Some days it just gets to me. I’ve just spent 35 days living out of a vehicle driving up the coast of Australia with my partner. We don’t listen to the radio, we have much better music than that and we obviously didn’t watch any TV; books, imagination and the locals were our main source of entertainment. The amount of advertisements we were subjected to while not depleted was significantly fewer. It’s important to note that while TV commercials might be the main venue for advertising messages’, simply not having a set doesn’t erase all exposure. Billboards, internet ads, ads on packaging, store adds, newspapers, even textbooks have ads. They are virtually impossible to escape, even in the virtual world. They enforce harmful stereotypes, lie about reality by omission and put each and every one of us into a box. Advertisements conjure up feelings of guilt, hunger, alienation, freedom and desire. We are literally shown the object that will tame these feelings. The funny thing is that we never really had these feelings before seeing that ad. It took that 30 second clip to show us how much happier we could be or more beautiful or more successful. Just like that, complex emotions solved with a simple product.
I’m not a big spender; that requires a job, and frankly wasting money on “things” literally translates to wasting your time. Having said that, advertisements still have a way of putting me in my place. It’s not that I think buying a certain thing will make me more attractive or increase my happiness, because I was taught to spot that simplified bullshit from a young age. It’s that although I understand the economic intent of advertisements telling me I need to buy buy buy and I can usually deflect their intentions of making me want useless shit, it’s the constant two dimensional representations of women that eat away at me. A commercial for a laundry product, dishwashing product or other house cleaning product generally has some ditzy woman dancing around amazed at the ease in which she can now clean the roost. Husband and child make a mess and in comes momma bear with some cutesy grin and a nice hefty paper towel to clean up the damage. A hard working mother who might be a bit too busy to have the fun can certainly set aside some time in her busy schedule to clean up the mess. A commercial for children’s medication or infant formula shows us that it is primarily the mother’s role to nurture her young. It is quite possible that this woman carried the kid in her body for nine months allowing it to literally take whatever it needed for itself, but hey, why should the sperm donor step in now, what’s another 18 years of her life doing the majority of the parenting. The fifties housewife ads always leave me with a horrible taste in my mouth but it’s the “reduced calorie” ads that really get my blood boiling.
They tend to feature women who despite appearing to be in really good shape are worried about their weight. They are getting ready for bed and they want a snack but since they are oh so worried about their size 4 figures they just don’t know what they can possibly eat. Alas, there is some god sent low calorie snack that magically appears before them, sometimes literally out of heavenly clouds. Every last bite is savoured in an unhealthy way that makes it seem like these women have not eaten in a while. Hunger is shown as some sort of sin that these women are supposed to feel guilty about. Often these ads show woman creeping around privately looking for food as if they are trying to conceal some porn or something. Apparently regardless of size it is every woman’s responsibility to scrutinize everything that she eats. The irony comes in when you actually break down the nutritional content of these processed foods being advertised. It gets even better because sometimes her partner has a cameo. It doesn’t matter if Mrs. Size 4’s hubby is a fat slob because she still feels the constant struggle to watch her own weight. These ads are letting her know that unlike her husband her physical beauty represents her societal worth. This constant bombarding of women with messages of failure and self sacrifice doesn’t just promote guilt shopping, but a societal view that puts more emphasis on a woman’s physical features than anything else. Her sense of power comes from attracting male attention. Advertisements don’t show a woman gaining confidence because of her achievements they show her feeling more confident because she bought the “in” skirt, or has the right makeup that covers up the face that just wasn’t good enough before. Advertisements relate a woman’s physical attractiveness with her career success which is a sick joke because it has been proven that this happens in the real world. Not only is the pay gap between men and women of equal qualification widening but it has been proven that a female colleague’s physical attractiveness has more of an influence on whether she will be promoted than her male colleagues. While advertisements have not started this trend (it’s been here for awhile), they certainly help perpetuate it. These and many other advertisements oversimplify femininity and brainwash women into believing that they need to please everyone but themselves.