Kay,” but the gasping-for-air, about-to-faint depictions of women and images of proactive, strong, protective, masculine men are outdated and boring. Remember the ad depicting a woman who is afraid of lighting and throws herself into the arm of her partner?

These advertisements most often feature adults, but a commercial for Kay’s Open Hearts Collection (by Jane Seymour) shows a man giving his fiancee’s daughter the same necklace that he gave her mother. Not only does the child mirror the adult female response by gasping, but the underlying message is similar: that it is possible to buy sex and love–or in this case, acceptance and even admiration. And all the commercials end the same way, with the giver receiving a “reward” as a result of spending money.

Not Just Any Kind of Sexuality: The Pornography of Everyday Life

I have a thing for advertisements, especially when they portray sexism, gender stereotypes, or the pornification of sexuality. Elin and I frequently write about advertisements that we find disturbing, annoying, or just plain sexist. And there are many kinds to choose from, as different forms of advertising are everywhere. Some of my favorite analyses and discussions of popular culture and advertising are Jean Kilbourne’s series Killing Us Softly and Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. I also wrote about the documentary Orgasm Inc, concerning female sexual dysfunction.

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Abortion in Advertising

I read a ridiculously high number of fashion magazines for someone that doesn’t wear makeup and considers a new pair of Levi’s a major splurge. But what caught my eye while flipping through the latest batch of glossies was the advertisement for Kenneth Cole that appears to the right of this post.

Ads seeking to make a social or political statement are nothing new. In the 1980s and 1990s, the clothing company Benetton used striking and often controversial images in its advertisements. From the famous image of AIDS activist David Kirby on his deathbed surrounded by family; to a picture of a white child, hair in blond ringlets, grinning next to a black child, hair in devil’s horns; to an array of multi-colored condoms, Benetton made a point of tackling the hot-button social issues of those decades.

Though Kenneth Cole’s new abortion-themed ad is part of the company’s recently launchedWhere Do You Stand” campaign, which also addresses gun control, gay marriage, and war, this isn’t the first time that the fashion company has combined advertising with social awareness. A handbag ad from 1997 includes the words “It is a woman’s right to choose. After all, she’s the one carrying it”; other ads from that decade focused on AIDS, homelessness and, perhaps most amusingly, Dan Quayle. [Read more...]

MoveOn.org Launches Awesome Pro-Choice Campaign

Between now and February 23, MoveOn.org will be airing a pro-choice ad on cable television channels. In the 30-second spot, the actor Lisa Edelstein slowly walks down a dimly lit hallway, and in a voice-over, she says, “Decades ago, women suffered through horrifying back-alley abortions.” As she reaches the end of the hallway and opens a closet door to show a wire hanger, Edelstein asks, “why is the GOP trying to send women back to the back alley?

MoveOn’s “We Won’t Go Back to the Back Alley” campaign is simple and effective. Both the ad and the petition at MoveOn’s website highlight the recent steps that Republican politicians have taken to severely restrict women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and in fittingly blunt language, stating that “… all attempts to erode a woman’s right to choose must stop.” I’m frankly impressed not just at MoveOn’s action, but also with Edelstein’s participation.

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